Customer Reviews: Shure M97xE High-Performance Magnetic Phono Cartridge
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on October 16, 2004
I most recently decided it was time to replace my 15+ year old Bang and Olufsen cartridge. I began researching cartridges via reviews, manufacturer websites, etc., and found the task to be daunting. As it is virtually impossable to find decent customer reviews for cartridges for under $300, I felt I needed to write one, so here goes...

My system; Marantz 2252B receiver (you can't beat pre-1980s Marantz for true analog sound), Mirage Omni 60 speakers, Technics SL1200 direct drive turntable.

I admit that I am sort of a vinyl snob. I own tons of CDs, they're practical for the car and readily available, but I prefer the sound of a clean well cared for vinyl LP given the proper playing conditions. You might call me an audiophile who doesn't have the funding for a high end system. The Shure M97xE more than fits my budget.

I have been using The Shure M97xE for about a month now, listening to approximately 1-2 LPs a night, and I am quite impressed and content with my purchase. The cartridge comes with a 'dynamic stabilizer' brush mounted on the front that can be utilized or kept in the up position. This serves to stabilize the stylus under less than perfect playing conditions. I use it at all times, because it reduces static and collects dust, resulting in less build up on the stylus. I listen to everything from Dexter Gordon to the Clash to Weather Report to Bowie. I am extremely pleased so far with my purchase. It's great to exerience nuances of records that I have never heard before. The first album I played was Joe Jackson's Night and Day, and it sounded great. I heard background passages that I did not know existed on that record. I also noticed the stereo seperation to be a bit more pronounced than on the CD version of Night and Day. Next I put on a new copy of Salt and Pepper by Sonny Stitt and Paul Gonsalves. I hear crisp highs and feel the low lows. By my estimation, the sound from high to low and througout the midrange is fairly balanced, maybe slightly bassy. I forgot how rich the vinyl sound is compared to CD. For what it's worth, it also glides through some (but not all) pop and scratches that are in some of my older pressings without picking them up. Maybe it's the stabilizer. I am tracking at 1.75.

I have a discerning ear, and understand how music should sound, as far as seperation, depth, production values and so on.
Okay, I have never owned a $5000 cartridge, and therefore do not have that frame of reference, but I have experienced high end analog audio systems, and can say that for me this cartridge cuts it, at least in this price range. Actually I spent far less that I thought I would have to.

The MSRP is $140.
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on November 28, 2005
This Shure cartridge is a little blue sonic marvel in sound quality and price range ! ...

Over the years, I've had my share of Shures (gamut of Shure V15 carts).Earlier Shures from the 70's in their sound performance were slightly tipped upwards in the higher frequencies, but in a not too bright fashion as opposed to the new line of SHure cartridges in recent years. Truth be told, unless you have very,very sensitive and discriminating bionic hearing, the sonic differences between those and the M97xE are minimal to almost non-existant.In fact, the V15's now command a hefty price tag due to better premium materials used in it's manufacturing over the lesser Shures. However (and this is a big HOWEVER), you are mighty lucky if you can still purchase one from a hi-fi retailer (old new stock) as Shure has stopped production on the audiophile grade and highly respected (amongst casual record listeners and vinyl purists alike) V15! There is a devout following of those who swear by the Shure cartridges'groove tracing accuracy and warm or neutral musical characteristic;It's not hype but fact ( I know from personal experience).What you hear with the Shures is music and not a cartridge!

The M97xE follows in that same strong Shure reliability and musicality of craftsmanship and tradition. It's neutral-warm sounding sonics contribute to a very high degree of pleasurable music listening enjoyment over harsher and sharp or brightly sounding cartridges.I had one friend listen to my cartridge who made the following statements, "Wow, that's how music should sound like;crisp, clean, smooth and natural. Not like the harsh and flat digital sound of cd's.Dude, I wish I still held onto my turntable and record collection". It's highly remarkable characteristic is how darn well it tracks even the most difficult musical passages and fast modulations and transients in a groove! There is no harsh or grainy vocal sibilance with the Shure (no sharp or shrill "s" words). Mellow, but not coma inducing is another trademark of the M97xE which allows for lengthy periods of listening without driving you nuts or feeling like you want to pick or scratch the inside of your brain or ear canal ! The reward is that this allows you to listen to your old records with such clarity and silky ease that you will notice instruments and vocals like never before. The "mellowness" permits a lot of great detail to come through with no distortion or distraction. Surface noise is kept to such a bare minimum that I often feel this almost mimics the quietness you hear between tracks on any digital format(the Shure M97xE becomes mechanically invisible). This also largely depends on how clean your records are ( It's a great travesty to play vinyl that looks like it's been dragged through the Mojave desert sand while using this precious gem ) !

