Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 Phono Cartridge: Review
2021 was a fantastic year for record sales in the United States and Canada; according to the 2021 RIAA Report, Americans purchased 40 million new records over the 12 month period. That’s an astounding number and also something that proved to be an issue for pressing plants that are still struggling to meet demand.
While sales are brisk, a lot of independent artists are struggling to get their music pressed because the plants are backlogged and giving bigger priority to artists like Adele (not picking on her but it’s the truth), the Beatles, and Taylor Swift.
Blue Note Records finally sorted out their shipping issues and their groundbreaking Tone Poet Series is worth every penny; I’m not even ashamed to admit that I’ve spent almost $1,000 on their jazz recordings since the start of the pandemic.
Record Store Day 2022 was a big success again this year and we look forward to the Black Friday version in November.
But what about the turntable side of the business?
Supply chain issues have definitely hobbled all of the major brands with some experiencing 6 month delays on orders and shipping to the United States.
We’ve noticed that some companies are starting to get a handle on this issue and we were fortunate to get review samples of the Grado Labs Opus3 MI Cartridge from the Timbre Series and the ProJect Debut PRO turntable.
Both products prove that you don’t have to spend a fortune for great sound quality and it’s a very positive trend to see brands focusing on the entry-level high-end segment versus products that 99% of the public can’t afford.
Grado does offer some rather expensive phono cartridges but the vast majority of its sales are below $300 and products like the Opus3 make one question why you need to spend a lot more; I have always believed that it makes more sense to buy a better table and use an overachieving cartridge like the Grado Labs Opus3, Denon DL-103, Nagaoka MP-110, or Ortofon 2M Bronze instead.
Spending $3,000 on a phono cartridge is stupid. I would rather buy a $300 cartridge and spend the balance on records because of the long-term return on investment.
The Opus3 is nestled inside a Maple housing (8 grams) and I discovered that it sounded the best on my vintage Yamaha YP-701 and the replacement Ortofon LH-2000 Headshell that I ordered during the pandemic for another cartridge.
Phono stages included the Croft Phono RIAA, Moon by SimAudio LP110 V2, and the internal phono stage of the Cyrus Audio i9-XR Integrated Amplifier.
The cantilever is made from aluminum and the Opus3 uses an elliptical diamond stylus; mounting the cartridge was quite easy and I settled on a tracking force of 1.8 grams which was within the range but closer to the very top.
Grado offers multiple versions of the Opus3 including the high output (4mV) version supplied, a low output model (1.0mV), and a mono version as well.
Having owned a wood body Grado Sonata many years ago, I wondered if anything had changed in regard to the tonal balance which I always found to be quite warm; possibly even too warm with the wrong phono preamp and amplifier.
The midrange punch of the Sonata was where it earned its keep, but also at the expense of detail and a slightly wooly sounding low end. It definitely had impact but it wasn’t with the level of resolution, detail, and definition that one would have expected for the asking price.
Has anything changed?
To say they sound nothing alike would be misleading; the midrange punch is definitely still a big part of the presentation but everything else sounds different to me.
The transparency of this $275 cartridge is excellent and the top end is more extended and detailed; something I learned listening to ’80s new wave music from Depeche Mode, New Order, and Echo And The Bunnymen. “The Killing Time” from Ocean Rain had a lot more treble energy than I would normally associate with any Grado cartridge and the bottom end was decidedly tighter.
Switching over to New Order, “Blue Monday” was powerful and dynamic with boundless energy in the midrange and mid bass. My Magnepan LRS don’t extend low enough without the help of my REL subwoofer to do this track justice but the Opus3 genuinely surprised me with its pop/rock/new wave performance.
Switching over to Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor,” I was very curious to see how the refined sound of the Opus3 would compare to my usual cartridges; Denon DL-103, Ortofon 2M Bronze, and Goldring E3.
The DL-103 will always be my favorite jazz cartridge but the Grado did nothing to embarrass itself at all. It was definitely softer in the treble but the midrange bloom worked better with the Maggies and my Cambridge Edge A Integrated Amplifier; everything felt more tangible and present in my listening room.
The Grado does vocals about as well as any $200 – $300 phono cartridge on the market and it doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughan, Alison Moyet, Orville Peck, or Jason Isbell.
Presence, tone, texture, and detail have to be present or it’s just some flat rendition of something that doesn’t engage you at all. The Grado Labs Opus3 succeeds in every way with the kind of vocals that I enjoy listening to and that makes it a keeper.
If your budget ceiling is $300, the Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 is definitely a high-output cartridge to seriously consider.
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