Pickering vs Grado: Chapter one — introduction, review, and listening to an old favourite

Two cartridges. One vintage, the other new. Which sounds 'better'? What is better? I get to play with charts and audio stuff, and play cool tunes to YouTube! What's not to like. And maybe we find out a bit more about these two cartridges.


The point of this com­par­is­on is to find out how the two cart­ridges sound against each oth­er, play­ing the same pieces of music. This will hope­fully show where each of my cart­ridges is bet­ter than the oth­er, for a par­tic­u­lar type of music. Is the Grado great for orches­tra? Does the Pick­er­ing excel at hard rock? Who knows? Let’s find out.

I’ll be record­ing the play­back of vari­ous records (LP and 45) of music that is famil­i­ar to me, so I won’t be dis­trac­ted by things I’m not famil­i­ar with. This will also (hope­fully) let me pick out dif­fer­ences easi­er (was the viol­in clear­er here? Where did those back­ing strings come from??).

This will likely be a bit of an ongo­ing series as I sample dif­fer­ent tracks over time. I’ll update this post with new eval­u­ations as I pub­lish them.


I used my vin­tage Akai AP-Q41. It works, though needed a bit of work with the tone-arm lift­er as it was­n’t clear­ing the records when auto-return­ing. And it’s leak­ing a slightly annoy­ing 60hz hum. More on that later.

It’s an ’80 style turntable, quartz locked, auto-start/re­turn, but does­n’t include mod­ern ton­earm adjust­ments (VTF) just the head­shell mount­ing screws (for over­hang and align­ment), ton­earm track­ing force weight, and anti-skat­ing (track­ing off­set) adjustment.


  • Grado Prestiege Green 3 (new)
  • Pick­er­ing XV-15/625E (vin­tage — used) 
    • stylus: 4606-DEX — Dia­mond 0.25 x 0.7 mil nude ellipt­ic­al tip (new)

The Pickering Brush

The XV-15/625E comes with a very attract­ive and func­tion­al pivot­ing dust brush moun­ted to the stylus hold­er. It adds about .5g to the cart weight, which must be accoun­ted for in bal­ance and track­ing adjustment.

Unfor­tu­nately it also seemed to detract from track­ing pre­ci­sion, as I dis­covered when play­ing the Era IV obstacle course LP while set­ting up and test­ing the cart.

Once the brush was removed and the ton­earm re-bal­anced, the improve­ment was dra­mat­ic. All test­ing is con­duc­ted with the brush removed — too bad, as I really like the look.

The Grado Hum (or is it the turntable? both??)

It’s a pretty well-estab­lished pos­i­tion that Grado carts are vul­ner­able to a 60 cycle hum (or 50 if that’s your power grid) when paired with some turntables. The Pick­er­ing also picks up a little, but not to the extent of the Grado. So hum is a com­pon­ent in this test­ing, sadly. You’ll know it when you hear it.

The hum is quite notice­able on quiet pas­sages of Prin­cess Lei­a’s Theme, for example. Obvi­ously it would be masked by more ener­git­ic music.


Digitizing (the needle drop)

Sig­nal from the turntable went through my Teac BX-300b (for preamp pur­poses only), out the REC 1 RCA con­nect­ors (tape) to a Focus­rite Scar­lett 2i2 DAC, to the com­puter. Recor­ded in Auda­city (24bit WAV) and saved out as FLAC without pro­cessing. Video spec­tro­gram was cap­tured in post pro­duc­tion play­back through Audacity.

Initial Testing and Setup

I used the ERA IV Obstacle Course disc to help me get the carts and sig­nal path set up. This pretty much involved listen­ing to side A, band 2–5 repeatedly and tweak­ing the cart mount points and track­ing until I got the best res­ults. Espe­cially on bands 4 and 5, the harp test.