This is a superb tracking cartridge to transfer your old record albums to digital cd-r format. Take great note that unlike other namebrand cartridges , the Shure plays beautifully straight out of the box and does not require drastic long hours of a "breaking in" sound period (this is always a great topic of debate in an analog audiophile forum of turntable-cartridge enthusiasts)!

Some may call this a sleeper cartridge in two ways: Either you will want something with more brighter highs or boomy bass and claim the Shure has no "wow" factor (in that case, try the Audio Technica AT 440 ML linear cartridge) OR it is a sleeper because the overall sound quality is so surprisingly great in the audiophile sense and for it's "good deal" price range !The end result is that it will really boil down to your own personal sonic preference for a cartridge; Do you want a cart that is musically "involving" and has that familiar vinyl (almost bright) sounding characteristic that some prefer over a cd and associate with analog records? Then, the AT 440 ML would be a good choice over the Shure. However, the Shure is a much more excellent and accurate tracker and will allow you to listen to music for a much more longer period without getting ear fatigued.Some accuse the Shure of being musically or sonically uninvolving, maybe a little laidback. Make no mistake, that is also the beauty of the Shure---to be able to listen to the warm,natural fidelity of vinyl once again!
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on September 29, 2005
(Note: I'm using the Shure M97xe cartridge in the following review with a Technics SP-25 professional broadcast turntable and Alphason Opal tonearm.)

As a long-time listener of vinyl, I have owned many cartridges up to $300. Signets, Shures, Ortofons, Empires, you-name-it.

Overall, the Shure m97xe is the best cartridge I have ever owned. It's not as "in-your-face" as many others, and some have said it's an uninvolving cartridge. It's true that it has a relaxed sort of presentation, but that's certainly not a bad thing. This cartridge gets out of the way of the music, and is listenable for long periods with no listening fatigue. It is a shade warmer than some other carts, but the entire frequency range is all there, and totally uncolored. Very nice overall sound quality, and it's a superb tracker.

One of the best things about the m97xe is it's ability to push groove wear and other noise into the background much better than any other MM cartridges I've heard. It also does remarkably well with sibilants and inner groove tracking. Formerly I had some records with spitty, harsh "S" sounds and some distortion in the inner grooves. It drove me nuts! This cartridge tracks those inner grooves (and the rest of them) with ease, and greatly tames or more often, eliminates those harsh sibilants.

And even though this cartridge is a touch warmer than some others, it's certainly not lacking in treble response. Highs are extended and smooth without being harsh. The bass & mids are superbly presented, too. This cartridge is a terrific choice for any style of music, especially rock, jazz, and blues. Some other cartridges may have a slightly better depth of soundstage for classical, but even on classical music I'm confident this one would provide satisfying results.

For those acquainted with the venerable and sadly discontinued V-15 line of Shure cartridges, (used by several hi-fi magazines as their reference cartridge) this one is second to only the Shure V-15MR. Shure actually recommends the M97xe as an upgrade to their V-15 type III model.

The build quality of this cartridge is quite over-the-top too. It's superbly crafted, and though it doesn't really matter, the packaging is even luxurious. Most cartridges come in a cardboard box. This one comes in a nicely finished aluminum (I think) case, padded with form-fitting rubber. It also is supplied with a thorough manual and specs, mounting hardware, a screwdriver, and even an alignment protractor. Even cartridges in the several hundred dollar range don't typically come equipped like the M97xe.

Bottom line: THE killer deal on a truly audiophile cartridge. A musical, highly accurate cartridge for chump change, it's quite possibly the best moving-magnet cartridge out there for under $400. Unlike costly MC cartridges, you can replace the stylus yourself, and you'll actually be able to afford a replacement stylus when the time comes. Easy on your records and your ears. Get it while you can!
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on April 11, 2005
I seriously disagree with calling this cartridge "snoozefest". I have two vintage Dual turntables and one new Sony turntable I recently acquired from Amazon. Using this cartridge, I'm hearing sounds in my records that I have never heard before (and I've owned some pretty good cartridges). The detail that you hear in very complex musical passages has to be heard to be believed (this is true of Pink Floyd and ELO as well as Brahms and Stravinsky). It projects both power and subtlety (at the price, it is a real steal!). No, it's not the type of sound that feels like your head is being smashed through a solid brick wall. For that, the average digital bright, brash, and shallow CD sound works quite well. The thing is that (non-digital) vinyl will (and should) never give the type of sound that CDs will (thank goodness). If you relish the sonic complexity and richness that can come from a good LP, then this cartridge is definitely for you!! On the other hand, if you want bright, in-your-face, and two-dimensional sound, then you should probably stick with CDs.
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on May 1, 2009
Looking at the title of my review, you might expect to see more than 3 stars.

