Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo - Cartridge upgrade sweet spot

turbohobbit

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A little while ago I purchased a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo which I'm really enjoying. It came with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge which is *fine* but I don't really feel like I'm getting the best from my turntable in terms of music presentation and sound-stage. As a result I have started thinking about upgrading the cartridge, but this has turned into something of an arms race in my mind. I started considering a straight stylus swap which a Blue, then started reading about the 2M Bronze. But why just restrict myself to Ortofon? Nagaoka anyone? MP-150.... Ooooh look..... MP-200......

I was in a well known high street audio equipment shop earlier (whose name refers to a town in Kent...) and I was talking to the guy inthere about this. His suggestion was to go for the best - 2M Black. "Cool your jets fella", I thought. And then that little arms race started again in my head.

Now considering the Black is the same price as my whole turntable I'm really not sure this is such a good idea. Or is it? I guess my question is: at what point do upgrades - specifically cartridges here but it equally applies to sub platters, etc - become ridiculous in terms of the value and realistic performance abilities of the turntable? Or is it really a case of more is better?

FWIW I am running the Pro-Ject DCE through a Marantz PM7000N amp, my speakers are B&W 606 S2s, and my sub is a REL Tzero MkIII. I mostly listen to jazz and bossa nova, with some electronica and rock.
 
A little while ago I purchased a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Evo which I'm really enjoying. It came with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge which is *fine* but I don't really feel like I'm getting the best from my turntable in terms of music presentation and sound-stage. As a result I have started thinking about upgrading the cartridge, but this has turned into something of an arms race in my mind. I started considering a straight stylus swap which a Blue, then started reading about the 2M Bronze. But why just restrict myself to Ortofon? Nagaoka anyone? MP-150.... Ooooh look..... MP-200......

I was in a well known high street audio equipment shop earlier (whose name refers to a town in Kent...) and I was talking to the guy inthere about this. His suggestion was to go for the best - 2M Black. "Cool your jets fella", I thought. And then that little arms race started again in my head.

Now considering the Black is the same price as my whole turntable I'm really not sure this is such a good idea. Or is it? I guess my question is: at what point do upgrades - specifically cartridges here but it equally applies to sub platters, etc - become ridiculous in terms of the value and realistic performance abilities of the turntable? Or is it really a case of more is better?

FWIW I am running the Pro-Ject DCE through a Marantz PM7000N amp, my speakers are B&W 606 S2s, and my sub is a REL Tzero MkIII. I mostly listen to jazz and bossa nova, with some electronica and rock.
Having upgraded my old Pro-ject Xpression 1 years ago, it had the entry-level Ortofon and changed it for Clearaudio Classic Wood. As that cartridge was ceased production a few years ago, perhaps the Clearaudio Concept, which I use now (albeit the stylus is knackered).

Otherwise, Goldring 1042 or Ortofon Bronze, while others rate Audio Technica carts.
 

WayneKerr

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I owned the original Debut Carbon some years ago and went through the whole of the 2M range... my favourite was the Bronze. The Black was just too noisy, picking up any imperfection and magnifying it; but many rate the Black very highly.

I then purchased the Marantz turntable and found the Ortofon sound didn't quite cut it for me and after recommendations from the guys here I changed to Nagaoka, MP300, and currently MP500, both excellent and more suited to my ear. Nagaoka aren't the bargains they used to be and face stiff competition from the likes of AT. AT is a brand to consider too as they have quite a range.

I guess where upgrades become ridiculous is where for the same money you'd be in the monetary ballpark of the next model up the range. But in the end it's your cash so do with it what you please... I always have :)

A few weeks ago myself and a friend conducted an experiment with cartridges... it was surprising... very little between them.
 
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Gray

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A few weeks ago myself and a friend conducted an experiment with cartridges... it was surprising... very little between them.
I was going to mention those tests!
Crucially, for much of the time they were very closely level-matched, blind tests.

And, the OP may also be interested to know that, as part of the tests, the 2M Black went via 2 different phono stages - one of which cost me about £76, the other compared favourably by one reviewer, with the £3000 Cyrus phono signature.
Again, the (lack of) audible difference was surprising.

