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Grado Black MM Cartridge Review

grado black review

TL;DR:

Grado Black Cartridge Review. The Black is a MM (Moving Magnet) cartridge that offers incredible value for money and a beautiful easy on the ear sound signature with airy smooth qualities. Setup is easy and has a frequency response of 10Hz to 55kHz.


Review Preface:

Mostly known for their astounding range of earphones and headphones, Grado is the aesthetically vintage-vibe brand that has sonically taken audiophiles to the very limits of perfection. With an extraordinarily high precedent that has been set from our previous encounters with Grado products, we absolutely expect this same level of quality to resonate with their entry-level moving magnet cartridge range. Known as the Grado ‘Black’, we shall today cast our eyes and ears over this entry-level cartridge below the ‘Green’ that metaphorically resembles a mild mannered beauty and the beast contest.


Unboxing, Build Quality, and Features:

Presenting itself inside a miniscule white-label box, the ‘Black’ arrives in your hands without any bold intimate presentation of what this cartridge will do to your relationship with your vinyl’s. It does however include a plastic protection tube that’s inhabits the Grado ‘Black’, the stylus removal tool, and a instruction manual with guarantee.


With the beauty seemingly locked away until we reach the sound quality sector, I personally find the visual aesthetics of this unit to significantly lack refinement. Admittedly the housing is crude, the awkward ‘one-use’ needle guard is forgettable, and all-in-all the manufacturing machinery appears to have run riot to produce a less than polished finish…. But, we should remember that these aesthetic failures are forgivable in a dimly lit environment below the overhang of a headshell, and with a one-year manufacturers warranty. Granted we may be slightly visually offended to a presence in the hand, however, we really should forgive, forget, leave it under the headshell, and return to more serious matters.


Sporting a fully consumer replaceable stylus, this unit seats itself within an odd putty filled receptacle chamber. Grado make it clear that this substance should not, under any circumstance, be removed so please remove all curiosity before checking or replacing any stylus. Having this internal substance possibly dampens unwanted resonant frequencies from transmitting during playback, so we are all for this design.

The specific stylus type that is used here is known as an elliptical (bi-radial) diamond stylus. This type of stylus features a sharp edge that digs deep into the groove of the vinyl to distribute a minimum tracking weight whilst attempting to play back higher frequencies with greater precision, and is strictly not intended for DJ scratching.


As previously mentioned this cartridge only requires a poultry 1.5g tracking force. This does mean that you should regularly maintain your records with an anti-static brush, or that you use a needle cleaning device to remove dust to prevent skipping. From our extensive testing we can confirm that this weighting is bang on the nose, and allows you to get a great 20Hz to 20kHz response even though the rated response is 10Hz to 55kHz. Finally the moderate 4MV output is nothing to write home about, but it does mean that the ‘Black’ is appropriate for the majority of connected outputs bar very-low output devices where a higher output cartridge would be best suited.


Grado Black Sound Quality:

Before continuing with this section I would like it to be known that for this cartridge to really sing praises it needs to be properly set up. With missing this critical step you might experience a lack of treble frequency extension or bass-end distortion. We always recommend that this should be performed with a fully calibrated digital scale, alignment protractor, and then to run the cartridge in.


Passing this initial tweaking, we have found the stereo width to be nicely presented with central vocals lines that just pop whilst more spatial rhythmic elements appear defined alongside slightly off stage lead and rhythm guitars that have a nice spatial dimension that is believable. Unlike some other cartridges the ‘Black’ does not have a habit of throwing instruments too far off into the stereo field for the fact that they are slightly more reigned in without that ‘stuck to your ears’ or ‘in your head quality’. Condensing all of the above is to basically suggest that you won’t get what Michael Jackson described as a ‘punch in the ear’, but more of a private concert in a smaller room without that lost feeling you would get if it was overly vast and through an inexpensive PA or mix.


For a deceptively low retail value, the Grado Black fights a great battle as it presents a very pleasant experience with a nice round bass response, and glistening highs that amalgamate into an involving performance. Although they don’t go quite a high as you might expect if you cast your mind back to the reported frequency response, there is still a nice realism about them that expels any harshness and leads to a luscious midrange. I do find that the ‘Black’ has a tendency to brush over some of the finer details, but during many listening sessions you won’t be too hung up because this is a budget cartridge that doesn’t even attempt to behave like something that it cannot compete with. Seemingly with this brief weighing up you might forget that the surface performance of the ‘Black’ is exceptional. To summarise the bass is more vintage sounding, the mids are quite smooth and fluid, whilst the top isn’t overly extended. The mention of the treble frequencies is dependent on many factors; such as if you are using an acrylic platter the top end might appear to be a touch less present.


Review Conclusion:

Whilst the Grado ‘Black’ certainly won’t win any awards for visual aesthetics, but when it comes to sound quality and performance it ticks all the right boxes over and over again. We would like to say that the ‘Black’ is a sure fire hit in it’s price-range, and this little gem is something to be proud of as it easily shares some of the qualities of a much more expensive cartridge. Although we would have liked to have seen the inclusion of a permanent stylus guard, we can still award the Grado ‘Black’ with a whopping five out of five.


Edd Harris

Edd Harris - 22nd September 2013

US RRP: $60.00 | UK RRP: £58.95

Editors Rating:

Five Star Award
Grado Black
5/5 stars
Grado Black Cartridge Review. The Black is a MM (Moving Magnet) cartridge that offers incredible value for money and a beautiful easy on the ear sound signature with airy smooth qualities. Setup is easy and has a frequency response of 10Hz to 55kHz.
Outstanding Award - The Pro Audio Web Blog