Grado Reference Master1

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Grado Reference Master1


Frequency Response

Principal MI
Channel Separation at 1KHz 40
Imput Load 47K
Output at 1KHz 5CM/sec. 5mV
Recommended Tracking Force 1.5
Stylus Type E
Inductance 45mH
Resistance 475
Compliance CUs 20
Stylus Replacement F=Factory F
Mounting S
Weight 6.5


Grado Reference 1 Moving
Magnet Phono Cartridge

You shouldn't count out MM cartridges; this one is superb and has a number of advantages.


Ever since I graduated from an earlier Shure VR-15 many, many years ago I have been one of those typical analog audiophiles only into moving coil cartridges.  I had thought they were the only truly high fidelity choice for a quality tone arm in a good turntable system, and feared problems of hum with moving magnet cartridges.  Well, recently my longtime MC cartridge gave up the ghost after many years by suddenly reducing its right channel to less than half the level of the left.  Research proved it not repairable and so a similar price-range cartridge to the Grado being reviewed went painfully to the trash heap.

Listening Tests

The very first thing I noted after the much higher volume level compared to my previous MC cartridge was the reduction of LP surface noise. Even though I use a VPI LP cleaning machine and different liquid treatments, plus zapping with a MapleShade Ionoclast ion generator and treating the stylus with Last’s Stylast, and even though my high-end hearing is somewhat rolled off from what it was years ago, the surface noise on certain of my older LPs has still been annoying.  In setting up the VTA of the Grado cartridge I used my old standby vinyl, the original Proprius Jazz at the Pawnshop, and in particular the track Lady Be Good. There is a section near the end where when VTA is perfect the sax jumps right out at you and a “ding” that is either a cymbal or cash register rings rather than sounding damped. I’ve used that track a lot and it has become scratchy.  With the Reference 1 it didn’t sound any different from the rest of the LP - yet there was no noticeable rolling off of the extreme high end.

The third attribute of the Grado I noticed was more weight and color in the sound than I was getting with my old MC cartridge. I tried a couple A/B disc comparisons again in which I had found the audiophile CD or SACD had somewhat superior bass end support than the identical recording on vinyl. Now they matched almost perfectly with the Grado, once I adjusted levels to match. This sort of improvement makes jazz recordings sound more rhythmic and exciting. One of the comparisons I made again was the recent F.I.M. K2HD mastered directly from the Toshiba direct disc of pianist Jun Fukamachi “at Steinway.” Before the two sources had sounded amazingly identical, now my actual direct disc, playing on my SOTA turntable with the Grado, pulled slightly ahead sonically, which seems to be more logical all around.

Some of the “deep mono” audiophile reissues on vinyl from Pure Pleasure sounded more realistic and involving than they ever had before, especially when I made use of the handy mono option on my Sunfire preamp - a useful feature that was missing on the previous preamp. I also really dug an old LP with Slam Stewart and Major Holley playing their double basses along with their vocalizations - one one each of the front channels.  These basses were walkin’ AND talkin’! (One of them sang in unison with his bass and the other one octave higher - I forget which is which - but there’s absolutely no doubt listening to them.)

Other attributes I felt to be part of the Reference 1’s sound were its highly detailed resolution and its outstandingly low distortion. In other comparisons I had made with identical recordings on CD or SACD there was often a high degree of similarity with the vinyl on the turntable, with perhaps a touch more “air” around the instruments in the vinyl reproduction vs. the optical disc. Now that air was still there, but in addition I was often hearing tiny details in the sound that were either not audible on the digital copy or reduced in clarity.


I have heard that some audiophiles are simply turned off by the so-called signature sound of moving magnet cartridges.  After my experience with the Grado MM I don’t know what they are talking about.  The Reference 1 has a highly detailed, hi-res sound that is never metallic or annoying, even with poorer recordings. Neither is there the unnaturally rising high end slope of many MC cartridges. I can’t imagine anyone being displeased with the sweet sound of this lovely cartridge. If you are looking for a quality cartridge, don’t count out MM designs, especially this one. If your turntable system isn’t quite at the level of my vacuum SOTA/SME/MapleShade-supported system, check out some of the other Reference Series models, at prices down to around $300, or the Prestige Series, running from about $60 to $220.

- John Sunier

The Grado Reference1 & Master1

The newly redesigned Master1 and Reference1 cartridges have had their coil design reconfigured, and the effective moving mass of their generating system has been reduced by 17%. All this is hand-assembled within a machined, new processed, Australian Jarrah wood housing. The Master1 and Reference1 models use a five piece OTL cantilever technology achieving an additional 5% tip mass reduction over the Platinum1 and Sonata1 models. The coils are wound with ultra-high purity long crystal (UHPLC) oxygen free copper wire. The Master1 model is mounted with Grado's specially designed nude elliptical diamond, and the Reference1 model uses Grado's true ellipsoid design diamond.

What People are saying about the Reference...

Nominated for Analog Source
Stereophile Vol.21, No.12

"I have heard that some audiophiles are simply turned off by the so-called signature sound of moving magnet cartridges.  After my experience with the Grado MM I don’t know what they are talking about.  The Reference 1 has a highly detailed, hi-res sound that is never metallic or annoying, even with poorer recordings. Neither is there the unnaturally rising high end slope of many MC cartridges. I can’t imagine anyone being displeased with the sweet sound of this lovely cartridge."
Audiophile Audition / John Sunier
"The Reference is the finest fixed-coil cartridge I've ever heard, and one of the finest sounding cartridges I've ever heard especially in the midrange, regardless of price."
Stereophile / Michael Fremer Vol.21, No.3
"I have to say the Well Tempered turntable I have with the Grado cartridge is fantastic. It's the best LP playback I've heard in my house so far, or in the studio."
Bob Ludwig, The Master of Mastering Engineers / Gateway Mastering Studios
"It is a great bargain, and I would take it over any number of cartridges I have heard that sell up to five times its price."
Absolute Sound / Adam Walinsky
"You forget your reviewing a cartridge and, before you know it, the records over. This is what The Reference does best, it disappears."
Ultimate Audio / Dr. Larry Brotzen Vol.1, No.2
"The Reference is a superb phono cartridge. If you're looking for an outstanding high-output device, The Reference will take you to analog playback heaven."

"Mine now sings and rocks and grooves and stomps and seduces and caresses and thrills. In fact, I can't think of any higher compliment to pay Grado's The Reference than to say nowadays I simply love listening to records."
Fi magazine / Frank Doris Vol.3, No.3
"The Reference sets a benchmark for analog cartridge performance and is a real alternative to the analytical school of sound. If you think moving coil cartridges are the only way to go, think again. You owe it to yourself to listen to Grado's The Reference."
Ultimate Audio / Myles B. Astor Vol.2, No. 4
"The Reference receives a duo of accolades from me. I want to use it on a regular basis and I'm going to continue to use it!"
The Audiophile Voice / Karl Lozier Vol.6, No. 4

and about the Master...

"Female voices have at last found a cartridge that flatters. Soloists, duets, choirs; it doesn't matter; the Grado won't shatter."
"The current Grado may represent a new performance plateau. It's the best moving iron cartridge I've ever heard, and it's making a stir among those who know."
Positive Feedback / Charles Hollander Vol.8, No.1
"The sound on the Master seems to emerge from a velvety silence... I found the Master open, airy and great on the timbral transients. The air and soundstaging on the Master was almost shocking."
Positive Feedback / Jeffrey Silverstein




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