Type: Moving Magnet (MM)
Stylus: Nude Elliptical
Price: Budget (vintage)
The Shure M75ED Type 2 was my first magnetic cartridge back in the mid-1970s. At the time, it was the standard recommendation for the Pioneer PL12D record deck, even though they were not ideal partners in a theoretical sense – the M75ED has a high-compliance stylus, preferring a low-mass tonearm, while the PL12D has a medium-mass arm. I lived with this cartridge for about two years before upgrading (to the Shure M95ED). When I acquired another PL12D thirty-five years later, nostalgia motivated me to buy an M75ED for it from a work colleague. Following a less than happy start with an aftermarket stylus, I eventually came across an eBay seller with a batch of NOS original styli and bought one – the mint-condition Shure packaging was a delight in itself. This review is mainly based on using the cartridge with a genuine Shure stylus.
Turntable: Pioneer PL12D MkII
Phono Pre-amp: Musical Fidelity M1 ViNL (with 200pF capacitance)
Amplifier: Yamaha A-S501
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3050
Now that I have been exposed to a wide range of cartridges, I am able to put my first-ever cartridge, the Shure M75ED, into context. So, what do I now make of this old classic?
Treble: The treble is markedly laid-back, even rolled-off. It has a soft character, which can be attractive, but nevertheless lacks focus and detail. On a positive note, it can tame bright recordings. However, refer to the section on Capacitive Load for information on how to improve the treble clarity of this cartridge.
Midrange: The mid-band is quite forward but of fairly unremarkable quality. It has decent body but is not especially refined or detailed, and is lacking in presence. On some recordings, a hardness and graininess become evident, most noticeably in the upper reaches of vocals – refer to the section on Capacitive Load for information on how to reduce this effect. The handling of sibilance on vocals is, however, above average (with the original Shure stylus).
Bass: This is the cartridge’s strongest and probably most forward band. The well-extended bass is powerful and punchy, giving the sound a solid, substantial feel. Having said that, the quality of the bass is a little soft without a great deal of texture and can sometimes seem unsubtle.
The Shure M75ED is well known for having a warm balance and this is certainly my experience of it – my description would be ‘big and warm’, by virtue of its powerful bass and restrained treble. Some may describe its sound as rich or lush, but for me it actually verges on thick and woolly, at least with a typical 200pF phono-stage. This brings me to the electrical loading issue – I find that this cartridge blossoms when used with a low-capacitance phono-stage of around 50pF, where its sound becomes warm and mellow with a more extended and articulate treble. While I have realised that the Shure M75ED is far from the last word in detail, with a low capacitive load it delivers a performance that is more befitting of its nude elliptical stylus. In general, it is capable of producing a pleasant sound that will appeal to those who appreciate the ‘warm sound of vinyl’.
This cartridge is a light tracker, with a tracking force range of 0.75-1.5g. The commonly used setting is 1.25g and this is the one that I adopt (or 1.3g). While the original Shure stylus navigates sibilant vocals reasonably well, I am not totally convinced of its all-round tracking ability in that the cartridge does not produce a very precise sound.
It should be noted that aftermarket styli for the M75ED often require a higher tracking force than quoted above – a setting of 1.5g may be wise for a basic replacement stylus, with some styli requiring up to 2g to avoid mis-tracking distortion.
A dynamic compliance figure for the M75ED is hard to come by, but it is always assumed to be high-compliance. Its low recommended tracking force would certainly support this. This means that it is suitable for low-mass tonearms, although in the 1970s it was frequently recommended for Japanese turntables with medium-mass S-shaped arms, such as the Pioneer PL12D (which has an effective arm-mass of around 17g). While it undoubtedly works on such turntables, it would perhaps deliver a better performance on a good low-mass tonearm. On the other hand, the Shure M95ED (its more expensive sibling) probably has similar compliance but works beautifully on the PL12D.
It should be noted that aftermarket styli for the M75ED may have lower compliance than the original Shure stylus and require a higher tracking force (see Tracking above).
