Shelter 5000 MC Phono Cartridge


Recently, I had the very good fortune to review the Shelter 501 III MC Phono Cartridge. No sooner than the review was published, a Shelter 5000 MC Phono Cartridge dropped into my lap. For my review of Canadian startup Pure Fidelity’s Eclipse Turntable, the designer John Stratton suggested he setup his Shelter 5000 as it had been so successful during the turntable’s beta testing. I killed two birds with one stone for that review and jotted down some thoughts about the 5000 once I got to know the Eclipse’s sound signature. The cart was mounted to an Acoustic Signature TA-1000 tonearm.

At an MSRP of $2245, the 5000 is a couple of steps above the $1295 501 III in Shelter’s ‘Legendary Line’ of cartridges and a couple steps below the top player, the $4195 9000. I’m familiar with the outstanding 9000 and really liked the 501 III. As I began serious listening, I wondered what another grand above the 501 III got you in Shelter rent.

Shelter describes the differences between the top Legendary models: ‘The Model 5000 uses a different bobbin and wire than the 9000 and 7000. The front yoke and body shell use a slightly less sophisticated design but the sound quality is outstanding. This cartridge is perfectly balanced and develops a natural, smooth and pleasing experience.’ There, you have it. We’ll see.


• Output Voltage: 0.5 mV at 1kHz 5cm/sec.
• Channel Balance: Within 0.8dB at 1kHz
• Stylus Tip: 0.3 x 0.7mil Elliptical Nude Diamond
• Weight: 11g
• DC Resistance: 10 ohms
• Tracking Force Range: 1.4 to 2.0g (I tracked it at 1.8g)
• Recommended Load Impedance: within 10 to 30 ohms with step-up transformer, within 100 ohms with head amplifier
• Compliance: 9cu
• Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz +/-2dB
• Channel Separation at 1 kHz: >25dB
• Anodized Aluminum Body with neodymium magnet


I’ve had a lot of luck with cartridges of late, settling down happily for the foreseeable future with the Phasemation PP-2000, a 6K beauty of a sled. The $1295 Phasemation PP-300 was used as a foil to the Shelter 501 III, at least in my review of it. And vice versa. Both were wonderful, played well above their price points, with the Phasemation winning the duel on detail, the Shelter on midrange lush. The PP-2000 had all the 300’s detail, the 501 III’s lush, and much, much more. For 6K , it should.

Load and gain settings for the 5000 on my Sutherland Engineering DUO Phono Preamplifier were 100/58.

I began benign listening of the 5000 with some delightful Japanese pressings of Steely Dan and Michael Franks. Beautiful sound. All instruments in their place, even the highly produced Steely Dan solos. Donald Fagen’s and Franks’ voices were fleshed out—body and soul. Fagen’s whine and Franks’ insouciance were heard clearly and musically in their ethereal, non-specific studio ‘positions’. 

I followed these albums for some bass testing with the Classic Records reissue of Jean Martinon’s LSO/ Shostakovich Symphony No. 1 recorded in 1957 in Kingsway Hall. The dynamics are spectacular, with vivid imagery (the opening movement’s introduction and second subject highlight clarinet, trumpet and flute). When listening, one can’t help but focus on the London tube rumbling under Kingsway with Rolex regularity. It served to shed light on just how clean and deep the bass was. The instrumental timbre (I could tell it was Gervase de Peyer’s singular clarinet tone and Alex Murray’s fluting) was very accurate with perfect placement within the LSO’s wind sections. This has a lot to do with a legendary recording, but the Shelter 5000 made the players’ sounds even more evocative—there’s that lush again. But, this time with Phasemation detail. The 5000 is an ecumenical cartridge—voices and instruments are afforded the same musical light and brush strokes.

In the previous cartridge reviews, the PP-300 could, at times, sound a little scrawny compared to the Shelter 501 III’s fabulous midrange. The PP-300 out bass-ing it and in information retrieval. The Shelter 5000 added more detail (cymbals’ shimmer and crisp percussion snaps highlighted the added detail) than its cheaper sibling but retained its warmth and inclusivity. I remember choosing the Phasemation over the Shelter in the original review, then had a few late nights listening to the 501 III. I had to add a paragraph amending the review. I really couldn’t choose between the two. Both had their highlights, so different, but both so musically and sonically valuable. With the Shelter 5000, the extra $1000 will get you both cartridges’ strengths. No choice to make.

At times, audio reviewing seems so daunting—capturing the essence of a particular component’s sound wrapped in, let’s face it, mundane prose (so few hp’s out there). No one in the running for the Man Booker Prize is writing about streaming! Yet, sometimes it can be quite easy, at least superficially. It’s axiomatic that as a moving coil cartridge’s price rises, so does its performance. There are bargains, there are rare opposites to the norm, but in moving coil cartridge world, the axiom usually remains true. And the truth is writ large here. The 5000 gives the listener plenty of everything audiophiles insist upon—deep bass, airy mids, sweet trebles, crisp imaging, wide and deep sound stages, shrouds lifted, and very fine timbral accuracy. 

Back to the axiom; in no way does the Shelter 5000 exceed my Phasemation gem in any of the above tenets, even the midrange. For almost three times the price, you’re buying uncanny timbral accuracy and specific imaging that can shock even a jaded ear. But a $3500 difference? That’s up to the purchasing audiophile to judge. But for a thousand above two very good cartridges (the 5000 is @ $2245), one from the same manufacturer, I’d give the Shelter 5000 a very firm recommendation.

Further information: Shelter