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Stanton Cartridge Roundup
Reviewer: Professor BX • Date: January 2008 • Link: Stanton Micro Site

“Learn to (record) burn”

Stanton Carts Needles review

As a DJ, if you have not made the switch to CDJ's, chances are you have been through more than a few different brands and types of needles trying to find your perfect solution. Not only that, but chances are that even after finding what you consider to be the perfect needle you will probably try at least one or two more options before finally packing in the decks. The funny thing is, even in your needle search, chances are that you will probably go through at least a few Stanton needles, given both the breadth of their line as well as their ready availability.

When I was starting out, unless I was willing to drive an hour to the Needle Doctor (and deal with their sometimes bizarre hours), Stanton needles were the ONLY choice. Recently Stanton has revamped their lineup, with both a change in their classic industrial design style as well as changes in the needles themselves on certain models. I was given the unique opportunity to review their entire line recently, and after months of beating them into the ground so to speak, I think I have had enough time to get a feel for the strengths (and weaknesses) of each needle.

“Historically speaking...”

I think a word before we start about the history of Stanton and the difference in their needles is needed before we start. Stanton, believe it or not was pretty much the first company to actually make needles specifically for back-cueing and scratching in the late 70s/early 80s with their N-pac line. No other company that I know of has put out the number of DJ-specific sku's in terms of needles as they have, and even through many changing hands there are still employee's at the office who had a hand in designing these first DJ needles. To this day they only use jeweler-grade diamonds and aircraft-grade aluminum in the manufacturing of their needles. And as many manufacturers ship labor overseas, they still maintain their cartridge factory in the USA, even with the knowledge of the money they could save. Say what you will, but this is a company that really does care about the art of making a good needle.

“It's the new style....”

A quick note I think is in order in regards to the new styling of the v3 line. Many seem to be confused and think that it is simply a way of updating a look that is a bit long in the tooth. Nothing could be further from the truth. With a much wider cutout around the needle, on extreme record play the cantilever (aluminum tube) is far less likely to hit the inner walls of the cutout. This in turn contributes to less skipping overall. Testing the new 520v3 against my old 520sks in both juggling and scratching (pretty unscientific I know) I noticed pretty quick that the new 520v3s held on quick juggle patterns better than the old 520's by a fair amount. Also, I noticed that cueing was far easier with the larger cutout. While this may not seem important, when you have a split second to actually cue up your records in a battle or club situations, you will no doubt appreciate the little touches like this.

A quick word on testing methodology

All tests were performed on either American Audio HDT4.5s with an Allen & Heath Xone:02 or Technics SL-1200mk5s with a Vestax PMC-05 Pro III. Listening tests were done with M-Audio BX5As for monitors and Sennheiser HD25s or Ultrasone DJ1s for headphones.

“And Now, the Contenders..”

400v3

Stanton 400 cart review

The 400v3 is Stanton's value needle, and actually not really an updated needle at all, but instead a renamed sku from their Pickering line. The 400v3 was once known as the Npac, and at one time was one of the most popular DJ needles on the planet, if only because it was pretty much the first available. This was back in the days of loudness, durability and skip resistance taking precedent over sound quality and cue burn, and it shows. Listening in headphones, the 400v3 sounds boomy with not much bite. That said, put it over a loud PA system and you really start to appreciate how loud this thing is. Kick drum hits just thunder, and basslines are loud almost to the point of distortion. At 10mv of output, until the Qbert Ortofon came out last year this was actually the loudest needle that I even knew of.

Skip resistance and cue burn are a mixed bag. Cranking the weight all the way down to 7 grams on my American Audio HDT's I was able to scratch with a reasonable amount of security, and could do some basic juggle routines. I was never able to get them to hold well enough though to feel secure enough to use them in a battle. As well, the amount of cue burn at this point was pretty bad. I would say that these would be my last choice for timecode wax.

All is not lost though-doing house blends I came to really appreciate the sonic character of the 400v3. Basslines sounded brutal, and on tracks that were mastered with a little too much sizzle what I considered to be a bit muddy became instead more “rounded” if that makes any sense. For an electro set I think I might bring these with me in my bag if I knew I was on a system that I could really appreciate the loudness these things bring.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 5/10
Cue Burn: 5/10
Sound Quality: 6/10
Loudness: 10/10
Overall: 6/10

500v3

Stanton 500 v3 cart review

The Stanton 500v3 is in some ways the most confusing needle of the roundup. While I can guarantee that at least half of you started out on 500AL's (yes I did - Giz), these needles are actually much closer to the 500al2 in terms of their overall design than the original 500AL. With the 500AL2, the cantilever was lengthened, the output level and recommended weight settings were lowered, and overall it was made to be closer to a Hi-fi needle than the scratch needle that the 500al was known to be. With the 500v3 the cutout design was changed, and as such this does add to the overall skip resistance. If you are looking for a replacement for your old school 500ALs, then the 520v3 would probably be a closer bet (more on that later).

