It’s the company’s top-of-the-range model but is it worthy of its position? Paul Rigby rides a few grooves to find out
I find it interesting that Goldring positions this cartridge as its top-of-the-range model. It says a lot about the company and where it sees itself in terms of the end user. For some companies, when they reveal their best of the best, you tend to expect a monetary figure attached to it that’s so high, it needs oxygen to perform. Something in the £4k area perhaps? £7k? Higher? I recently tested a cartridge – currently in development and only at the prototype stage, that uses a solid, one-piece diamond cantilever. Even the bended bit holding the stylus tip is part of that single piece. That cartridge costs in excess of £10,000.
Goldring’s top-of-the-range mode retails for £895. This company targets the mass market. The busy budget and midrange hi-fi sectors. And by golly, it’s done and continues to do a great job. I have a couple of Goldring designs in my review section (e.g. the E3 and 1042) that are packed to the gills with plaudits. Deservedly, I might add.
My concern here though is that, at £890, Goldring is stepping into ‘big boy’ territory. Goldring does wonderfully well as a purveyor of lower-end designs and hold their own wonderfully when competing with Audio-Technica and Ortofon. But nudging a grand? That’s a sector occupied by the big boys.
AND YOU ARE?
So what is the Ethos, then? Is it armed to the teeth to compete in this important price point?
Goldring makes a point of highlighting the stylus profile of the new Ethos. The stylus is a line contact model but Goldring refers to it as a ‘Vital’ design in its press materials. This betrays the involvement of the Japanese industrial jewel outfit, Ogura, a specialist in the field of diamonds. A company that has been in business since 1947. The stylus tip is rather refined, put it that way.
That is held by an alloy cantilever. I asked Goldring what “alloy” actually meant, in this case. It replied, “The Ethos uses A2017 which is an aerospace aluminium alloy with a comparable hardness to steel but which is obviously much lighter. It is this combination of stiffness and low mass which makes it ideal for use in a record player cartridge. The cantilever is also a hollow tube which removes even more mass and yet retains the stiffness.”
Inside the aluminium chassis is a hand-built GOL-1 moving-coil generator. According to the company, it, “…takes advantage of a lower coil inductance and reduced effective mass when compared to traditional moving magnet types…”
The neodymium magnet sits alongside a new damper pad that uses a bespoke butyl rubber compound to keep the system damped.
The coils themselves are wound around a cross-shaped armature of Swedish iron. Goldring likes Swedish iron, apparently. Why? “The reduced unsprung mass improves the ability for the stylus to track the groove wall and minimises cross-talk, improving the stereo image.” That’s why.
The cartridge has 7.7g of mass and a tracking force of 1.75g.
So how does it sound?
I’m a sucker for vocal harmonies so I began with the intriguing 1975 album from The King Singers. Keep on Changing (EMI) combines vocal harmony with soft rock and a range of interesting covers including my track of choice Pantomime, penned (conducted and arranged) by Simon Park, who some of you will know from his best-selling creation, the TV theme to the detective series, Van Der Valk.
Apart from the voices, you’re looking at a bass guitar, slow and bouncy drum beats, acoustic guitar, a host of secondary percussion such as bells, conga, possibly tambora and more plus a backing orchestra. It’s a pretty complex presentation.
How to describe the first impression from the Ethos? Civilised. I reckon, under £1,000 the Ethos has to be the most civilised cartridge design I’ve ever heard. It reminds me of the sort of approach to sound that I would expect from the Etsuro Urushi priced at over £4k.
And by that, I mean the Ethos allows you to come to it. It doesn’t hit you over the head with headline features. Sometimes cartridges like to brag, “Check out this BASS!” [Bam! Bash on the head] “Hear the detail from this MIDRANGE!” [Slap! Right across the chops].
The Ethos doesn’t do anything like that. It’s polite. It’s cultured. It’s well mannered. It coughs delicately and, Jeeves-like, suggests, “Would it interest sir to address the cymbals on the left channel?” And then add, “Oh and tea is served. Should I serve the cream cakes now?”
Goldring’s Ethos doesn’t pretend that it’s sitting in the middle of an AV system piping out sound effects from the first 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. The Ethos is a child of art. The Ethos would rather arrange the detail across the soundstage and prepare subtle gestures, offering the detail to you…when you’re ready to hear it. If you want to. If you have the time.
PLAY BY EAR
It does this firstly by lowering the inherent noise that surrounds its presentation. You may find yourself upping the gain a few notches to reach your familiar volume. Doing this, you will pull in newly-heard information. Mids are oh, so relaxed.
I would recommend experimenting with the loading. Ignore the specs. Set it by ear. Spend a day doing this, don’t rush it. Keep the sound relaxed with enough information to delight the ear and you’ll have a gem as a source component.
During tests, vocals were easy on the ear, relaxed and toned with an extended reverb tail full of extra space and air. A swathe of subtle midrange detail flooded into this newly offered space. Strings were very sooth indeed yet provided a focus that said yes, you are listening to the real things here, these are not synths just pretending. The tonal realism from the Ethos was high.
Don’t infer that this smooth offering indicates some sort of soft approach from the Ethos. Far from it. There is a definite precision and focus to each instrument under this cartridge’s gaze. Hence, bass guitar was lean yet punchy, it was never bloated or bloomy. Secondary percussion was detailed yet transparent while the vocal harmonic combination was full of tonal variation.
BIG ON THE BEATS
I then moved onto something a wee bit dynamic and selected Rootmasters (Nina Walsh and Alex Paterson of The Orb) with the 10” release, Push Once and the track Elephant Puddle.
The sub-bass on this track could have swamped the entire soundstage but never did. It maintained a space between it and the vocals, samples and the rest. The effect was to enlarge the soundstage, giving it both physical height and depth.
The sometimes aggressive sonics from this track never tipped over into brightness but kept itself in check. The Ethos calmly telling you that the vocal was harsh and provocative. Just so you know.
The initial beats on the track, Book of Hours (Autolump), were effectively tracked, even though the original beats themselves were soft with rounded edges. The Ethos was attentive in retrieving details here. The later, harder bass rhythms provided a complimentary, foot-tapping, sequence that drove this instrumental forward at pace.
During all of this, frequencies retained their discipline and never entered where they shouldn’t. Space was retained between each, giving the music an airy presentation. So when this ambient techno piece pushed into harder, higher-tempo techno beats, the bass never dominated. They were significant and sat centre stage but they never veiled detail elsewhere. The Ethos was able to maintain clarity while offering plenty of musical emotion.
Reviewing the Goldring Ethos cartridge is exactly like reading the first chapter of the three volume set of Lord of the Rings and then being asked to review the book in toto.
I get the feeling that this cartridge needs, oh I don’t know, a year to get to know? Rather, it is an ideal tool to allow you to reacquaint yourself with your record collection and to spend a full year to fully grasp just what this cartridge can do. I also feel that you can spend time with it, micro-tweaking to get the very best from it.
When you buy the Ethos, you’re given a promise. A promise that your hi-fi life will improve slowly and steadily over time. The Ethos is for the long haul. Rejoice in the aural gains that you will hear, immediately. Then prepare yourself for new joys to come as a host of information is fed to you over a long period of time.
The Ethos? It’s the gentleman’s gentleman of cartridges.
GOLDRING ETHOS MOVING COIL CARTRIDGE
GOOD: clarity, transparency, spacious soundstage, detailed mids, organic bass, low noise
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