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Product Review: LPGear Vessel A3SE Phono Cartridge

Posted by LionsMouth 
Registered: 6 years ago
Posts: 1,222
Status: Moderator
avatar Product Review: LPGear Vessel A3SE Phono Cartridge
June 22, 2017 07:20PM

At this point I have been using the Vessel A3SE exclusively for over two weeks. The cart is fully broken in at this point. Here is a summary of my final thoughts:

Cartridge Pedigree:

From some internet digging the OEM for this cart appears to be Excel Sound Corporation, and the cart appears to be based on the Excel ES-70 model, but built to LPGear's specifications. Other carts in production that are based on the ES-70 include the Sumiko Pearl, the Shelter 201, and some Garrott Brothers' models. In the past there have been a variety of carts sold based on the same ES-70 platform, such as the A&R P77 and some models sold under the Coral name.

Sound Profile:

I would say the sound is slightly to the warm side of neutral. The sound is clear and not boring to listen to. There is a little bit of top-end roll-off, but nothing I found off-putting. Bass is good enough to reproduce bass-heavy music with no problems. Some people may find this to be a positive, as the cartridge is quieter in the groove than some other elliptical and advanced stylus profile cartridges I've heard or tried in my system. Pretty much any genre of music sounds very nice with this cartridge. The soundstage seems to be average for an MM cart, not noticeably wide or too narrow.

Mounting and Set-Up:

The cartridge comes with two sets of screws and nuts, both of which I found too short for my headshell. I'd recommend having some extra hardware on hand to mount the cartridge in case you run into this problem. While mounting the cart, I found the safest route was to remove the stylus until I was ready to align the cartridge. The included plastic stylus guard is hollow in the center and doesn't offer the best protection.

Alignment was not difficult but the stylus tip is set back a bit from the plastic stylus housing, which means it can be a bit more challenging than cartridges where the stylus is more exposed. Not a huge issue. Good alignment is important with this cartridge to get the best sound.

In terms of compliance, the cartridge is probably best matched with medium mass tonearms. My tonearm is on the heavier side of low mass at 11g and posed no problems I can detect, and checks out with the Vinyl Engine Cartridge Resonance Evaluator. It is probably not a great match for ultra light tonearms like those on some Pro-Ject turntables.

Output is 3MV, which is a bit low compared to many MM carts on the market. I would estimate the sweet spot for preamp gain to be between 43db-46db.

Break-In Time:

I found break-in time on this cartridge to be greater than other cartridges I've used. Out of the box, the cantilever is quite stiff, leading to a closed-in sound. As the cartridge breaks in, it seems to track better and the sound opens up more, revealing more detail in the music. I would give this cartridge a minimum of 30 hours of break in time before finalizing judgment on the sound. If you lack the patience to get past the break-in period, this cartridge may not be for you.


I found the cartridge tracked well at the recommended 2.0g VTF on just about any record I tried with it, including some with mild warps. Inner groove tracking is very decent considering the .2 x .8 elliptical stylus, but IGD is present on the more aggressively cut records in my collection. Records with very narrow deadwax will give this cartridge more trouble than conservatively cut records with wider deadwax, the same as any elliptical cartridge. If you are not overly sensitive to IGD, I wouldn't worry about this very much. I will say that I think this stylus performs better than the more common .3 x .7 and .4 x .7 elliptical styli typically included with other carts in this price range.

Overall Value:

The overall value of this cartridge is on par with its competitors in the same price range (~$100). Whether you prefer this cartridge over other similar carts comes down to personal taste and what cart is the best match for your system. I personally prefer this cartridge over the Ortofon 2M Red, the Shure M97XE, and the equivalent model from Audio Technica (formerly the AT100E, now replaced by the VM520EB ).

Those looking for a somewhat neutral, yet warm cartridge that does not sacrifice too much detail may want to consider the Vessel A3SE.

I am personally interested in how the Vessel cartridge performs with the upgrade styli available from LP Gear. The next level up would be a nude line contact stylus priced at $230 (stylus only) or $260 (complete cartridge). I would imagine this solves the minor issues with this cartridge but I am also curious how it would impact the overall sound profile of the cart.


Registered: 10 years ago
Posts: 3,569
Status: Instigator
avatar Re: Product Review: LPGear Vessel A3SE Phono Cartridge
July 02, 2017 06:53PM
Good review man, thanks for the in depth write up!

“Lesser artists borrow... great artists steal.” - Igor Stravinsky
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