Aeon Phono Cartridge Reviews

Grado Lineage Series - Aeon Phono Cartridge World Premiere Review

06-29-2018 | By Robert H. Levi | Positive Feedback Issue 98

Aeon

For the first time ever, I present my reviewer's high-end balance sheet.

ROI (Return on Investment in High-end Audio)

  • Grado Epoch Cartridge: $12,000 "State of the Art"
  • Grado Aeon Cartridge: $6000 "85% Overall Performance of Epoch"
  • Savings selecting Aeon over Epoch: "$6000"
  • Aeon Gains: acquire up to 200 re-issue LPs from your favorite vendor
  • Aeon Losses: a small reduction of overall clarity; some dynamic bass impact and loss of definition.
  • Epoch/Aeon setup and ancillaries required: Identical.

ROI...how does it look to you?

And so, what's on your tonearm?

Having fun yet? I sure am. The Grado Aeon (pronounced AA ahn) is extremely similar in construction to the Epoch. The Aeon has the same groundbreaking stylus shape, reducing surface noise to RTR tape-like levels. The diamond is directly coupled to the sapphire cantilever. Gold wire and unique powerful magnets drive the coils wound in 24-carat gold wire. Both require 100 hours run-in time, and both are wood-bodied works of art and science.

They differ primarily with the Aeon utilizing a beautiful, though less rare cocobolo wood selection, of lower density and hugely less cost. Unlike the Grado Epoch, the Aeon does not have some of the top secret elements within that bring it to a level of sonic perfection. Fascinatingly, the Aeon was developed first, as the breakthrough design from John Grado. Though a musical tour de force and sonic leap over past creations of his and about everyone else's, he imagined an even more fantastic phono transducer design that became the Epoch. Is there a logical end to this quest? I hope not!

The Aeon moved comfortably into the settings of my phono front end adjusted for the Epoch. The final Aeon setup consisted of gear as follows:

  • Grado Aeon cartridge
  • EAT Csharp Turntable and matching EAT/Graham developed 10 inch tonearm
  • 900 Gram EAT Ultra LP Weight
  • Wywires Diamond Phono Cable with straight DIN
  • Stein Music Gold E-Pad +S at tonearm bass
  • E.A.R. 88PB Tube Phono Stage
  • E.A.R. MC4 Step up Transformer set at 6 ohms
  • Zesto Andros Allasso Step up Transformer set at 130 ohms
  • Tracking force for both carts: 1.85 grams
  • Both at about one-half gram of anti-skate.
  • Both slightly tails up elevation from perfectly level for top tracking.
  • Jorma Origo Interconnects
  • UITAudio PMP Interconnects
  • Kubala-Sosna Elation! Interconnects
  • Kimber Select 1036 and 1236 Interconnects
  • E.A.R. 912 Preamplifier
  • E.A.R. 890 Amplifiers (2)
  • UITAudio PMP Speaker Cables
  • Jorma Origo Speaker Cables
  • REL Stadium 3 Sub-woofer
  • Marten Bird Loudspeakers with diamond tweeter
  • McIntosh Mantel Clock always lit brightly to the correct reviewing time!
  • The Epoch Stereo and Mono Cartridges are mounted on Helius Omega Tonearms on the Tim de Paravicini Magnetic Drive Disc Master Turntable to provide instant comparison.

Specifications

  • Output: 1mV @ 5 CMV
  • Controlled frequency response: 6Hz - 72kHz
  • Channel separation: avg. 47dB, 6Hz - 72kHz
  • Loading: 47,000 ohms
  • Inductance: 30 mH
  • Resistance: 91 ohms
  • Non-sensitive to capacitive load
  • Chasis mass: 12 grams
  • Tracking force: 1.5 - 1.9 grams

I do know a bunch of folks with $10-12,000 cartridges. They are not as rare as you would imagine. That said, at $6000, when 80-90% of your dreams come true, why worry? The Aeon produces a smooth, realistic impression of RTR tape, with that truly silent background and jump-from-nowhere imaging. Even-Steven, from highest highs to lowest lows, you will not spend over one minute worrying about the Aeon's tracking or tonality and focus once the music arrives. Record after record seems freed of all artifacts, surface tics, and distortion. Imaging is so precise that one may walk up and say hello to the musician.

