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Grado Labs Prestige Black2 Phono Cartridge: A World Premier Review

11-03-2017 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 94

Grado Labs Prestige Black2 Phono Cartridge

Have I got great news for you! The development of the brilliant, new Epoch $12,000 Grado Lineage Series Cartridge (see my review of it in PF Issue 92 HERE), incorporating unique and inventive engineering galore, caused the design team headed by John Grado himself to rethink the entire cartridge line-up! This includes their entry-level cartridges. First out of the lab, the venerable Grado Black1, now the Black2, with improvements and tweaks to their least expensive cartridge, which trickled down from their most expensive design.

Result: a $75 giant killer!


  • Output:  4 Mv (needs no step-up device)
  • Frequency response:  10-55,000Hz
  • Channel Separation:  25dB, 10-3000Hz
  • Stylus:  diamond elliptical
  • Input load:  47,000 ohms
  • DC Resistance:  475 ohms
  • Cartridge weight:  6 grams
  • Tracking force:  1.5 grams (my testing showed 1.5 is correct)
  • Mounting:  P-mount or 1/2 inch screw mount (no spacers to be used)
  • Vertical adjustment:  Front of cartridge should be exactly 90 degrees to record surface

The Black2 is an MI cartridge and weighs in at half a gram more than the Black1. Though the coils are smaller and more precise, which is part of the secret of the Epoch. The newly produced Alnico magnets are more powerful and also slightly smaller, but heavier. This change lowers overall distortion, reduces output a tiny bit, widens separation, increases dynamics, widens signal to noise ratio, and reduces phase/stray ambiance distortion. Clarity is increased rather dramatically from front-to-rear sound stage. 

Also, a putty-like substance is incorporated into the stylus receptacle chamber. This lowers distortion and improves tracking such that even my very difficult to track Three Blind Mice LPs were no problem at all. Bass is enhanced and tighter. Using a medium mass tonearm yielded excellent performance at all frequencies. Did I say this was a $75 cartridge? 

If I were Ortofon, Shure, Denon, or Sumiko, I would be heading for the hills with the development of the Black2. Seconds after playing my favorite Ellington reference LPs, Three Blind Mice jazz LPs, 6 Eye of Kind of Blue, my best Coltrane 45 RPM LPs, and everything else at hand, I forgot that I was using a $75 cartridge. Was the Black2 perfect? Yes, in its own way.

The Black2 is very even top to bottom at all frequencies. Not a lump or bump in emphasis at any frequency was evident. No fuzziness or graininess was evident. My friends, this is a miracle at this price level.

Sure, it was not as fleshy as the Grado Statement2 or Epoch. It was not as dramatic or dynamic as those cartridges. The Black2 did demonstrate nearly the same sound staging and depth. But it did have a musical feel, neutrality, and mellifluousness that highly resembled the top of the line. It was very, very good overall, and convincing in its performance in my room. The imaging was somewhat smaller, but just as precise. Timbrel layering was honest, realistic, and easy on the ears. Definition was just ridiculously good for its price range!

There is a point I need to make here, and I mean every word of it. My experience with the top-of-the-line Grado Epoch cartridge has shown me the importance of "clarity" in phono reproduction on high-end systems. The Epoch is unsurpassed for clarity, and so is the Black2 in its price range. Grado Labs, after making cartridges since 1953, has brought us a breakthrough in cartridge design and performance that will explode and permeate through their entire line of offerings. The Black2 was just the first to be redone. More to come.

Younger newcomers to LPs, or turntable lovers on a tight budget:  take note!


The Grado Labs Prestige Black2 Phono Cartridge breaks the sound barrier with very high performance in its low, low price range. Killer improvements borrowed from the development for the Epoch super cartridge reveal their benefits, even in a $75 design. The Black2 has no competitor I can think of. It even tracks the toughest LPs. The Black2 gives you see-through clarity that only $300+ cartridges could achieve just a few years ago. I can hardly wait to see what's next!

Meanwhile, if you need a great cartridge that just exudes musical truth and costs like a steak dinner at Ruth's Chris, buy the Grado Labs Prestige Black2 Phono Cartridge. Highly recommended.

Prestige Black2 Phono Cartridge

Retail: MSRP $75

Grado Labs

4614 7th Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11220