The Reference Sonata Mono from Grado Labs is a very different thing. It isn't a moving-coil or a moving-magnet cartridge, but rather a moving-iron design in which the inner end of the cantilever is capped with a tiny iron nub, the movement of which induces a current in a series of adjacent magnet-and-coil assemblies.
The Reference Sonata Mono is an unambiguously high-compliance cartridge with a "doped" cantilever made from five telescoping segments of aluminum, fitted with an elliptical stylus. I tracked the Grado at 1.6gm, but eased back on the antiskating: Too much was audibly too much.
As with the other wood-bodied cartridges from Grado, the inside of the Reference Sonata Mono is "potted," with three different damping compounds; because of that, and because its stylus assembly isn't user-removable, I couldn't poke around to see what makes it work. But company president John Grado told me that the coils of their mono cartridges are physically reconfigured so that horizontal movement is favored over vertical, electrically speaking. The HFN/RR test record bore that out.
The Grado did an excellent job of overlooking physical groove damage and baked-on dirt. The Reference Sonata Mono was a wonderfully human-sounding cartridge, at times breathtakingly so. When I used it to play a mono reissue of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia/Sundazed LP 5108), I was impressed by the sense of touch it brought to the guitar playing, and the way it made the differences clear when Dylan sang with more head tone than chest tone. Equally impressive was the Grado's spatial performance (I hesitate to come right out and say imaging): Here, finally, was "hear-around mono." The voice sounded whole, and the guitar sounded physically separate from it.
The Grado also did a fine job of playing more complex LPs, such as Classic Records' mono reissue of Roy Orbison's In Dreams (Monument MLP 8003). It captured all the lovely details in the arrangement without making them small or mechanical, and the electric bass, though sounding just a bit softer than it should have, was still pacey and tuneful, not to mention downright pretty. And if you still don't think mono can be spatially impressive, you should hear how the Grado handled the layering in "Shadaroba": Despite not being strung out between the speakers, all the instruments were distinct from one another, with even some suggestion of relative scale. Very darn nice, and a lot more than I ever thought $500 would buy!
There are many analog lovers with record collections that include mono albums. At Grado we strive to have products that will fit all the needs of the analog enthusiast. So now, Grado offers two new cartridge models in a mono version. The MC+ and the ME+ are mounted with an elliciptical diamond. The ME+ uses one of GRADO's upgraded generating systems. All wooden body cartridges are available in mono version. This will make your records quieter and enhance the musical pleasure of these recordings.