The Statement1 Cartridges
A Review by Audio Consultant, SILVIO FERNANDEZ
It has been over seventeen years since the compact disc took the Audio world by storm with its promises of "perfect sound forever." We are in the year 2002 and see more and more music lovers with an interest in natural sound pursuing vinyl and revitalizing dusty old records from their shelves. They are finding out that the LP medium still makes CD sound positively sterile and crude in comparison. We are not talking of course of those poorly mastered records with lots of inner groove distortions and generally poorly made vinyl processing, but just in general terms, analog LP reproduction with an excellent table, arm and cartridge can lead the music lover to receive a very pleasurable experience indeed, one that is utterly relaxing and quite fulfilling.
There has always been much disagreement in the audiophile community as to which type of cartridge design has been best, either the moving coil or the moving iron-moving magnet concepts. With yesterdays' technology I could see that the moving coils despite their advantages had severe shortcomings. In fact practically all the pre 1980 cartridges had horrendous high frequency peaks that started to rise about 8khz. The Ortofons were detailed but very irritating with prolonged listening exposure. Supexes had pellucid midranges but still impaired music with a raw whitish top end. More often than not audiophiles who had never gone to live concerts reveled in this kind of hallucinatory fascination of better detail and sharper transients; a surreal alternative that simply does not exist in the real event.
Those who were in the other camp, primarily individuals as Peter Pritchard and Joseph Grado stressed the fact that moving magnets and moving irons were simply a better way to go. Pritchard for example, used very high compliance cartridges during his design work at Audio Dynamics but the arms of the day failed to do justice to the exceptional capability that his cartridges, could achieve. For instance, his ADC model 25 pickup system, an induced magnet design from the late 60s needed a stable extremely low mass arm capable of keeping the required tracking force of 0.7 grams accurately while maintaining the incredible compliance (120 x 10-6cm/dyne in the lateral and an equally high 50x10-6cm/dyne in the vertical). The result: collapsing of cantilevers and poor reproduction of sound since the old arms were incapable of retrieving the cartridges' true potential. After some years of research there came a proliferation of low mass arms (Vestigial, Grace, Infinity Black Widows, etc.). However they are all gone now and the fascination for the moving magnet has just about disappeared.
Come Joe Grado, the originator of the moving coil cartridge and vehemently opposed continuing research in the moving coil concept. He has always felt that the moving-coil principle is in essence not an ideal design and not as musical as the alternative, the flux bridger concept, in turn a moving-iron variant.
Despite flirtations with other famous pickups, namely Koetsu, Clearaudio and Lyra, using an exhaustive proliferation of components to preserve synergy at all costs and with audio experience of more than forty years in collecting over 20,000 classical LPs, the moving coil, in this writers' opinion has never been able to deliver a truly satisfying natural sound reproduction from the record groove in a manner that makes one forget there is an audio component in the chain.
Indeed in practically all cases, one way or another the moving coil alters the structure and timbre of the musical tone. Yes, today's best moving coils do capture the steep transient attacks as well as the musical wave fronts in a manner that conveys the glory and impact of the real instrument. However, why is it that the strings always sound wrong!! Let me make it perfectly clear that this is where not only the moving coil but also practically all transducer technology including the exotic types such as the electrostatic and FM cartridges has really lagged behind.
In real live music, strings have an ease and rosin quality that makes recorded music seem like a pale copy of the original sound and CDs of course sound even worse; positively flat. Analog reproduction comes closer but is still very difficult to approximate, since the whole problem starts in the recording process, all the way to the record cutters and unto the playback gear.
Grado cartridges since the beginnings of the original Signature series were famous for recreating string reproduction better than practically any other cartridge extant. Going through my arsenal of Signature collections at my disposal I started listening from the fabled Signature 1, 2 and 3 to the 8 and culminating on the last one, the XTZ model. The gap has always been like being in a roller coaster. Sometimes the tradeoffs were: superb transient definition, tracking ability but thinner sound and a lack of midrange warmth. The end result was frustrating for the music lover who needed a cartridge capable of retrieving everything contained in the record groove but with a budget not in the millionaire level.
Which brings us to the updated Statement cartridge developed by John Grado, Joe's nephew and the successor to the throne to the Grado family. It now makes more reasonable sense than ever before to own a high end Grado cartridge, primarily if your conception in sound reproduction is of a pure but unadulterated form. Let me now tell you the great news: this is tonally and harmonically not only the best Grado cartridge ever made but tonally and harmonically the most natural sounding cartridge for the reproduction of all musical instruments. Woodwinds, piano and string reproduction are all in a class by themselves. Voice reproduction, a true forte of Grado cartridges needs no accolades here: the vocal sound is positively breathtaking.
This cartridge cleans up every recorded disc sound it touches a kind of garbage (you name it) that we have accepted as part and parcel of disc reproduction; it simply vanishes here, but without any loss of harmonic or musical material. Let me at this time say this: The more you know about the sounds of live music, the more impressed you are going to feel about the efforts this cartridge has made in the quest for the perfect pickup. Yes, this output is low (0.5 mv); the lowest ever offered by Grado, yes it demands a high quality medium to high mass tone arm with minimum resonance modes, high purity cables, etc
But, what a revelation it is to hear not only the transient attacks correct (like the best moving coils) but also the tonality of the musical instrument for the first time correct.
I have stayed until the wee hours of the night using two state of the art systems and in every case LP reproduction was an unqualified joy.
This cartridge allows us to hear the musical harmonics to sound convincingly without falsifying any frequency domain. The depth on this cartridge is just outstanding. The field of the orchestra spread out as in live music. Instruments are located in their proper position. In fact the resolution of this cartridge is so high that I wanted to know if I missed anything by not going to a moving coil cartridge. When I did go back to a highly touted recent MC comparably priced to the Statement (one that a very famous editor gave a 5-star rating in a recent periodical) there was just no comparison: Whatever warmth the moving coil cartridge competitor had it was obviously hyped. This obviously is accomplished by an ingenious compensation in the design to allow for the mechanical system limitations. It simply is not natural. Please note if you did not compare the two cartridges the MC sounded perfectly fine: articulate, detailed with no apparent rising response. When we bring in the Statement, the instrumental line improvement is very obvious: the tonal colors of the instruments are palpably real and with a greater sense of air, gravity and proportion. The flux bridger moving iron design wins by a greater degree in also providing a natural sound with a more holographic presentation.
