A Shure thing – the V15VxMR
He didn’t quite call me “Grandad”, but the tone of his voice clearly placed me in the category of needing an audiophile hearing trumpet. It was my turn to question whether the sales-yoof at one of Dunedin hi-fi dealers was deaf, as he didn’t appear to understand the word. I repeated it louder and enunciating clearly, “cartridge’:
“Grunt”. Again he managed to pack in the implication that not only was I a doddery old bugger but owned a ‘3-in-1’ circa I972.
I hung up.
Other dealers were more helpful, well sort of. “Yes we have one cartridge in stock” (dead stock from 1987) or “We can get anything you care to order and pay for in advance”.
I rapidly had realised that my cartridge needs circa 1998 were very different from those of 1993. While still an analogue animal, my tastes have been very influenced by the long term presence of CDs in the house. Being dedicated to a valve preamp I found I was less tolerant to it’s highish levels of hiss when used with a moving coil cartridge. I then discovered that Audio Technica (presumably once the worlds biggest maker of MCs) were no longer offering an exchange/retipping services.
It started to encourage a siege mentality and the idea of buying my “last” cartridge. Although a potential usage life of 50 years from now is a little daunting! At least a cartridge that I could get replacement styli for, potentially for a good many years, started to be attractive.
The sales-yoof was wrong. I’m not actually old enough to remember when Shure were The Hot Item. In the 60s/70s when specifications reigned supreme, ruler flat frequency response, low tracking force and the ability to play kinky test grooves, Shure did it all. And the V15was the Elvis of cartridges (or perhaps the Rocky given the numbering scheme).
By the 80’s when I started developing my reputation as a time-waster (poor student) amongst hi-fi sales people, Shure’s were starting to look old fashioned. Not that they were low tech, on the contrary, Shure advanced the “older” ideals of low weight and trick cantilevers to new heights. It is with some irony that Shure has outlasted more “modern” cartridge manufacturers to release the V15VxMR.
Being somewhat conservative, Shure haven’t been overly hasty in releasing new V15 models, about one every decade seems the ration.
The V15 IV (1970’s) introduced a slightly controversial feature – the “Dynamic Stabiliser” brush/damper mechanism. This cleaned gunge out of the groove while damping the potential low frequency arm/cartridge resonance. (More on this anon). I was a bit surprised to see that the V15 V had emerged in the early 80’s as it seems newish in my mind. Perhaps the world “needed” something to play the Telarc 1812 Overture? However it did receive enough praise in the US high-end press to be taken seriously (The US tech-end press of course, loved it).
The VISVxMR (Vx to it’s friends?) represents a development of the V, so continues the familiar thin walled boron cantilever, a bikini sized stylus as well as the “Dynamic Stabiliser” brush/damper. Manufacture has now moved to Mexico which may help explain why the US price is near that of the 1982 price. In New Zealand, the Vx is available for $499. Replacement styli are $329.
Replacing the blunt AT-OCS in my system was like moving from a turbo-charged hatchback to a Mere, perhaps not instantly gratifying but ultimately on higher plane of ability.
One of the first things I noticed was the midrange neutrality. This wasn’t just a technological neutrality but one of considerable ease and naturalness. I’m keen on having space round instruments and some depth of musical image, to my surprise the Vx managed this trick effortlessly. What’s more the Vx had the musical ability to allow you to follow several instruments simultaneously with ease. Swapping back to the (cheap but brilliant) Sumiko Oyster made me realise how quiet the Vx is on surface noise too. Bass extension was enough to continue to embarrass my elderly CD player. Speed was good but couldn’t quite catch the Oyster (perhaps exceptional in this area).
At the other end, the treble is nice if not quite in the best moving coil league. Detail was there in abundance. Part of this may be due to the trick Micro Ridge stylus – these types of styli can get in to all the nooks and crannies of the groove but to do so must be set up with considerable care.
All this assumes you’ve got the “Dynamic Stabiliser” clipped up out of the way, it does muddy the pool considerably when in the “operating” position. While detail, speed and imaging abilities all suffer, the basic tonality remains so I found myself using the brush/damper to keep Hairy McClary away when I was only using the turntable for background music (you can only chop and change like this only if you have a tonearm with easily adjustable tracking weight).
I must admit the tweeky part of me is tempted to hot rod the Vx by removing all the “extraneous” bits. However, this is a tribute to the substantial abilities of the Vx that it may justify such attention.
Regardless, I’ve now got a cartridge that will be giving considerable pleasure for a considerable number of years.
Shure V15VxMR, $499
(From the print magazine AudioEnz, March 1998)