The Gold Note Machiavelli Cartridge

For many, when you ask them to complete the sentence “Italian high performance….” they might say “cars, Ferrari,” or “bikes, Ducati.” Yet after living with a few of their phono cartridges for a while, I suggest adding “audio, Gold Note” to the end of that sentence.

Their just under $400 Vasari MM cartridge is one of the most exciting MM carts we’ve taken for a test drive, and the $1,075 Donatello is even more compelling. The $3,000 Machiavelli high output MC even more so, as we will see.

This is a critical price point, because for many music lovers, about $1,000 is the limit of discretionary income that can usually be spared for a phono cartridge, while still leaving room in the budget for a turntable/tonearm and phonostage. Anyone ponying up this kind of money to play records deserves serious respect in my book, and I suggest the Donatello. But if you are prepared to step up further, I suggest the $3,000 Machiavelli, and for good reason. Though this is a fairly expensive cartridge, you don’t need a more expensive, high gain MC phonostage. That’s what makes it such an incredible find.

High output moving coil cartridges have always been odd ducks, never seeming to provide the speed, smoothness or delicacy of their lower output siblings. And with some pretty worthy competitors on the MM side of the fence approaching this price, high output MC designs are few and far in between.

Spinning the recent remaster of Crowded House’s Woodface, it’s easy crawl right inside the sound of the Machiavelli. Mounted on a highly modified Technics SL-1200mk. 2 with Rega tonearm and TimeStep power supply, this cartridge is simply glorious. The multi-part harmonies of the group are floating between the Quad 2812s, driven by the PrimaLuna Dialog HP Premium amplifier (w/KT150 tubes) and the new McIntosh MP1100 phonostage – also in this issue.

But the Machiavelli shines, even if you don’t have a mega phonostage. Even using the Hagerman Coronet 2 (A steal at $495) the Machiavelli is a winner, and with all things equal, reveals as much detail as any low output cartridge I’ve experienced. Another fantastic MM phonostage that won’t break your budget is the Decware ZP3. At $1,300, it is world class, but it just doesn’t have enough gain to go full MC without a step up device.

Is it worth the extra cash? Definitely, even in a more budget oriented system, the Machiavelli is worth the extra money if you’ve got room on your Visa card. Yet where the Vasari hits a ceiling, performance wise, where improving the phonostage and table only proves valuable to a point, the Machiavelli is capable of resolving enough information, that should you take a few steps up in turntable or phonostage, you will be greatly rewarded with a cartridge that reveals quite a bit more music.

With an output of 1.2mv, the Machiavelli should work well in any MM phono input. Paired with the McIntosh MP1100, with variable gain, the sweet spot seems to be 52db of gain. The 46db setting seems just a touch flat, and 58db is way too much, but 52db proves a perfect match of dynamics, resolution and low noise floor.

Suggested tracking force is 1.8 to 2.2 grams and the perfect balance on the Technics/Rega combination proves very close to the maximum at 2.17 grams. The Machiavelli is easy to set up, utilizing the Smart-Tractor protractor and going for the Uni-Den geometry – it really wakes this cartridge up, as it has for many others I’ve tried. A steady hand, a little patience and you’ll be rocking in about 15 minutes.

For some reason, the full sound and punch of the Machiavelli keeps me in a classic rock groove for longer than many cartridges at this level do. Tracking through the remastered version of Bad Company’s self titled disc is nothing but fun, combining Paul Rogers’ powerful vocals and some solid drumming. This cartridge combines a slightly warm tonal balance with solid transient attack, so it’s not just rounding off the edges of the notes to achieve its effect.

No matter what your choice of music, the Machiavelli really delivers the musical goods. To listen to at least a little something Italian to make the journey complete, tracking all the way through Beat at Cinecitta, a “sensual homage to the most erotic film music from the vaults of 60s and 70s Italian cinema” is wonderfully engaging. Though slightly compressed, the Machiavelli unravels this set of film tracks and brings them to life.

This cartridge is really about fun. It’s like driving my Fiat 500e. Sure, there are faster cars out there, but every time I drive it, I forget about any of those cars. That’s the Machiavelli – it pulls so much life out of the grooves of my records, it’s tough to think about those five and ten thousand dollar cartridges. They just don’t matter. The best part of owning the Machiavelli is that those with a high performance but reasonably priced MM phonostage can have world class sound without the expense, yet if you do have a mega phonostage, you will not be disappointed. As I stepped up the the Audio Research REF Phono 3 and then all the way to the $38,000 Pass Labs XS phono (my reference in system 1) the Machiavelli continues to increase in performance. This could very well be your last cartridge.

The Machiavelli offers a perfect balance and always serves the music. It is dynamic enough to engage, resolving enough to reveal, yet ever so slightly forgiving, so that nearly all of your records sound great. A perfect host for your music collection; what could be better? Gold Note’s Machiavelli succeeds brilliantly at a price point where the competition is fierce. I am happy to award it one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2017.

The Gold Note Machiavelli High Output MC Cartridge

MSRP:  $3,000


Turntables                 VPI Prime, AVID Volvere SP, Technics SL1200mk 2 (modified)

Phonostages              Channel Islands PEQ, McIntosh MP1100, ARC REF 3 Phono

Amplifier                    PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP Premium

Speakers                    Quad 2812 w/REL S/2 subwoofer

Cable                          Cardas Clear

Power                         Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 1800