The pluses for the M97xE, like those of other Shure cartridges, include low mass, high tracking ability (or "trackability" as Shure prefers). But I really do not believe this is a "neutral" ("accurate" is a better but less popular term) sounding cartridge, as many claim it is. Many reviewers consistently state that this cartridge lowers surface noise. Surface noise can only be suppressed if the level of upper midrange and/or lower treble is slightly lowered when compared to the rest of the audible range. Looking back at my old stack of magazines from the 70s and 80s, I consistently see test reports of past Shure cartridges that illustrate response plots with a mild dip around the upper midrange and lower treble. This is what softens the sound of surface noise but, to be sure, this is definitely a departure from tonal accuracy.

In a nutshell, this sound character has always been a house sound for most of Shure's cartridges and the M97xE is a classic example of that sound. The listeners' statements about neutrality apparently come from their acclimation to the Shure sound over the years. The more accurate Shure cartridges are all of the now discontinued top-of-the-line Shure V15 cartridges, especially the Type MR.

Beyond all this hairsplitting, the M97xE is a decent cartridge that is worth its price. It is suitable for anyone looking to replace their old cartridge on an existing good quality turntable with a low to medium mass tonearm (most Dual and Thorens turntables fit this description). But anyone looking for accurate tonal quality (frequency response) will need to pay close to roughly twice the current Amazon price for something like a flat response cartridge like Audio Technica's AT-440MLa (lower-priced Audio Technica cartridges will likely have peaked treble around 12 kHz to 15 kHz - Audio Technica's house sound dating back to the 70s, as illustrated in old test reports).
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on November 1, 2006
Mount this up right, then be sure that the limiting factor of your playback system ain't the cartridge. Just "set it and forget it" like the Ronco Rotissere. Yeah, there are better carts, but nothing under $300 comes close in my opinion, and paying more matters little if the rest of your system isn't up to par.

Flat response, No hissy sybilants, quiet tracking, and none of that annoying last track that sounds like crap.

Here's the secret to this cart (and many others): you need to be uber careful about overhang. Shure includes a nice 5c gauge underneath the foam in the box. It works fine. Use it to adjust fore/aft of the cartridge so that the stylus hits the center mark on the gauge, and the body of the headshell is square with the lines. That's it. On my Philips 312, it ended up being right in the middle of the mounting track. Seriously, don't neglect this, it's the most important thing next to buying it in the first place.

So the Zen of the cart is sitting here, listening to Gary Graffman and Leonard Bernstein jam some Rachmaninoff on a 40 y/o slab of wax, and I'm not worrying about a thing. Everything's there where it should be. The clarity is astounding. I don't feel like getting up and messing with the gear. Nope, I'm focused on the music, not the gear. That's transparency folks, and it's what makes for a great listen.


I picked up an even better receiver in order to enjoy the cartridge more. Speakers are Sony sony ss-k30ED's, the ones that are flabbergasting, but nobody bought them cause Sony speakers usually stink. Carbon tweeters to 70Khz! I'm listening to albums I've had for years, albums I thought were worn out, and they're crystal clear. It's magical. I've owned my copy of the Police's Regatta de Blanc since 1980 or so, grew up playing it on substandard gear. You know how kids are with records. I'm hearing delicate drumming work by Copeland and guitar licks by Summers that are new. Wow.

After listening to Lucinda Williams today at concert type volume, the difficult track "Live Bleeding Fingers..." that's got the guitars just at the point of no return, and it tracks it perfectly. Two wailing guitars front and center, but the delicate highs of the drums aren't buried. Everything's there. Closed my eyes and it was just like being at one of her shows. Even the last decent Stanton I had couldn't manage that track. It's at the end of a side and pressed hotter than hot, but the Shure tracks it like it was cut number one.

