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Dead Wax Cafe

Life with the Grado Reference Platinum

By Gary D. Markowitz

Grado cartridges seem to be a hot topic among audiophiles: you either love 'em or you hate 'em. This article will document my impressions of this cartridge after living with it for about a year and a half.
I've had Grado Reference Platinum phono cartridge on three different tables in my system with three different arms. The first was a tweaked out Logic DM101 with a Signet tonearm, now in the possession of my brother-in-law. The second, my TNT with the SME V, and the third, where it currently resides, is a sort-of DIY table based on the bearing and platter of another Logic DM101 with a Rega RB300 arm. It's been hooked to 4 different phono stages along the way. So I thought it time I put my thoughts on this cartridge on the web.
The Platinum goes for $300 US, and is a moving iron design. That is, two small pieces of iron are attached to the cantilever perpendicular to the record grooves. They are situated between the magnet and the coil, and the motion of the iron in the magnet's field induces AC current in the coil. One of the advantages of this design is that the moving iron can be lighter than the magnet on a moving magnet design, allowing more powerful magnets and larger coils to be used than a standard moving coil cartridge. This allows Grado to create a cartridge with a fairly generous specified output of 4.5 mV @ 5 cmv while maintaining lower specified stylus tip mass than similar output moving magnet cartridges.
The cartridge body is made from mahogany wood, touted by Grado as having better resonant properties than either plastic or metal. The stylus is elliptical, mounted to a 4-piece aluminum cantilever. The cartridge body itself is threaded, and the cartridge is supplied with mounting screws that fit the threads. One must be careful not to strip the threads when tightening the mounting screws.
Grado recommends that the VTA/SRA be set so that there is about a two-degree tilt from the front of the cartridge to the back. In other words, the arm should slope slightly backwards from the cartridge to the arm pillar. My own experimentation and listening shows this to be a good starting point, and I wound up with around a 1.8 degree tilt-back. Less than that and the treble region got grainy and slightly strident, with the bass becoming bloated and ill defined. More than about 2.1 degrees had the bass overly taught and the cartridge sounding more dark and recessed. Tracking force was set at 1.6 grams, and anti-skate varied from 1.4 to 1.7 depending on which arm/table I had it mounted on.
The recurring themes in the Platinum's sound are a lush, rich midrange, a rather musical presentation, an unfatiguing quality, all of which lead to more emotional involvement. Voice and upper strings have a very seductive quality. Saxophone is rich and reedy. You can almost feel the body of the lower stringed instruments resonate. The cartridge is very smooth, top to bottom, especially when the VTA/SRA is just right. I was surprised by how sensitive to VTA this cartridge is. Most elliptical styli I've had experience with are not nearly as sensitive to vertical adjustments.
Speed and dynamics are also a strong point. The Grado seems to handle everything from rock to classical in an effortless manner. When called upon to do so, it gets instantaneously loud, and can go from large crescendos to mere whispers without loosing its clarity.
The soundstage projected by the Grado was wide and fairly precise. On occasion it extended past the speakers. Depth was realistic, and it was always easy to pinpoint the positions of instruments on the 3D soundstage. Rarely did the image extend forward of the speakers, but rather sometimes seemed to start slightly behind them.
The Platinum, as do most of the Grados, often get criticism for being poor in the frequency extremes. While I can understand some of the criticism, I think it comes down to a matter of taste. To my ears in my system, the extremes are there and are reasonably extended. Cymbals sound right, as do orchestra bells. While the Grado doesn't have the same power in the bass as some cartridges do, it does reach down low. It does this without adding grain. It doesn't accentuate detail either, nor does is exaggerate dynamics. It is detailed without ever giving the impression of being etched. But the Grado doesn't lend a particularly exciting presentation to everything it touches.
I do love the sound of good low output moving coils. They have a shimmer to them in the upper octaves that adds air and ambience to the musical presentation. I keep an MC in my main system for that, among other reasons. The Grado lacks this shimmer without loosing the basic information. As I stated before, it comes down to a matter of taste. The moving coil cartridges I've had in my system seem to put you in the first 5 rows, whereas the Grado's presentation is decidedly mid hall.
The one thing about the Platinum that I'd consider a drawback is that it's very sensitive to surface noise. Ticks and pops seem to be accentuated well beyond what they sound like on line contact styli. Squeaky-clean records are a must, and some older recordings with naturally noisy surfaces can be distracting.
So, would I get rid of it? No, I'll keep it, thank you. Will I replace it when it wears out? I don't know yet. What I can say is that at its price point, there's not another cartridge that I've heard that I feel bettered it. In fact, it left many others I auditioned in the dust. It's always musical, rich, warm and comforting in the way that live music is. I don't consider it's mid-hall presentation a drawback, rather since that's where I sit most of the time when I attend concerts (not nearly as often as I'd like), I consider it a welcome and familiar presentation. I just wish Grado had included a line contact stylus at this same price point.


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