Throughout my DJ career I have steadily used this needle set up: Technics head shells, M447 or M44C cartridges, and Shure styli (N447 or N44G). I’ve had the same head shells and carts for at least 10 years, and they have been steadfast workhorses. Even with the invention of Serato, this set up has been a faithful friend and equipment I can count on. I’d like to say the same for my turntables, as I wish Technics would make super RCA cables that lasted forever. I know you other DJs feel my pain. At any rate, I’ve tried Orofon Concorde S DJ needles, and they work quite good, but I have stuck with the Shures so far. In today’s edition of the Flea Market Funk Product Review, I’ll be introducing the Grado DJ100 cartridge.
Grado, who are well known in the audio world for their superb headphones and phono cartridges, were kind enough to send of their latest edition, the DJ100 along for me to test here in the FMF studios. Having used the Shure set up for 15+ years, it was definitely a bit strange for me to set up the cartridge on the head shell (as if setting up the cartridge isn’t tedious enough, especially if you have huge hands). The recommendation was to not use the weight on the head shell (which I tried anyway and then took out), and the first thing I noticed was the light weight versus the Shures. I’ve always liked a bit of weight on the needle, even though it can dig into your vinyl a bit. The second thing I noticed immediately was the lower volume of the needle itself. However, it was the richest sound I have ever gotten with a needle in the entire time I have been DJing. That being said, if you have to crank your levels up (I use a Rane TT56 mixer) so be it, you still get this rich, full sound that is a step above from the Shures. Grado is known for their high end products, and this is definitely a high end adapted cartridge. I noticed that the cartridge picked up some surface noise, a little bit more than what I was used to, but nothing that really affected the spinning or back-cueing. Scratching with the DJ100 was free and easy as well, even without the weight in the headshell. I tried 45s, 12″s, break records, and Lps. A bit lighter than I was used to, but really no problem. My Technics 1200 is set on anti-skating between 0 and 2 with the end weight all the way down on the tone arm (at it’s heaviest). This is my personal preference, you have to choose what works for you.
My conclusion for the DJ100 is that Grado are on to something here. I’m not sure if I’m prepared to give up the volume for rich clarity just yet though. I’d love to test this at a state of the art venue, and really hear the difference. I can definitely hear the difference on my KRKs here in the studio, but hearing the music on something large would be the big test. I want to see how they perform a little more, so I will update this review after a travel gig at the end of this month, and what do you know, they have a state of the art sound system. Do I think that these cartridges are good? Yes I do. They have the Grado name, history, and superb craftmanship behind them. They are definitely the most advanced DJ cartridge set up out there. If your looking for a scratch DJ/Turntablist needle, you might want to stick to the specially TT set ups. If you do a mixture of both mixing and scratching (like me) and want an audiophile sound, it will work. For those of you who want a more richer and full sound, and I can see this in Dance and House music culture, you will get it. Grado is a the Bentley of cartridges and are are affordable ($70 for the cart, $120 for a two pack of styli) at the same time. I commend these guys for getting into the DJ game and putting their advanced technology into the growing DJ culture. Now when they start to make DJ headphones, it will be game over.
Read more about the DJ100 from Grado Labs here.