In another case, comparing an expensive MC cartridge now carrying a $10,000.00 price tag, the Statement was superior in tracing the grooves accurately. The MC competitor failed to stay in the grooves with the violent modulations during a climactic Flamenco vocal passage on a now collectable M and K direct disc recording. The Grado tracked flawlessly at 1.5 grams, the MC even at a high 3.5 gram tracking force generated lots of modulation distortion.
Every time I hear one reviewer tout this cartridge or the other they go at lengths to describe how much excitement they can hear with a new product without making sense of how natural it reproduces music. It makes me suspicious of these so-called golden ear reviewers. Let me state that the redeeming quality of any audio product is how long it can provide listener satisfaction with the lowest listening fatigue in the long term with anything but being conscious of a sound. A transducer is that similar.
With the revised Grado Statement I hear no grain; there is purity in the reproduced sound that I have never heard with any cartridge or cartridge system before it. This level of performance is so high that it allows the greatness of music whether it is a Bach Cantata or the B minor Sonata by Liszt or the magical voice of a Luciano Pavarotti manifest itself in all its glory and splendor.
Is the new Statement the finest cartridge in the world? Some cartridge in this exalted price level as well as far more expensive ones have many outstanding qualities: excellent spatial definition, superb frequency response linearity, many have just as much resolution, or superb tracking ability. Nonetheless, I guarantee you that NONE has ALL the qualities of the new Statement. Therefore, if you must have a cartridge that makes all musical instruments sound correct in their timbre regardless of price consideration then you have a tour de force of cartridge design if there ever was one. Forget the moving coils
Let us now crown the Masterpiece of Pickups: the new Grado "The Statement."
Associated Components used in the evaluation:
Infinity IRS V and QRS mk II speaker systems; Clearaudio Reference turntable with Clearaudio Souther and ET 2.5 tonearms; Oracle Premier mk II and Linn Sondek LP-12/Lingo turntables with Grado Signature tonearms; Clearaudio Insider Reference Wood, Lyra Helikon, Koetsu Rosewood Signature and other vintage Grado Signature cartridges; Conrad Johnson Premier 8A and VTL 240 tube amps; Conrad Johnson Premier 7A and Audio Research SP-10 Mk II preamps; Acrotec 8N/6N and Van Den Hul The First Interconnects and speaker cables.
ULTIMATE AUDIO | The Grado Statement Phono Cartridge / BY JACK ENGLISH
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON...
Grado cartridges, which have been in production since the early fifties, burst upon the high-end audio scene in the late seventies with the release of Joe Grado's ground breaking Signature. At the time, the original Signature set new standards for both performance and price. This $275 marvel (yes, $275 was a big deal then for a cartridge!) enthralled Harry Pearson and the staff at The Absolute Sound, and they, in turn, captured the imagination of the entire audiophile community. The evolution of the Grado signatures became a central saga in the pages of TAS from 1977 through 1980. With each new issue, we read of stunning new sonic enhancements coupled with staggering price escalations. By 1978, the Signature III was available at the unfathomable retail price of $750! Ironically, a 5.5% rate of inflation would bring us almost exactly to the Statements $2500 retail price in the year 2000. To further rub salt into this open wound, the October 1999 issue of Audio listed 21 other cartridges with prices equal to or greater than that of the flagship Grado, led by the Clearaudio Insider Reference topping the scales at $10,000! My, how times have changed.
Since Joe Grado continued to make Signature cartridges, he kept the Signature name. John, his nephew, continued to make the other Grado cartridges. Eventually, john launched a new series of state of the art phono cartridges called The Reference series. At the top of this hierarchy sat The Reference, at $1200. Like virtually every other Grado moving iron cartridge, The Reference weighed 6.5 grams, had a recommended tracking force of 1.5 grams, produced an output of 4.5 mV, an estimated frequency response from 10 Hz to 60 KHz add was based upon a flux bridge design. And this cartridge was indeed different as well. It had a mahogany body and "optimized transmission line technology"(OTL), a five section, telescoping cantilever made of a composite brass and aluminum material.
A REVOLUTIONARY DESIGN
With a price more than double that of Grado's The Reference, the initial question concerns the Statement's design. Is it revolutionary? "No," says John Grado. The company's basic moving iron design is more than 30 years old! Over time, virtually every aspect of its performance has been scrutinized, explored, tested and reevaluated. The designers know exactly what does what and why. Armed with this wealth of knowledge, Grado / has been able to offer a wide range of cartridges with some remarkable performance to price ratios. As new materials or techniques become available within the well known context of the basic cartridge design.
"OK," I say, "how in the world did you ever come up with Australian Jarah wood for the cartridge body?" Well, that turns out to be a fascinating story in and of itself. A 23-year-old Grado lover from Australia stopped by the rather unassuming factory one day and had a great visit. He extolled the virtues of Jarah, such as its hardness, and John was intrigued. After the fan returned home, he sent a piece of this locally popular timber back to Brooklyn. It was ultimately tried for both headphone and cartridge designs (but not before a number of years had gone by); the result was satisfying.
Showing off my familiarity with the evolution of The Reference series, I ask John if the Statement had pushed the OTL envelope even further with more sections of different combinations of materials. Once again the answer was polite, but simple No. The latest cartridge uses a single piece Boron cantilever. Since it is so difficult to machine, it is one of the few components that Grado has made for them.
So how can the output be so low in comparison with all of your earlier designs? "Turns," Grado replies patiently. In comparison to the other models, the Statement has far fewer turns, resulting in much lower output. While The Reference is listed with the ubiquitous Grado level of 4.5 mV, the Statement has an uncharacteristic 0.75 mV. This output puts the Statement in the high-end range of moving coils and way below what would normally be expected for a moving iron. The Statement can move right in and seem comfortably at home in most systems where a moving coil has previously been king of the hill. It will not overload most phono stages. Judging on output alone, I would have surely believed the Statement to be a moving coil.
When I raised the question of tip geometry, we ultimately decided to report it as a "proprietary design." Taken as a whole, the Statement was described as more open, with a more realistic soundstage and even more of the traditional Grado magic as an evolutionary extension of a well-honed design.
