When it comes to high-end audiophile vinyl playback, the desired standard is the moving coil cartridge. These come with, um, issues. But at their best, they are the best. Now, I’ve been listening to high fidelity audio since the early 1970s, first with a turntable from a Japanese manufacturer – CDC or CEC, I’m not sure – which was then principally an OEM supplier for other brands, with its S-shaped tonearm fitted with a generic moving magnet cartridge. I’m sure that on an audiophile scale of one to ten, it was probably about a 6.5, but since I learned early how to carefully adjust things like tracking pressure and antiskating, it left my early LPs remarkably undamaged. Later I moved through a Dual 505 turntable and Shure cartridge combination, ending up with a Luxman glass-platter turntable with a Helius tonearm and an Adcom moving coil cartridge.
But that Adcom cartridge – nice as it seemed to me at the time – was a high output moving coil cartridge. That means more coils on the end of the cantilever than a regular low output moving coil cartridge. And that cancels out some of the benefits of moving coil cartridges, particularly the low moving mass.
The Goldring Ethos cartridge is a real moving coil model. It is hand built, with a small number of turns (its internal resistance is just four ohms). And its output level is pretty much in line with traditional moving coil levels.
Goldring has been in this business for 116 years. And the Goldring Ethos cartridge is its present top-of-the-line model. Let’s see how it performed.
- The Goldring Ethos is the company’s top-of-the-line phono cartridge
- Low output moving coil design
- Aircraft-grade aluminium casing
- Neodymium magnet
- Vital line-contact stylus on aluminium alloy cantilever
- 5 to 2.0 grams tracking force, 1.75 grams recommended
- 25mm/N static compliance
- 10 to 35,000 hertz frequency range, 35 to 20,000 hertz ±2dB frequency response
- Greater than 30 dB at 1 kHz channel separation
- 5mV ± 1dB at 5cm/sec at 1kHz output
- Internal inductance: 7.5mH, 100pf to 1000pf load capacitance recommended
- Internal resistance: 4 ohms, 100 ohms load resistance recommended
- Body dimensions: 17.1mm wide (main body, 9.5mm), 15.7mm tall, 23.6mm deep; 26.6mm deep including pins; 17.1mm top to stylus tip
- 7 grams weight (without hardware), 8.4 grams (with short bolts), 8.5 grams (with long bolts)
- Price: $1799.95
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division (Goldring Ethos Moving Coil Cartridge)
More about the Goldring Ethos cartridge
I liked its styling. It’s a touch utilitarian, and the aluminium doesn’t positively shine. But it’s slim and has parallel edges, which helped significantly in aligning the cartridge as I installed it into the Thorens TD 1600 turntable. The four connection pins are colour coded, and the half-inch mounting holes are threaded. That might seem like only a small convenience, but when you’re installing a cartridge without threaded holes, attempting with only two hands to hold in place a screwdriver, the cartridge, the bolt and the screw, you quickly come to miss them. Seriously, threaded holes on a cartridge reduce the installation pain by eighty percent.
And that slim, parallel styling reduced the pain even further. I set the cartridge as best as I could manage to the Thorens-recommended 17.8mm overhang, and it was easy to check the two-point tracking angle with a protector thanks to the parallel sides. The Goldring Ethos was as easy to install as any cartridge I’ve ever installed. And I have done a few.
As is usual for moving coil cartridges, the stylus is not user replaceable. The cartridge has to go back to the factory when the stylus is worn. Your retailer can give advice about the procedure. And how long would that be? Goldring doesn’t say. Diamond styluses on modern low-tracking-weight cartridges typically last from 300 hours to 1000 hours, depending on their design. For regular elliptical, the lower end of that range is appropriate. For microlinear – which seems to be kind of similar to the Goldring Ethos’ “vital line-contact” – the life tends to be towards the top end of that range, or around a thousand hours. That’s a lot of records.
The aluminium construction was interesting. It seemed to be absolutely impenetrable to electrical noise. My usual record-playing procedure is thus: place the record on the Thorens TD 1600 turntable, remove the turntable lid and place it aside, clamp down the record with a 1980s period G.B. Record Clamp, spin it up, apply a carbon fibre brush to the disk for a few revolutions, wipe it off, then point a Milty Zerostat 3 antistatic gun at the record and fire a bunch of ions to ensure any residual electrostatic charge on the surface is neutralised. After all that, I place the stylus in the groove and listen.
