Goldring Eroica HX high output MC

Hardware Review

Goldring Eroica HX high output MC
Friday, August 5, 2022
MC cartridge
Chris Beeching

For an inveterate tinkerer, playing with turntables, cartridges and pick-up arms has given me countless hours of pleasure. In many ways there’s nothing more satisfying than tweaking and easing settings to wring the very best performance out of a record player. Some, of course, make a living out of doing just that, and I’m sure Mike Trei or Michael Fremer will have tales to tell of combinations which should work but didn’t, those which shouldn’t work but did, and those which absolutely sang (and then, those that absolutely didn’t!).

For cartridge reviewing I tend to use my venerable SME 20 with variously a 312S arm, a Helius Aurum from yesteryear, an RB300 and an SME 3009 to give a range of results across a variety of arm types. As for the SME 20, for me it’s neither suspended nor rigid, but somewhere in between – a heavily-damped resiliently-mounted component, and overall seems pretty even-handed, and most importantly it’s a consistent and known performer. Yes, it would be interesting to try the cartridge on an XYZ turntable with a 123 arm but there are so very many combinations I’ll never manage to please everyone. My conclusions are drawn as a ‘summation’ across the board, unless anything particular stands out.

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Fixing points for the Eroica HX are standard half inch centres, four sensibly-sized and sensibly-spaced gold pins on the rear, and a substantial but surprisingly lightweight body which feels like carbon-fibre, but which is in fact Pocan – a lightweight fairly inert (dead) composite. The stylus is a Gyger II, but all of this is info which you can grab from Goldring’s website.

For me, the interesting bit is the fact that at this price point (currently £549) it’s a rather competent moving coil. Yes, a moving coil, and by using what Goldring call ‘ultra-fine’ enamelled copper windings, and a ‘pure-iron cross-armature’ design the output and loading requirements mean you can run it straight into a moving magnet input without the need for a step-up device of any sort. Here we have a win-win moving coil, and no outlay for transformers, a phono stage, or a new moving coil stage in your favourite preamp. 

High output moving coil cartridges are not all that new (Ortofon have had the MC-Turbo in their stable for a few decades now) but in some respects they seemed to be a ‘positive compromise’ for those who yearn for MC transparency but don’t have the resources or equipment to support a low-output MC cartridge.

The ultimate test, though, is whether it’s any good. Technical specs can vary a lot, but in the real world we’re after retrieving what’s stored in those vinyl grooves rather than questioning whether the last µm of compliance has been met. The other thing to consider is that particularly with pick-up cartridges, the suspension characteristics vary with temperature, generally being more compliant in summer than winter. This is particularly noticeable if the listening room is not usually heated until pressed into use, despite the manufacturers doing their level best to minimise the effects of temperature on compliance. 

Sound quality
As some will know, I have a few works of which I collect different versions from different eras, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade being one of them. With wide-ranging dynamics, and real shifts between tenderness and urgency the work covers a multitude of emotional responses. Some systems are very adept at retrieving the emotional content in simpler passages, but aren’t quite so capable when there’s a lot going on in the mix. The HX proved itself a very capable performer. The Gyger II stylus maintained faithful groove-wall contact throughout, and nothing became unsettled or confused. 

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The two pressings I used here are from different labels, and their recording dates are some 15 years apart. The earlier Reiner (LSC-2446 – an original) was very raw, immediate, and although finely crafted has a real sense of ‘being there’. The later Rostropovitch (EMI Q4ASD3047) was recorded in SQ4 quadrophonic (a rather short-lived vinyl multi-channel attempts) which demands rather a lot from the playback system – and the stylus in particular – in retrieving the discrete 4 ‘encoded’ channels from the groove. The HX performed exceptionally well, losing very little to the Reiner in terms of that feeling of immediacy and ‘being there’. The recording sounded a little more distant, and as a result the dynamics weren’t quite so thrilling, but nevertheless the HX was rather more than just ‘listenable’, and really gave a good account of itself. This rather supports Goldring’s contention about frequency retrieval up to 50kHz (a totally subjective response, agreed, but seems to hold water) which would be mandatory if true 4-channel encoded playback was being contemplated. As it was the performance in stereo was really rather good.

Many audio system afficionados use the female voice as an arbiter of how well a system plays. Freya Ridings’ self-titled album from 2018 (GSR070V) was next on the turntable. Her song Lost Without You put this previously almost underground (and unsung) artist on the map. Here the HX managed to really give the music space. There was an effortlessness in its presentation, an unflustered ‘OK, here it is, let’s get on with it’ sort of approach. The inky black background (the pressing is a good quiet one, and the HX did nothing to sully that) provides the perfect backdrop for Freya to do what she does best – and her vocal range is really quite astonishing. The recording has a clarity which pervaded the early Hayley Westenra recordings, but her voice has a depth and warmth which really draws you in the more you listen. Strident at times (no, the HX didn’t mistrack, nor did the image wobble), sotto voce at others, the HX presented just what we needed to hear – the performance. 