The Statement was particularly easy to mount, with clearly labeled outputs posts in a standard configuration with threaded holes in the top of the wooden body for a simple and straightforward mounting. I set it up as I would any other cartridge with to overhang, with the bottom of the body essentially parallel to the record's surface when playing. I started with tracking at 1.7 grams. Although I tried various other arrangements, none made major differences, as the cartridge was robust in most regards. I did find it a bit skittish if the tracing force became too low. Unlike some earlier Grado offerings, I had no problem with tracking, wobble or hum in any of three different turntable tonearm combinations that I tried.
First and foremost, the Statement is a cartridge rightfully battling for a position at the head of the class. Without question, this is the finest moving iron design I have ever heard. Having said that, I have heard many moving coils that are far superior to other moving irons/magnets that I have auditioned. The moving iron/magnet contest is over, the Statement taking the blue ribbon, but the real test is just beginning. Just how good of a cartridge is this oddly unorthodox and simultaneously traditional design?
The Statement is a "tweener" -- it has more output than most moving coils and less than most moving irons. Since the majority of audiophile analog setups are capable of accepting moving coils, the output of the Statement will be relatively high. This will lead to a number of perceptions and assumptions. Remember that loud only means loud. Yes, the Statement will be relatively louder at the same volume settings as those used for other cartridges with lower output. Tonal balance shifts with volume level, as does our general perception of dynamics. Only with time does the cartridge begin to fully illustrate its true characteristics. But it takes very little time to realize some of the clear advantages of higher output. For one, noise is lessened as the requisite volume is lowered to achieve the same SPLs. With tube setups such as mine, the inherent noise floor is pushed deeper into the background, another benefit of lower volume settings.
With intrusive amusical sounds lessened, you might expect the Statement to bring out more detail against a blacker background. That did indeed occur. The Statement consistently did a fine job of reproducing detail, and it was able to do so during both loud and complex passages. Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances provided an excellent illustration of these strengths. The impressive dynamic range of this recording was also handled very well by the Statement, clarifying one of those first impressions. In addition to being loud in an absolute sense, the cartridge did an excellent job of reproducing all the subtle volume levels in the performance. Its sonic characteristics remained essentially unchanged during soft or loud sections, and its clarity remained intact as well.
While the Statement played louder, in a relative sense, at the same volume settings as most coils I had on hand, that is hardly the whole story. The Statement loved being played loudly. Its performance was exemplary at higher levels, with no change in character, no confusion and no loss of any major musical element. It had great dynamic capability at both high and low levels, making every contrasting sound level obvious. The combination of black backgrounds being able to play loudly and great dynamic capability was captivating on recordings that could take full advantage of these strengths. The great Athena release of the Rachmaninoff was one of those recordings, but the effects are equally captivating on multitracked artistry such as The Art Of Noise's "Instruments Of Darkness." The open, spacious, dynamic, in the room performance were engrossing.
The Rachmaninoff served as an excellent illustration of the Statement's treatment of the soundstage. It was very wide, with good to very good recreation of depth. Sounds were located precisely within the soundstage and stayed in place with neither wander of placement, nor diffusion of image. The overall character was both open and airy. With respect to perspective, the Statement placed you close to the performers, since it put the front of the stage in a plane with the speakers. As I have written before, I personally prefer a slightly more distant perspective where the soundstage is behind and wrapping around my speakers. Often when a soundstage is as in the room as this, there are obvious tonal aberrations. I did not find this to be true with the top of the line Grado. The staging added to the dynamic capability, bringing an element of excitement to many performances, such as Rickie Lee Jones' debut recording or any hit track from the fabulous histories of Queen or the Who.
Tonal balance seemed fine throughout the frequency range. I chose two favorites to assess the bass. The first was an old mono recording of "Comin' Home Baby" by Herbie Mann. The lower regions were tight and clean, and had the ability to propel the pace of the music. Going for a much higher standard of quality, I opted for "Righteous Boogie Bass" from Ray Brown and John Clayton's Super Bass. On this splendid recording, the bottom was smooth, open and clear. Individual bass lines were easy to distinguish and follow. The nuance of how a string was plucked or bowed was readily obvious. The lower frequencies enriched the sound with a sense of space, and provided the forceful drive to the pace of the musical Statement.
At the opposite frequency extreme, I opted for some old favorites as well. With Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo A La Turk", the upper range of the piano, as well as the electrifying cymbals, was excellent. There was no added hardness or brightness, and nothing offensive was done to the music. My second specific challenge was the solo violin from the third movement of Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherazade. It was simply lovely in its natural sweetness, no doubt preparing me to hear any number of additional Arabian tales. What truly impressed me was the recreation of the harp in this movement: with all too many cartridges, it either loses it's identify or is lost almost entirely. The Statement did a great job in bringing it out, thanks to its clarity and resolution of detail.
Nothing was added in the ever so critical midrange, and clarity was equally strong. But it was here where I had my only real questions about the performance of the Statement: While everything was pleasant and musical, it just wasn't as rich in harmonic textures as the best moving coils I have heard. Admittedly, this is a criticism at the level of a quibble. The Statement did reproduce full, rich harmonic structures. In listening specifically for midrange richness, I played all sorts of music, a great deal of which hadn't seen the light of day in years. One such recording was Rapture by Anita Baker. The vocals were magical, but my listening notes invariably focused on other characteristics. While enjoying "You Bring Me Joy" for the umpteenth time, I noticed black spaces, great pace, smooth jazz with real world dynamics and different sounds from different places.
Since the cartridge was so easy to listen to, I found myself missing little things. Said more precisely, it wasn't as though these sounds weren't there, they had just become less obvious. For example, Herbie Mann hums when he plays, but this didn't stand out with the Statement. I didn't sing along with backup vocals as much as usual, as they had moved deeper into the background. And yet, even weak voices tended to sound very natural. A great illustration of this was Laurie Anderson's monologue preceding "O Superman" from United States of America. Rickie Lee Jones provides another fine example. By the same token, I have used other cartridges in my systems where these vocals are slightly richer and fuller - almost pushed up in the mix somewhat. The more time I spent with the Statement, the more I was aware of this one unique concern of harmonic richness in spite of a consistently satisfying musical presentation.