Squirting those ions with the Zerostat within 30cm of the cartridge results, with most cartridges, significant noise being generated by the cartridge. It’s not the ions, most likely, but the burst of electrostatic energy from the piezo electric mechanism. The fact that this produced no noise with the Golding Ethos cartridge was impressive and suggested that the aluminium casing provides excellent protection against any kind of electrical interference.
Following the minimally complicated installation of the Goldring Ethos cartridge, I dialled in the 1.75 gram tracking pressure, and then set to work getting the antiskating right. I find the Thorens TD 1600 turntable’s antiskating mechanism quite tricky. I initially set the antiskating by using an ungrooved section of a test record, but this ended resulting in too much correction as the stylus neared the centre of the record, resulting in an occasional skip backwards. I worked up a compromise that produced excellent stability. The test record was a “trackability” disk. The Goldring Ethos played them all the most difficult levels with clean assurance.
I had a look at the specifications of the Goldring Ethos cartridge and set the Simaudio Moon 310LP phono pre-amplifier to the following settings: 60dB gain, 100 ohms input impedance and 470pF load capacitance. According to its specifications, the Ethos is relatively insensitive to load capacitance, suggesting that anywhere from 100pF to 1000pF works. 470pF struck me as splitting the difference.
One final note: each cartridge is individually inspected at the factory and provided with a business-card-sized “Certificate of Inspection” attesting to it meeting several performance parameters, thus:
Listening with the Goldring Ethos cartridge
- Thorens TD 1600 turntable (Thorens TD 1600 review)
- Simaudio Moon 310LP phono preamplifier (Simaudio Moon 310LP review)
- Schiit Audio Freya S preamplifier (Schiit Audio Freya S review)
- Schiit Audio Vidar power amplifier (Schiit Audio Vidar review)
- Lenehan Audio pure copper ribbon speaker cables with gold-plated spade lugs
- Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers (Dynaudio Contour 20i review)
Okay, I confess! I broke my pledge. My pledge (only to myself) was that I’d run this cartridge for at least a dozen hours before paying any attention to the sound. I know, lots of manufacturers recommend that their products be run in for a while, sometimes quite a while. I must say that I haven’t generally found this recommendation persuasive when it comes to electronic products, such as amplifiers and DACs and so on. But electro-mechanical components such as loudspeakers and phono cartridges are a different matter. Semi-elastic materials such as rubber and silicone will settle into a “groove” after a while. So there’s no point in pronouncing on their sound until they’ve done that settling-in.
So I’d resolved to just spin discs for a dozen hours before paying said attention. But I made a mistake. After Christening the cartridge with a recent second-hand purchase of a near-pristine copy of Nickin’ Off, jazz works from Australian clarinettist (and Australian Greek welfare advocate) Nick Polites with his 1960 and 1971 bands, I found, flicking through my record collection, a classical work to which I have not listened since the 1980s. This was the great Sviatoslav Richter playing works from Sergei Prokofieff, specifically the astonishing Piano Concerto No. 5, along with some lesser pieces which I couldn’t be bothered typing out. This Deutsche Grammaphon LP didn’t say anything about when and where it was recorded, as was the norm for those days. But the invaluable Discogs says that the Concerto was recorded in Warsaw in 1958. I had no idea it was that old.
But even though I’d sworn off paying much attention, the delivery of this 74-year-old recording drew me in instantly. The virtuosity of the right hand in the upper octaves could well overload some systems. There must be pretty high levels of upper midrange and treble in that, but the Goldring Ethos sailed gracefully through the groove, while delivering every bit of bite in percussive piano attack.
For a long time I had a “Dark Side of the Moon” bias. Music recorded after DSotM was generally captured pretty accurately. Stuff before that … not so much. But with recordings like this Prokofiev piece, and with a lot of jazz from the late 1950s and 1960s, I’ve been forced to revise my view. This recording was exciting, with precise placement of all the instruments, not just the piano, and a superbly dynamic presentation. I broke my pledge, and sat and enjoyed.