Perhaps some clarification is needed here. Performance? To me it’s bringing all the emotional content of a piece of music to the audience’s notice. It’s not just about playing all the right notes in the right order, though that does help. It’s more about conjuring a ‘moodscape’, and taking the listener on a journey. To contrast a couple of pianists (possibly unfairly), Clayderman, though accomplished technically, plays notes on the piano. Brendel and Schiff play music using notes. I hope that makes sense. The HX allows me to hear inside the music rather than just the series of notes which are being played. 

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Now to some jazz. Charlie Haden’s Nocturne with Pat Metheny, David Sanchez and others (UNILPI3109). Originally released on CD, and more recently on vinyl through MMP on the Universal label, this is four sides of remarkable music. With a rather more than competent line-up of personnel, this really hums along. Based on the rhythms of the bolero, this is Haden’s take on how you can have fun with latin music. The tracks contain a different complement of players including two with some orchestration. It’s an album which has a real feelgood swing about it.

There are some particularly complex passages, especially exploring cross-rhythms and contrapuntal elements within the bolero which make this quite a testing set for any cartridge to retain its poise. Here it’s worth noting that the HX in the 312S sounded very focussed and safe. In the RB300 it was more brightly lit and had a little more about it. However, when partnered with the Helius it really came to life – almost a different animal – which just goes to show that despite the relatively benign platform of the SME20 the choice of arm is not something that should be taken lightly. 

If you can find Nocturne I can really recommend it. It’s not exactly what you’d expect from the title, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable listen, and although it’s a few musicians ‘having fun’ on the surface it explores in quite a discerning way the rhythms of the bolero and how they can be pushed, stretched, teased and made to feel different. However, the one overriding impression of the HX is that not only can it retrieve detail in performances like these very competently, it also makes them interesting, bringing a cohesive focus to what’s in the groove and allows you, the listener, to engage with the music in a meaningful and emotional way. 

A couple of other points to note. I was quite surprised to discover that (within fine limits) azimuth changes made very little difference to the aural presentation. Tracking weight did have an effect, and as you’d expect once you headed towards the higher end of things the cartridge tended to become slightly duller. Its presentation was not quite so brightly-lit, and hearing deeper into the mix was not quite as easy as with lighter weights. Track too lightly and the focus goes before any mistracking becomes worryingly audible. Overall, though, tracking weight tolerance is pretty good, and the cartridge certainly doesn’t feel as ‘stiff’ as some other MCs (and high output MCs) that I’ve experienced in the past.

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Inevitably the vinyl noted above is only a small taster of the complete range I tried – but covering everything I put under the stylus would probably bore you rigid. Suffice it to say, tracking ability was certainly up there with some of the very best. Goldring’s choice of stylus is obviously a very good one for this cartridge. The HX didn’t seem to emphasise groove noise. I can’t remember any LP where I was concerned by it; in fact the HX’s ability to convey music more than outweighs any concerns I might have had over surface and groove noise. So you can be assured you’re not going to suffer unduly with anything untoward in that area.

Playing the odd mono record presented a very stable central aural image which didn’t vary so on that basis channel separation and phase integrity would seem to be very good. Correlation with the VU meters on a R-to-R recorder confirmed that there was virtually nothing to choose between the channel output levels. Trackability – that old Shure description – seemed to be high ie very good. Unless I deliberately set the tracking force too low the HX coped with everything – including the Telarc 1812.

Conclusion
Sonically, the HX is a highly versatile, very musical and engaging high output MC cartridge. At its price point I would have anticipated a few shortcomings somewhere along the line, in reality it could probably be pitched in at a higher price point. 

Out of interest I did try it into an external MM phono stage and in via a line-level input, but the reality is that as long as the phono input conforms to standard specs you’re unlikely to have any problems. The backroom boys at Goldring seem to have got the maths right and produced an MM-compatible MC cartridge of rather exceptional performance. Audition highly recommended – with the caveat that the arm might make a difference.

Specifications: 

Type: moving coil cartridge
Body: Pocan
Cantilever: aluminium
Stylus: Gyger II
Tracking Pressure: 1.75g
Input load impedance: 47kOhms
Output impedance: not specified
Nominal output voltage: 2.5 mV ± 1 dB, 1 kHz @ 5 cm/sec
Channel Balance : within 1dB @ 1kHz
Separation : >25dB @ 1kHz
Mass: 5.2gm
Warranty: 1 year

Price: 
£549 / €699 / $899
Manufacturer Details: