In 1906, two Czech brothers – Heinrich and Julius Scharf – formed a company called Gebrüder Scharf in Berlin to make parts for the highest of high-tech devices of the age; the gramophone. The company quickly found its feet and began specialising in gramophone needles and soundboxes (the acoustic version of a modern pick-up cartridge) under the ‘Gold Ring’ brand. The company moved to England in 1933, and Goldring remained a family business until 1987. The goals and interests of the Scharf brothers remain a core part of the Goldring brand to this day.
The Ethos is Goldring’s top cartridge, sitting above even the broadly similar looking Legacy. Like the Legacy, the Ethos uses a Vital fine-line line-contact stylus profile… and that’s more or less where the similarities end. The Ethos uses Goldring’s new and hand-built GOL-1 generator, with a hand-wound cross-shaped, armature made of high-permeability soft Swedish iron; the resultant reduced unsprung mass improves the ability for the stylus to track the groove wall and the cross improves coil separation to minimise cross-talk. A very light and powerful neodymium magnet is clamped between two pole shoes, within which this cross-shaped armature is suspended. This arrangement is designed to help produce a uniform magnetic field gap.
The Vital stylus is a polyhedral line-contact design. The low tip mass diamond profile provides a large contact area with the groove wall. Like all line-contact designs, it has a large major radius with a smaller minor radius, but the Ogura-designed Vital tends to have a larger minor radius than the popular Shibata design. Set-up and installation are paramount with this type of stylus, especially when compared to regular elliptical profiles. One thing to note in this, however; the Vital stylus is not necessarily what you’ll get if you send the cartridge for an aftermarket repair or retip, but as Goldring has designed the Ethos to have a factory replaceable stylus, this should not be a problem.
Every aspect of cartridge making has been investigated in the Ethos. The stiff and lightweight alloy cantilever tube has been tuned to optimum length for cartridge stability and ride height, in the process reducing inertia in the suspension system. That suspension also features a new damper pad that uses a custom-designed butyl rubber compound to keep the system critically damped and a precisely-tensioned tie-wire to keep the cantilever in check during exceptionally dynamic musical passages. Even the body is precision-milled from a low density, rigid, aircraft-grade aluminium, which helps to maintain a low effective mass and helps dissipate unwanted resonance.
I’m going to sound cynical and express some inverted snobbery here, but the biggest limitations to the Ethos are that it’s too cheap and isn’t made by some octogenarian in a Japanese fishing village. Black powder-coat the body, hand-paint a Kanji character or two, and put it in a sandalwood box… why, you could charge £2,000 or more for the Ethos and no-one would bat an eye.
I mention this because the ‘too cheap’ part might reflect in the installation. Someone installing a Lyra Atlas will take incredible care in the installation and alignment of the cartridge because it’s almost nine-and-a-half grand. Expectations are set a little lower in a cartridge that costs less than a tenth that sum, but they shouldn’t be. A ‘good enough’ installation for the Ethos delivers ‘OK’ results, but taking great care in azimuth alignment, VTA (more accurately SRA or ‘stylus rake angle’), overhang, anti-skate, and tracking force will move from ‘OK’ to ‘OMG’. The same applies to any extended contact tip cartridge, but the changes seem more noticeable here. Goldring recommends a 100Ω load resistance, capacitance somewhere between 100-1,000pF (470pF worked perfectly) and a tracking force between 1.5g–2g, with just under 1.75g proving ideal.
Traditionally, Goldring MM designs were detailed if cool sounding, where its MC models were slightly too lush and forgiving. The Ethos manages to harness the best of both, retaining the analysis of the MMs with the warm, inviting sound of the older MCs, without pushing too far in either direction. That is an incredibly difficult balancing act, and it pays dividends; ‘El Morro’ from Calexico’s ‘98-99 Road Map’ EP [Quarterstick] is a beautiful bit of acoustic Latin alt-Americana with some great guitar parts on a so-so record (it’s also on The Black Light LP, which is well worth owning), but the finger-noises from that resonator guitar can grate. With the Ethos, they are presented honestly, but do not exaggerate or over emphasise. It’s just a part of the music.
The stereo separation is exceptionally good, too. No vinyl replay system is entirely without cross-talk, and some would argue that’s actually what makes vinyl sound so alluring, but the stereo imaging, solidity of sounds within that image, and the separation itself is first rate. Miles Davis’ seminal Bitches Brew[CBS] is a fine example as it can descend into a mash-up of electric and acoustic instruments, but instead is perfectly aligned and you can hear the birth of fusion in three dimensions.
The Ethos is also a beautiful tracker. It had no problem playing some very modulated grooves such as a minimally track-damaged end of the 1812 Overture on Decca, and an oil-shortage era Beethoven Fifth [on Music For Pleasure…something to be truly not proud of]. These are albums that act like a skating rink for many cartridges, but the Ethos sailed through without a hitch.
I am deeply impressed by the Goldring Ethos. It may be the company’s top cartridge, but it’s entry-level by moving coil standards. That said, it delivers top cartridge results. If you want an honest performer that is just slightly on the warm side of neutral, serves up a lot of detail and excellent stereo imaging, and will track practically everything, the Ethos fits the bill. Just so long as you are prepared to take time installing it properly.
Type: Moving Coil cartridge
Stylus profile: Vital line-contact
Cantilever: Aluminium alloy
Replacement stylus: Factory replaceable
Frequency range: 10 Hz–32 kHz
Frequency response: ± 2 dB (35 Hz–20 kHz)
Channel balance: <1 dB at 1 kHz
Channel separation: >30 dB at 1 kHz
Sensitivity: 0.5 mV ± 1 dB @ 1 kHz,
5 cm/s (rms)
Static compliance: 25 mm/N
Dynamic compliance: 15 mm/N
Vertical tracking angle: 20°
Load resistance: 100 Ω
Load capacitance: 100–1000 pF
Internal inductance: 7.5 µH
Internal resistance: 4 Ω
Cartridge mass: 7.7 g
Total mass (incl. fixings): 8.5 g
Fixing centres: 12.7 mm (0.5 in)
Playing weight: 1.5–2.0 g (1.75 g)
Manufactured by: Goldring/Armour Home Electronics
Tel: +44(0)1279 501111