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Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Experience Hendrix L.L.C. (2013, March)
Sony Legacy 88765419021

Evaluated by Claude Lemaire

Averaged Rating: 7.8/ B
Rating: 5.0 (TRK4) - 9.3/ D - A+

Category: Blues/Acid/Psychedelic/Soul/Funky/R&B/-Rock
Format: Vinyl (2x200 gram LP at 33 1/3 rpm)

Album Credits: 

Primary musicians

  • Jimi Hendrix – guitars, vocals, (bass guitar in track 9)
  • Billy Cox – bass guitar (tracks 1, 3, 4, 6–8, 13)
  • Buddy Miles – drums (tracks 1–5, 10, 12, 13)
  • Mitch Mitchell – drums (tracks 6, 7, 9)
  • Juma Sultan – congas (tracks 3, 4, 6, 7, 12)
Additional musicians
  • Larry Lee – rhythm guitar (tracks 6, 7)
  • Jerry Velez – congas (tracks 6, 7)
  • Stephen Stills – bass guitar (track 2)
  • Lonnie Youngblood – vocal & saxophone (track 5)
  • Rocky Isaac – drums (track 8)
  • Al Marks – percussion (track 8)
  • Albert Allen – vocal (track 11)
  • Jame Booker – piano (track 11)
  • Gerry Sack - triangle & mime vocal (track 6)
Production personnel        
  • ProducerEddie Kramer, Janie L. Hendrix*, John McDermott
  • Engineer, Mixed ByEddie Kramer
  • Engineer [Second]Spencer Guerra
  • Engineer [Assistant]Chandler Harrod
  • Recorded At Record Plant, N.Y.C.; Sound CenterThe Hit Factory; Fame Recording Studios   
  • Mixed AtCapitol Studios; Clinton Recording Studio; LAFX Studios; Legacy Recording Studios    
  • Mastered ByBernie Grundman
  • Lacquer Cut ByBernie Grundman
  • Pressed By Quality Record Pressings
  • Design Phil Yarnall, Smay Design

Pacino and DeNiro, Lennon and McCartney, Giorgio and Donna, Bacharach and Warwick - all convey the importance of cultivating a great team and to that we can add Hendrix and Kramer and...Marino?

Yes, the late mastering and cutting engineer George Marino who passed away in June of 2012 was as much a fixture in the winning team to reissue with honor the Legacy of the rich Hendrix catalogue as was having on board the original mixing engineer of the famous Electric Lady Studios.

And as I have stated many times in the past, Eddie Kramer is simply one of if not the best rock engineer-producer of all time. Sadly but understandably to continue these historic releases, finding a worthy successor to Marino was a key priority for all parties concerned.

Enter veteran mastering engineer Bernie Grundman into the picture. Well known in audiophile circles for remastering and cutting Classic Records' reissues of the famed RCA Living Stereo catalogue. Add to that many Verve, Columbia and Blue Note jazz titles as well as iconic rock albums of the past analog years and more current releases either through ORG or regular 'non-audiophile' labels. It seems safe to assume that his 'wax' calendar appears booked solid.


But on top of that, there are two other changes to take into consideration relating with the prior Experiencing Hendrix vinyl releases: pressing plant and vinyl weight. While RTI in California and 180 gram were the past de facto choice; this latest release is the first to be manufactured by Quality Record Pressings and weighs in at a hefty 200 gram. The latter is rarer but comparable to the older MoFi 'ANADISQ 200 series' as well as some of the later Classic Records' QUIEX SV-P releases a few years before folding. How these three new factors of the equation come into play will be interesting to judge on the final sonic footprint.

Contrary to popular belief, I have found no direct correlation between heavier vinyl weight and higher sound quality; in fact on some aspects such as 'bass bounce' or low frequency 'elasticity' I find that stiff 180 gram and more so 200 gram vinyl tend to be less satisfying than lighter pressings; perhaps due to the different decay, natural resonant frequency and vinyl impedance of the physical medium. Case in point are the vastly opposite sound from MoFi 'ANADISQ 200's - which I found tended towards a stiff harder bass vs their earliest thin JVC Japanese pressings; a fine example being Gino Vannelli's Powerfull People [Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL 1-041] that has incredible creamy deep lows and dynamics.