Sonically, the 500v3 was pleasing, if a bit boring. The best way to describe them is fairly flat with a rounded top end (read-not much bite). In a pinch, I could see using this for archiving purposes if I had only this or a 447 laying around, but I couldn't see picking this out of my case in a club based solely on it's sonic character. Cue burn and skip resistance wise it faired a bit better than the 400v3. While I had to use a little more weight than I was comfortable with, at the same time cue burn was never awful, and I could see using these in a scatch session, though not a battle. Overall, the 500v3 represents a good value in needles, though not much else.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 6
Cue Burn: 6
Sound Quality: 7
Loudness: 5
Overall: 6

520v3

Stanton 520 v3 cart review

The 520v3 is based on the old 520sk, the choice of needle for DJ Craze in the 2000 DMCs. From what I remember at the time, the 520sk was basically a re-release of the old 500AL, with a slightly lengthened cantilever. Comparing it to my old 520s, I couldn't find much of a difference sonically so I am guessing that the main differences are in the industrial design. If I am wrong Stanton, let me know!

Value wise, this is probably pound for pound one of the best needles on the market available today. While I did need to use a bit more weight than I would have liked (notice a trend here with the 500 series?), I was able to perform most of my routines with reasonable certainty that I would not encounter much in the way of major skipping issues. I did notice that it skipped a few times on some of my more complex juggle routines, but nothing that I couldn't recover from. For basic cutting the 520v3 held up more than admirably. On some more vibration prone cuts like hydroplanes there was some skipping, but again noting too bad. Sonically they are actually pretty close to the 500v3, though a bit louder (meaning that I had a bit more room on my gains which is always appreciated). While I wouldn't seek these out in a store as my first choice, as far as value needles go it doesn't get much better.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 7
Cue Burn: 6
Sound Quality: 6.5
Loudness: 6.5
Overall: 7

680v3

Stanton 680 v 3 cart review

The 680v3 is based on the old 600-family of needles (680al/el, 605sk, 680hp), with the closest relation being the 680hp. The 680el was the club standard for a number of years based on excellent sonic performance, and the 680hp became something of a dance music favorite based on the big high/low end and overall volume. Even a young A-trak used the 680el in his first DMC win. Seemingly not much as changed with the 680hp, as that big bass and high end that many came to love is still there. What is surprising is how much of a scratch needle it is as well.

Setting my weight to 5 and my height to 3, I was able to start cutting pretty quick with very respectable skip resistance. Juggle routines both simple and complex were met with ease, and all but the most complicated tears were also no problem. Sonically the 680 can be described as big bass, big highs, scooped mids. Think about how most novice sound guys set up the Eq on their PA system and you get the idea. “Radio Friendly” is a term that comes to mind actually. Loudness was also impressive-the amount of gain that I had to apply before I got to respectable volume levels left me with plenty of room left. Cue burn was also quite good-while not the most gentle needle I have ever owned, I wouldn't worry about using any vintage funk wax either. For the majority of users I would say that this would be my pick.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 9
Cue Burn: 8
Sound Quality: 8
Loudness: 8
Overall: 8

890v3

Stanton 890 v3 cart review

This one is a strange one, as even though the needle is sold as one package, really I am reviewing two needles. The 890 series is one of those needle family's that kind of got lost in time-not many people I knew used any iteration of these, and overall it is hard to find much in the way of “famous users” and the like. This is not to say that they were bad-just not very popular. The 890fs is named so because it is made to be a “Final Scratch ready” needle, with one tip included for scratching (the SA) and one for archiving wax (the EL).

The spherical tip of the 890fs is a reasonable performer, almost like the 680 taken down a notch. Skip resistance is decent, with most scratch routines being able to be pulled off without a hitch. I did notice that the 680 did hold a bit better, but the difference was pretty small. Sonically it was pretty close to the 680 as well, albeit with a bit flatter response. Cue burn was decent as well.

The Elliptical tip included with the 890fs was a pleasant surprise. While not a DJ needle by any stretch of the imagination, sound quality was easily the best of any needle tested. Breaking out everything from funk to jazz to classical, the 890el really made for a great listening experience. Detailed without ever being to biting, full on the low end without ever being boomy, the package is almost worth picking up just for the Elliptical tip alone. At 3.9mv output, it isn't exactly a loud needle, but then again for archival purposes it doesn't really need to be either (nor would it necessarily be desirable-the louder it gets the harder it is to get a flat response). In the end, while the 890fs package would not be my first choice if I needed a pure scratch needle, as a kit it offers an excellent value.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 8(SA) - NA (EL)
Cue Burn: 8 (SA) - 10 (EL)
Sound Quality: 7 (SA) - 10+(EL)
Loudness: 7 (SA) - 4 (EL)
Overall: 8

SM-v3 (Scratch Master v3)

Stanton SCratchmaster v3 cart review

The SM-v3 is another pseudo-carry over from the Pickering line-based on the OM DJ, the SM-v3 has received the same treatment as the other needles as the needles in Stanton's new v3 line with updated styling. Appearance wise this was probably my least favorite of the line-maybe it is just me, but I like the black and gray color scheme of much of the line, and the baby blue left me a little cold. Not a big deal, I just like my needles to look as good as they sound.