The point being - have a very good listen if you can, rather than just letting price influence any expectation.
I certainly admit that, before those tests, I might have been more guided by price.
 
A few weeks ago myself and a friend conducted an experiment with cartridges... it was surprising... very little between them.
I was going to mention those tests!
Crucially, for much of the time they were very closely level-matched, blind tests.

And, the OP may also be interested to know that, as part of the tests, the 2M Black went via 2 different phono stages - one of which cost me about £76, the other compared favourably by one reviewer, with the £3000 Cyrus phono signature.
Again, the (lack of) audible difference was surprising.

The point being - have a very good listen if you can, rather than just letting price influence any expectation.
I certainly admit that, before those tests, I might have been more guided by price.
What other cartridge did you blind test alongside the Ortofon Black?
 

WayneKerr

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What other cartridge did you blind test alongside the Ortofon Black?
Carts/styli tested were:
AT95E - elliptical
AT440ML - fine-line
2M Black - shibata
2M Blue and Bronze styli were available but not used. Basically MM carts covering a wide price spectrum.

Gray has been in the game far longer than I and chose a really good test track. He has an excellent test approach to level the playing field for all, including same kit used and level-matched for recording.

He thought he could hear a slight difference between elliptical and fine line, but not between fine-line and shibata... I could hardly detect any difference whatsoever between them even after listening intently for 30 mins through headphones.

The two phono-stages used, no difference detected. I guess this is about as close as you can get to a blind test.

If I've missed anything I'm sure Gray will fill in the spaces.
 
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nopiano

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Yes, the 2M Black is probably not ideal, because it is v sensitive to alignment and that may be beyond the scope of the turntable itself. That’s why the Bronze earns an easier recommendation .

Nagaoka are stupid money now, and I personally found them a bit too smooth and unexciting. For a different flavour then Audio Technica have a fabulous range, and you’ll see in my signature I use the modest but superb VM95ML - retail about £150.

For a left-field choice, especially with jazz then Grado are worth a look. I had one for many years, meant as a stop-gap but was too good to change. When I demonstrated my old speakers to their buyer (a jazz fan) about seven years ago he said he used a Koetsu ( a handmade moving coil costing thousands) and was staggered how my <£100 Grado was so good! Only the surface noise versus his Koetsu gave it away. I only ever hesitated to recommend them because in some systems they seem sensitive to hum. Mine was always silent though. The Prestige range goes in colour order, like Ortofon, but here the Black is the budget model.

The Goldring 10xx series are great too, despite their age. The 20xx series are made by Nagaoka. Go figure!
 
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WayneKerr

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2M Blue stylus or lots of factory upgrades
Good call but looking at that upgrade package it's £800... think I'd rather upgrade to a better turntable :)
 
Carts/styli tested were:
AT95E - elliptical
AT440ML - fine-line
2M Black - shibata
2M Blue and Bronze styli were available but not used. Basically MM carts covering a wide price spectrum.

Gray has been in the game far longer than I and chose a really good test track. He has an excellent test approach to level the playing field for all, including same kit used and level-matched for recording.

He thought he could hear a slight difference between elliptical and fine line, but not between fine-line and shibata... I could hardly detect any difference whatsoever between them even after listening intently for 30 mins through headphones.

The two phono-stages used, no difference detected. I guess this is about as close as you can get to a blind test.

If I've missed anything I'm sure Gray will fill in the spaces.
Wow, you've certainly dot every 'I' and crossed every 't'. Sounds very thorough.

Well done chaps
 
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Gray

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Sounds very thorough.
Sort of PP.
But I think we realise it wasn't too scientific - more just 'out of interest' maybe.
Because, for instance, the same Trio 1033 turntable was used to record all the vinyl files.
Convention says that nobody in their right mind would use an AT440ML, let alone a 2M Black on such a deck.

Also common to all cartridge files was the modestly priced Art Phono Plus USB interface - so whether using its own internal phono preamp or switched to line input to take the output of a Cyrus XR phono stage - all analogue had to go via its 16/48 ADC.

