Which $10,000+ Cartridge Do You Prefer?

In a recent issue of Stereophile, Analog Corner covered a number of products including two very expensive cartridges: the Transfiguration Proteus D ($10,500) and the Kuzma CAR-60 ($12,995). Both feature diamond cantilevers but that doesn't mean they sound at all alike.

My take was that the CAR-60 lacked the slam or bass grip or low-end extension delivered by the somewhat less expensive Transfiguration Proteus D and that the CAR-60, with its strengths being transparency, liquidity and freedom from additive artifacts like hash, grain and edge, which I conclude here makes it better suited to acoustic chamber music rather than rock.

In the current Stereophile I re-visited the CAR-60 after Franc Kuzma and the American importer suggested that a voltage amplifier might be a better partner than the $50,000 current amplifier CH Precision P1/X1 power supply that I used for the review. I agreed to have another listen through the CH Precision's voltage amplification input and through the equally costly Silver edition of the Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp with MC-16L step-up transformer.

I'd previously recorded The Who's "Bargain" from the Classic Records' reissue of Who's Next using the Proteus D installed on the SAT arm. So when the CAR-60 returned I mounted it on the SAT and recorded the same track (both recordings at 96/24 resolution). When I compared the recordings I was satisfied that my original observations of both cartridges were accurate, though i admitted to having injected into the review too much of my own preferences and not sufficient objectivity.

I also promised to post here, when that issue of Stereophile was released, both files so you could listen for yourself and choose your favorite. Since I've already gotten a few emails from readers asking where the files were, I assume the issue has shipped to subscribers. My copy usually arrives later than most but since the emails have started, here are the files. It doesn't matter which you prefer, or if you don't like either one for that matter! This Classic Records reissue cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman mastering features spectacular sound in my opinion, better than the U.K. original cut by "Bilbo" (Denis Blackham), better the the original American Decca and even better than the "Heavy Vinyl" MCA release that I was involved in cut by Kevin Gray (though the lacquer of that that I have, surprisingly still sounds great).

There's no need to make this a guessing game, so here they are identified:


Proteus D


theboogeydown's picture

the Proteus D. Got a lot more out of Daultrey's voice for me. I imagine it wouldn't be popular among the manufacturers but I would love to hear a rip from say, a sub $1500 cart of your choosing that you think is competitive. One of my great pleasures in this hobby is getting a piece of equipment that punches way above it's weight.

michaelj's picture

I’ll stick with my Crowley. Even though I thought the Proteus brought out the vocal clearer.

Michael Fremer's picture
What is a Crowley?
michaelj's picture

Sorry, I meant Crosley. It’s that damn auto correction on my iPad.

stewart0722's picture

I'd stick with the Crowley as well......

ericleehall's picture

I never usually do these comparisons, but since I got some Wilson Audio speakers, I thought I might be able to hear a difference.

After several listens I gave the nod to the CAR-60, as the drums just seemed to stand out more clearly. But not by much.


Mealticket's picture

thought the CAR-60 sounded a bit subdued.

Michael Fremer's picture
Where I came down on them...
Ktracho's picture

I'm not that much into rock, so I have to listen at lower volume levels, and in that sense, the CAR60 seemed to help by being a little softer on my ears. I can understand some (many?) preferring the Proteus with its fuller sound. With classical music, which is what I listen to the most, it may be I would prefer the Proteus. To me, this points out the difficulty of making a decision based on one data point, and note I listened using my headphones at that. Still, this is great sound, much better than what I would get from my Rega.

vinylfun's picture

I used my iFi iDSD BL and a set of Audeze Sine headphones to listen. The Proteus D easily wins in my book causing the CAR60 to sound overly damped and more than a little dead on percussion. The aformentioned attributes in addition to a muted vocal qulaity being attributed to the CAR60 in direct comparison to the Proteus. Nice recording job sir.

Chris F's picture

Interesting they are more similar than different esp with frequency response which is nearly identical. I hear Proteus D having a fair bit better transient performance; really nice clean tight bass. Only listened through IEM and didn't check the staging on speakers but based off the superior technical perf I'll take the Proteus...

Michael Fremer's picture
Well at that price point you surely should expect tonal neutrality and you get that but the transient differences were as you described them...
Ortofan's picture

... I'd prefer an Ortofon Windfeld Ti AND a Dynavector DRT XV-1s.

groovesandtubes's picture

The Proteus has the dynamic edge, but the Kuzma let's you get farther into the sound. I think without an A/B comparison, I would be happy with either cart. Hard pressed to make a choice, I'd go for the Proteus... I think. However, adding an Ortofon A95 to the test would be interesting, it seems to me is not far behind for 1/2 the cost.

volvic's picture

Enjoyed reading the review in this month's Stereophile

Martin's picture

Which would you take?
the Proteus D?
the CAR-60

The Lyra Atlas?

I'm actually serious, it's the Lyra Atlas I've been looking at to upgrade from the Skala I've had for years.

Michael Fremer's picture
Really, it's up to you! It would either be Proteus or Atlas SL. They are both right in my audio erogenous zone! The "regular" Proteus is the real bargain.... the Atlas SL just has everything I love....
Martin's picture

the Atlas when I decide to upgrade.
From everything I know and have heard on the various cartridges, the Atlas just hits everything for me..........