As time went on, I grew progressively more comfortable with the Statement. I learned that it really didn't enjoy being played at atypically low level=levels, preferring the music to be played at or near realistic levels. The Statement invariably had me tapping my foot, singing along or dancing by myself. The cartridge did a splendid job of conveying the pace and rhythm of the music, but it always did so musically. There was no mid-bass, dance club emphasis, nor was there a surgically precise dissection of the music into discrete pieces where the rhythm would be easier to follow. Never in my listening sessions did I think of the cartridge as fast, although it was always quick. The former, to me, is an artifact of hi-fi and not music. The latter is a musical trait. Again, an example best illustrates my point. I suggest listening to something like the stunning direct to disc Sheffield Lab recording of "Corner Pocket" by Harry James. The tightness of the musicians was brilliantly captured by the quickness of the Grado, but there was never an artificial perception of reproductive speed. In many ways, this is a wonderful recording to pull all my impressions together. The moving iron was open, extended at both extremes, smooth, natural, dynamic, rich, big, close, punchy and very musical.
The Grado Statement is a great cartridge using any standard of comparison. While it is a moving iron design, it may not work well in systems best suited to such designs. Its unusual output level will make it a nearly perfect match for virtually every phono-stage in existence. In such systems, it will further reduce noise. In any case, it truly minimizes concerns with setup, as it is easy to install and remarkably tolerant to most setup parameters. Sonically, its wide and open sound-staging, close perspective, consistent clarity, high and low level dynamics, overall frequency balance and steadfastly satisfying musicality make it very easy to live with for a long time. While the design itself may be evolutionary, the performance can readily be regarded as a revolutionary step forward.
as reviewed by Robert H. Levi
With ground breaking lifelike imaging, state of the art precision and grainlessness, and flawless tracking at only 1.6 grams, the truly outstanding and unique Statement1 is a Grado cartridge like no other that has come before. Wound with seven feet of pure gold wire, sporting a boron cantilever, and custom ellipsoid diamond, the Australian Jarrah wood bodied Statement1 has shocked and awed every audiophile that has visited my number one reference system. With an extraordinary musical "projection" accompanying the photographic-like musical images, I hear a kind of reality and verisimilitude I've never heard in my 45 years of LP listening from any phono cartridge by any maker.
This isn't just reconstituted master tape sound like some makes claim. The Statement 1 produces a dynamic energy within the imaging that creates musical space in both the front and back of the instrumental image on quality LPs. It starts out as a vividness that's really quite nice as the cartridge breaks in. Then the magic happens at about 50 hours. Any sense of grain vanishes and you hear this expansion of the sound field accompanied by extraordinary definition. You are drawn into the music with an emotional connection rarely heard in any other medium other than really great LP.
I have heard bits and pieces of this kind of enthralling organic imaging with my gray Decca Select cartridge in 1978 and my current Koetsu Rosewood Signature. The Dynavector XV-1S has the purity and some of the energy of the Statement 1, but none of these have quite the excitement and holographic imaging I'm hearing from the Grado. One of my audiophile brethren commented that it was like listening in 3-D! How wonderful that Grado, with 56 years of development under its belt, has achieved this. It's made in America, too! J. Gordon Holt would have reveled in the "jump" from this cartridge.
Just a quick note about the phono set-up used here. The Grado is mounted in the Helius Omega Tonearm / E.A.R. Disk Master Magnetic Turntable and connected to the E.A.R. 324 Solid State Phono Stage with the fabulous new Kubala-Sosna Elation Interconnect. [Check out my recent review of the Elation Cables.] It may be $6000 per meter, but oh my does the Elation sing for its supper. It communicates the .5 mV output of the Grado with no cable signature of its own that I can detect. The new K-S Elation is the ultimate phono interconnect I've used to date. The phono stage is connected in balanced configuration via K-S Elation cables to the E.A.R. 912 tube preamp. All power cords and speaker cables are K-S Elation as well. I ran the Grado right at 1.6 grams at which it perfectly tracked every LP I tried. A lighter weight lost some authority and power. A heavier weight dulled the highs a bit. This weight maxed out Grado's performance in the Helius arm. Another arm may require a different force for best sound.
The airy ambient top end of the Statement 1 is thrilling and so very open. The best part is that the musical ambience makes sense. There is no stray reverberant sound that does not belong to an instrument. LP after LP confirmed that what I thought was over dub sweetening was really hall or instrumental ambience unaccounted for by another cartridge. The Statement reunified and reorganized the sound field into an organic whole. Vocals and acoustic instruments made more sense and sounded more like they were in the room. I consider this a break-through in the performance of LP cartridges. Much of these qualities are present in the Koetsu and Dynavector, but not to the extent of the Grado. Amazing!
This is where the music lives and breathes. Just wait until you hear the Statement 1 play your Sheffield LP masterpieces. Direct to disk is a case of the best keeps getting better. Instruments, horns of all kinds, project into the room. The sense of depth is as good as it gets with the clarity of the images at the back wall as clear as those at the front of the stage. Your speakers no longer create any boundary for the sound to cross. Yes, I checked the phasing of the cartridge. The affect is most exciting and involving. Layers of violins are enhanced and right to left spread is full and wide in dynamic energy. The Statement1 is fuller and fleshier than any other cartridge I have heard with snap as fast as my lightening quick [but lean] ZYX Airy 3. Even my wonderful Koetsu Rosewood Signature is somewhat less organic than the new Grado. No Grado has ever sounded like this before. Must be the gold wire. The Statement1 is also the best tracking Grado ever!
I'm not saying this to show off, but in honor of the Statement 1, I began playing selections from my extensive original Mercury LP collection. Suffice it to say, I was flabbergasted by the reproduction of these time honored LPs. One in particular, the Percy Granger Country Gardens Mercury, was beguiling and powerful as always
maybe more so this time. Sounds like liquid sunshine on the ear. The Howard Hanson's Song of Democracy LP was amazing and alive. And so it goes...
This has always been a strong suit of the Grado, but the Statement 1 takes the bass response to a new place. The solidity and textural nuance of the bass is equal to any moving coil. It's certainly ground-breaking for a Grado and it enhances the enjoyment of the state of the art mids and highs. Kick drum and bass fiddle are separated and nuanced. This is killer bass for phono and very organic, too. The projection of the bass into the room is just stunning and ambience retrieval in the bottom octaves is most exciting. The bass fully matches and compliments the fabulous mids. There is no disconnect or lumpiness at any frequency and my reference system is fairly flat from 22Hz to 45kHz.