In view of the above, it could easily be argued (and it would be by many I'm sure) that the carts were all being dragged down to the same inferior standard, with none allowed to sufficiently shine.

However, I really don't think so. Because, as well as the 45rpm 12" vinyl, a direct 24/192 file of the same 'Thinking Of You' by Sister Sledge was included for comparison.
This showed that we were missing very little (if any) from what every cart was giving us - there's no doubt that the carts sounded great - especially, as you can imagine, via Ruby and Harbeths. But it's just that the differences, as Doug said, were surprisingly slight (Especially when you consider that the AT95E cost about £15).
 
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WayneKerr

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Sort of PP.
But I think we realise it wasn't too scientific - more just 'out of interest' maybe.
Because, for instance, the same Trio 1033 turntable was used to record all the vinyl files.
Convention says that nobody in their right mind would use an AT440ML, let alone a 2M Black on such a deck.

Also common to all cartridge files was the modestly priced Art Phono Plus USB interface - so whether using its own internal phono preamp or switched to line input to take the output of a Cyrus XR phono stage - all analogue had to go via its 16/48 ADC.

In view of the above, it could easily be argued (and it would be by many I'm sure) that the carts were all being dragged down to the same inferior standard, with none allowed to sufficiently shine.

However, I really don't think so. Because, as well as the 45rpm 12" vinyl, a direct 24/192 file of the same 'Thinking Of You' by Sister Sledge was included for comparison.
This showed that we were missing very little (if any) from what every cart was giving us - there's no doubt that the carts sounded great - especially, as you can imagine, via Ruby and Harbeths. But it's just that the differences, as Doug said, were surprisingly slight (Especially when you consider that the AT95E cost about £15).
I wish the Marantz TT had a removable headshell as I'd be up for doing it again using the Korg ADC. But I have a feeling the results would be very similar. Wouldn't do it though as mounting carts is a faff and would take all day :)

Only my Pioneer has a removable headshell. I did once compare the AT440 and 2M Black mounted on the Pioneer against the MP500 mounted on the Marantz, again very close, but think the Marantz/MP500 won out... just. It wasn't really a blind test so doesn't count.
 
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Sort of PP.
But I think we realise it wasn't too scientific - more just 'out of interest' maybe.
Because, for instance, the same Trio 1033 turntable was used to record all the vinyl files.
Convention says that nobody in their right mind would use an AT440ML, let alone a 2M Black on such a deck.

Also common to all cartridge files was the modestly priced Art Phono Plus USB interface - so whether using its own internal phono preamp or switched to line input to take the output of a Cyrus XR phono stage - all analogue had to go via its 16/48 ADC.

In view of the above, it could easily be argued (and it would be by many I'm sure) that the carts were all being dragged down to the same inferior standard, with none allowed to sufficiently shine.

However, I really don't think so. Because, as well as the 45rpm 12" vinyl, a direct 24/192 file of the same 'Thinking Of You' by Sister Sledge was included for comparison.
This showed that we were missing very little (if any) from what every cart was giving us - there's no doubt that the carts sounded great - especially, as you can imagine, via Ruby and Harbeths. But it's just that the differences, as Doug said, were surprisingly slight (Especially when you consider that the AT95E cost about £15).
Indeed. I've always considered a well sorted component, regardless of whether it's a cartridge, amp, speakers, turntable, will have little impact on the sound sound you hear.

What's more important is how a tonal balance chimes with the rest of your kit. That's why I've always been reluctant to change any of my gear. There might be a slight difference but is there a big enough improvement to justify the extra outlay? Quite often, no.

When I home demoed the Harbs P3 and now the Dalis, there's no huge gulf, very little in fact. The most noticeable uplift with the Dalis is the bigger mid/bass driver which gives a little deeper LFs, and of course, a fairly substantial price difference between the two.
 
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turbohobbit

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Carts/styli tested were:
AT95E - elliptical
AT440ML - fine-line
2M Black - shibata
2M Blue and Bronze styli were available but not used. Basically MM carts covering a wide price spectrum.

