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Grado Labs Statement Reference Series 2 Mono Cartridge: A World Premier Review!

10-24-2015 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 82

New Grado Labs Wooden Cartridge

Winner! Winner! Winner!

Finally, Grado Labs has stepped up with a mono phono cartridge you can take home to mother. After much research, John Grado has developed an entirely new motor and sculpted wood body which sings with unbeatable clarity and organic color. The Statement Reference Series 2 Mono was truly worth waiting for, and is a world beater, too! 

Installation

Its large size and motor positioning presented no difficulty in mounting and setup. This is one big, wide body wood cartridge made of hand-sculpted Jarah wood. I set the tracking at 1.6 grams nominal and .5 grams anti-skate nominal. I later reduced anti-skate to almost zero for maximum musicality and richness. I suspect anti-skate will vary based on your arm, but less sounds best in my tests. The Grado sounded superb when aligned dead level with a 180 gram LP. I recommend 50-100 hours break-in before critical listening. 

New Grado Labs Wooden Cartridge

Cartridge Details

  • Jarah wood body
  • Elliptical diamond stylus
  • 1 mV output
  • Loads into 47kohms 
  • Grado will also have models as in the previous series:
  • Platinum2 Mono and Stereo
  • Sonata2 Mono and Stereo
  • Master2 Mono and Stereo

My Reference System

My system features the E.A.R. Disk Master Magnetic Drive Turntable with Helius Omega Tonearms, Kubala-Sosna Elation! RCA interconnects as tone-arm cables and interconnects, the E.A.R. 88PB Phono Tube Preamp with Paravicini transformers engaged, an E.A.R. 912 Tube Preamp, two E.A.R. 890 Mono-block amplifiers, Marten Bird Speakers with Diamond Tweeters, and the REL Stadium III Sub.

Though the Grado has a stated 1mV output, I found it more dynamic, colorful, and state-of-the-art with the Paravicini MC transformers engaged. There was just insufficient gain to be satisfying in my phono stage with MM only. Certainly try it both ways, but be prepared to use a MC step-up transformer with the Grado Mono for top performance. Also, I advise you not to engage the mono button when using this cartridge. Leave it in the stereo position. The artificial mono phase correcting circuitry is unnecessary with a mono cartridge.

New Grado Labs Wooden Cartridge

Performance Overview

This is the most intensely musical and organic mono cartridge I have ever heard, surpassing the Dynavector XV1 Mono and the Koetsu Coralstone Mono in overall performance. The Grado may be exceeded very slightly in color density and right-to-left separation (which is not the same as stereo!) by the Miyajima Premium BE Mono Phono Cartridge, though the Grado beats it in depth, definition, and cost. If the new Grado were made in Europe and not here, it would cost twice as much!

The Grado yields unprecedented and unequaled depth of image, with extraordinary solidity of imaging on my top mono LPs. Ultra-low grain is apparent. Musical colors are addictive and extremely dense, bringing life to golden oldies and reissues alike. Right-to-left separation is excellent, filling the space between the speakers in most cases. The cartridge never mistracked, 33 or 45 RPM, flat or warped, thin or thick.

The high band is smooth, open, and natural. Nothing forced or etched with this design. You'll hear a beautiful sense of integration with the mid-band. Enjoy tons of definition here, and always a very neutral feel, with dense musical colors. I particularly like the way it subdues surface noise without loss of musical detail. The Grado leaves the original 1950's studio sound alone, retaining the character of the early content.

The mid-band is delicious! More air than a tornado in Kansas! Older LPs sound right as rain. Reissues do sound more modern and powerful, as well they should. Images are the right size, but very dense with suave musical colors. Grain is nearly non-existent. The Grado Mono produces very alive, weighty, and natural uber-definition which makes one feel just like the performance is in the room! No exaggeration! Just wait until you hear vocals gorgeously rounded and life-like with this new Grado cartridge!

The bass band is tight, strong and deep. There is lots of air and definition. The bass is well integrated into the mid-band. I really like the tuneful nature of this bass. There's ultra-low grain, too, all probably due to the Grado's great tracking ability. The distortion level of this design must be near zero! The added wood in the cartridge body is surely damping resonances in the cartridge which might blur the bass and lower mids. Well done, John Grado!

If you have Blue Rose, the Rosemary Clooney/Duke Ellington, Columbia CL872, re-issue by Pure Pleasure of Great Brittain, listen to this first with the Grado. I think this disk alone will sell you on the benefits of a mono cartridge in your collection. That clear, warm, lucid 1956 sound will rock your world—and oh, is she sexy. Her voice is rounded and present. Piano tones are perfectly pitched and alive. And the horns, they do soar! When this reference disk is right, all will be well with your world.

The new Grados no longer just say "Grado" on the front, but also have John have a large "M" carved into the wood face. The overall look of the new design is startling and compelling. Mounting screw holes are drilled into the body for easy installation. No quibbles so far...just glorious mono sound no stereo cartridge switched to mono can provide.

New Grado Labs Wooden Cartridge

Summary

At last, a high-end, state-of-the-art Mono cartridge from Grado, the Grado Labs Statement Reference Series 2 Mono Cartridge. At a price less than ALL the major competition, it outperforms the best of them. Plus, it is made right here in Brooklyn. I had no idea how many mono LPs I owned, both original and reissue, but night after night I have enjoyed listening to these heavenly records as they were meant to be played. When you use a mono cartridge, you hear the real deal, not just a contrived production. 

The Grado Labs Statement Reference Series 2 Mono Cartridge is an instant classic and a mainstay for anyone who loves authentic mono LPs and calls themselves an audiophile.

My highest recommendation!

Price:  MSRP $1500

John A Chen, Director of Sales, Grado Labs

www.gradolabs.com

jc@gradolabs.com

All photographs by Jonathan Grado.

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