Erik_Rohr's picture

I found the Proteus didn't portray the meatier aspects of the recording.

supamark's picture

but without reading any of Michael's notes:

CAR60 - flat frequency response of 2 (good), dynamically compressed (bad)

Proteus - presence boost (matter of taste, worked on Bargain imo), dynamically open/no compression (good)

I'd take the Proteus because I hate hate hate power compression and can deal with a little hype'd sound.

Now, what'd Mike think... ?

We generally agree (I really don't listen to chamber music). I think the better bass slam is a result of the Proteus being less compressed. The CAR60 sounded like it rounded off the attack of everything.

supamark's picture

the groove damage to the record around the 2:00 mark a lot more with the Proteus, but it's there with both (mostly in the right channel - thought it might be a dirty needle at first, but it's there for both carts and not on the CD). to be fair, I'm listening over planar headphones so it may be less audible over speakers.

creativepart's picture

I too liked the Proteus better than the CAR. Immediately after listening to your files I put on my original Decca Who's Next LP and played it on my VPI Classic 1 with a Dynavector 20X-L to compare. OK, I hear a difference as to be expected. My setup has less dramatic separation and doesn't have the openness that the Proteus has. So, then I played it on my "jr setup" a Rega P25 with a Ortofon 2M Black. To my surprise this setup had more separation and openness still not anywhere near the Proteus. (the OM2 slso exposed more surface noise on this old LP.) But then I don't have $10,000 in my entire system. So, a $10K cartridge is kind of out there. Thanks for the fun exercise. Plus I forgot how great Who's Next sounds.
PS. Out of all the great songs on this LP "My Wife" has ALWAYS been my favorite.

drdarkfish's picture

Hey Mike, can you also upload a rip with your Lyra Atlas SL?

Would be interesting to hear the sonic differences as I am very familiar to your Atlas rips now.

Dimi's picture

I’ll take the Kuzma if I could afford it.Sounds very natural to me.The transfiguration sounds a bit exaggerated..

Slammintone's picture

I'd really hate to make a purchasing decision between these two great cartridges off of hearing anything from Who's Next alone. I love this album but I would much rather hear a re-match of these cartridges from just about any track from the latest pressing of Tommy instead. Specifically? Amazing Journey!

michkhol's picture

but I liked Proteus better despite the lack of mid bass and too emphasized mids. It has more "air" and sounds cleaner. All of this on Focal Utopias off Metric Halo ULN8. I have a Transfiguration Phoenix, all I need is the record to digitize and compare.

Ohjoy50's picture

Of course i like the music, but as you know one cartridge could favor that particular piece of music over another, but that doesnt mean its better overall ! It must be done with a wide range of music. I fortunitely am familiar with the Proteus and have admired its sound the few times i have heard it. And it is on my top 5 list of cartridges for sure, but there are two others i prefer. Airtight PC 1 Supreme, and the My Sonic Labs Ultra Eminence.

somaknows's picture

One song from one set up (Michael's reference grade system notwithstanding) makes for a difficult comparison.
I have no doubt he was careful in selecting/sharing a recording he thought would best represent his experience in living with and evaluating both cartridges.
And kudos to Michael for noting some his subjective preferences within the myriad qualities/characteristics of reproduced music; noting some of the qualities he likes might be disliked by others.
One need attend just a single audio event to discover the often disparate perspectives not only on what passes as good sound, but in some cases is proselytized as state of the art sonic reproduction.
Such an event can be both polarizing and illuminating, as one wrestles with trying to understand and appreciate whence such perspectives are birthed and cultivated.
Still, for one to feel aligned with the experience of listening to/engaging with music, knowing one's own subjective "truth" on what works for their heart and head serves to increase one's enjoyment.
This does not mean a change of preference (subjective truth) over time, as one matures, may not or will not occur.
For all I know, living in a highly stimulating urban environment may require more "spice" in one's system than for those living in a Zen monastery (or vice-versa).
The above taken into account, selecting between the two "needle drops," I preferred the Kuzma CAR-60.
Little as I had to draw from, the Proteus D presented to my ears a more congested and less balanced sound that would devolve into listening fatigue.
The Proteus impressed with its "grab" quality, but did not have the sense of drive to propel the music as did the CAR-60.
Ironically, while Michael noted the MY Sonic Labs cartridge as one he appreciated, albeit positioned closer to the CAR-60 camp than, e.g., a Lyra--when I compared a direct master (2nd gen) tape of a performance recorded at BGM with the vinyl played back through a MY Sonic Labs Ultra Eminent Ex, I was impressed by the near tape-like drive I heard through this cartridge.
Although I suppose the following is a tautology, I remain fascinated by the sentient nature of human beings; by the wide range of responses to that which tickles our senses.
Thanks for your candidness, Michael.

Howard's picture

I own the Proteus D. I was lucky to get one from Bob Clark, a real gentleman, before Transfiguration (apparently) went under at the death of the founder. A real audio tragedy. Its far and away the most transparent and neutral cart Ive heard. Im in the precess of breaking in an Audio Note Io Gold (approximately 50 hours on it) and so far, while having many strengths, including a wonderful mid range, it just doesnt approach the Proteus D's transparency and speed.The CAR 60 just didnt ring my bell.

Johnny Drunk's picture

Makes me happy to know that my Transfiguration Aria gets me close enough....