The soundstage is huge, huge, huge! Instruments appear outside of your speaker's edges with ease and elegance. The fun factor of the Aeon is out of this world. With none of the stress and squeeze of moving coil spin to forcefulness, one luxuriates in a bath of musical bliss from this ultra-sophisticated moving iron design.

Of the four cartridges running on my three turntables, three are moving iron and one is moving coil. It is the heavily modified Benz LPS from Stein Music that Holger Stein has managed to erase most all the moving coil edge and replaced it with sweet musical values. It sells for $6500 and is most highly recommended.

On the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society LP release with Impex Records, Greensleeves, TBM5011, enjoy a performance to live with as a reference disc. This RED LP is a Grundman jazz masterpiece of power and finesse tracked with the Aeon. The awesome power and crunch of the organ supporting the guitar is mind-blowing! As I play this LP one more time, I am noticing the Aeon's deep bass definition is closing in on the Epoch's last performance with this disc. The more you play it, the better it gets.

The LA&OC Audio Society also produced an ultimate all-analog LP in honor of the Anniversary of its founding 25 years ago. Pick up a copy of the Yuko Mabuchi Trio from Yarlung Records or Elusive Disc. All analog! All tube! All tape! Tube AKG C24 microphone! No transistors! No digital! No compression! 45 RPM! Bernie Grundman, cut-on-the-fly from the master tape! 180 gram! New ultra-powerful vinyl used here for the first time by RTI! Only 500 pressed! You get the idea. All jazz and all fun...incredible musicians, too! The Aeon makes all the difference.

This is an LP that you just let surround you, though you have only two speakers. Done before a live audience, the applause is fascinating to hear. It sounds so honest to goodness alive on the Aeon. (The Yarlung Records LP number is YAR188157-161V, by the way.)

I am fascinated by how naturally lovely and easy the highs are produced by the Aeon. After 50 years of music loving and writing, I am convinced that live means a bit dull. When setting up a cartridge, I listen for maximum definition and then make sure any etch that may have crept in is eliminated in final adjustments. Right now, the Aeon is bringing me a most convincing picture with a cognac like richness on top, and much delicacy as well. What a genius we have in John Grado! I look forward to welcoming him December 2 in Los Angeles at the Society Anniversary Gala Celebration.

Recently, Hilary Hahn’s Retrospective, a DDG Release, became a reference record in my collection. It is her first direct-to-disk LP, and exemplifies artistry magnifique and recording perfection to die for. The DDG number is 4798506. The Mozart Violin Sonata in G major is played to a fare-thee-well perfection with ethereal sonics, as alive as life itself. The Aeon, when playing this LP, exhibited no surface noise or drag what so ever...only music, music, music.

I must state now, for the record (no pun intended), my belief that LP reproduction has caught up with RTR reproduction in the home. LP playback gear is not less expensive than RTR, dollar-for-dollar, but the software is vastly cheaper and much more available! And the Grado Aeon seals the deal. Buy Hilary Hahn's LP and hear this verisimilitude for yourself.

Oh yes: acquire the Aeon, too!

Quibbles

Give the Aeon plenty of time to run-in. 100-150 hours will do the job. The cartridge is sensitive to anti-skate, and tracks from 1.8-1.9 grams, so experiment. And remember to raise the rear just a tad from level for maximum evenness of tone. If tracking is not perfect, adjust until it is, and give it another 24 hours of run-in, too.

Summary

The Grado Labs Aeon Phono Cartridge, with its near-magical stylus quieting LPs to tape-like levels, is shipping now…at half the price of its very big brother. Mostly identical from stem to stern, the differences are in cost for the last 15% or so that the no-holds-barred Epoch will give you. Though the Aeon costs half as much, John Grado has poured his musical soul and personal reputation into this, a work of musical art in itself. I call the Aeon "the 85% solution," as it performs almost as fantastically as the Epoch for half the money! How can one not get giddy and flummoxed just thinking of the possibilities of a transducer coming within whispering distance of the state-of-the-art. Other top-end manufacturers should be scared Grado may get even closer. But right now, for an expensive but not extravagant $6000, the Aeon parts the clouds and lets you look on the face of musical reproduction in your home.

The Grado Aeon is no sideways move for this storied company, it is a majestic leap into the future! When you may be playing 16x DSD/MQA/Google oversampling, I will be mightily enjoying the mellifluous, intoxicating Aeon.