Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: Shure M97xe phono cartridge

The Nagaoka MP-110 on the Dual CS5000 wasn't exactly a perfect match, not with such a light tonearm, but I was satisfied with the overall sound.  A couple hundred records later and I was starting to have some IGD distortion issues.  I decided it was time to try something different.  The Shure M97xe with the aftermarket JICO SAS stylus is a popular combination for an budget upscale cartridge.  With that future goal in mind, I bought a plain-Jane M97xe on Ebay for a not-so princely sum of $69 shipped.

Very nice box - all metal - and the package also included a screwdriver, brush, and a template for mounting.  For the Dual CS5000 I eschewed the Shure template and instead used the one that came with the turntable.  Mounting, with the integrated brush on the cartridge body, is a royal pain but once I got everything straight, I gave a few records a spin.

Initial presentation was BRIGHT - reminding me of headache inducing bad digital.  But a few hours later and the sound mellowed out considerably.  Compared to the Nagaoka - at least with the Dual CS5000 - I preferred the Shure M97xe, which is a much better match with the low-mass tonearm.  Tracking, even on the inner grooves, is really good and the little front mounted brush actually does remove the errant cat hair.  Of course if too much fuzz is picked up, the cartridge brush and cantilever need cleaning, otherwise records will mistrack.  Overall sound is not brash or exciting like some cartridges, but - at least to my ears - is fairly neutral.  Ticks 'n' pops are fairy reduced too, though perhaps not to the same level as the Nagaoka.

Treble seems a might rolled off, as does the bass.  But my budget system doesn't have that much low-end content so I don't feel like I'm missing much.  The rolled off treble may be an issue for younger people, but these middle-aged ears aren't wishing for any more air.  Even with the el-cheapo Adcom preamplifier and the ancient McIntosh 2100, the sound is surprisingly neutral.  I think there is some real synergy here with the Dual CS5000, like the arm and cartridge are matched well.

Soundstaging and other intangibles:  I won't comment too much here since my current setup - speakers wide apart and pretty close to the wall - isn't conducive for the best depth.  There also seems to be some missing detail, but with this amplification chain, that's a given.  What I am hearing is great cartridge for the money.  I'm now in no rush to get the JICO SAS stylus, but will keep that in mind for a future upgrade.

Adcom GFP-555 preamplifier
Adcom GFT-555 tuner
McIntosh MC2100 amplifier
Panasonic DVD player
Dual CS5000 turntable
B&W Matrix 805 speakers on VTI stands
Dual CS5000 turntable
Pioneer DVD-V7400
Adcom GFP-555 preamp
Adcom GFT-555 tuner
McIntosh MC2100
B&W Matrix 805s on stands
Wire: Kimber 8PR/4PR bi-wired
           Cardas Crosslink interconnects