TESTED: Benz Micro Glider SM Phono Cartridge
- by Neil Gader
- Apr 10th, 2009
The “S” Series of Benz Micro cartridges made its debut in 2008. Its innovations are embodied in revamped versions of the Wood Body, Glider, ACE, as well as a new version of the LP and SLR Gullwing. Virtually every aspect of cartridge design has been addressed, from coil to cantilever, from suspension to stylus. For the Glider S Series cartridges (available in low, medium, and high output) these improvements include new coil windings and an overall lower-mass coil, a refined pole piece/damper design, and further refinement of the solid Boron cantilever. The stylus is a nude line-contact diamond, mirror-polished. The Glider is optimized for medium-mass tonearms and turned out to be an excellent fit with my own SME V/SOTA Cosmos rig.
I was taken off-guard by the superlative tonal balance of the medium-output Glider SM. In fact, I did numerous A/B comparisons with various CDs and tonally the Glider SM was extremely faithful to my digital source, the Esoteric X-05. So why the surprise? It’s just part of my love-hate relationship with the black magic of moving coils. In prior years what impressed me most from mc’s was transient speed, inner resolution, and delicacy. But just as often the effect was undermined by a thin rising top end and overall coolness. The Glider has little of this hybrid-personality—a reassuring dash of warmth in the lower mids and bass, a lush midrange, and a presence range and treble that have air and harmonic delicacy but none of the dreaded etch and dryness and toppiness. Vocals such as Jennifer Warnes’ on Famous Blue Raincoat [Cisco 45RPM] have a liquidity and harmonic color that never veer toward brittleness. The Glider is both faster on transients and more complex micro-dynamically, without the treble darkening that dogged the now-extinct Shure V15. In many ways it’s most reminiscent of the Clearaudio Maestro Wood (reviewed in Issue 185), emulating that mm cartridge’s “glow” but adding inner detail and energy that the Clearaudio softly buries in its warmer, more cushiony personality. Also while the Maestro’s 3.6mV output will give you the added value of playability with any phonostage, the Glider’s 0.8mV is not so demanding that it will require the quietest phono pre on the block.
Besides its tonal honesty—the cornerstone of performance criteria—other elements that rate high with this cartridge are its gobs of low-level detail, its clarification of complex inner voices (separating members of a brass ensemble during the direct-disc Fanfare from the Common Man [Crystal Clear], for example), and its reproduction of distance and depth. The Glider S retrieved depth and vocal-placement cues from the fourth movement of Solti and the CSO’s performance of the BeethovenNinth [Decca] like no cartridge I’ve reviewed in the last two years. Bass reproduction is simply stunning. From the rolling bass drum volleys of Fanfare to the subterranean synthesized bass of Jennifer Warnes’ “If It Be Your Will,” the Glider balances pitch and timbre and resonance in a way that’s almost breathtaking.
Great vinyl playback can be a complicated equation. Factors like ’table, tonearm, phonostage, and interconnect (and one’s own expectations) all need to be addressed. I liked the musical synergy I achieved with the Benz Micro Glider more than anything I’ve auditioned recently. I can understand how someone else might want (and want to pay for) a more epic sweep to the soundstage, or greater extension and air at the frequency extremes. However, for those searching for the business end of a playback system that’s asmusically expressive as it is honest, the Glider will set your system soaring.
By Neil Gader
My love of music largely predates my enthusiasm for audio. I grew up Los Angeles in a house where music was constantly playing on the stereo (Altecs, if you’re interested). It ranged from my mom listening to hit Broadway musicals to my sister’s early Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Beatles, and Stones LPs, and dad’s constant companions, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. With the British Invasion, I immediately picked up a guitar and took piano lessons and have been playing ever since. Following graduation from UCLA I became a writing member of the Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshops in New York–working in advertising to pay the bills. I’ve co-written bunches of songs, some published, some recorded. In 1995 I co-produced an award-winning short fiction movie that did well on the international film-festival circuit. I was introduced to Harry Pearson in the early 70s by a mutual friend. At that time Harry was still working full-time for Long Island’s Newsday even as he was writing Issue 1 of TAS during his off hours. We struck up a decades-long friendship that ultimately turned into a writing gig that has proved both stimulating and rewarding. In terms of music reproduction, I find myself listening more than ever for the “little” things. Low-level resolving power, dynamic gradients, shadings, timbral color and contrasts. Listening to a lot of vocals and solo piano has always helped me recalibrate and nail down what I’m hearing. Tonal neutrality and presence are important to me but small deviations are not disqualifying. But I am quite sensitive to treble over-reach, and find dry, hyper-detailed systems intriguing but inauthentic compared with the concert-going experience. For me, true musicality conveys the cozy warmth of a room with a fireplace not the icy cold of an igloo. Currently I split my time between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Studio City, California with my wife Judi Dickerson, an acting, voice, and dialect coach, along with border collies Ivy and Alfie.More articles from this editor
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