However. I see that I now have 38 checkmarks on a piece of paper, each one meaning a side played. At an average of twenty minutes a side, that’s a little over twelve hours. So time to do that critical listening.
I started with a record that had been sitting unopened for weeks while I awaited this moment. That was the self-titled debut album of The B-52’s on a Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release. There is only one way to play this record: loud. So I wound it up and lowered the needle and was greeted with an extraordinary performance. Yes, even on a premium-price Mofi release there’s a little between-track groove noise (and a fair bit of crackle as the final track on side one concludes), but this disappeared below the threshold of audibility the moment the music emerged. There was that bite again, and absolutely magnificent separation. That’s separation not just of left and right channels, but between the instruments both in space and in tone. Every element of the music, each instrument, each individual voice, each strike of each piece of percussion, could be heard and picked out from the mix. Or I could equally just let it all just flow over me.
When the bass kicked in on the first track, “Planet Claire”, it had a rare authority that’s missing from the CD I’ve been using these many years. The opening strains of “Rock Lobster” exhibited a surprising air, a slight distance back in the sound stage that the CD never even hints at. And when the track kicks up a gear partway through, with a remarkably deep bass undercurrent, I found the rhythmic intensity superbly conveyed.
That prompted me to move onto the final track of side B of Santana’s Caravanserai, this pressing a Speakers Corner release. “Every Step of the Way” is a very, very busy track, with all the percussion going full bore for much of the time and with Santana’s guitar quite a way back in the mix. The amount of detail in the percussion that the Goldring Ethos extracted from the vinyl was extraordinary. Where on its surface was a conga being struck by a hand? I could hear where.
Over on side A I selected a more orderly track, “Song of the Wind”. All the percussion is there, but this one is focused on Santana’s solo. It is a beautiful, well, singing performance. Around the guitar the congas and bongos dance, along with the cymbals from the drum kit, placed just to the left of centre, and delivered with air and presence, even at their low-in-the-mix level.
Then to some slightly older vinyl with much older music. This one is Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582, on the Telarc recording Bach: The Great Organ At Methuen. Played by Michael Murray, this was released in 1980 and features the deepest, fullest C-pedal of any pipe organ recording I’ve ever heard. On the CD version, I find that the climax of the Passacaglia tends to a little incoherence with so many pipes firing mids and highs over the top of that super deep bass, all combined with venue reflections. But on the turntable with the Goldring Ethos managing matters, it all came together with remarkable clarity, avoiding the CD excesses. The sweetness of the mid-sized and smaller pipes during the Fugue was also fully brought out.
I didn’t only listen to new and pristine vinyl. Indeed, as I’m writing these very words, I have spinning on the turntable The Artistry of Maria Callas, excerpts from her astonishing 1953 performance of La Traviata. This album was gifted to me by grandmother perhaps half a century ago. It’s massively flawed, of course. First, it is fake stereo, since the original recording was a bit before stereo became a thing. Secondly, the tonal quality is kind of thin. I am certain of this because after considerable effort I managed to purchase the full original recording on CD, and it also is thin. Finally, I think my grandmother gave it to me before I managed to achieve the turntable I mentioned in the opening. So it may have been subject to the abuse of a Panasonic three-in-one stereo with a ceramic cartridge tracking at in excess of ten grams.
And you know what? It sounds thin, and kind of old, but without the nasty groove damage to which I’d somewhat reconciled myself (and which had driven me over those decades to track down the CD version). This is nobody’s idea of real high fidelity (and neither is the CD), but what this does show is that the vital line-contact stylus in the Goldring Ethos cartridge seems able to evade groove damage inflicted by a heavily-laden conical stylus.
With that successful experience with an old record, I grabbed another one that my grandmother had given me, the one that got me onto the Passacaglia and Fugue in the first place, Bach Organ Recital, a Music for Pleasure release. I played the Passacaglia section and again, there was no audible groove damage despite the thrashing the early teen me gave the record. I love this cartridge. It’s made a whole bunch of old records listenable.
The Goldring Ethos cartridge is a great performer with new pristine vinyl, delivering excellent detail, plenty of punch and a great sound stage. An unexpected bonus was its ability to resurrect some records with groove damage from use with poor playback equipment. Very well worth a listen.
As for me, the Goldring Ethos is now permanently in place on the Thorens TD 1600.