I’m not “Shure” anymore…
I’ve always been fond of Grado cartridges, because I like the sound and the fact they’re hand made in Brooklyn in a way that seems quite anachronistic today. I will probably keep loving and admiring the Grado way of doing business, but after I stumbled upon a humble Shure cartridge someone was about to throw away, I am not “shure” I will be listening to my records only through Grados anymore…
Sometime during 2017, someone told me they found an old turntable and that it was going to be trashed. They asked me if I wanted to have a look at it before they threw it away, just in case. Well, I don’t even remember the brand of the cheap deck. It was not working, I could not do anything about it. I trashed it myself, but I kept the cartridge. The brand name demanded it to be saved: Shure.
The model was clearly written on the cartridge side: Me97HE “Encore”. It was not easy to find information about it on the internet,so after a while I convinced myself it was not really worth keeping. I decided to try and sell it. Any reasonable price would have been good, since I got it for free. So I started asking for 40-50 euros. Someone asked me if I was sure it was still working but I had no stylus to try it (nor money to spend even on cheap ones at the time). I checked with a tester and the conncectios seem to read all fine. But the potential buyer – luckily – disappeared. I later saw similar carts at much higher asking prices, around 80 euros, so I raised mine. Luckily – again – no one stepped forward.
I had been very clumsy with my cartridges later, two Grado bodies and a Gold1 and 8MZ stylii – I managed to damage both. I had no working cartoridges for my Thorens TD-160. So I started researching again about the mysterious Shure.
Some enquiry in certain forums clarified the issue. The venerable M97 cartridge from the 70s was highly regarded by the fans of the brand. It was a small step below the legendary V15 IV of its era, and some even preferred it over the latter. The Encore series of the 80s where cheaper reissues of the best models of the 70s. As they were made in Mexico, some regarded them as poorly made, or at least of variable quality due to supposedly random QC at Shure Mexico. Meanwhile, Shure had quitted the turntable business altogether and prices of carts and stylii were floating. I’ve found some Me97HE ads at over 100 euros! I started finding good opinions about the Me97, too. Apparently, the insides of the cart are the same as in the original M97 and V15 IV and V! Wow! Many also testified it measured the same electrical values. I needed a stylus for a try!
The HE suffix stands for the hyper-elliptical shape of the diamond tip. Incidentally, the latest Shure cartridge ever produced was an M97, the xE, with an elliptical stylus and a much debated roll-off at the highest top of the frequency response (supposedly adopted by Shure lately, due to complaints of shrillness in expert reviews). Many do not like this – the Shure V15, M97 and the likes, were highly appreciated for their flat response. Apparently, my Me97 has the original flat response in its potential.
The Japanese Jico and SAS are well known for their excellent aftermarket stylii for Shure cartridges, but they are expensive. Ed Saunders was also known for its high-value Shure replacements, but I had already had a bad experience when I tried to adopt a V15 III LM (one I regret having sold, anyway). Then I came across an ad about a used Nagaoka M97ED replacement stylus. It was an elliptical, not a hyperelliptical stone cut, but it had the dampening brush and telescoped cantilever. And it was just 28 euros. I just couldn’t spend much more for a cartridge I didn’t even know if it really was in working order. So I went for it and …wow!
As soon as I heard the first sound from a single channel (one of the headshell leads was not correctly connected) I was taken by surprise. After I connected the lead well, I was amazed. The deep, full and down to the earth sound that came out of a 28 euro stylus on a cart I had for free was simply astonishing. What if I had a real HE stylus for that?
This unassuming little plastic Shure cart from a cheap and small turntable is making me question my own love affair with Grado cartridges. I will need to know what this can do with a proper top quality hyperellitic tip. For a while I doubted it would have been worth speding money on a brand that doesn’t exist anymore. However, Shure had never supported old cartridges, and they wouldn’t have supported the old Me97 too, even if they were still in the business. If I think back to the flattering review Geoff Husband wrote on TNT-Audio about the Shure V15 VxMR, which made me go after the above mentioned V15 III, I feel fairly compensated after having been so quick to get rid of the V15; eventually I have found the supposedly very similar Me97 for no money at all.
I just wish I could hear this cart with a Jico/SAS HE stylus.