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It is not uncommon for anyone who has an interest in the ‘classic’ combination of the Garrard 301 and SME tone arms to look at vintage style cartridges. The SME instruction booklet shows an SME SPU mounted on the arm and it is widely favoured to use the arm with an Ortofon SPU, or low output MC cartridge. The world of MC cartridges is a mind field and brought about a whole host of additional considerations. I shan’t go into these in detail but matching arm with cartridge was important. After much research I opted for the classic Denon DL103. A safe choice perhaps and again widely recognised for use with this tone arm. The Denon is a relatively affordable cartridge compared to say the vintage Neumanns, Ortofons or London Decca’s; it suits the high mass characteristics of the tone arm and fits the SME style head shells (though I think the squeeze, making fine adjustments are tricky). The cartridge is a conical stylus and rides high in the groove.. if brave, re-tip with an elliptical stylus, dig deeper and have a different kind of fun.
Many but not all MC cartridges are thought best served by or requiring a step up transformer to amplify the low output signal of the cartridge adequately enough to gain line level input. These are passive devices (with no power supply) that "transform" the current from the moving coil cartridge into voltage, which can then be amplified (and equalized) by the phono stage of the preamplifier. After much research I decided to try the Rothwell MC stage and give myself some flexibility with a variety of both low output and high output MC’s as well as some MM cartridges when used in conjunction with a separate phono stage. Throughout the pulling together this project, I found this component to be the most difficult to pin down. I had looked at pre amps and phono stages which had selectable MC inputs and how these might suit. I stumbled across the cult of the step up whilst researching valve amps and about what people were doing to monoblocks that had no phono stage. The transformer is no new idea of course, although many MC cartridges back in the day carried a transformer built into the head shell of the cartridge e.g. Ortofon GT.
I may not have satisfied my ambitions for a 'vintage only' system by buying 'new' but the step up is something of a renaissance component which harks back to a bygone era when the technology was not so progressive as it is now. I did however remain true to my interest in British audio and was happy 'buying local' (Rothwell are just up the road from me). I also chose to introduce the Cambridge Audio 640P secondary phono stage, which is switchable between MM and MC for more flexibility.
J.E. Sugden is again a well known British audio company, it has all the pedigree of the great names synonymous with British audio classics like London Decca, SME, Garrard, Mitchell, Quad, Rogers, Tannoy etc or. A small firm with dedication in the pursuit of fine audio and handmade in Yorkshire, England the place where I was born. The Sugden A21 Class A Amplifier was conceived in the 1960’s by J.E. Sugden and was the world’s first commercial solid state class A Amplifier. It is a wonderfully open amplifier with remarkable results for its modest 12w/pch. It did of course have all the aesthetic of the period I liked and looked a fitting choice for early testing of my Garrard.
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