Granted there could be many other technical reasons responsible for this. A more rigorous comparison would be the slight differences in sound between Classic Records' 180 gram and 200 gram reissues of Billie Holiday's Songs For Distingué Lovers [MG VS-6021] made I believe from the same stamper; the heavier one having a bit less air in the top end - even after compensating for VTA. The one clear thing is that the heavier pressings hold the advantage in reducing possible vinyl warpage.

Like the previous LPs - First Rays of the New Rising Sun [Experience Hendrix - Legacy 88697 63403 1] and Valleys of Neptune [Experience Hendrix - Legacy 88697 64059 1] People, Hell and Angels is an official posthumous release approved by half-sister and CEO Janie Hendrix. This latest and - according to Kramer - last studio album, showcases 12 previously unreleased studio recordings that could have been featured on what would have been the follow-up to Electric Ladyland [Experience Hendrix - Legacy 88697 62398 1] originally out in October 1968. Recordings for this new album took place in New York at the following venues: Record Plant, Sound Center, Hit Factory and Fame studios between March 1968 and August 1970; one month prior to his death at only 27 years old.

The superb two-tone gatefold jacket imbues a classic high quality timeless look. Famed British rock photographer Gered Mankowitz's cover art encapsulates to a tee Hendrix's exquisite sense of fashion in one of his famous military-esque jackets with metallic medallion and scarf. Inside the left side is a fuzzy close up of his face while the right side appears to be a backstage shot of him playing guitar. While on the back cover, American rock photographer Chuck Boyd captures the 'guitar God' dressed in paisley shirt along with the song's listing on the right. Included is a high quality 11 1/2" x 12" booklet comprising 8 thick pages with great sepia, b&w and color photos of Hendrix live and in studio with producer Kramer and others beside him. Technical credits and musical personnel followed by historic facts accompany each song. The generous packaging is to be commended even more so at the very fair retail price.

Each thick 200 gram LP is well protected in an anti-static 'archival' sleeve identical to what Mobile Fidelity has been using since many years but naturally with 'Quality Record Pressings' printed on it instead. All sides were perfectly flat, black and shiny with no 'scuff marks' or 'bluish' hues whatsoever as was sometimes the case with RTI pressings. A different background color is chosen for each label; with red, blue, violet and green respectively. Working in Hollywood California at his usual Mastering suite, Bernie Grundman chose a groove-spread of 2 7/16 inches for side A and side B; 2 9/16 inches for side C and a mere 2 1/16 inches for side D, leaving a full 1 1/2 inches of dead wax; of which all 4 sporting the lacquer and stamper 'BG' inscriptions. With 13:20 minutes of music on side A; 14:30 on side B; 15:14 minutes on side C and 9:30 minutes on side D this translates roundly to 5.5 min./inch; 6 min./inch; 6 min./inch and 4.5 min./inch of linear cutting displacement respectively. I would have preferred using up a bit more of the lateral spead - closer to 2 3/4 or just under 3 inches - to take more advantage of the bass possibilities.

As with many Grundman cuttings, he tends to stay further away from the label perimeter - prioritising cleaner top end treble over ultimate bass amplitude and dept - than for example Doug Sax, Steve Hoffman, Kevin Gray and most of MoFi's mastering team; George Marino somehow seemed to fit in between extremes. These highly regarded engineers also cut at a lower level while Bernie's are sometimes viewed as modulated louder or 'hotter'. As with just about everything in life, there are pluses and minuses for both approaches - vinyl noise floor, dynamic range window, cutter head saturation, modulated groove velocity, cartridge tracking limits, frequency bandwidth and side/timing material just to name a few - with their respective proponents naturally defending their own camps. All things being equal, louder cuttings tend to sound more upfront, energized and producing tighter bass with a slightly harder or leaner tonal balance while lower cuttings favor a smoother or softer, laid-back presentation with looser groovier bass and warmer tonal balance but more susceptible to distracting ticks and pops if the music gets low in level. Why such is the case, without hard data to back my hypothesis, I can only speculate that more voltage on the cutter head combined with the RIAA pre-emphasis curve produces greater harmonic production at the output leading towards a predominance of odd over even harmonic distribution.

