Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Praise of the Empires - Empire 2000/S and Empire 2000E/III

Browse enough internet audio forums and sooner or later you are bound to come across a discussion about the old Empire moving magnet cartridges that were manufactured by the Empire Scientific Corporation in New York a long, long time ago. Often someone has picked up a second hand turntable that came with am Empire and they seeking help to find  new stylus for it. The surprising about these discussions is that nobody has a bad word to say about them. Comments range from "they're good" to "they're exceptional." A quick check of Ebay reinforces these views with some models of old Empire carts minus their stylus fetching tidy sums.

Intrigued by this, I recently purchased an Empire 2000/S from a seller in Canada. It was new old stock (NOS) and came in its original packaging, including a lovely black velvet gift box. Out of its box, the Empire 2000/S is a rather ungainly and ugly beast.

It  has a grey metal body and an odd black removable frame that allows it to be secured to the tonearm. Although, it has very little plastic in its consrtuction it looks  cheaply made.  Its specifications, however, are anything but cheap. The frequency response is 10-35,000Hz; it has a 0.2 x 0.7 elliptical nude diamond; and 30db channel separation. Still it did look like the mounting frame was inadvertently designed to capture resonance, vibrate like crazy and totally stuff up the tracking. The phrase "O ye of little faith" springs to mind. While it's not the easiest cartridge to mount - needs small screws and 3 hands - it is fairly straightforward to align once mounted.  As soon as the needle dropped into the groove, I knew this was something special.

The sound of music this thing reproduces is exceptional. There is a huge amount of detail, its incredibly well-balanced in the sense that there appears to be no over-emphasis of any of the frequencies. Bass, mid-range and top-end are all so smoothly working together. Sounds good? It is even better. Without a doubt this cartridge delivers one of the most 3D music sounds I have ever heard. Thanks to its channel separation, the stereo imaging and layering and positioning of vocals and musical instruments is simply superb.

A little bit of research revealed that there were a number of cartridges in the Empire 2000 series. Some further research revealed that there were in fact several different 2000 series produced by Empire. It was one of those companies that often used similar number series for different product lines several years apart. As well as the 2000/S, there was also a 2000X and a 2000Z.  And thanks to Mantra Audio in the UK I also managed to track down some information about a 2000 - 4000 series Empire produce.  In this series, 2000 designated the stereo cartridges and 4000 the quadraphonic cartridges. The specifications can be found here. The cartridges in this series all have gold-plated bodies. The 2000E/III was the top of the line of the stereo carts. It has a frequency response of 5-35,000Hz; channel separation of 35db and another nude 0.2 x 07 elliptical diamond stylus.

Pictured here, mounted on my Michell Tecnoarm, is a secondhand 2000E/III which I purchased on Ebay for $65. It shipped with a NOS Empire spherical stylus, not its original elliptical.  Yet still the sound was beautiful, revealing what great potential this cartridge had.  I have since replaced the spherical stylus with a reproduction of the original elliptical made by the famous Jico company in Japan. The level of detail revealed is quite staggering, once again the stereo imaging is exceptional.  While the 2000/S is one of the best cartridges I have heard, the 2000E/III with a greater channel separation and better bass response may just be the best I have heard.

It is certainly superior to a $600 current production cartridge made by a very famous brand; and its also threatening to best some of my beloved Denon MC cartridges, including a very nice Soundsmith rebuild.

Both these cartridges are simply stunning. The E/III has a slight edge over the 2000/S, but this may change over time as the 2000/S burns in. 




For the record, both cartridges were tested with a Graham Slee Genera, and the excellent performance I heard could well be because the Genera is a perfect match for these beautiful old cartridges,

10 comments:

  1. I was always a fan of Empire.

    I had the "lowly" 2000 E/I cartridge.

    I had mine in a decent Pioneer PL-112D belt drive turntable, feeding a clean Pioneer SA-5200 integrated amp (10W RMS x 2), which drove a pair of HUGE 15" 1963-vintage RCA 3-way dynamic speakers (not coaxial!). I did the crossovers myself. Great, thick bass, high end & punch.

    I straightened everything out with a BSR 12-band/chan equalizer/spectrum analyzer (with pink/white noise generator), using a pair of Sennheiser condenser mics.

    That whole setup, with the 2000 E/I cartridge made my entire vinyl collection sing. Just unbelievably good.