The believable sonic images and the superb pacing of the Statement 1 set this cartridge apart from the competition. Its $3000 price is steep, but much, much lower than its European and Japanese competition since it's made in America. I am overwhelmed by the Decca-like dynamics, the Dynavector-like delicacy and purity, the ZYX-like speed, snap, and tracking ability, and the Koetsu-like textural layering. It all adds up to something new and thrilling for phono playback. I recommend you go to the Grado site and read about the moving iron principal and flux bridge concept. The internal resistance has been reduced to only 2 ohms!
My four year old Grado Statement Reference, $1200 retail, pointed the way to this achievement. It was very musical and dynamic in my VPI 9 tone arm, much more so in the Helius. I recently reported in a quickie that the Reference performed amazingly well in that cutting edge tone arm so it does not surprise me that the Statement1 is supremely happy in the Helius Omega. We all know that there are happy combinations with cartridge/tone arm synergies which bring musical timbres to life. It's interesting to note that ALL my reference cartridges seem to be supremely happy in this arm. I'm not a technical fellow, but there is something truly special going on here with the Helius Omega. I wonder if the folks at Grado have heard this combination. Nevertheless, the Statement1 outperforms all of my references in some or all parameters in this arm on the E.A.R. Disc Master Turntable. End of story.
By the way, I wish to thank Dan Meinwald, U.S. distributor for Marten and E.A.R., for his brilliant turntable and cartridge setup which made this review possible.
Suffice it to say, I'm having way too much fun listening to my best LPs to worry about the technical stuff. You have to listen to music sometime, and the Grado Statement 1 has transported me to phono Shangri La. If you can scrape together the dough or even if cost is no object, buy the Grado Statement 1 and don't look back. It will redefine your analog experience and is a world beater design. Moving coils move over, there's a new kid in town. The Grado Statement 1 is state of the art and most highly recommended. Way to go Grado!
Robert H. Levi
Statement 1: Retail: $3000: Positive Feedback ISSUE 44
Reference1 & Master1 Cartridges
Audio Reviewer / By: Lang Phipps
One of the delights of the audio game is when a small change transforms the entire sound of your system. I made one of those "God is in the details" tweaks not long ago, and fell again for both my audio array and my record collection. I switched out a very good and pleasing phono cartridge with an even better one and found the upgrade in sound immediate and overwhelming: I could scarcely believe that a 7-gram gizmo smaller than a walnut could affect the whole character of my playback system.
Another delight of the audio game is the learning process, how the rare, truly musical electronic device can train and re-train your ear. Phone cartridges have always been part of my education as a listener. It started long ago with an Audio Technica that made my Marantz Imperial 5 speakers sing. I thought the AT was pretty ace until I heard a Rega Elyse that was recommended for my proud new possession, a Rega P3 turntable. Many hours of happy listening ensued as I felt my ears opening up in sensitivity and sophistication.
In time I came to acquire the much-heralded Rega P25 'table and I knew a step up in the cartridge department was in order, which led to my next educational leapa big one, the Grado Reference Reference high-output moving magnet. The Nobel-prize winning novelist Saul Bellow coined the phrase "contrast gaining," which describes the ameliorating effect of placing two qualitatively different things or people side by side. The contrast gain effect happened after I called John Grado to rave about the Reference and he said, "If you like that sound, you've got to hear the low-output version."
The arrival of a cured mahogany cartridge identical to the one I already owned found me unprepared for the next vaulting leap in my listening education. Within a week of auditioning the 0.5 mv Statement Reference, I began to believe that both my new and vintage vinyl had received a rite of purification, cleansed and made better than new. It was also as though the tiny hairs in my inner ear had been degunked, and in a stroke my hearing was perfectly clear.
The sound pouring from my wonderful Joseph RM7si Signature Mk.2 speakers was wide open and transparent across the frequency range. My most-valued tonal areas, mid-range and bassI'm a drummer and background singerwere reproduced in a way that still induces a giddy smile in me. I would go so far as to say the cartridge helped me as a semi-professional musician, since I could "read" bass lines and drum parts, especially the kick drum, so accurately now. The soundstage seemed to knock the walls and ceiling out in my modest, Japanese-scaled listening room, as though the music was enlarging the space to make room for itself.
As in all great educational experiences, the Statement Reference was and is a revelation: it reveals all manner of musical detail, nuance, energy, and excitement. The most rewarding and unexpected bounty was being able to hear the true musicality of records made in the heyday of pure analog. Example: Simon and Garfunkel's "Bookends," track two, side two" Punky's Dilemma." The vocals are a wide lenticular cloud of notes, lambent and airy. At the other end of the bandwidth, the electric bass enters with the distinct round tone of a Fender Precision. That's the magic of the Grado cartridgeI bet I could guess the make and model of many instruments and be right a high percentage of the time.
Another example: A first pressing, possibly a stamper, of James Taylor's eponymous Apple recording. Throughout, the instruments, from hand percussion to string section, stand clear in timbral integrity, emerging from the black silence of a deep noise floor. Even in this excellent recording, full of moments of head's up recognition, the harpsichord solo on track five, side one, "Taking It In" jumps out in its sheer undeniable harpsichord-ness. Finally, the typical high-end audio over-promise"Shut your eyes and a large Baroque instrument is in your room"comes true.
But the recording that John Grado should use as a demo for the Statement Reference is the 2005 Track Record re-master of "The Who Sell Out." Gorgeous and scintillate with a huge immediate presence, everything from the high-energy acoustic guitar to the soaring vocals simply knocks the breath out of you.
There's one last point of appreciation for this "small" tweak that re-made my system and my listening apparatus. Records I knew inside and out after hundreds of spins were sounding fresh and deliciously undiscovered. As one of my favorite songs of all time, I have heard "Penny Lane" over a thousand times since 1967. In my first listening with the new cartridge I noticed a cello being bowed somewhere in the last quarter of the song. I had never heard it before.
The big smile of the student delighted by learning once again returns to my face.
By: Ken Kessler /
Periodic bursts of post-CD analogue creativity usually mean nothing more than coincidence. Typically, it's the launch at the same hi-fi show of two or more new turntable makers, or a brace of totally unrelated parallel trackers. Still, we grasp such occurrences with a fervour that translates into self-satisfied remarks, delivered with finger stabbing at chest, along the lines of"Y"see? Vinyl ain't dead." Only now it's a one-off freak-of-nature from Grado.