Before evaluating the sound of People, Hell and Angels, I have to admit that a certain bias on my part worries me that this 'semi-changing of the guard' may not be for the better. I base this in part on my comparison of Hendrix's Axis Bold as Love [Classic Records 612 003] done by Grundman vs [Experience Hendrix L.L.C. - Sony Legacy 88697 62396 1] done by Marino. Now some may correctly point out that this is not exactly fair, for Classic Records were remastering their version directly from the original mono master tapes while Marino under Kramer's guidance were using the original stereo master tapes; both mixes seemingly quite different. Point well taken. That said, while both remasterings were excellent and are worth getting, the latter is to my ears, superior in organic warmth and grooviness and no surprise, stunningly wide panoramically bringing out the psychedelic nature of the recording and the times to its maximum.

Don't get me wrong, Grundman has oftentimes impress me, be it with Holst The Planets [Fidelio Music FALP028], the mono Blue Note series as well as Davis' Birth of the Cool [Classic Records Capitol Jazz T-762], the Mercury Living Presence reissues for Classic and many many more; but when it comes to rock I crave for the typical 'meaty', warm and 'organic' textures that Hoffman, Gray, Sax and - at least regarding Hendrix is concerned - Marino tend to produce. This comes down to a matter of taste. An analogy would be like comparing bridge rectifier choices in amplifier power supplies; some will prefer solid state diodes whereas others will prefer old tube rectifiers and of those the choice then goes down to a 'looser' 5R4 'Potato Masher' or the tighter 5AR4 or something 'midway' like the popular 5U4. In other words: to each his own. Now let's see how the new 'keeper of the flame' turned out after all.

From the start of side A, the cutting level is moderately lower than the typical BG cutting level at least for past Classic Records reissues are concerned. "Earth Blues" recorded December 1969, opens the set with a catchy guitar riff and chorus built on an uptempo rhythm section backed by drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox. Rather simple and repetitive in structure with no heavy emphasis on psychedelic effects. Excellent guitar tone accompanied by good articulated kick drum though not as groovy 'plump', 'cushiony' as past Marino or even more so Kevin Gray remasterings. Engineer Bob Cotto and Kramer's mix is pretty equilibrated but the soundstage is near mono as opposed to prior psychedelic-wide material such as Are you Experienced [Experience Hendrix - Legacy 88697 62395 1] or the previously mentioned Axis Bold as Love. A strong track for music and sound.

Things change gear with "Somewhere", a slow heavy blues rock. Great wah-wah pedal dissonant leads. Kick drum is thicker, slower and more emphasized in the mix than the previous track; accompanying him on bass is Steven Stills of future C.S.N.Y. fame. Hendrix's vocals have a slight reverb effect. There is an early Led Zep feel in structure and Miles' drums are close in style to Bonham's circa 1971s "Black Dog" from their fourth untitled LP [Atlantic 2401012] but it is worth noting that this track was recorded well before all that way back in March 1968 no less. Likewise sound is dirtier and close to analog tape saturation - another Led Zep trait in those early years - while soundstage is wider. No less than four engineers are credited along with Kramer on the mixing desk. Almost on par with the opening track for both ratings.

"Hear My Train a Comin'" is even more bluesy but still heavyish in rock style. Sound is denser; cymbals are dirtier plus the leads are very dissonant. The latter and backbone rhythm parts become rather repetitive, resembling extended jam sessions typified by the acid rock era at the height of the Haight-Ashbury scene. Engineer Dave Ragno's recording of May 1969 is a bit compressed but still tolerable. Near the coda the vocals get louder and distorted as is commonly encountered in this type of bluesy rock. First instance of slight ear fatigue but nonetheless fairly good in overall sound. Throughout the side, the vinyl remained perfectly silent and free of static and other anomalies of the medium.

Flipping sides and cut a bit louder is a cover of Elmore James famous "Bleeding Heart". The intro has the guitar plus reverb soloing dead center until the a snare roll crescendoes the rest of the trio into a slow blues rock instrumental. Hendrix's vocals and guitar are mixed upfront. Dave Ragno's whole mix has a cold sound to it; kick is 'cardboardy'; cymbals and in particular the ride are not pleasant, lacking extension; everything in fact lacks top end detail. Mono-ish sounds; clearly rough demo sounding; 'not ready for prime time' and quite inferior in music and sound compared to side A and past Hendrix releases to the point of calling it boring. Strangely it was recorded the same day as the previous song. The track ends roughly and I would have recommended skipping it instead of wasting precious wax. A faster paced version previously appeared on Valleys of Neptune which was way better.

