After much research for budget cartridges online, I decided to pull the trigger and buy the Grado Prestige Black 3 cartridge on Amazon for just $80.
I recently purchased a PrimaLuna EVO 100 tube preamplifier and paired it with my solid state McIntosh MC 2505 and Pro-ject phono preamplifier, all playing through ELAC Debut 2.0 bookshelf speakers.
While on vacation, I stumbled on a used 1977 JVC JL-F50 direct drive turntable. Everything worked properly but it needed a new cartridge so I opted to try the Grado for a couple of reasons:
1) Price – after spending money on the tube preamp and the turntable, I couldn’t justify spending $200+ on a new cartridge (yet) and
2) Bass response – several reviews I read mentioned Grado’s bass response and I thought that might pair well with a tube preamp.
After hooking up the components and installing the new cartridge, I could definitely hear the low end, almost too much at first. However, I don’t think I heard too much low end as much as I missed hearing the higher frequencies. Supposedly Grado is known for rolling the highs off and favoring the midrange instead. That is definitely the case on my system. I hear a lot more lows and mids than high frequencies which takes a little getting used to, especially since the cartridge being used on my other system is an AudioTechnica AT120E which has a stronger focus on highs.
One thing to note…I’ve read Grado carts take anywhere between 30-50 hours to burn in and I’m not near that threshold yet but the more I listen, the more things sound like they are opening up.
Also, I believe this cart can be easily upgraded with styli from Grado’s Blue or Gold carts which is a plus.
When researching Grado carts, I read where they had hum issues in the past and I’m happy to note that I haven’t heard any hum with the Black 3 on my JVC table.
I have yet to own an Ortofon Red or Blue to compare the Grado with but if I were to tell someone how the Black 3 sounds, I’d simply say, “It favors the low and midrange and if you’re a fan of high frequencies, you will definitely miss hearing them with this cart.”
However, if you’re looking for an entry level cartridge under $100 and do not want to spring for the Ortofon Red, I would suggested giving the Grado Black 3 a try!