Vertere Dark Sabre review

Is this the ultimate moving magnet cartridge? Tested at £1450 / $1599

Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge playing on vinyl record
(Image: © What Hi-Fi?)

What Hi-Fi? Verdict

Vertere proves that moving magnets are a viable choice even at premium levels


  • +

    Dynamic, punchy and entertaining sound

  • +

    Capable of impressive insight

  • +

    Easy to fit


  • -

    Up against some excellent moving coil alternatives

Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.

Details matter in audio design. Getting those details right makes the difference between good and great, and right now, we can’t think of a better example of this than Vertere’s new Dark Sabre moving magnet cartridge. We are big fans of the standard Sabre cartridge (£950 / $1199). We reviewed it back in 2022 and it proved that moving magnet cartridges could compete with the very best moving coil options at its premium price.

The Dark Sabre pushes that price boundary even harder. Initially, we wondered whether Vertere had been blinded by ambition. After all, the two Sabre models share many basic ingredients including the generator, telescopic cantilever design and even body construction. But, details matter.

Design & build

Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge side by side with Vertere Sabre on wooden surface

Vertere Dark Sabre (left) and Sabre (right) cartridges next to each other. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Those details start with the stylus tip, the bit that actually makes contact with the record groove. In the Dark Sabre this is a single crystal micro elliptical design that has been precision cut to shape before being attached directly to the two-piece telescopic aluminium cantilever. In the standard Sabre, the elliptical diamond is sintered, not naturally formed, and is bonded to a titanium shank before being punched through the cantilever. The Dark Sabre method is a more precise way of doing things and allows the tip to track the record groove more accurately.

Vertere Dark Sabre tech specs

Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge

(Image credit: Vertere)

Type Moving magnet 

Nominal tracking weight 2.0g

Output 4.3 mV (1kHz/5cm/sec)

Cartridge weight 11.5g

This one change allows Vertere to tweak the cantilever angle and design slightly, and also fine-tune the angle of the generator. This slightly different generator position means that the rigid aluminium cartridge body can be machined into a subtly different shape, which in turn changes the distribution of its mass. All of these are small tweaks, but their cumulative effect is significant.

Elsewhere, things remain largely the same. Both cartridges feature a substantial cartridge body that appears identical unless you place them side by side and notice the slight difference in some of the angles. This body is machined from a solid block of aluminium and then anodised, in the case of the Dark Sabre, black. There are three contact points on the top to ensure it makes rigid contact with the tonearm headshell. Both models feature a common generator design, and it is mounted into the aluminium body by four stainless steel ‘spike’ screws that control unwanted mechanical vibrations. The cantilever remains an unusual design in that it is telescopic and is made of two types of aluminium to maximise stiffness without suffering from undue resonance. 


Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge viewed from slight side/front angle against white background

(Image credit: Vertere)

The Dark Sabre is an easy cartridge to fit thanks to its straight-edged shape. It is quite heavy at 11.5g, but most tonearms should be able to cope. Once mounted to our reference Technics SL-1000R record player it tracks securely at the recommended 2.0g tracking weight, and sounds balanced enough so that we don’t feel the need to tweak too much from there.

Vertere has provided small thumbscrews to secure the cartridge rather than the more conventional Allen bolts. That prevents over-tightening, and potentially any damage to the body or threaded fixing holes. The Dark Sabre’s output is a fairly typical 4.3 mV (@1kHz, 5cm/sec) so there shouldn’t be any issues when it comes to partnering with an MM phono section.

The rest of our set-up is our usual Cyrus Phono Signature/PSX-R2 phono stage, Burmester 088/911 MkIII amplifier and ATC SCM50 speakers. We also give the Dark Sabre’s natural partner, the excellent Vertere Phono-1 phono stage a go to see how the pairing performs. There are no surprises, the all-Vertere combination works well together, though the cartridge proves unfussy, still delivering fine results when used with an out-of-house solution like the Cyrus Phono Signature.


Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge playing on vinyl record

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

We start with a comparison with the standard Sabre. We don’t need long. The standard cartridge is as good an all-rounder as we’ve heard at its price and nothing we heard changes that opinion. Equally, if there is the extra budget, and your system is suitably revealing, we can’t imagine anyone not picking the Dark Sabre given the choice. 

Fundamentally, both cartridges share the same musically cohesive character. They are exciting, entertaining and subtle enough to work well with everything from a grand Beethoven Symphony to something as bare-fisted as Nirvana’s Nevermind set. Once set up with care, the tonal balances are nice and even, and they deliver enough in terms of stereo imaging and scale to satisfy.

However, move from the standard cartridge to the Dark Sabre and just about every aspect of the sound improves. As we listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony we are aware that the newer cartridge digs up far more information from the record groove. It reveals more in terms of instrumental textures and defines the shape of notes with greater precision. The Dark Sabre delivers more in the way of muscle too, rendering larger-scale dynamic shifts with more heft and confidence. We don’t hear much difference in terms of outright scale, but the pricier cartridge certainly produces more in the way of authority and the ability to capture the sheer majesty of an orchestra in full flow.

Stereo imaging is good with the Dark Sabre’s extra clarity making it even easier to place instruments in the soundstage. We have no issue with the stability of the imaging when the music gets demanding or the way either cartridge layers the instruments.

A switch to the aforementioned Nirvana album or Michael Jackson’s Thriller set shows that the Dark Sabre also delivers more in the way of drive and attack. Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough charges along full throttle with the cartridge handling the changes in musical momentum brilliantly. It digs up so much more detail yet still manages to organise it all in a musical and composed way. Despite resolving so much information, this is not a product that encourages the listener to concentrate on the production or recording techniques involved. Rather, it prefers that the listener simply sit back and enjoy the experience. A surefooted sense of rhythm and lows that exhibit plenty in the way of grip and power help that cause.


Vertere Dark Sabre MM cartridge side view against white

(Image credit: Vertere)

While it is possible to get some rather tasty moving coils at this level, the Lyra Delos and Ortofon Cadenza Blue come to mind, we think that the Vertere Dark Sabre is talented enough to stand tall against such competition. Also, let’s not forget that its innately higher output means that it will be less demanding of the partnering phono stage. Phono stages with good moving coil inputs don’t come cheap. In conclusion, if you are looking to buy a cartridge at this level don’t ignore the Dark Sabre. It is something of a gem.


  • Sound 5
  • Build 5
  • Compatibility 5


Read our review of the Vertere Sabre MM

Also consider the Lyra Delos and Kiseki Purpleheart cartridges

Best cartridges: budget and premium options for your turntable

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