With "Let Me Move You", we are back to stereo with warmer, more detailed sound. A mix of funky soul R&B and rock is the resulting sauce. Think James Brown meets The Isley Brothers 'shouts'. Hendrix, having prior collaborated with saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood's as a sideman a few years back, called upon his old pal to pitch in. With vocals and sax that would do proud a JB or Joe Tex single, this is not at all what you expect out of a Hendrix record. The hi-hat is 'dirty'; some mild compression causing a bit of bottom emaciation. John Winfield's funky organ that could fit in a Memphis Stax record leaves the impression that the tape is rolling on an improvised R&B session. Hank Anderson is on bass while Jimmy Mayes takes over Miles' drums. Engineer Gary Kellgren - the founder of The Record Plant - is credited on this so-so sounding track. Dating from March 1969, it marked the first use of the studio's newly acquired 16-track Ampex tape recorder.

"Izabella" - which first appeared on First Rays of the New Rising Sun - closes side B with an original syncopated groovy rock structure including an interesting dissonant blues based lead. Cox is back on bass but this time it is Mitch Mitchell that is on 'skins' and Jimi has string company with American guitarist Larry Lee. Kramer's touch brings a more full bodied, meaty tonal balanced mix that some might qualify as warm and 'tuby'. Again some subtle Led Zep influences come to mind but when recorded in August 1969, it is safe to say that it is more the latter being influenced by Hendrix than the other way around. Ear slightly 'full'. Perfect pressing.

Moving on to record 2 side C with the cutting level back in line with side A. "Easy Blues" - recorded the same date as the previous track - starts with Cox's muffled bass soloing followed by Lee's jazzy-blues swinging rhythm guitar and Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan's tambourine and 'percs'. Mitch's drums come in strong as his groove accelerates progressing into heavier drum fills and eventually back to a swinging rhythmic feel. The drums are well captured with good tom impact and tone, superb snare textures with good micro-dynamics. Nice warm sound for the lead also. Remaining instrumental throughout, it comes across like an improvise jam to a certain degree. Pretty much on par with side A's two opening tracks.

"Crash Landing" is one of the three best tracks of the album musically and sonically. Dating from April 1969, this "Chicken scratch" guitar funky R&B rock hybrid has definite roots in the psychedelic soul of Sly and the Family Stone. Nice sustained psychedelic leads supported by superb snare drum crispness and fast dynamics, fine hi-hat and warm sound. Engineered by Kellgren and mixed by Kramer. Rocky Issac replaces Mitchell on drums accompanied by Al Marks on percussion and an unknown organist.

The first thing that strikes you when listening to the instrumental "Inside Out" is the enormous resemblance with "Purple Haze"'s riff and what would eventually result in "Ezy Ryder". With Mitchell on drums, Hendrix takes over bass duties on this one. Engineered by Kramer in June 1968, it possesses great snare and tom textures; good slightly 'dirty' hi-hat; excellent balanced mix of course; widely panned overlapping leads; odd complex syncopated structure; warm slightly compressed but retaining superb snare 'snap and pop'. Ends bizarrely and abruptly. By and large this is a stronger side than side B and the most constant in both rating criterias.

The last side starts with the slow tempo "Hey Gypsy Boy" from March 1969. Engineers Kellgren and Kramer provide us with a powerful solid kick and hi-hat with a very natural 'closing' sound and drumstick timbre. Great guitar tone. The whole sound is juxtaposedly intimate and with grandeur. Without doubt the most transparent track of the album and 'demo-worthy' on appropriate systems.

"Mojo Man" opens with a combination of tambourine and horns that are pure proto-blaxploitation - psychedelic soul, mixing elements of The Temptations' "Cloud Nine" [Gordy GS939] and Isaac Hayes' Theme from Shaft [Enterprise ENS 2-5002] as well as his later single "Chocolate Chip" [HBS ABC Records ABCD-874] except that this Mojo was recorded in 1969 and August 1970, one full year before Hayes' soundtrack megahit was released. Superb interplay of guitar and brass arrangements. Albert Allen of the Allen Brothers provides the vocals. The latter changing their name to the Ghetto Fighters. Kramer's engineering provides good treble detail but just misses some bottom weight. Still, one of the best tracks of the album.

