Cartridges

Shelter 9000

Shelter is no stranger to the audiophile world, with their 501 and 90x cartridges winning their fair share of awards along the way.

Having owned both, the 501 is always a top choice for those wanting a big taste of analog magic, with a healthy dose of tonal warmth thrown into the presentation – it’s a cartridge that makes even average records sound better than they should at times.  The 901 was always a red headed stepchild, having more detail albeit at the cost of that wonderful midrange magic that the 501 has.  For those with a larger budget, the 90x was an excellent fusion of both cartridges, offering wonderful tonal contrast with extension.

We were all very curious to sample the 7000 and 9000 to see what the next generation would provide.  If you were a fan of the 90x, chances are good you will enjoy the 9000 even more. At $4,195, the price of the Shelter 9000 has gone up substantially since its introduction at an even $3,000, with the 90x tipping the scale at about $2,800.

Setup

Though the 9000 spent a little bit of time on the Rega P3-24 to get some hours on the clock, it was definitely overkill for this table.  It is an excellent match with the Continuum, the TW Acustic Raven Two, and finally landing on the Oracle Delphi V with Rega RB1000 tonearm.

The 9000 weighs about 11 grams, so it will work well with most counterweights, though some arms may require a heavier weight.  The RB1000 was at the limit of its adjustment range with the stock weight, upgrading to the heavier tungsten weight proved better. With a suggested loading of 100 ohms, the 9000 works well with both active and transformer based phonostages.  The .6mv output should work well even with MC phonostages of modest gain and still provide maximum dynamic range.  Suggested tracking force is a range of 1.4 – 2.0 grams and 1.9 proved optimum in the RB1000 arm.

A Lively Dance Partner

The 9000 turns in an excellent performance with the SME 309 arm as well, proving livelier through the midband, with more air in the upper registers when paired with the Rega arm – both on the Raven and also on the Rega P9 (a 2mm spacer is required here).  However, the best balance from top to bottom was with the RB1000 arm mounted to the Oracle Delphi V, the inherent speed of the Oracle a perfect match for this cartridge.

Slightly grainier and smaller in scale than my reference Dynavector XV-1s, the 9000 is an excellent performer for about $1,500 less – so that’s a call only you can make.  The 9000 also renders an extremely quiet background, minimizing surface noise, much the way the Koetsu cartridges do.

The Shelter 9000 offers more resolution than previous models, yet gives up none of the tonal richness in the process – an across the board improvement.  It’s even finished in a cooler color, a nice shade of platinum silver versus the stark black that used to grace Shelter bodies.

A side by side comparison using identical SME 309 arms on the Raven reveals the 9000 to be the champion in high end extension – but a cleaner, faster midbass response as well.  The opening bass riff on “Woman in Chains” from Tears for Fears Sowing the Seeds of Love, has more attack and much less bloat when the 9000 is engaged.  Switching back to the 90x, sounds slow in comparison with the triangle playing in the background is lacking in sparkle and presence.  Throughout the album, the layered backing vocals also take on more of a distinct space, adding to the three dimensional illusion.

Much as I love the 90x, it still has some of the upper bass bloat that makes the 501 so romantic and on many levels, enjoyable – especially with less than outstanding recordings.  Should you enjoy that bump and perhaps mistake it for actual bass response, a quick romp through a few bass heavy tracks will reveal not only more extension but again more texture.  Jaco Pastorius’ “Ocus Pocus,” from his self titled album works well here – trying to follow his lightning fast fretwork on the bass is a torture test for any cartridge and again the 9000 is the clear winner.

The analog front end is a system and while the SME/Raven combination was very good, the RB1000/Oracle proved a bit more lively and to my liking. The former combination is weightier, while the latter somewhat more nimble – favoring highly dense recordings, with only slightly less bass “oomph.”

Tonal balance is excellent and the overall presentation of the Shelter 9000 still more forward than my Koetsu RSP or Dynavector XV-1s.  Of course some of this can be tempered by your overall system balance and choice of phonostage.

A worthy successor

The Shelter 9000 passes muster quite well indeed.  Tonally, it is very neutral, offering a big helping of what the cost no object phono cartridges offer for a more reasonable price – though many might think $4,195 is still crazy money for a phono cartridge.

If you’ve been a Shelter fan for years and ready to trade up, the 9000 will make you feel right at home in a way that trading up to a slightly newer model of Porsche or BMW would.  Everything is similar to the old model, but the refinements make themselves obvious after the first few miles.

For those new to Shelter, I would highly suggest this cartridge to anyone with an overall system balance from laid back to neutral, perhaps even slightly forward, but should your system already be somewhat forward, the 9000 may be too revealing.

Ultimately, this cartridge is an excellent performer and is certainly on par with the level of music it reveals in comparison to comparably priced offerings from other manufacturers.

This review was originally featured in TONEAudio #16.

The Shelter 9000 Phono Cartridge
MSRP:  $4,195

Manufacturers Info

www.axissaudio.com

Peripherals

Preamplifier                            Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Phono Preamplifiers               Nagra VPS, Audio Research PH7

Turntables                               TK Acustic Raven Two w/SME IV.Vi arm and Rega

RB1000 arm, Rega P9 w/RB1000 arm, Oracle Delphi V w/RB1000 arm, Continuum Criterion w/Copperhead arm

Power Amplifier                     Conrad Johnson Premier 350

Speakers                                  MartinLogan Summit with Descent i subwoofer

Interconnects                          Cardas Golden Reference, AudioQuest Sub 3

Speaker Cables                        Shunyata Orion

Power Conditioning                Running Springs Dimitri and Jaco

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