The Opus3 cartridge is the entry-level offering in Grado’s new Timbre Series. Timbre, which replaces Statement and Reference models in one fell swoop, represents a broad reshuffling of Grado cartridges in an effort to close the gap between its entry-level and mid-range lines—in Grado’s words, to create “an even tighter ecosystem of cartridges.” Since the Opus3 debuted, the Timbre family has expanded and now includes the Platinum3 at $400 and the Master3 at $1000.
With a list price of $275, Opus3 incorporates techniques and engineering from Grado’s higher-end models and, in a first for Grado, features a maple wood housing in a newly formulated shape. The decision to use maple was a direct outgrowth of Grado’s experience working with this wood in its Heritage and Statement Series headphones. Maple is known to be a fine tone wood for musical instruments, and Grado says that “through a variation of thermal aging processes, the [maple] housing gains the ability to better dampen and control resonant frequencies.”
The Opus3 is a moving-iron design—a close cousin to the moving magnet. It sports newly developed coil-winding techniques and a new two-step shielding process—innovations that make for a cleaner signal path and reduced mechanical noise. The Opus3 uses an aluminum cantilever, hand-tipped with a diamond stylus. It comes in both high- and low-output versions, 4mV and 1mV respectively, and also in a mono iteration. John Grado says “the high-output cartridges have 6000 turns of wire on the bobbins while the low outputs have 380 turns. The length of wire in the high outputs is 125 feet compared to 7 feet in the low outputs. Because we have fewer turns on the low outputs, we can use a much larger size wire, close to 16 times the diameter. So, the signal has a shorter distance to travel (7 feet from 125 feet), and the signal can flow more easily due to the larger wire. We feel this adds some speed to the signal and gives tighter detail at the extremities of the frequency range.” For this evaluation I opted for the low-output version. Recommended tracking force is between 1.6 and 1.9 grams.
Don’t be put off by the wide, boxy dimensions of the Opus3’s maple housing. Though it seems to dwarf the entire cartridge assembly, the Opus3 still only weighs in at 8 grams, consistent with the weight of the Sumiko Palo Santos Celebration at 8.3 grams and the Clearaudio Charisma V2 at 9 grams, both of which I had on hand.
In performance, dropping the Opus3 in the groove was a little like going home again to a pre-digital age. I could hear its sonic kinship, its comfort-food continuity, with past Grado cartridges (and headphones) that have come my way over the years. The Opus3 produced a level of midrange tonal realism and unvarnished musicality that should assure long-standing Grado enthusiasts that they haven’t been left out in the cold. In fact, “cold” was the last thing that came to mind during this evaluation. In its warmer overall signature and rich midrange, this was classic Grado. There were still notes of dark chocolate in its voicing, a complex, bittersweetness that favors highly resonant wooden instruments like cello and acoustic bass and winds like clarinet, oboe, and bassoon.
Clearly, Grado has stayed on message with the Opus3. But this cartridge isn’t living in the past, either. In my view Opus3 represents a “next-gen” Grado, imparting greater transient attack, low-level detail, speed, and extension at the frequency extremes. Solo piano was a prime beneficiary, exhibiting rich weighty overtones and excellent note-to-note articulation on Debussy’s Claire Du Lune [Catena]. The cartridge was very well balanced tonally, with the midrange carrying the load, as it should. But no particular octave sounded lifted or subdued. The Opus3’s character remained neutral, without leaning in a passively recessive or overly forward direction. Observed trackability was also excellent. The cartridge glided through the most challenging grooves like a slot car, with little suggestion of dynamic compression or transient distortion.