Friday, May 13, 2016

Any heavily used phono cartridges for sale?

If you peruse the audio lists such as AudioMart (the US Audiomart, not to be confused with the other Audiomart) or Audiogon  with the idea of grabbing a high-end piece for a mid-level price, you generally trust that most used goods still work pretty well and that you can make a reasonably informed decision based on the description, the pictures and the seller’s feedback. This is generally true for most audio goods, but I have to wonder about phono cartridges.

Of all the components in your rig that can wear out or generally hide abuse, the stylus has to be top contender.  Most sellers cannot reproduce a close up picture, and then, there’s no knowing if anyone’s idea of sounding fine is the same as yours. However, you almost never see a cartridge for sale that has anything other than a claimed moderate hours of use. Now you’d think, if there was any measure of use that could be applied to a cartridge it would be number of hours, and some folks (like me) use a counter to maintain an accurate estimate of usage. I found that no matter how reliable I believed my estimates to be, only by using a real counter, situated next to my table, was I able to really know my use (which turns out to be quite stable over time and actually fewer hours than I imagined).

Perusing A’gon today (just because) I see many fine cartridges available at prices that attract interest. Fancy an Air Tight PC-3 at 25% off? Only used for ’20 hours’ apparently.  Those spins cost the owner $67 an hour!  Lyra Atlas with ‘very low’ hours. Turns out this ‘low’ means 167 hours, discounting the price nearly $6k, or $34 per hour of use thus far. Some people are giving their gear away, right?

Then there’s the not quite so precise listings, which are the majority. Many listings are for cartridges with ‘low’ hours, ‘barely used’ or are ‘not even broken-in’. One wonders why people are so keen to sell if they’ve not actually heard what the cartridge will sound like when properly settled. Maybe there is a class of audiophile who buys expensive cartridges, gives them a few hours on their deck, then takes a loss by selling them at a discount just to repeat the cycle. No, I didn’t think so either.

Of course, there’s another class too. These are the sellers who don’t actually have a clue how long the cartridge they are selling has left in it. This gets fudged a lot with comments like ‘looks to have little or no wear’ or ‘the guy who sold it to me told me it had low hours’. Convincing, eh?  Do these people ever wonder why their listings run and run?  Does anyone ever sell a cartridge that’s had 1500 hours on it but still sounds ok? Apparently not, but you can read people who claim they found a 20 year old, apparently unused cartridge in the back of their closet when tidying up.

All to say - it would be great if people selling cartridges could keep more accurate hours of usage, or if there were some reliable ways to show cartridge life. I keep telling myself the only sure way is to buy new but the pricing of those Dynavectors and Ortolans that I want to give a try in my own room are in the pain zone, so the used market it has to be. And of course, I sell my used cartridge when the time comes, so what am I complaining about? Yeah, but I’m trustworthy right? And my estimates of usage are spot on.   But that little accident I had with the Clearaudio Concerto cantilever.....hey, accidents happen right? You’d never have known there was damage until the whole thing fell off a couple of plays later.  Caveat emptor.

No comments: