Shure White Label Cartridge
by Jason Smith (DJ Side Effect)

Shure White Label Shure, a company renowned for its microphones, has introduced the White Label cartridge and stylus. Shure already has a line of high-end reputable scratch DJ cartridges. But the new White Labels are high output cartridges designed for house/progressive style mixing that keep record wear low by way of their features and design. Even though they are not so much geared towards scratching, the White Labels offer excellent trackability and are very skip resistant. Yeah, you can still scratch with them when the urge strikes. Not to mention they look very cool. Overall, these are an excellent choice for working house DJs and are notable candidates for challenging the Ortofon standard at offering an excellent sounding high-end cartridge.

I picked up my pair of whitelables several months ago at Bailey Brothers music in Birmingham, Alabama for about $150. Looking for a sonic upgrade from my Ortofon (blue) DJ cartridges, I was lured into the White Label's marketing for a superior sounding cartridge that features very low record wear and excellent tracking. What more could a serious turntablist ask for? Record wear is a real concern of mine; I like to take the necessary precautions to keep the wax in my box as fresh as possible. My mixing style does not make use of a lot of scratching and I am pretty light-handed with the vinyl at the decks. There are several points regarding my setup that make for a good test of the White Label, so I'll share my impression of these cartridges while introducing the basic features.

The physical design of these cartridges is unlike anything else. Shure has modified and streamlined a basic two piece headshell design (the whitelables are in one piece), giving it some slick counters and cutaways that look cool and increase visibility of the stylus as it travels through the grooves in the record. The actual stylus tip is bright red, an aesthetic and functional feature that, in conjunction with the cutaways, makes the stylus much easier to see when positioning on the record or simply checking out where the stylus is on the record. I think these cartridges offer superior visibility when compared to previous cartridges, the Ortofon DJ series.

Furthermore when using an S-shaped tone arm such as that of the Technics 1200, the headshell design offers better resonance due to the center of gravity being placed closer to the stylus. This brings us to another cool feature that Shure calls "forward mass design." The forward mass design moves the center of gravity towards the cantilever (the thin tube that houses the stylus tip), resulting in higher trackability, lower tonearm resonance, improved skip resistance, and lower tracking forces. Another great feature to be mentioned here is that the stylus overhang can be adjusted so the whitelable can be used effectively with either 'S' or straight arm turntables. These adjustments allow fine tuning of the cartridge's forward mass and, in turn, final positioning of the center of gravity. A tiny screwdriver comes with each cartridge to make these adjustments. I haven't really changed these settings, so feel free to email me on the effectiveness of them. The storage cases are gray, polished metal with foam lining on the insides. They are not as nice as the Ortofon cases, but they'll do.

The White Label cartridges have improved electrical contacts by placing a rubber tension gasket where the cartridge screws on and attaches to the tonearm. This was especially important for me because one of the tonearms on my Technics 1200MK2s has a poor fitting loose connection from years of changing cartridges and perhaps over tightening them. This resulted in one of the two channels from this deck intermittently dropping out and halving this decks output. To correct the problem I was going to have to replace the entire tonearm assembly. The tighter connection of the White Labels solved this problem. Now I do not worry about having to change out tonearms on a well calibrated, broken-in deck, nor do I suffer sonically from the one channel cutting in and out. Thanks Shure!

The frequency range of this cartridge is 2 to 20,000 kHz, similar to the Ortofons. The most important attribute of a cartridge is how it sounds to the ear, and I am happy to report that this one sounds utterly amazing. The response is basically flat, with crisp highs and richly detailed mids. The White Label captures and delivers bass as it should sound in the clubs. Again, a lot of detail and character come through, which is especially evident on a loud PA, where the sonic character of the White Label can most readily come through. Indeed, these are great needles for house music.

In comparison with the Ortofons, I think the White Labels sound better than the DJ series but not the Nightclub series. The Ortofon Nightclub series has a bit more output and a bit more detail and bass. Stanton cartridges can't really compare with the White Label. They just can't get the same definition or clarity. I would feel confident upon finding the White Label cartridges at the decks of a club or even consider bringing my own.

True to Shure's claim, the White Label works well at lower tracking forces. Where I was running my Ortofons at 3 to 4 grams of stylus weight, I can run the whitelables between 1.5 and 3.0, depending on the application. That is, unless I am doing vinyl manipulation during the set or with a certain track, I can get along fine at 2.0 g. I feel confident at 2.5 g if I'm in a situation where I'll be a bit nervous and do not want have the needle come out of track. The White Labels track much better than the Ortofons and are perhaps a little easier to set up in this regard. Improved trackability was the first thing I noticed, along with less tracking force, so vinyl will last longer before wearing out The needles hardly ever move on me and seldom skip, even at the lower tracking forces I use.

Overall I have been very pleased with the White Labels. They perform well and look great. I think they were an excellent upgrade from my Ortofon DJ cartridges. However, tracking forces aside, I don't think they can sonically beat out the Ortofon Nightclub cartridge and stylus which costs around $300 for the pair. The White Labels were half that. Shure has done an outstanding job with their new series of White Label cartridge.

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