Gray has been in the game far longer than I and chose a really good test track. He has an excellent test approach to level the playing field for all, including same kit used and level-matched for recording.

He thought he could hear a slight difference between elliptical and fine line, but not between fine-line and shibata... I could hardly detect any difference whatsoever between them even after listening intently for 30 mins through headphones.

The two phono-stages used, no difference detected. I guess this is about as close as you can get to a blind test.

If I've missed anything I'm sure Gray will fill in the spaces.
Apologies if I have misunderstood - I'm still new to much of this. But am I to understand that actually you heard very little difference between all four cartridges? Or certainly, the second and third ones? If so, does that mean that actually cartridge upgrade is less of a "game changer" than I thought?
 

skinnypuppy71

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Apologies if I have misunderstood - I'm still new to much of this. But am I to understand that actually you heard very little difference between all four cartridges? Or certainly, the second and third ones? If so, does that mean that actually cartridge upgrade is less of a "game changer" than I thought?
In my experience, it probably depends on what cart you have swapped from, I remember my first move from a Ortofon om10 to a 2m blue, that was a massive improvement, so from something entry level up to the next level will be well worth the investment, after that maybe you start to see diminishing returns, your turntable can handle...and is well worth a next level cart. imo of course.
 

WayneKerr

Well-known member
Apologies if I have misunderstood - I'm still new to much of this. But am I to understand that actually you heard very little difference between all four cartridges? Or certainly, the second and third ones? If so, does that mean that actually cartridge upgrade is less of a "game changer" than I thought?
No you haven't misunderstood :) Listening in real-time every cartridge change I've done has reaped benefits to my ears. Going from a 2M Red to 2M Bronze was significant, changing from Ortofon to Nagaoka was significant, AT fine-line carts sound good too.

The little unscientific test we performed just calls into question whether these differences were real or imagined. I couldn't categorically say yes or no but would refer you to the previous paragraph where I definitely believe I heard a difference.

My advice would be definitely ditch the 2M Red and go for something different, AT, Goldring, etc., or if you want to stay with Orofon then I would highly recommend the Bronze.

Will you be changing the cartridge yourself or will you get the retailer to do it?
 

turbohobbit

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No you haven't misunderstood :) Listening in real-time every cartridge change I've done has reaped benefits to my ears. Going from a 2M Red to 2M Bronze was significant, changing from Ortofon to Nagaoka was significant, AT fine-line carts sound good too.

The little unscientific test we performed just calls into question whether these differences were real or imagined. I couldn't categorically say yes or no but would refer you to the previous paragraph where I definitely believe I heard a difference.

My advice would be definitely ditch the 2M Red and go for something different, AT, Goldring, etc., or if you want to stay with Orofon then I would highly recommend the Bronze.

Will you be changing the cartridge yourself or will you get the retailer to do it?
Thanks for the steer, all very clear. I'll most likely be giving the change a go myself if I go for something like the AT VM540ML since no local retailer sells that make or model. If I decide to give the Ortofon Bronze a go I might chicken out and get my local retailer to fit it.... Although if I'm willing to fit an AT why not an Ortofon?
 
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turbohobbit

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Wise choice on cartridge (y) I think that is the successor to the AT440ML.

Have you changed a cartridge before and do you have the necessary tools and ancillaries for a swap?
Thank you! I haven't changed a cartridge before,no. I believe the necessary tools basically involve some long nosed pliars, a small screw driver or a small allen key (depending on the cartridge), a cartridge protractor, a stylus force gauge, a steady hand and a lot of patience?!?
 

WayneKerr

Well-known member
Thank you! I haven't changed a cartridge before,no. I believe the necessary tools basically involve some long nosed pliars, a small screw driver or a small allen key (depending on the cartridge), a cartridge protractor, a stylus force gauge, a steady hand and a lot of patience?!?
Yep, you got the idea, I generally use tweezers instead of pliers. It's a ruddy fiddly job so take your time. Getting the cartridge aligned is also fiddly and time consuming. If you live in Essex I could give you a hand, otherwise if you get stuck come back and ask as there are loads of guys on here with years of experience. Good luck and keep us updated with your progress and thoughts.
 

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