For part of my review auditions of this cartridge, I set the capacitance on my phono pre-amp to 200pF, which is a typical phono pre-amp capacitance. It brings the total capacitive load (including cable capacitance) to nearly 400pF, which is close to Shure’s rather high recommended range of 400-500pF for this cartridge. A capacitive load in this ballpark produces the very warm sound that I describe.
By experiment, I have found that a very low capacitance setting of 50pF on my phono pre-amp produces a much more pleasing sound. This setting gives a total capacitive load of 200-250pF. This not only results in improved treble clarity and detail, but the coarseness sometimes detectable in the upper-midrange/lower-treble is greatly reduced. With this low capacitive load, the M75ED becomes a fine-sounding cartridge. Therefore, despite Shure’s recommendation, I would suggest using this cartridge with a phono pre-amp of low capacitance (100pF or less).
Note that the above assumes a phono-cable capacitance in the range 150-200pF, but for a specific turntable it may be lower or higher.
A friend of mine jokes that 1970s Progressive Rock albums were mixed with the Shure M75ED in mind. It is true that they can sound impressive through this cartridge, with its weighty bass creating a Rock concert atmosphere. In general, 1960s and 1970s recordings tend to sound good with the M75ED. However, for later music with a tighter, faster rhythm, I would plump for an Ortofon cartridge or for the (vintage) Shure M95ED, which is a much better all-rounder than the M75ED.
The main reason to choose the M75ED in the modern age would be for the sake of nostalgia or for its weighty, warm sound. However, there are contemporary alternatives with a warm balance. Until recently, Shure’s own M97xE delivered not dissimilar results, but this cartridge has now been discontinued. For a high-mass or medium-mass arm, the Audio Technica AT-VM95E is an economical solution for a weighty sound (or perhaps a model further up the AT-VM95 range). For a lighter medium-mass or low-mass arm, the Grado Prestige range of cartridges offer viable alternatives.
If you happen to buy a vintage turntable that comes fitted with the M75ED, which is quite a common occurrence, it is worth giving this cartridge a try, as it might suit your ears. However, to run an M75ED today generally involves using an aftermarket N75ED stylus (see Availability below). In fact, if you have a turntable with a medium-mass arm, the lower-compliance N75EJ stylus may be a more suitable match to your arm – this elliptical stylus can be fitted to the M75ED or any M75 cartridge body and has a higher tracking-force range of 1.5-3g.
The only way of procuring a Shure M75ED cartridge today is through the secondhand market. It was a very popular cartridge in its day, so there is no shortage of used examples out there (try eBay). In fact, the bodies of the Shure M75 Type 2 range of cartridges are all the same, so any of them will do – for example, the M75EJ, M75B and M75G can be fitted with an N75ED stylus. However, beware of the special M75 cartridges made for Dual turntables, as they cannot be readily fitted to tonearms with a traditional half-inch mount headshell (with two mounting screws).
It is wise to immediately replace the stylus of a used cartridge of unknown history, but the only options for the M75ED are now aftermarket styli, which are a minefield in terms of quality – the most respected brands are Jico, Thakker Japan and Tonar. A good-quality aftermarket stylus may actually add a little sparkle to the sound!
The Shure M75ED Type 2 is a 1970s classic that seemed to populate virtually every other turntable back in the day and was my first magnetic cartridge. While it lends itself well to the music of the era and still has a lot of love in the audiophile community for its warm sound, I have come to realise that it doesn’t exactly aspire to true high-fidelity. In my opinion, to extract the best from this cartridge, it should be used with a phono pre-amp of very low capacitance, which will allow it to express itself more openly. This cartridge is worth pursuing if your main musical interests are 60s and 70s Pop/Rock or you wish to take the ‘warm sound of vinyl’ to an extreme. For me, the M75ED is a cartridge that is nice to use from to time to time for a touch of nostalgia, but I don’t see it as a long-term companion – there are much more exciting cartridges around.
If you need help with any of the turntable and phono-cartridge terminology used in this review, please visit the Terminology & Concepts page.