Bravo! This is an essential purchase for anybody new to audiophile analog. For the price, it has no right to sound as good as it does. Just remember to adjust that overhang folks, and you'll enjoy THE best deal in audio I've ever heard.
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on June 19, 2005
Bought this few days ago as a cheap standby cartridge for my Linn asaka (just in case). What a pleasant surprise. Just about the best non-moving coil I have heard. My system is a Linn LP-12/Itokk/Lingo/Trampolin/Naim Preamp/Naim Power amp. Speakers are Linn Sara-9. I can't afford a cartridge for each type of music, and I love most types. 6000 Lp's plus. This cartridge plays everything from the Mercury Stereo Classicals to Hank on the old black&yellow MGM's. No, it's not quite as good as the asak, bass isn't as well controlled, vocalists don't have the power and closeness, but there is almost no unwanted cartridge sound either. I did use the stainless steel hardware I had used with the asak, and I do not use the brush. I thought 1.25 grams a little lite, 1.5 was better. Did a great job on "girl from ipanema" from the Stan Getz/Verve stereo original pressing lp, not the re-done import. She sounds on key, and the sax is fantastic. Ditto for keyboard. I am going to get another in case Shure drops this one like they did their V15. This guy is worth at least twice the price, maybe more. Never really been a fan of Shure, but heard a M91ED few years ago, not terribly bad and loads better than the old M3D I had (for a very short time) years ago. I tightened the screws really tight (with the arm unmounted, not to damage the bearings in the arm.)
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on September 13, 2005
I've owned many turntable and cartridge combinations over the years and was able to compare this Shure to a V15 and a Stanton 881S in a quality table. The M97xMR has superb packaging and contruction. It comes with a useful overhang gauge and a viscous damped stylus brush that effectively dampens the effects of warped records. Sonically the cartridge is very neutral and non-fatiguing. The cartridge casts a wide image and has good sound stage depth. It tracks well but will not pass the final track of the Shure test record. It share the neutral nature of the V15 cartridge but is not quite as "fast with transients". I highly recommend this cartridge. Take the money you save over the expensive cartridges and buy some vinyl records to enjoy!
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on June 21, 2008
After the stylus of my prior Audio Technica AT120 cartridge became inexplicably "mis-aligned" (read bent), I began my search for a new cartridge.

Enter the M97xE, I installed this cartridge in my JVC JL-F45 turntable and initially expected to listen to my albums pretty much the same way I had before. Was I wrong.....

Long story short this is the cleanest sound I have heard from my records in a good long while. I have now listened to music from all across the board with this, from modern power pop link the Ting Tings, to Neil Diamond, to Led Zeppelin, to the beatles, to Queens of the Stone Age. This is by far the best balanced I've ever heard out of my turn table.

Giddy up!
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on October 5, 2013 I didn't really NEED a new cartridge. After all, I've only got a fraction of the wonderful vinyl collection that I once had left, and even of the remaining ones, I've replaced so much of the music with CD's or MP3's. It's been at least 20 years since I purchased my turntable...a pretty nice Denon...and a cartridge to go with it. So long ago that I had forgotten how much I spent on an Ortofon OM40 back then...ouch! I just knew that on the few occasions that I played anything on vinyl, the machine worked and it sounded pretty good. Recently a good friend of mine took on a project of converting his mother's sacred vinyl collection to a digital format and he got me interested in helping him check out turntable setups, both currently sold and old stuff on ebay and other sites. There's no great bargains to be found. Old stuff breaks down, and people want too much money. I started considering how much mileage I might have on the Ortofon stylus and I had no idea. My interest now piqued, I set out to buy a new stylus but instead starting reading reviews of available cartridges. I eventually came to the conclusion that, for the money, I couldn't go too wrong with this Shure. I hoped it'd be good enough that at least I wouldn't notice that I had replaced the more expensive cartridge and I'd have a new stylus. When it arrived, I had to strain my memory a bit to recall how to properly align, set the overhang, antiskate, etc. When I walked into a RadioShack and asked for a stylus tracking force gauge the two people working there hadn't a clue what I was jammering about. Finally, "I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink..." (if you know what I mean you're probably about my age). The records sounded great. I started playing one after another, listening more critically to some than others. The warmth and richness of tone, the sound stage/imaging, the sheer enjoyment of the sound...much better than what I had and better than much of the digital stuff I had gotten used to hearing. Now...figure out a way to miniaturize this setup and wear it on an armband and nobody will be wanting mp3's anymore!
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