Shure were on of the manufacturers of moving magnet cartridges for the latter half of the 20th century, and the Shure V15 was their top of the line cartridge.
Moving coil fans must be gritting their teeth at the audacious title that suggests the V15 might be the best cartridge series of all time. Sure, there are more expensive cartridges, and moving coil fans are often steadfast in their views that moving magnet just will not cut it. But the Shure V15, in terms of its popularity, affordability, cult status and brilliant (affordable) sound is right up there. A related example might be calling the Technics SL-1200 one of the best turntables of all time – not the highest end turntable, by any means, but a solid piece of machinery that combines excellent sound with affordability.
A History of the Shure V15 Series
Despite previous snarky remarks, the Shure V15 existed in another era when it did not have to compete with moving coil cartridges. Moving magnet was the main form of cartridge in the 60s – 80s, which is a technology that Shure patented. The V15 ceased production on the late 90s. Over the years, many models of the Shure V15 were developed.
The Different Types of Shure V15
The Shure V15 marks I and II are not really worth considering for your turntable, unless interested from a collector’s point of view. Their sound was unrefined compared to the later series. Better sound could be achieved by a new M97xE for less.
The Shure V15 III is when things really started to get exciting. A medium compliance cartridge, the V15 III will suit all but the lightest or heaviest tonearms. The special thing about a Shure V15, to my ears, is the sound-stage and musicality. It really is quite a special cartridge. The various incarnations of the Shure V15 III had different shaped styli – beginning the the ‘E’ (elliptical) stylus, moving to the HE (hyper-elliptical) stylus and finishing with the MR (micro-ridge). As you progress chronologically, the needles tend to become more and more revealing.
Less information was able to be obtained about the Shure V15 IV. Overall, users tend to prefer the III and V over the IV, but this is obviously not universal.
The V15 V includes other versions than the standard V15 V: the V15 VMR, V15 VxMR, and Ultra 500. There are a number of other subtle variations that are confusing to say the least, and not at all helped by the awkward branding. The Ultra 500 version is a V15 V with metal mounting that may be the best of the bunch. Some prefer the VxMR, though it does have a rolled off high end which has lead people to make comparisons to the Shure M97xE.
There is no ‘best’ out of the V15 III, IV and V, though they do sound subtly different. If you manage to find any of them at a reasonable price, be sure to pick them up.
Buying a Shure V15
Need a replacement stylus? Ed Saunders creates some wonderful replacement styli that are sold via his shop on eBay. They are said to restore the V15 to its original condition. Avoid generic replacement styli, as there are varying reports on their quality.
Another option is the highly respected Jico SAS styli from Japan. They improve the sound of the V15 even further. Purists or those wanting to recreate the sound experienced from a V15 in their childhood might be a little disappointed, as the sound does change very subtly – for the better, mind you, but it is still slightly different. The Shure V15 and Jico SAS combo is one of the most highly recommended combinations for a starter or “upper entry level” system. It will at the very least equal any cartridge you can buy for under $500. Jico styli aren’t cheap, but are worth the money.
A ‘flavour of the month’ in the audio world, the Shure V15 series nonetheless lives up to its own hype. The Shure V15 is still a highly sought after cartridge today when purchased second hand. Prices vary, but expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars for a Shure V15 in good condition.