First, a touch of the coincidentals. Michael Fremer of Stereophile recently argued that you really do need a mono cartridge to get the most out of mono LP's. At the same time Grado announced the introduction of two low-end mono cartridges and offered all of their wooden bodied cartridges in mono version. The argument is that a cartridge wired for mono cuts out the vertical tracking issues, thus, eliminating noise. Whatever, this piqued my interest because I listen to as much mono as I do stereo, and I have enough turntables to dedicate to single-channel use. But then Grado announced low-output versions of it's moving-flux cartridges, and I had to ask, "Huh?'
Considering that Joe Grado is one of the most important names in the development of the moving-coil cartridges and yet he opted to put his name on non-m-cs, I wondered if this was merely some post-digital irony. But, no, it's for real. The low-outputs travel under the Statement series banner, duplicating the Reference series in model name and prices. So you get high-output model first, the Reference Platinum/Statement Platinum, Reference Sonata/Statement Sonata, Reference Master/Statement Master and Reference Reference/Statement Reference - I love that: "Reference Reference". For years, Grado has billed it's cartridges as the best of both the m-m and m-c worlds, noting that: the outstanding quality of the moving-coil cartridge is not the moving-coil principle but the very low DC resistance and inductance. When the electrical impedance of a cartridge rises within the frequency response of the hearing range, the pre-amplifier generates audible distortion, because the pre-amplifier is trying to match this varying impedance, which makes the cartridge sound good despite the limited quality of the mechanical system". So the Statements, in effect, now ape an m-c's electricals with an m-m's "mechanical system".
I slipped the top model, the Statement Reference, into a basis 2500 turntable with Basis/Rega arm, tracking at 1.5g and feeding an audio technica transformer, auditioned through both the musical Fidelity M3's and Marantz model1060's 47k ohm phono inputs. This wooden-bodies cartridge is a dead ringer for it's siblings, weighs a negligible 7g and barely exhibits a trace of the Grado 'wiggle'. Grado tells little about its designs, but this one features a hollow alloy cantilever and an elliptical tip.
As a long time Grado user, I was quite shocked at what I heard; all of the Grado virtues, but with a lot more warmth and silkiness and much better dynamic contrast---including a lower noise floor, despite the (desperate) need for a step-up. Using, among others, Sundazed' new 180g pressing of Albert King's Born Under A Bad Sign and Classic's Crosby, Stills, Nash, I detected a seriously wide soundstage reminiscent of classic Denon m-cs perceptibly wider and deeper than that of the high-output Grado. Detail retrieval was about the same, but the sound was more open and transparent, with a wonderful sense of air. Above all it was devoid of any artifice or edge, and it dealt with both King's gruff vocals and the light harmonies of CSN with equal facility.
But why not buy an m-c? After all, the only reason for not buying one was mm's higher output, and this Grado doesn't even offer that. But it tracks like a leech, it sounds faster than I expect of most mc's, and is quieter too. This is real cat-among-the-pigeons. I just wish it came out 20 years ago.
The Statement Reference retails for $1200, which places it amidst some astounding moving-coils. But, as the Grado blurb says if your system can be driven with a 0.5mV output phono cartridge, then you deserve to be listening to the new Grado Statement Series". I second that emotion: It is an absolute killer.
The Reference series output is 5.0mV while the Statements series yield an m-c like 0.5mV. Grado achieves this by changing the coil configuration. Each cartridge has four coils, but Reference cartridges have 6,000 turns on the coils, while the Statements have only 380 turns. According to John Grado: 'Since we have considerably fewer turns in the Statement Series we can use a much larger size wire, thus knocking resistance from 470 ohms to 2 ohms in the Statement Series. This new wire has over 16 times more area for carrying the signal: this also shortens the distance the signal must travel from 125ft to a little over 7ft. In the Statement series we have also shortened the magnetic gap, increasing the flux density.'
Sonata1 & Platinum1 Cartridges
By Anthony H. Cordesman / AUDIOPHILE VOICE The Grado Statement Sonata Cartridge And PH-1 Phono Preamp
There aren't many dynasties in the high-end audio, particularly ones that extend back the vast eons to it's founding days in the 1950's.The Grado folks, however, have been present since the very beginning and Father Joe has been a leader in phono cartridge development for roughly half century, It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, that I turned to the Grado firm while looking for an affordable path to reference quality analog sound. Companies like Shure may have an equally distinguished history, but no company I know of has the same lineage in terms of owner-designers from the same family refining their product over a period of decades. Koetsu is the only potential rival I can think of, and it's much younger (not to mention more expensive) dynasty.
The combination of the Grado Statement Sonata cartridge and PH-1 phono amp also just happened to exactly meet the $1,000.00 limit I currently define as "affordable." I grant you that this meaning of "affordable" is also one that could only apply to high-end audio. There also are much cheaper approaches to entry-level analog. Phono pre-amps from Creek, Musical Fidelity, Rega, and Sumiko, for example, cost substantially less than the $500.00 list of Grado's PH-1. You also do not need to spend $500.00 for the Statement Sonata phono cartridge, since Grado sells a range of cartridge models that begin at all of $40.00. And don't you think that the cheapest Grado can't be particularly good. It is! The fact is, however, that the Statement Sonata cartridge and PH-1 phono amp make a superb combination, they are easy to set up, and they produce some of the best sound around. I also feel it will be of more than passing importance to an audiophile shopping in this price range that the Statement Sonata and PH-1 will really produce excellent sound and also will work well in virtually any properly set up tone-arm and turntable.
One of the great joys of analog should be that there are at least as many different "voices" to cartridges as there are to musical instruments and speakers and that you can match the sound of a cartridge to your particular taste in sound. I don't know, however, of many dealers today who will give you the chance to audition different cartridges, or who can explain the interface problems with given phono pre-amps and tonearms. I'd like to think there was a true analog specialist within driving range of every reader's home, but few dealers really specialize in analog sound these days. And worse, manufacturers tell me far to many horror stories about dealer who provide no auditions or badly set up gear, and then perhaps worse- than try to sell the product with no right or wrong set up.
This doesn't mean that Grado Statement Sonata cartridge and PH-1 are not "bullet proof". They can be set up incorrectly and they can produce hum in some combinations of tonearm and turntable. However, they are far more system tolerant than most such combinations.