"Villanova Junction Blues" closes the project. We are back to a much slower paced bluesy rock instrumental. Ragno's work gives us a strong articulate kick. Too bad the track gets off to a good start but at less than a minute in total length it is way too short in duration. Again both sides of this second LP remained perfectly silent and devoid of artifacts, affirming that on this occasion Quality Record Pressings fully lived up to their name.

To conclude, just like Valleys of Neptune, this latest posthumous LP from the maestro varies somewhat in sound and musical merit, more so than the excellent uniformity found on First Rays of the New Rising Sun of which I consider essential in any worthy collection. People, Hell and Angels does not fall exactly into that category but is nonetheless one of the many interesting albums of 2013 out so far and worth investigating regardless of where you stand on the 'Hendrix fan ladder'. The luxurious presentation alone is a strong enticement; add to that the quality pressing (I could not resist) and general fine rock sound, makes the choice of going with the vinyl version over other formats a no-brainer. As for the choice of 200 gram over 180 gram is concerned, I do believe that it may have played a small part in the overall - tighter - sound, especially the bass signature but further QRP evaluations will be in order to confirm or disprove such conclusions. Finally to the question of does Grundman live up to the high standard set out by the late George Marino? I believe that he came surprisingly close to surpassing my expectations but ultimately I would have wanted a touch more warmth and 'groove factor' injected in and remain curious as to how a Hoffman-Gray or Sax version would sound on future related projects.



  1. Hi,

    I just stumbled upon your blog entry “JIMI HENDRIX - PEOPLE, HELL AND ANGELS”. It’s quite interesting to see that people are painstakingly comparing original records and re-issues and your blog provides a valuable service for people buying new re-releases.

    There are so many misconceptions about vinyl on the internet and out in the real world…. Though you seem to know much more about this topic than the average listener (and many producers, label managers, etc) some of the conclusions you arrive at are probably due to not knowing some of the factors involved in mastering and cutting.

    I’d like to address some of these and also introduce myself.

    My name is Christoph (aka CGB) of Dubplates & Mastering, Berlin. There are mainly two (three, really) reason why I comment on this article:

    a) Like so many others I experience the detrimental effects of the so-called vinyl hype (mainly due to re-issues of records that are not even rare and available at 2nd hand shops, ebay, discogs, etc)

    b) Assuming that quite some people read your blog, and being impressed by the knowledge and details you provide I would like to help minimize the spreading of information based on guesswork and assumptions.

    Which leads me to the third reason I reacted to your post: the marketing ploys of the music industry to take advantage of the customers and charging ridiculously high prices for those re-releases.

    One of their tools is elaborate packaging and adding gimmicks (like gatefold covers of previously standard sleeved records, box sets, etc.) The other argument is - AUDIOPHILE - often in the form of a sticker “180 gramme audiophile pressing”.

    This is a bullshit argument: the information cut into the groove is absolutely identical, no matter whether the record is pressed as 120 or 200g. Of course there are theoretical differences due to the record, the tonearm and the cartridge comprising a spring-mass-system with a mechanical resonance frequency.

    But the record weight is the least determining parameter in that system, the effective tonearm mass and the compliance of the stylus cantilever are so much more important as to render the record weight negligible.

    ----end of Pt. 1-----

    1. Hello Christoph, I agree that a fancy box and 180g vinyl does not equate one bit with superior 'true audiophile sound'. There are plenty of examples of such on the reissue market that disapoint so much but a few select serious attentive labels such as MoFi, Analogue Productions for example do take the pains of searching for the original analogue tape and do incredible remastering, cutting and pressing work; and sometimes use fancy boxes (and at 35$ and up, I expect that premium quality)while at 15$ I would not demand it so. Admittedly I have no hard experience in lacquer-cutting so I don't dispute your arguments in that particular area but I do know quite a bit about mastering and have done so on a limitted basis for small independant labels in the past. As for vinyl weight, even re-adjusting for correct VTA, I still believe that the weight and stiffness (and even edge contour shape to a small degree) does affect the fundamental resonance (like any object in nature)of the record and thus can affect many sound parameters especially the elastic and organic bass response, etc. and depending on type of music (more loose organic vs more precise mechanic music structure) one could prefer a 130g in the first case while 180g in the latter. I have no measurements to back my hypothesis but I do have over 40 years of listening and analysing music, records and sound; recording live music; designing audio componants; tuning and tweaking minute details with systems in rooms.