    My favorite "demo" vinyl track that I'd use to blow away my high-end hi-fi snob friends was Thomas Dolby's "Hot Stuff", of his "Aliens Ate My Buick" record (1988).

    I situated my pals to the back of the room for the max soundstage sweet spot, I lowered the tone arm, and a couple of seconds later my friends busied themselves with hoisting their jaws off the floor in amazement.

    These were real digital, 24-track studio snobs.

    One of them remarked that it honest-to-god sounded like Thomas Dolby and his band were RIGHT THERE, IN THE ROOM, ONLY LOUDER & BETTER. No exaggeration.

    And I always remember feeling that most of the credit was due to that Empire 2000 E/I cartridge.

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  2. My mistake - the name of the Thomas Dolby track was "Hot Sauce" (not "Hot Stuff").

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  3. Hi Paul

    Great story that does indeed reinforce just how good the Empires were / are (if you can get NOS). The 2000E/I was no slouch in the Empire 2000 line. The Empire 2000E/I, 2000E/II, and 2000/III all had very similar specs: same stylus, same channel specs, tracking etc. The only difference was their frequency response. Sadly, the 2000E/I could only manage 8-32,000Hz:), whereas the 2000E/III delivered 5-35,000Hz.

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    1. Hey "RAD" - tnx for the quick feedback and your kind words...and a great website you've got here, btw!

      I figured that since your last entry here was this past October 25, that it'd be a few weeks or more 'til you got back to it...but happily you were all over this within a few hours.


      ..."only" 8-32,000Hz.. gee, was it that good? That E/III of yours is a beast, all around. I am envious!

      That Pioneer 5200 amp was a classic (but modest), 1976-vintage, solid state amp with push-pull circuitry, and lots of negative feedback (very de rigueur in those days), but it sounded quite good, and the ancient RCA speakers it was pushing were highly efficient.

      The PL-112D deck dated to around 1978, I think. 63dB S/N ratio, .07% wow & flutter - so it sufficed. I always kept the lateral weight off the tonearm, as it was a bit problematic, and I wanted to keep the mass to a minimum.

      Cheers, & happy holidays!

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  4. Hi, I have read your post concering the Empire cartridge. In the seventies I used a 2000E/II and I loved it.
    Now after many years I again use an Empire, this time the 2000E/III and I still love it.
    You are right, these are remarkable cartridges.

    Grtx,
    Ed Post
    The Netherlands.

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  5. Back in the 70's I went thru a few different phono cartridges before I bought an empire 2001AEIII the empire 2000 and 2001 line are the best phono cartridges for the money need to find another one

    Dave

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    1. lotus_paradise@hotmail.comJanuary 2, 2014 at 3:51 AM

      Living in the past---
      Didnt seem that long ago until I thought about it---
      Nice to know that the old Empires I bought then still sound as good to some as they do to me.
      I use a 2000EI in one table and a 2000EII in the other. The EII I use in a Sansui 3030BC in an old SME headshell.
      My back up amp I could never get rid of is a Sansui AU-777A, it needs cleaning--my current amp is a Yamaha R-S700 driving into 4 home made speakers following the Phillips book from 40 years ago, my daughter blew the voice coil dust covers off 2 of the woofers 16 years ago. I happened to do some equipment service at the Canadian branch of Tannoy and they were very kind to me and GAVE me 4 replacements and actually installed them and checked them out in their sound room! ----The only thing they insisted on was that I clean up the cabinets before they gave me some Tannoy badges ! I must admit that I have heard sounds out of the system I have never heard before using the Yamaha, I had an Onkyo prior that I thought was good but it got zapped by a near by lightening strike---luckily, as I would not have bought the Yamaha. I know its not the top of the line amp but it is awsome to me!
      Thanks for the Empire support
      Robert

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  6. i run strictly Empire cartridges on my turntable setups- I was lucky to purchase an older Technics turntable setup which has and Empire 2000 EIII on it, and came with a small tray of other used Empire cartridges including a 2000 S, a few 99XE's and a 2000 EII. I absolutely LOVE the sound quality they produce, and have replaced all the styluses with new correct eliptical diamond styluses for the cartridges. The Empire 2000 series has pretty much left me with no desire to look for something better. If anything, it's my amplifier and speakers that hold back the sound, not the catridge at this point. Huge fan of these guys.

