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Premier Review of the Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge

11-27-2017 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 94

Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge

Just when you think an audiophile's life cannot get any better, along comes the most astounding mono cartridge devised by man. From the master of cartridge masters, John Grado, comes a major development. Grado has transformed the stereo version of his Epoch Cartridge into a mono wonder as part of Grado Lineage Series Cartridges. All materials and special techniques remain constant, but the circuit is revised to yield definition, space, and depth that is mind-blowing on the best mono LPs. They are being re-issued by the ton these days, and the Epoch mono will play them better than the lathe used to cut them.

Specs are the same as the stereo Epoch, except that there is no listed right-to-left separation, of course. It tracks like a bandit, and is best set at 1.8-1.9 grams. Level works well for me in my Helius Omega arm. Break-in was interesting. It performed 80% of max right out of the box. At around 50 hours, it jumped the last 20%. This is a lot faster than its stereo twin. 

I used it with the E.A.R. MC4 Step-up Transformer and the new Zesto Andros Allasso MC Step-up Transformer, currently in for review. The phono stage was the E.A.R. 88PB set to MM in anticipation of the step-up devices. I could not get proper gain without tube noise going direct through the MM inputs on the 88PB, even with about 1mv output from the Epoch mono.

Through the E.A.R. MC4 the Grado Epoch mono is huge, rich, and clearly defined to the ultimate. What an experience! All other mono cartridges I have heard to date sound ordinary compared to the Epoch. Depth retrieval is unimaginable and awe inspiring. I used two pair of Jorma Origo interconnects here, known for their neutrality. Vocals were incredibly alive and real. Instruments were spot-on right. If you were going to break the bank with a Koetsu or EMT mono, stop first and listen to the Epoch mono made in Brooklyn, NY! Other mono cartridges cannot shine the shoe, if it had one, of the Epoch mono.

As a side note:  While evaluating the Epoch Mono Cartridge, I discovered the new king of step-up transformers, the outstanding Zesto Audio Allasso! Allasso is Greek for "to change one thing to another." Me, I would have named it "The Titan," or "The Ulysses," or something else that denotes never giving up and always supreme. Oh well, the Allasso is just the most flexible and most neutral sounding step-up ever created. I have no idea what it sounds like! Every cable change/setting change (40 in stereo and 40 in mono) results in a new look into the music. 

I started with the van den Hul Rock and Kubala-Sosna Emotion cables with the Allasso, and later added the amazing new Kubala-Sosna Sensation cables, which raised the definition 25% and added extra control. I could tell you my ultimate setting, but your setup will vary. I believe a load of 400-600 ohms will do quite well, but listen and tweak accordingly.

Choosing cables when using step-ups is important, as many are NOT grounded as well as advertised. Designers love to build unshielded wires to reduce capacitance. These are a disaster in phono sections as a rule.

Back to The Epoch Mono:  It brought out nuances I did not believe existed in mono recordings. Plus, the Epoch brings two other features to the party others do not, namely clarity and control. By "control" I mean slam and energy. A friend of mine called it "blood in the music." This Epoch gives you that definition, layering, and energy you would associate with stereo cartridges. I was stunned that the Epoch mono yields such realism from mono sources. The Epoch Mono is a game changer!

Compared to all mono cartridges I have heard, the Epoch is clearer and supremely open. Distortion is pretty much nonexistent. Phase anomalies just go away. You do not have to touch the mono switch on your preamp. Get all there is to hear with the mono Epoch.

As a lark, I tried the Epoch mono with the $1500 Parasound Junior phono stage designed by John Curl. It sounds like a funny combo, until you hear it for yourself in a high-resolution system. You got a heaping helping of Epoch goodness from this very cool phono stage for about the tax on the cartridge at retail. The Epoch Mono Cartridge is brilliant, and will perform wonderfully through even a modest phono stage.

By the way, I understand from Richard Schram, President of Parasound, that the Junior was built with Grado cartridges in mind. 


The Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge is unimaginably perfect in every way. I would not change a damn thing.


The Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge is in production along with its stereo brother, and both are as good as it gets. Because there has been so little R&D in mono cartridges for LP playback in the last 50 years, the stunning new Epoch mono leapfrogs all current mono offerings that I have heard by a margin I thought impossible. No joke, all other mono cartridges I have experienced are smeared, indistinct, and overly colored compared to the Epoch. The Epoch mono price is a really big hurdle for most folks, but the state-of-the-art has always been expensive.

My verdict:  The Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge has my highest recommendation. 

Grado Epoch Mono Cartridge

Retail: $12,000

Grado Labs

4614 7th Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11220




Images courtesy of Grado Labs and Zesto Audio