Lineage Cartridge Reviews

Include legacy models from the earliest days to the current version.

World Premiere Review of the Grado Epoch Phono Cartridge

08-02-2017 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 92

The Grado Epoch Phono Cartridge has become available this August, 2017, and takes its place as Grado's supreme cartridge offering. With my hands-on experience using the Grado Statement 1 and Statement 2, the Statement 2 being one of my five current references, cartridge advances are speedily continuing, and most advances mean more expensive. The Statement 2 is a major leap in musical performance over the 1, and is quite unusually priced at the level. It represents a stupendous value for the audiophile with the big LP collection, and is still a part of the Grado line. As an eager and ambitious audiophile, the rubber meets the road or the stylus meets the groove with the Epoch. Is it time to cash in a piece of your 401K and move up to phono performance only dreamt of in the late Harry Pearson's Workshop, or be satisfied with something significantly less? This review may help you make that huge and expensive decision one way or the other.

Why the Grado Epoch

The Epoch only exists because the extraordinary and creative John Grado, who has been at Grado since age 13 and President and CEO since 1990, absolutely refuses to rest on his laurels. Not surprisingly, there are pieces and bits of the Epoch's design in models as low as the popular Grado Gold. It was in the construction of the Statement 2 that John determined he could take the Grado patented design forward with cost-is-no-object ultimate refinements. The Epoch's performance challenges every high-end design on the planet in ways competitors will have trouble matching.

(By the way, the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society has given its 2017 "Founder's Award," its highest industry prize, to John Grado. This is for his industry-leading exemplary work with both cartridges and headphones. The award will be presented at the 24th Annual Gala on Sunday, December 3, 11:00 a.m. – 3:30 pm, in LA. For tickets go to beginning October 1. All audiophiles are invited to meet the legendary John Grado in person.)


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Grado Lineage Series - Aeon Phono Cartridge World Premiere Review

06-29-2018 | By Robert H. Levi | Positive Feedback Issue 98

For the first time ever, I present my reviewer's high-end balance sheet.

ROI (Return on Investment in High-end Audio)

  • Grado Epoch Cartridge: $12,000 "State of the Art"
  • Grado Aeon Cartridge: $6000 "85% Overall Performance of Epoch"
  • Savings selecting Aeon over Epoch: "$6000"
  • Aeon Gains: acquire up to 200 re-issue LPs from your favorite vendor
  • Aeon Losses: a small reduction of overall clarity; some dynamic bass impact and loss of definition.
  • Epoch/Aeon setup and ancillaries required: Identical. does it look to you?

And so, what's on your tonearm?

Having fun yet? I sure am. The Grado Aeon (pronounced AA ahn) is extremely similar in construction to the Epoch. The Aeon has the same groundbreaking stylus shape, reducing surface noise to RTR tape-like levels. The diamond is directly coupled to the sapphire cantilever. Gold wire and unique powerful magnets drive the coils wound in 24-carat gold wire. Both require 100 hours run-in time, and both are wood-bodied works of art and science.

They differ primarily with the Aeon utilizing a beautiful, though less rare cocobolo wood selection, of lower density and hugely less cost. Unlike the Grado Epoch, the Aeon does not have some of the top secret elements within that bring it to a level of sonic perfection. Fascinatingly, the Aeon was developed first, as the breakthrough design from John Grado. Though a musical tour de force and sonic leap over past creations of his and about everyone else's, he imagined an even more fantastic phono transducer design that became the Epoch. Is there a logical end to this quest? I hope not!

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Statement 1 cartridge

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 Highs

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!

The Mids

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...

The Bass

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

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The Statement 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.