Garrott Brothers Retipping and Stylus Replacement: Sumiko Blue Point Special

Garrott Brothers Retipping and Stylus Replacement:
Sumiko Blue Point Special

Paul Szabady

24 July 2002


Aluminum Cantilever, Microtracer stylus
Price $480.


US Distributor and Mail Order:
Jerry Raskin's Needle Doctor
419 14th Avenue SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
Phone: 800 229 0644

Garrott Brothers
155-157 Camberwell Rd
Hawthorn East Victoria
Australia 3123
Phone: +613 9882 0372
Fax: +613 9813 3108

In addition to their excellent line of phono cartridges (I fell in love with the P89 moving coil and Optim FGS moving magnet), the new Garrott Brothers carries on the famed tradition of excellent re-tipping and stylus replacement of the old firm. A variety of stylus types are available, ranging from simple conical styli up to the superb FGS (Fritz Geiger Signature,) with cantilever choices of aluminum, boron and sapphire. Old beloved cartridges entombed in the back of some drawer can be resurrected and reincarnated to a higher plane of performance by upgrading stylus profiles and cantilever materials. 

In my case, it was Sumiko's Blue Point Special. After installing countless samples while working in retail audio and having owned one personally for five years, I had neatly skirted the curse of snagging the unprotected cantilever. One moment's inattention, the arm lock not engaged, and the BPS stylus was bent and creased, hanging in front of the cartridge like the proboscis of some deranged mosquito. The loud and sudden expulsion of obscenities (and Hungarians follow only the Irish in the range and creativity of expletives) settled eventually into only mild rage at my lapse of care and no great impetus to have the cartridge fixed. The BPS was never one of my favorite cartridges.

Although the BPS was THE recommended budget cartridge for a while, with encomia like " it's almost as good as the best" offered freely, ALMOST was the operative word. As in "Close, but no Cigar." Though very reasonably priced at $295 originally, the low price encouraged many with cheap and poor arms to buy it. Even the best of affordable arms, the Rega RB300, had problems taming its tendency to go bright and shriek. Somewhat lightweight and dynamically constricted bass registers and inability to descend deep into subterranean regions tended to exaggerate its brightness and kept it from total satisfaction in music making. The cartridge was also physically heavy, necessitating moving the counterweight far back on most arms, and the exposed aluminum cantilever held a simple elliptical stylus, unprotected by any sort of stylus guard. Snapped styli were common.

I had almost forgotten about it until I heard about the Garrott re-tipping and stylus replacement service. I'd always felt that the Blue Point Special's elliptical stylus was holding the BPS back from providing what I consider the requisite resolution. I've become quite snotty now about cartridges with basic elliptical stylus tips. So Garrott's ability to install a new aluminum cantilever and upgrade the stock elliptical to a more precise line-contact Micro-tracer type caught my interest. Although more exotic cantilever materials and stylus profiles are available, I didn't love the Blue Point Special enough to warrant the additional cost. Sumiko charges $275 for a new stylus, so the additional $200 for the Garrott re-do was plausible.

Re-tipping requires sending the cartridge to Australia. Garrott can also give estimates and advice on older, more exotic fare. Rumor has it their Decca repair is near miraculous. Since the PBS was a bottom-drawer denizen I was not antsy to have it back and so didn't pay too much attention to the time span involved. But I soon got a call from The Needle Doctor, Garrott's US distributor, that the cartridge was back 

The improvement sonically was marked: big gains in resolution all across the bandwidth. Transients - the starts and stops of the signal - were resolved far more accurately than the stock elliptical, leading to clearer and more accurate instrument timbre. Musical notes started and stopped much more clearly, resulting in improvement in the movement of the musical line, along with its requisite tempo, rhythm, dynamic variation and thus, musical expression. The stock elliptical stylus had blurred these aspects of sonics and music.

Midrange and high frequency response showed the biggest improvement. Now finely detailed resolution of the starts and stops in cymbal and percussion work were apparent, without edge, artificial brightness or steeliness. The ability to reproduce the highest harmonic frequencies of an instrument created a new transparency in deciphering multiple instrument overlays, their position in space and the acoustic and ambience of the recording site into which their decay eventually melted. The stock BPS's fine stereo separation was further enhanced - images extended beyond the edge of the speakers and were anchored in position and were now sonically in focus, compared to the slightly blurred rendition of the stock cartridge. Bass was faster and more controlled than the stock elliptical stylus, but without any additional gain in bandwidth: low bass was still somewhat lightweight and lacking the BIG BASS aspect of the finest cartridges.

So now the BPS gets the cigar? Yes it does, but unfortunately it does not get the Dunhill pipe packed with aged Virginia tobacco. Garrott does not and cannot really change the fundamental architectural structure of the cartridge. Replacing the stylus and cantilever can only improve the signal going into the generator and its construction: the ultimate resolution is determined (in this case limited) by these aspects of the cartridge. The Blue Point still sounds somewhat lean in the lower bass without the ability to trace the dynamics and energy that drive bass power convincingly. The cartridge still can't dance very well (at least it has now taken lessons), and it still lacks that ineffable feeling of intense musical communication produced by the very best cartridges. It remains thus very much an audiophile rather than a musicophile cartridge. But what an audiophile cartridge! Those who loved the old cartridge will be ranting about its new powers.

Soundstaging and high frequency response and detail are among the best I've heard at any price, with the midrange equally compelling. I enjoyed listening to the Garrrott re-do at a deeper and more satisfactory level than the original ever hinted at. So a very high recommendation. The next candidate in my treasure trove of aging cartridges to get the Garrott magic is the Goldring Eroica LX. I'm pumped.

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