For obvious reasons, the PH-1 phono preamp and Statement Sonata are an exact match in terms of loading and gain. The Statement Sonata is less simple to set up and handle than the PH-1, but is very practical and reliable for any audiophile willing to provide a minimum of care. Even though the Sonata has a low 0.5mv output more common to moving coil cartridges than moving-magnet types, I had no hum problems with a variety of Audioquest, Triplanar, and VPI tone-arms, and tracking was good to very good with tracking force set at 1.5 to 1.7 grams, even with warped records.
The cartridge body of the Sonata is shaped in ways that allow easy visual alignment of vertical azimuth and the vertical tracking angle. Alignment using the cartridge body produced good results in both areas and was consistent with both a new and broken-in cartridge. This is not true of far too many of today's cartridges.
Some care is needed in mounting and handling the cartridge. The Statement Sonata does not have the user changeable stylus of older Grados. It has a wood body that matches the PH-1's case, but this body only partially protects the open mechanism and stylus assembly is not as robust as the ones in older Grados. It uses much smaller, modified four-piece OTL cantilever technology to achieve a 10 percent tip-mass reduction over the Grado Prestige series. As a result, the Sonata does need careful handling while its being mounted in the tone arm.
However, the Statement Sonata does not require exceptional care once mounted. The specially designed nude elliptical diamond stylus in the Sonata is relatively tolerant to different set-ups and groove variations, but still produces an immense amount of natural musical detail. Far too many cartridges with complex stylus shapes produce excess treble energy or increased record noise or have trouble with slightly warped or worn records. The Statement Sonata lowers smoothly into the groove . The cartridge does not produce any of the jitter as it is first lowered into the groove or goes into the lead-out groove at the end of the record that other Grados did, and the cartridge body rides safely above the record even with warped records.
In short, be careful to protect the stylus assembly during set-up, pay strict attention to the cartridge and tonearm mounting instructions, and provide proper grounding of the phono preamp and tonearm. Be reasonably smart about lowering and raising the cartridge while playing records, and you have a cartridge that should survive quite handily for years.
As for the sound of the Grado Statement cartridge and PH-1 phono preamp, I was not surprised to get excellent sonic results for the money. Grado has always delivered in this respect. I was surprised; however, by the improvement in sonic nuances that the Statement Sonata cartridge made over the Grados I've auditioned in the past.
I expect superb midrange performance with a Grado product. Grado has been providing this for it's entire existence. In the past, however, this superb midrange has come at a price of deep bass and upper octaves that weren't quite as tight and clean as the midrange. The result has been a rich, but slightly imbalanced sound, similar in many ways to older tube preamps and amplifiers.
Grado also is basically a moving-magnet design and this has had another kind of sonic price tag. Joe Grado (the current President John Grado's Uncle) is one of the inventors of the moving-coil cartridge, but he always felt that moving coils were too resonant and had an artificial life that only came from upper octave peaks and ringing. He also was reluctant to experiment with small, fragile cantilevers and style shapes. There is no question that Joe Grado was right in many respects. Far too many moving coils had - and have - a rising top end that adds artificial "life" to the music as well as produces added groove noise. Even Today, many cartridges seem to have cantilever assemblies that are far too fragile and either fail or change the sound of the cartridge with time.
At the same time, the older Grados tended to sound very smooth but lack the life and detail of the best moving-coils. They always sounded a bit over-controlled and dull to me. They had air but did not keep up with the steady improvement in the best moving coils, and their upper octaves never quite had the level of musical energy they should. Cartridge loading was also a problem. High impedance loading gave the Grados more life, but at the expense of control and clean sound. Low impedance loading made them smother but dulled them.
The Statement Sonata and PH-1 combination are a different story in every respect. The deep bass is far better in terms of power, control, and detail. The sound of organ music is excellent even with my most demanding old Crystal direct-to-disc LP's. The same is true of the bass drums on my old Telarc demo records, and the God-awful cannons at the climax of the Telarc 1812. The Sonata even does a good job in resolving the loudest, bass heavy passages in the Telarc Saint Saen's Third symphony, which is the LP from hell in terms of complex bass passages.
More importantly, the Sonata does a great job in reproducing the bass with classic jazz, bass guitar, and ordinary symphonic music. It also really gets down into the detail of the rhythm line in remasterings of old rock. (Try Credence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle, Fantasy Stereo CCR-2) There also seemed to be a natural synergy between the Statement Sonata and PH-1. I got slightly better bass using the PH-1 than using my much more expensive Krell and Pass phono preamps - something that was not true when I used the PH-1 with other brands of cartridges. Perhaps it's a matter of a better match in cartridge loading. In any case you get very, very good bass for the money.
Yes, the midrange was excellent. It was more detailed than was the case of my older Grado cartridges, but was still rich, sweet and compelling. Maybe still just a touch warm, but just a touch. I'd call it seductive rather than colored, and the sound staging in the midrange was a real joy. I don't know of any moving coils that do not cost more for the cartridge alone than the Grado Statement Sonata and PH-1 combined, that do as good a job of providing an open, three dimensional, and stable sound stage. And, the sound stage does not degrade with complex musical material. (Excellent reproduction of the sound stage in complex Bach and Tellemann chamber music in German Chamber Music, Accent 8019) My reference, $4000.00, van den Hul does do better, but the Grado really provides an outstanding soundstage for the money.
The upper octaves of the Sonata Statement were also more extended , more open, and had more air than older Grados. I did not measure the frequency response in detail-I've learned the hard way that such measurements rarely correlate to what I hear. The upper octaves of the Grado Sonata did, however, extend to the limits of my test records and sounded very smooth. More important, there was no hint of glare or excess energy, but there was a lot of upper octave detail and air. (Very good results with a special pressing of the L.A.4's Watch What Happens, Concord Jazz CJ63, and Direct Disc Recording by Charlie Byrd, Crystal, 8002).
The Upper octaves of the Sonata Statement and PH-1 did have limits. Some expensive moving coils do a better job in the upper octaves, and my Krell and Pass phono preamps did outperform the PH-1 in this region even when I drove the PH1 with the Sonata. At the same time, the upper octaves of the Statement Sonata and PH1 combined with the midrange to produce a very nice illusion of natural mid to mid-rear hall sound. If you like live music - which has an amazing lack of high frequency energy common on virtually all-modern recordings - You will find the Grados upper octaves do a very good job of matching musical reality. If you want to make the sound of LP's have the same tendency toward upper octave glare as most CDs, this isn't the combination for you.