Basic­ally, the test will pun­ish less­er carts and reward the best. The Pick­er­ing and Grado I have are in the middle some­where so hear­ing track­ing issues is to be expec­ted. I’m look­ing to just min­im­ize those as much as pos­sible, as the tests are extreme examples and not likely encountered in every­day listening.

Bol­ded res­ults are the best res­ults, in my humble opinion 😃

Setup Era IV An Obstacle Course

Harp tracking distortion (A4, A5)


Cart­ridge (Track­ing Range) Tested Track­ing Weight Obser­va­tion
Grado Prestiege Green(1.6g — 1.9g) 1.75g Some dis­tor­tion on (4)
1.75g Very not­ic­able dis­tor­tion (buzz) on (5)
1.9g Faint dis­tor­tion on (4)
1.9g Faint dis­tor­tion on (5)
2.25g Faint dis­tor­tion on (5)
Pick­er­ing XV-15 (.75g — 1.25g) 1g Some dis­tor­tion on (4)
1g Some dis­tor­tion on (5)
1.25g Min­im­al dis­tor­tion on (4)
1.25g Min­im­al dis­tor­tion on (5)

Notes: I tested the Grado a bit more than the Pick­er­ing, as I was­n’t sat­is­fied with what I was hear­ing and decided to go for extremes. Even though the 2.25g weight on the Grado was good, it was­n’t really bet­ter than the 1.9g (that I could tell). The high­er weight may work well for some things, but that really is out­side the range of the cart nor­mally, and could dam­age it and the records.

The Pick­er­ing was quite sens­it­ive, and listen­ing to it was less work than the Grado, it seemed.

Subjective Listening

And here we go. This is the first track I wanted to check. My LP is an ori­gin­al I picked up some time in 1978. It’s show­ing it’s age and you’ll notice a bit of crackle and pop­ping in all the quiet bits.

First up is the Grado fol­lowed by the Pick­er­ing. Give it a couple of listens and feel free to let me know if you’re hear­ing what I am, or not.

Princess Leia’s Theme — Star Wars — 1977 release

A very famil­i­ar and enjoy­able track. I selec­ted it as it starts out del­ic­ate and quiet, build­ing to involve the whole orchestra.
My copy is noisy and in need of a deep clean­ing. I was listen­ing for tone and clar­ity. How sharp are the solo strings and winds? How muddy are the full orches­tra sec­tions as it swells towards crescendo?

Cart­ridge Tested Track­ing Weight Obser­va­tion
Grado 1.9g 60hz hum off the top and through the open­ing wind instru­ments. Maybe a bit of groove noise/rumble. Harp nicely posi­tioned, and good sound­stage rep­res­ent­a­tion — vari­ous instru­ments not­ic­ably at dif­fer­ent loc­a­tions. Hum reappars toward the end.
Pick­er­ing XV-15 (No Brush) 1.25g No hum. Slight groove noise. Ini­tial wind is strong and clear! Crisp! Nice gentle viol­ins with the horn. Wow, much nicer pres­ence for cla­ri­net. More top end sens­it­ive. A bit of flute sib­il­ance. Much more defin­i­tion of vari­ous instru­ments as the cre­cendo approaches.

Well, that was inter­est­ing. I gave the Grado a re-listen after I fin­ished the Pick­er­ing, and yep, not­ic­able differences.

I found the Grado soun­ded warm and but­tery, round­ing off some of the edges on the wind and high strings. In fact on the open­ing, you don’t really detect the strings except as a faint back­ground. They were much more prom­in­ent on the Pickering.

The Pick­er­ing seemed bright­er and much more sens­it­ive to the whole top end. I could detect a bit more groove noise, pops and clicks seemed sharp­er, and the instru­ments all had a very nice sharp clar­ity up high. The cre­cendo was great as each instru­ment group had it’s own place on the soundstage.

For this piece of music, I’m going to give it to the Pick­er­ing. Clean and clear, del­ic­ate, just the way this music should be heard.



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