Benz Micro Gullwing SLR Moving Coil Phono Cartridge
If you are wondering whether there is any reason or benefit to going above the $1500 range for a cartridge the answer is: “absolutely.”
Published on May 22, 2010
5662 Shattuck Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609
Moving coil cartridge with .34mV output; >400 ohms recommended loading; 12.2 grams; Compliance of 15; 1.8-2.0 recommended tracking force; VTA 20-22 degrees; 40 ohm internal impedance; two-year warranty against defects. Also available in SHR version (.7mV output).
Information from Musical Surroundings: “The Gullwing is a hybrid of the LP S class, Ruby and Glider cartridges...it uses a brass frame and is Rhodium-plated for superior electrical characteristics. The generator is based on the Ruby square plate. The SLR low output is best used with phono stages offering greater than 60dB gain, loaded at 400 ohms or higher. The SHR at .7mV is ideal for tube phono stages in the 50-60dB gain range, less efficient systems, and prefers a 47k load. The open-air design is based on the Glider, but with the much heavier brass material and the very large Neodymium magnet used with the Ruby.” This means 12.2 grams weight versus 6.8 grams for the Glider. Additionally, the Gullwing uses the Micro-ridge stylus (that is on all the Benz Swiss-made cartridges). The new stylus is claimed to have “enhanced trackability, resolution and [I assume less]groove wear.” Based on the compliance of 15, recommended effective tonearm mass should be between 10 grams and 14 grams to ensure a combined resonance above 8 Hz.
Sonneteer Sedley Phono Preamplifier, Linn LP12 Turntable with Ittok LVII tonearm and Valhalla board, Clearaudio Champion Basic with RB300 tonearm, Benz Wood L2 cartridge (for comparison), Krell S-300i Integrated Amplifier, McIntosh MA6300 Integrated Amplifier, Bowers & Wilkins 804 Diamond speakers, Bowers & Wilkins CM9 speakers, Audioquest cabling, PS Audio Power Plant Premier Conditioner.
I had hoped to get a couple of cartridges to do a comparison between the Benz and other well-known brands (Lyra and Dynavector). Time, availability and my workload got in the way. Rather than sit on this review I felt it would be important to get it written, so people would know about this cartridge (as it's a new model and the one I had was a prototype).
There were two basic setups that I auditioned. One utilized a fellow audiophile's gear and included tracks using both the Benz Wood and Gullwing cartridges and burning them to a CD to audition later. Also, I spent hands-on time listening with the equipment above. After the last few reviews (of vinyl equipment), setting up the Gullwing was a snap. Even though the sample I used was a prototype and had time on it, my friend suggested it got better after he used it for hours (before he burned the recording).
With a comparison of “Big Blue Spanish Sky” from Chris Issak's Heart Shaped World the Gullwing offered better focus and more depth. This made instruments more natural and vocals more realistic. There was less record noise without any seeming reduction in high frequency and reverberation.
The difference with “Like A Rose” from Lucinda Williams' self-titled LP was even more prominent. With the lesser cartridge there was sibilance and distortion on the vocals when the level increased and although this problem was most likely record copy related, the sound with the Gullwing was an entirely different story. First, the guitar sounded more lively. The vocals improved dramatically in regards to focus and the distortion heard earlier was no longer bothersome at all. Bass went deeper and the presentation was more accurate overall. These were not small differences, but clearly audible and worthwhile improvements.
Some of the other tracks auditioned were: “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, “Eye in the Sky” by The Alan Parson's Project, “What I Am” from Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, “How Deep is Your Love” off the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack and “Tell Everybody I Know” off Keb Mo's self-titled album. I could go on and on about the sound, but in truth, this is the best sounding cartridge I've used so far. Of course, I've heard much more expensive cartridges and setups in others homes and at shows, but for me, this answered a big question which is: “Is paying $3000 for a cartridge worth it?” Read the conclusion below for the answer.
Simply put, the Gullwing is an outstanding phono cartridge. It presented the music in the way I felt it should. It didn't cover up musical details or smooth over rough edges, but it definitely managed to eek out what it could from a bad recording and made a quality recording shine. Since I don't have any similarly priced cartridges to compare it with I can't say it is “best-in-class,” but what I can say is that if you are wondering whether there is any reason or benefit to going above the $1500 range for a cartridge the answer is: “absolutely.” Highly recommended.
-- Brian Bloom firstname.lastname@example.org
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