I wasn’t supposed to review the Goldring Ethos phono cartridge. It merely hitched a ride with the Thorens TD-1601 turntable and arm combo that I have in for review. Anthony Chiarella, who represents both companies, had it mounted on the ‘table before it shipped. He told me that it was a match that everyone had really enjoyed while testing out the Thorens.
Goldring? Sure, I was more than happy to keep the Goldring Ethos on the arm for the time being. 25 or 30 years ago, when I was deep deep deep into Brit hi-fi, Goldring was certainly a contender when it came to refined MM phono cartridges that were also affordable. Classic models such as the 1012 and the 1042 were great choices for the lesser Regas, especially if you felt like some of the cartridges from Rega lacked a bit of excitement (which I sometimes did). Goldring MC models such as the Eroica, Elite and Etile, have been favorites among my British pals over the years.
I never bought a Goldring, but I came so close at least a couple of times. (I can say that about a lot of products, I suppose. Forty-plus years in this hobby is a long time.) I’ve heard them on other turntables many times. But this one, the Goldring Ethos? It seems to be a new level of phono cartridge design for Goldring, something they acknowledge when they suggest on their website that it’s their finest design ever.
The Thorens and Goldring combo, right out of the box, was an immediate hit with me. Big time.
I’d say something like “OMG WOW” at this juncture, but I want to save that for the Thorens review, which should be out in a couple of weeks. A few weeks into the review period, however, I knew I had a dilemma. Am I supposed to review this analog rig as a package? Should I write about the Goldring Ethos in a sidebar? Or, how about a completely separate review for the Ethos?
I asked Anthony, and he seemed very happy that I liked the Ethos so much that I wanted to test it on its own. I’m paraphrasing, but he told me to go for it.
Once I decided to separate the Goldring Ethos from the Thorens, I knew I’d have to mount it on a different ‘table. Luckily, I’ve been running a two-turntables-no-microphone rig for the last few months. In this case, the Thorens/Goldring combo shared the top shelf with the Technics SL-1200G/ZYX Bloom 3 rig I’ve been using for some time now. I would have to spend time with the ZYX on the Thorens and the Ethos on the 1200G if I really wanted to explore the possibilities of each pickup.
Note: I’m not interesting in a comparo between the two rigs—I’ve made myself clear on this topic. That’s hard to resist since the $4000 Technics and the $1100 ZYX are around the same price as the $3499 Thorens and the $1499 Goldring Ethos. Hundred bucks difference. C’mon, Marc, tell us which one you liked more. Just hit my PM, I won’t tell.
My purpose in swapping carts is isolating the Goldring Ethos from the Thorens TD-1601 so that I can determine what each product brings to the whole. Okay?
By the way, both rigs were plugged into my reference phono pre, the Pureaudio Vinyl. I would have preferred to use something with multiple inputs like the Jeff Rowland Design Group Conductor or the inboard unit on the Vinnie Rossi L2-i, but the Vinyl is still one of the finest phono stages I’ve heard, even after seven years of steady employment in my listening room. Gary Morrison, how about another set of inputs?
Anthony sent me the basics on the Goldring Ethos from the UK website:
“Ethos is a truly high-end cartridge featuring a vital-shank, nude-diamond stylus. This polyhedral, line-contact profile was chosen because it has a very low tip-mass and a large contact area whilst being very narrow from front to back; even enabling the undistorted retrieval of ultrasonic frequencies in a recording. In order to properly process this information, at the heart of the Ethos cartridge is Goldring’s hand-built GOL-1 moving-coil generator. Featuring a hand-wound cross-shaped, soft-iron armature and married to a low resonance aircraft aluminum chassis, each one is precision tuned by our expert craftsmen to achieve our best ever level of performance. The result is that one becomes simply immersed in the musical experience …and that’s our whole Ethos.”
By the numbers, the Goldring Ethos is a moving-coil cartridge with an output of 0.5 mV. That’s almost twice the output of the ZYX, one more reason not to compare the two and expect any reasonable decision on which one is “better.” It does like to travel light—I’ve been sticking to 2g tracking force for so long that it threw me when the Ethos was far happier at 1.8 or even the recommended 1.75.
