Grado Prestige Gold1 (£153)

An excellent performer at a very creditable price

New York’s Grado Labs is truly a family business with John Grado, nephew of founder Joseph Grado, taking the company’s presidency in recent years. Alongside phono cartridges, Grado also manufactures a selection of audiophile headphones to suit a range of budgets [HFN May ’11].
   The Grado Gold1 cartridge updates the previous Gold model and sits atop Grado’s entry-level Prestige Series, with five other models beneath, all named after colours with corresponding coloured dots that sit either side of the stylus assembly. These six models should actually be considered as three pairs, each comprising a standard version and a higher-end variant drawn from the same production run, but which achieved a higher specification. All styli within the range are both replaceable and interchangeable.
   While the output of the Gold1 is typical of a MM design, Grado actually adopts moving-iron technology across all its cartridge ranges. Rather than have a magnet attached to the upper end of the cantilever, moving according to the stylus, with fixed coils in the cartridge body (as with MMs – vice-versa for MCs), Grado uses a piece of iron attached to the cantilever while a permanent, bigger magnet sits over the coils, providing the necessary magnetic flux to generate a signal. Both Gold1 and Silver1 models use ultra-high purity long crystal oxygen-free copper wire in their coils with an elliptical diamond mounted within a brass bushing on the alloy cantilever.

Beginning with the Mahler, the Gold1 really enabled the music to breathe and I felt the way this cartridge allowed the piece to build was exactly how Barbirolli had intended. Unlike the forward-sounding Audio-Technica and Nagaoka models which ‘demanded attention’, the Gold1 drew the listener in with naturally reproduced instruments, and in a way that particularly complemented the PJ Harvey album, adding to its ethereal quality. Moving on to the rock material, the Grado’s mellow sound aligned with its powerful bottom end to really bring home how the walking bass lines drive the rhythm of ‘Sweet Surrender’ and ‘Devil Eyes’ in the Buckley album.
   Its ability to separate instruments was also notable with Bonham’s individual drums on ‘Down By The Seaside’, and the Grado rendered the hi-hats with a softness that was pleasant but lacked the accuracy of the Benz Micro. Plant’s vocals were natural and had real timbre, although these were pushed back into the mix, allowing the lead guitar to dominate more than was the case with some other cartridges on test. The Gold1 lacked the more refined treble detail of the Ortofon or Benz, while its warm nature arguably lends itself to acoustic material rather more than the other pick-ups in our test.

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Originally published in the September 2011 issue