As for the issue of musical life and dynamic excitement, the Statement Sonata and PH-1 do very well indeed. You will not hear any of the false excitement or energy that comes from the upper octave peaks and resonances in many - if not most- moving coils. You will hear more sound stage life than in older Grados, more natural life in solo instruments, more sound stage life and excitement to those recordings that have both depth and natural musical energy.
I would argue that the very best moving coils still have more apparent "life" and dynamic energy than the Sonata. I've done a lot of comparative listening in the past years to moving coil cartridges and direct copies of the master tape used to make record. Most of the time, the tape does have more life and energy than an LP offers when reproduced by a moving coil. It is clear that something is happening with such a cartridge that is more a matter of exciting coloration than accuracy. Ironically this coloration is particularly common with moving coil cartridges that use very exotic styluses and cantilevers, have very low outputs, and are extremely expensive. In general, the more you pay, the more colored and exotic the sounds tend to get.
If you want to carry out comparative listening on your own, I have found Sumiko and van den Hul cartridges provide some of the best moving coil sound around, and both have moving coil models in the same general price range as the Statement Sonata. At the same time, it should be clear that the Grado dynasty has gotten better with time, and the Statement Sonata and PH-1s are remarkably lifelike and musical combination. (Each incidentally, also works very well indeed on it's own) I suspect that a few "affordable" combinations in anything like their price range are free of listening fatigue, and offer as musically natural as sound.
Very nice indeed!
By Wayne Garcia / the absolute sound - Absolute Analog
Grado and Rega - for decades these names have been balm to the pocketbooks of blue-collar vinyl lovers, providing high performance and terrific value. Given the state of the world's economy, we thought it might be a good time to catch you up on a few recent offerings from both companies-no matter what color collar you happen to wear to work.
One thing Rega and Grado deliver, and in my experience this is true regardless of which of their models you choose, is that vague thing we call "musicality." For me, the term "musical" is not so much a matter of tonal balance - cool vs. warm (though warmer is generally friendlier and hence perceived as more musical) - but weather or not a given system of piece of equipment grabs our minds and emotions and pulls us into a recorded performance.
Grado's hundred-and-eighty dollar Prestige Gold cartridge has it's flaws-a lack of inner detail and audible grain being chief among them (the latter brings to mind the tannic pull of a young red wine) but its strengths are such that you can easily listen through them. These strengths include a somewhat-too-warm yet very pleasant (and yes euphonious) balance, a sweet if not hugely airy treble, a taut if not especially layered bass, and a remarkably lively presentation. Interestingly, these additions seem to compliment the sound of certain instruments, like Stevie Ray Vaughn's classic Fender Stratocaster/Super reverb amp combo and Nathan Milstein's famous Stradivarius (on both of which the cartridge sounds sweet, warm and liquid, reminiscent of what we hear with certain tube electronics). But that doesn't mean the Prestige Gold will limit your musical enjoyment. I played a wide range other LPs during my time with it, most memorably Acoustic Sounds' gorgeously produced set of Ella Fitzgerald's George and Ira Gershwin Song Books and two recent Sundazed pressings-Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and, for Dylan fans the must have mono-edition of Blonde on Blonde. In both cases the Prestige Gold's sound was readily identifiable, but after just a few seconds it didn't seem to matter much, so engaging were the results. With its narrow profile and metal body, the Prestige Gold has classic Grado looks and sound.
Now, if you can spring for it, let me tell you that everything the Prestige Gold does well, plus a whole lot more, can be found in the wood-bodied Grado Statement Sonata. Though it's $500.00 retail is significant leap up, so is it's sound. Whereas the Gold sounds a little scruffy and a mite too warm, the Sonata retains that model's welcoming qualities and sweet sounding treble adds far greater neutrality, refinement, and resolution. The Sonata has an impressive top-to-bottom uniformity of frequency response, rendering the complex harmonic structure of Nathan Milstein's Stradivarius as ravishingly as it does Ella Fitzgerald's honeyed upper register, slightly smokey middle, and throaty lower range. Dynamics, too, are much improved over the Gold. Not only with micro-level information-the small peaks and valleys required to convincingly deliver Bach partita or those little trills Ella sprinkles into her performances-but with large scale orchestral pieces, too, such as Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15 (Haitink/London Philharmonic, London) where the last movement segues from full-scale crescendo to lilting chamber symphony, Wagnerian quotes and all. This record also displays the Sonata's marvelous holography and transparency, with a gorgeous orchestral spread and layers of depth. And though the Sonata showed consistent excellence with stereo staging and imaging, one always sensed a truth to the recording, without exaggerated effect.
The phono preamp I used is Grado's newish PH-1. Another wood-bodied product, the PH-1 is the culmination of years of work in which Grado strived to build a versatile phono preamplifier that would work equally well with both high and low-output cartridges (from 0.4-4.5mv) with low noise, wide bandwidth, high headroom, accurate RIAA amplitude and phase coherence, and low output impedance. Installing the PH-1 is simplicity itself. The back panel has input and output jacks, a ground post, and a connector for 12V power supply, while the front has the Grado logo and a red LED power-on indicator. Gain is switched via a toggle on the bottom panel. (I had the chance to experiment with both settings, as the prestige Gold is high output at 4.5mv and the Reference Sonata is low at .5mV)
Most outboard phono stages are sensitive to placement, and the Grado did hum ever so slightly until relocated well away from associated power supply transformers and system cables. Otherwise the PH-1 requires no special install considerations Which is a very good thing, because this is a very good phono preamplifier. Its sound is open, airy, and easy, with a large, expansive presentation. It can be delicate when required, and yet can scream with the loudest rock playback-check out Stevie Ray's Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" and Tin Pan Alley' from Couldn't Stand The Weather (Epic). The PH-1 shares many attributes with the Statement Sonata; It's holographic, laying out a convincing soundstage in all directions, including height (as heard in the Shostakovich No. 15); its warm, but not unnaturally so; and it brings a lovely quality to lower octaves, rendering them with texture, tonal refinement, and, when asked for, power.
Grado offers an awful lot of terrific analog at affordable prices- and that's worth a listen, even if you haven't been squeezed by this economy.