COMPARO! COMPARO! COMPARO!
But I can explain the sonic differences between the Goldring Ethos mounted on the Thorens TD-1601 and the ZYX Bloom 3 mounted on the Technics SL-1200G. Imagine the sound of two of the most legendary turntables of all time—the Technics SL-1200 and the Linn LP-12 Sondek. Imagine these are production models from the late ‘70s or ‘80s. Think about the differences between them in their prime, the way the Linn is warm and bouncy and maybe a little soft and the way the Technics is all about deep bass and speed stability, but maybe it’s a little dark.
Now, imagine that those two products have been gradually refined until they are much closer to TRVTH, whatever that may be for you. If you’ve been in this hobby for long enough, and you’ve listened to enough gear, you start to notice that “all paths lead to Nirvana.” The best tube amplifiers start to sound like the best solid state, the best digital starts to sound like the best analog, and so forth. I’m not saying that they sound the same, or one isn’t “better” than the other according to your tastes. They’re just approaching the same coordinates from different directions.
Now think back again to those differences between the two 40 year old ‘tables. That gap in sonic differences, the one that straddles the idea of neutrality, is still there between the two modern rigs. But it has been lessened considerably because both are far more sophisticated designs. Have I lost anyone?
Okay then, it’s time to swap and to hopefully find out what the Goldring Ethos brings to the barbecue.
First, it’s clear that the Ethos didn’t make the 1200G sound more like the Thorens—the two profiles met somewhere in the middle, but not necessarily the exact middle. It might be the difference—and hopefully this isn’t controversial—between Japanese hi-fi and British hi-fi. They’re both refined and sophisticated, but that doesn’t mean they’re alike. By the way, I still maintain that hi-fi components often reflect their country of origin through their signature sound. I think that’s a wonderful thing, and I hope we can still talk about those differences in polarizing times.
[Dear editor: you may want to delete that last part. Up to you.]
[Ed: Ain’t you the editor?]
So you have a Japanese turntable and cartridge that is detailed and delicate and precise, and you have a Swiss turntable with a British cartridge that is warmer and bouncier, like I said. Remember PRaT? (I think Eric Franklin Shook bet me I couldn’t work that term into a review. Pay up, sucker.) I got that vague feeling of Pace, Rhythm and Timing from the Thorens and the Goldring Ethos, that punchy quality that you find with suspended designs like the TD-1601. I used to feel that a system with PRaT lacked the ultimate sense of air and space, not to mention all the goodies at the frequency extremes, but it had tremendous momentum. This was not quite that. But I could feel that history creeping in occasionally.
The sound of both rigs did change after the swap. The Technics didn’t sound warm or bouncy—that’s the suspended design of the Thorens creating that specific loveliness. But the Goldring Ethos did bring a certain humanity to the 1200G, a slightly different outlook than the musically balanced ZYX but equally refined and somewhat delicate.
The Sound of Ethos
After several weeks with the Goldring Ethos in numerous circumstances, its true character emerged. No, this isn’t the soft and warm cartridge you stick on the end of a tonearm if you want fix a lean and overly detailed system. But the Ethos sounds very different than the Goldrings of the past that I’ve heard. It’s a far more modern sound, with incredible extension at the top that still is incredibly sweet ‘n’ easy on the ears. Those past Goldrings were a bit buttoned-up in comparison.
In fact, the Ethos is very much in the same class as all of the mid-priced cartridges I’ve loved over the last couple of years from Hana, Sumiko and ZYX. Each model represents a different flavor, but all are delicious in one way or another. The Goldring Ethos distinguishes itself from the others, however, and for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s wonderful to see Goldring back in the US game, so to speak, with what they consider to be their finest cartridge ever. That’s saying a lot for a company with such a long history in audio. The Ethos isn’t about refining the Goldring sound until it arrives, kicking and screaming, into 21st century analog. It’s about a storied company that decided, after many years, to remind the world why they are still here by coming up with a new product that’s exceptional.
That takes something new and fresh, not just modern. At its very reasonable price, the Goldring Ethos sounds like the here and now, clear and balanced and full of beauty. If you haven’t considered a Goldring cartridge in a long time, you need to hear the Ethos.