  2. Pt. 2

    So there’s absolutely nothing audiophile in records above, say 140g. For listeners who carefully adjust their turntables heavier records are even deteriorating the fidelity of the playback: If you adjust VTA carefully for a standard record then of course it’s incorrect when the record is thicker. An incorrect VTA seriously skews the frequency response. IMO it’s more obvious than imperfect settings of lateral tracking error, anti-skating or VTF.

    You write that you can adjust VTA on the fly, so you should do the following: mis-calibrate VTF in both directions and then try to find the correct settings again without using your eyes ore any calibration tools: your ears will tell you instantly when the setting is right and when it’s wrong. It’s impossible to miss.

    Maybe the record weight parameter starts getting slightly more important if you encounter low frequency feedback. With a proper setting and positioning of speakers and turntable that will not occur in a living room, even at high levels. It’s a factor for DJs in a club. However, my experience in that environment is that heavier records produce more feedback than standard weights, though I don’t know the exact reasons.

    Therefore these 180g and 200g pressings are worse than standard pressings! It’s a con, really, to make people pay more. It annoys me a bit, because quite some of those records are sub-standard in far more important areas. Often it starts with the source - the original master tapes (or digital masters) are in some basement in some other branch of the major company or lost altogether. So a CD is used for cutting, and (not so rarely) even mp3s! I could bore you to death with ghastly anecdotes….

    But it’s less of an effort to pay minimally higher production costs for increased weight than to spend time finding the best possible source for the mastercut.
    Most of these (commercial) re-releases are then cut at the pressing plant because they offer a package deal. One should not badmouth the competition, but it’s a fact that most cuts by pressing plants are inferior to what independent cutting studios do. Again, horror stories galore...

    It’s for a reason that independent cutting houses / engineers are still thriving even though they are more expensive than the deals the plants offer.

    I think the differences between the pressings you noticed has much more to do with different source material, different attitudes, techniques and equipment of different mastering engineers and studios than the weight issue. Probably more with the skewed VTA.

    And we didn’t even address the plating process: this is at least as much of an “black art” than people think cutting is. Highly skilled workers for things like silvering and de-horning are absolutely elemental (and in short supply).

    You can speed up the process by applying higher current in the galvano, but the bath gets much hotter. The result is a deforming of the soft lacquer, thus producing (sometimes subtle) distortion / alteration of the information cut into the groove.
    Sometimes these are so subtle that you can’t even identify the problem, it just doesn’t sound right.

    And then there’s the pressing: vinyl formulas of varying hardness, settings of press parameters such as pressure, temperature and cooling down period…..

    You probably know most of what I just wrote, I just want to emphasize the significance of certain steps and stages from cutting to playing a record.

    1. Thank you dub master for your detailed informed comments. I do agree with most of your points especially that every step ( and there are so many involved)plays a part in the final sound. Also that I have several thin sounding (120 to 150 g)pressings that sound incredible vs 200g that sound rather 'boring'. Granted VTA and VTF have a profound effect on the tonal balance, etc. I used to adjust VTA for every change of LP even on the fly during playback to the point of distraction from enjoying the music; I stopped fretting with that since awhile. VTF on the Denon 103 is recommended between 2.5 and 2.8g and I settled on 2.64 to 2.7g after spanning the rec. range. I love the old high output Stanton 500AL around 3.55 to 3.75g and the 'non-need' of a step up that the 103 needs.

  3. Pt. 3

    I read that you use a Stanton Broadcast 500 (which I have no experience with) and a Denon DL-103. Both seem to me less than ideal for evaluating what’s actually in the groove, especially regarding the high quality of the rest of your hifi system.

    Don’t get me wrong: the DL-103 is a joy to listen to, so much so that I have to buy a new one because mine is worn out. But it has a low compliance which may suit your tonearms - being 16” I assume they have a high effective mass. But low compliance limits the ability to track the information as well as a high compliance cartridge.

    I was wondering that you play it with only 2.64g. As a broadcast cartridge it’s designed to perform better with a higher VTF.
    I started using mine with 3.0g and after some months increased to 3.5g which really improved the sound. Maybe it’s different with your tonearms, nevertheless the general rule of thumb is a bit like: low compliance + high mass arm = higher VTF.

    As for the 500 AL: as you state a VTF of 3.56g I guess it’s also rather low compliance. I have several vintage Stanton 680 cartridges with different styli like 680E, 680EEE and also conical styli. The elliptical ones are specified at 1.5g, I use them with 2.0 to 2.25g.