Sitting firmly at the top of the pack as far as every rating goes, the SM-v3 is a great all-around performer. I will say that to get similar groove-holding ability to the 680v3 I did have to spend a few more minutes on setup, finally settling on angling my needles out and using 4 grams of weight. At those settings I didn't run into any issues with cutting or doing any juggle routines. Sonically the SM-v3 was also a great performer-loud and proud, though flatter than the 680v3. Cue burn wise the SM-v3 performed quite well as well. As far as all-around needles go, the SM-v3 is a great choice if you need a needle for every occasion.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 8
Cue Burn: 8
Sound Quality: 9
Loudness: 8
Overall: 8

Trackmaster V3

Stanton Trackmaster v3 cart review

Here is where I make a confession - up until I got the needles for the roundup I had actually switched to Ortofon Concord Pro Ss, and had been using them for about a year. I had owned the original Trackmasters a number of years ago, and while they did the job I was never in love them as far as their overall groove holding ability. I was therefor really excited to see how the re-engineered Trackmaster v3 performed for cutting.

Loading them on my tonearm, I was impressed by the large groove cutout. Cueing could be done half blind on these things, and as such for quick mix applications these would be a great choice. Like the SM-v3 I wasn't exactly a fan of the color scheme, but hey, maybe it will do it for you. Scratch performance was definitely better than the old Trackmasters-while this is not a scratch needle by any stretch of the imagination, if I was a club DJ who did some scratching but wanted an all in one needle that sounded great they would be a great choice. I wouldn't go into a battle with these-while I could cut reasonably well, most of my juggle routines were still left with a fair amount of skipping. Sonically they are exactly the same as the SM-v3-loud, proud and pretty flat. I will say that if I didn't scratch these would be on my short list of needles to buy.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 6
Cue Burn: 8
Sound Quality: 8
Loudness: 8
Overall: 8

Groovemaster V3

Stanton Groovemaster v3 review

The last needle of the roundup (you made it this far?!?!?), the Groovemaster V3 is Stanton's only other Elliptical needle provided (the other being the 890el provided in the 890fs pack). Targeted at anyone BUT scratch DJ's, the Groovemaster V3 is instead aimed at mix DJ's who demand the best in sound quality.

Putting these on my tonearm, sadly my first thought was that I wished they had used this color scheme on the SM-v3. The Groovemaster v3 is really a sexy needle, with it's black and silver paint job with ble accents provided by the Stanton lettering. Like the other needles in the Master series, cueing up records couldn't be easier given the large cutout over the cantilever. Skip resistance was not great or even good, but I could at least cue up records without fear of them flying out of the groove. Sonically almost like a louder 890el, the Groovemaster was a fairly flat needle with just a hint of bite at the high end that added just the right amount of sizzle to my dance wax. Cue burn was pretty low as well, though keep in mind that as an Elliptical needle, scratching will cause more damage than with a Spherical needle (read-any other needle in this roundup). If I were strictly a mix DJ, this would probably be my choice for my main needle.

Ratings

Skip Resistance: 4
Cue Burn: 8
Sound Quality: 10
Loudness
: 8
Overall: 8

“And Now, the Awards Ceremony...”

Before I pass out my picks, I would like to say a couple things. Having listened to loud systems for years, become set in my ways as far as record technique, etc, these are simply my picks. Your results may vary, as everyone has different preferences overall. Needles are the most personal choice in a DJ's setup besides the mixer-if it doesn't feel right to you it never will. With that said, here are my picks:

Best Value Needle: This easily goes to the 520v3. While not the best needle in the roundup, I can't think of a better needle out there at this price range. Even if you have an expensive set of needles, at the price they are at it is worth picking up even for spares.

Best Scratch Needle: This was a tough call, but I have to go with the 680v3. While the SM-v3 did hold very well, the 680v3 was a much quicker setup overall, and the sound, while not as flat, had a very pleasing sound to it that made me want to simply enjoy my records on the player.

Best Needle for Serato/Traktor/Final Scratch etc: the biggest surprise of the roundup, I have to give this one to the SM-v3. With a pretty flat frequency response that would work very well with timecode wax, low record wear and good skip resistance, I almost wish they would make an SM-FS package for all of us who use Digital Vinyl solutions.

Best Mix Needle: Hands down, the Groovemaster v3. Seriously, you have to listen to this needle to understand how good it sounds. If I were strictly an electronic DJ, I wouldn't hesitate to buy this in a heartbeat.

Big Ups to Jim Mazur and the whole Stanton family for the hookup. To everyone else who made it this far, go home or at least get some sunlight!

And big thanks to http://www.htfr.com for supplying product for photography. You can grab each one of these carts and more directly from the HFTR site.

 

 



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