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  7. Do any of you know anything about the Empire 6000 e/x? Do you know if the quality goes up with the numbers or down?

    Thanks.

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    1. Hadn't heard of the Empire 6000 series.

      The Empire numbering of series is something of an enigma, and series numbers such as 2000, 4000, 6000 etc aren't indicative of quality. However, the suffixes following the series numbers usually denoted a better stylus as the numbers went up e.g, 2000 E/111 has a better stylus than 2000 E/1.

      Just how confusing the Empire number series was can be seen in this list that comes from: http://www.turntableneedles.com/Empire-Cartridge_p_748.html

      EMPIRE CARTRIDGES 66-LE/X 66LE/X 66-PE/X 66PE/X 66-QE/X 66QE/X 1000MZE 1000AE/111 1000AE/III 1000AE/X 1000AJS 1000E/11 1000E/II 1000E/X 1000EQ/X 1000LS 1001ZE/111 1001ZE/III 1001ZE/X 122XE/N 1803 2000MK111 2000MKIII 2000TE/X 2001AE/X 2001MK111 2001MKIII 2001ZE/X 2002/V-ZE 2002/VZE 2003SE/X 2003/Z 2003E/H 2003E/X 2003ZE/X 2004 2100E/111 2100E/III 2121E/111 2121E/III 2200E/1V 2200E/IV 2200XE/111 2200XE/III 2202E/111 2202E/111 2203E/H 2203Z/H 220XE/111 220XE/III 2300E/111 2300E/III 2400E/111 2400E/III 2500/111 2500/III 2500QE/fi 2500X/EP 250ES 3000/111 3000/III 3000A/111 3000A/III 3000AE/111 3000AE/III 3000D/X 3000E/111 3000E/III 3000ME/X 3000ME/X111 3000ME/XIII 3000MK111 3000MKIII 3000MS 3000XLE 3003 3003EE 3003EEE 3003SC 3500E/111 3500E/III 366HB 4000E/V 4000MK111 4000MKIII 4000XL111 4000XLIII 4000Z111 4000ZIII 4000ZE/X1V 4000ZE/XIV 4004ATS-4 4004ATS4 5000PHASE1V 5000PHASEIV 5000LS/X111 5000LS/XIII 5000MK111 5000MKIII 6000/XEE 6000/XEL 6000E 6000E/IV 6000E/1V 6006 660EEE 666E/3 67E/111 67E/III 6900E/3 7000ED 7000V 700NE 727E/111 727E/III 8000/XVE 8000EX 845QE/D 845 QE-D 845 QE/D 845QE-D 9000V/S11 9000V/SII 9000ZE/X 9900E/3 AE1000/XV B195E/11 B195E/II E500 EXL20 KX1000V LS6000 MK1VNE MKIVNE MODELTWO PRO4500/111 PRO4500/III QPHASE1000 QX2005 SE9300 TTE/111 TTE/III XL15-41E XL1541E Z400E/111 Z400E/III 1000/XLE 1000LSX/111 1000LSX/III 1000MEX/11 1000MEX/II 1000SE/X 2000ED 2000ME/X111 2000ME/XIII 2002/11 2002/II 2002XE 2002/Z 2002/ZH 2002E/X 2002EE 2002EE/X 2002HC 2121E/11 2121E/II 2200MS 2201E/11 2201E/II 2202E/H 2202Z/H 222E/111 222E/III 2500PE/X 2500X/EN 2600E 266RB 3000/11 3000/II 3000MK11 3000MKII 3000PHASEIV 3500/Z-11 3500/Z11 3500/Z-II 3500/ZII 4000XL/11 4000XL/II 4002ZE/X 5000E 500E 6000E/X 640EE 666E/2 66LE PE/X 67E/11 67E/II 6900E/2 727E/11 727E/II 8000/111 8000/III 9980E/2 990PE/X 999AE/X111 999AE/XIII 999TE/XIMP AE1000/XIII AE1000/X111 B195E/1 B195E/I CDM-1 CDM1 MK111NE MKIIINE QPHASE500 QX5000/1V QX5000/IV TTE/11 TTE/II XL15-31E XL1531E XLT/111 XLT/III Z200E/111 Z200E/III 1000 LS/X III 1000LS/XIII

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