    Again, I don’t want to criticize your cartridges, they provide a wonderful and emotional listening experience, but IMHO they have their shortcomings for analytical purposes such as comparisons of different pressings, especially judging distortion and frequency response.
    I don’t know about the MusiKraft, I guess it’s a stripped down DL-103 to get rid of unwanted properties of the plastic housing, but coils, cantilever and stylus geometry are unchanged?

    Especially the DL-103 (combined with Denon AU-320 x-former) makes it a real joy to listen to music. I couldn’t believe it in the beginning because it has a conical stylus. But I enjoyed it just as much as my 680EEE, Shure V15 Type III and IV and the V15VxMR.

    Only later, when I did some diligent A/B comparisons did I notice that the resolution in the high frequencies is a bit better and the tracking distortion a bit less than with the Denon. Especially the V15VxMR not only sounded finer, more transparent and detailed in the high range, but it reached lower into the bass by what felt like an octave, while still being controlled and snappy.

    Of course my experiences can’t be transferred to your setup, everything else being different, especially the linear arm with air bearing. But I hope that sharing them with you might add to your observations and what you conclude from them.

    My home setup is probably a bit low-fi in your view: apart from Technics SL-1210 Mk2 (for DJ use) I have 2 Technics SP-15 with the original plinth, one with a Technics EPA-100 arm, one alternatingly with the EPA-100 Pro and EPA-B500 (with different arm tubes with different mass). So they’re SL-1015s basically.
    Also 2 Sony TTS-3000 belt driven broadcast decks with AT-1005 Mk2 arms - the only heavy arms I have.
    For me that’s sufficient, I do enough analytical hearing at work… but now you know where my comments are coming from.

    One last point about your assumptions about the effects of different cutting levels on the cutterhead: sure, a higher level gets you closer to saturation, but this is insignificant compared to the effects cutting levels have on the playback cartridge:

    The Neumann amps, signal electronics and cutterhead have immense headroom. I can cut signals that kick every stylus out of the groove before coming even close to the limits of the cutting system.

    The differences in sound that you describe are caused by cartridges not being able to reproduce high amplitudes without tracking distortion.

    And you’re absolutely right: a lower level decreases the SNR. That has become more of an issue recently than, say 10 years ago: due to the workload of the pressing plants the vinyl quality has deteriorated by quite some degree.

    But hey! there’s a remedy for that: press 200g vinyls and advertise it obtrusively……



    1. Again thanks Christoph (dub master)for adressing so many pertinent points. I do not dispute that lower compliance carts have technical disadvantages vs higher ones; just like all things audio or in life there are 'plus and minuses' to balance in the equation. One of my main reasons for low-comp. carts is the possibility of using high mass tonearms which I prefer in sound (too long for explaining details here) and conical tips for their 'un-fussyness' of alignment, etc. As for the Stanton 680 series (regardless of styli Eliptical or conical, and their higher price vs the 500's)which 2 of my friends have on their SL-1200 mk2, I compared them with the 500s and found them inferior to mine for my taste with much less bass weight and 'body'. I hated the old Shure SC35C but liked the V15 (can't recall which version)overall not finding anything irritating but with it, but less 'involving' in groove and where my sonic priorities stand for. I still have my ET air-bearing tracker (resting on a shelf) but since my custom 16-inch rosewood pivoted tonearm on my custom table I don't miss it and this precludes the use of low VTF high-comp like the Shure V15s. Yes the Musikraft is basically what you suspected but more more (for details click on the brand name in my blog links) Another friend has a SP15 in the original plinth with a SME 3009 on it and putting the superb objective measurements and broadcast performance aside and close pedigree with the more expensive SP10, it easily beated the SL-1200mk2 and similar versions but did not 'blow me away' in subjective enjoyment as opposed to idler drive Garrards 301, 401 and Thorens TD124 and good heavy platter, belt drives like my own and Verdier. Finally my choice of equipment (carts included) is chosen for my priorities: musical pleasure, groove, boldness, dynamics, soundstage size, etc. over analytical and hyper-detailed sound, etc. and is just as pertinent to judge differences in pressings and mastering choices as a different route because in the end my evaluations and ratings are totally subjective reflecting my inner tastes. The correct interpretation of my detailed descriptions rest to a certain degree on the informed reader - like you definitely are.