This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Reviewer: Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood with RB300, Denon DL103, Clearaudio Nano
Amplifier: McIntosh MA2275, McIntosh MA2275, NuForce Icon, Onix SP3
Speakers: FJ OMs, Rogers LS 3/5a, JohnBlue Audio Art JB4 [on review]
Headphone system: Musical Fidelity Xcanv3, AKG K701
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Libtec, Cobalt Ultimate
Power Cords: Zu Mother
Powerline conditioning: Monster Power HTS5100mkII
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics, Standesign stand
Room size: 15' x 30' x 9' opening to 3 other rooms, short wall setup, suspended wood floor, sheetrock walls and ceiling.
Review component retail: $600

If it ain't broke, don't try n fix it.
Those words of wisdom from my father in law, master electrician by training and trade, kept echoing in my head after I heard from Todd Green -- better known as Todd the Vinyl Junkie (TTVJ) -- how John Grado was coming out with a new-and-improved version of the award-winning Reference line of cartridges. If you are not familiar with Grado's naming system or are just confused by its complexity, here is a very quick and simplified course in Gradology. At the entry level sits the Prestige Series of high output cartridges. They are recognizable, among other details, by their plastic bodies. The Prestige series is composed of Black, Blue and Silver models with increasing levels of complexity in their cantilevers and purer qualities of copper in the coils. A small percentage of the production meeting higher specifications is set aside to become the Green (select Black), Red (select Blue) and Gold (select silver) models.

Four cartridges stand a level above the Prestige series. In increasing order of refinement, those are the Platinum, the Sonata, the Master and the Reference. They all share a wooden body which differentiates them visually from the Prestige cartridges. Each one of those can be had in a high-output version (and belongs in that case to the Reference Series) or in a low-output version (in the Statement series). The Platinum and Sonata regardless of series utilize a four-piece OTL cantilever while the Master and Reference utilize a five-piece OTL cantilever for a further reduction in tip mass. The difference between Platinum and Sonata or Master and Reference has to do with the diamond design used on each cartridge.

So, the Reference Reference is the top line high-output Grado cartridge and the Statement Reference its equivalent low-output version. Confused yet? Then let's add another level of complexity. The Statement series does not stop with the Reference cartridge. It also includes a model called the, ah, Statement which sits at the very top of the Grado line of cartridges. So the Reference Reference is the best high-output cartridge Grado knows how to make and the Statement Statement simply the best Grado ever.

With introductions rendered, let's return to today's topic, the Grado Reference Sonata 1. From the above, you will have instantly deduced that this cartridge has a high output (5mV to be precise) and can therefore be used with any MM phono preamplifier; that it has a wooden body; and that it utilizes a four-piece cantilever. What should still have you puzzled you is the '1' in the name. It is the only visible sign on the shipping box to betray the fact that this is indeed a new generation cartridge. More importantly, it also reveals that John Grado intends those updated cartridges to sit firmly within the Grado family tradition. The new cartridges bearing the '1' extension are evolutions and refinements of a time-tested recipe. Don't expect them to sound like a Benz or a Lyra. That's not on the menu. What are those changes exactly, you ask? I did too:

"We have made four major improvements to these cartridges. We have optimized the size of the coils, cutting back on the number of turns, for sonic quality. We have developed a new process for potting the coils which helps control the resonance in the coils and lowers the noise even more than before. We also have lowered the effective mass of the moving parts in the stylus by 17%, thus allowing for a quicker more accurate reproduction of the music. Finally, we have changed the wood enclosures from Mahogany to Jarrah, which is much harder and denser, adding greater stability to the cartridge as a generating device. Of course, all this was achieved while keeping that world-famous Grado sound."