Koetsu - a natural presence.
Authentic means more than accuracy. Like the difference between a Latimore and a Fitzgerald or Fagles translation of Ancient Greek. To make Homer live again takes more than accuracy and precision, it takes something more than you can hold onto. Something that takes the intuitive leap after extensive practice and science have been committed. Sugano San went fishing in the morning to prepare his afternoon of building cartridges. Each of his pieces are different, always evolving, yet they had something that was shared in the way that they sounded. He left something of himself in each of them.
Here is one of my favourites: MKI Urushi
Although it is not alnico like the early long bodies it has a very similar sound. This is not a wooden body but Urushi clad aluminium which preceded the stone bodies.
Look how beautifully imperfect the Lacquer is…
Here is an Onyx of the same era. They were very, very close in sound.
The Coralstone is a newer generation.
And then there are the alnico long bodies. I find this to be the one of the most rewarding of cartridges however I firmly believe there are two caveats to getting any low compliance cartridge to play well.
1) A high mass tone arm
2) A powerful turntable motor and drive system (so often completely overlooked)
It also helps to have an alnico horn system and direct heated triodes to portray the micro dynamics (as well as the macro) which is one of the strengths of these beautiful cartridges.
As you can see it is not easy to get them to fit into a head shell. Here it is in a special long head shell and the cartridge is all the way to the front and with clipped lead sockets so they don’t extend much past the cartridge pins.
That was cotton covered silver but my favourite cartridge/arm wire has become this Nippon copper which I call the frog’s eyelash. In these very small voltages and currents wire gauge, small dielectric capacitance and solid core does make a difference.
When Kondo designed alnico into a cartridge this is how he solved for the large amount of magnet material required without making the cartridge so long.
Kondo IO MKII
The tale of two long bodies: They are old and the cover plates often fall off and need reaffixing. However they play brilliantly despite the age. Here are two before the covers are reattached. So you can see in all these samples - all are different.
The newer magnet structure…
As I mentioned before, if the arm is not high mass and the turntable does not have high mass and/or strong motor/drive system then the result will most likely be what detractors of these fine cartridges speak of which is soft and warm presentation. If you think about the higher drag and greater level of friction transmitted by a stiffer suspension under greater force then this will make perfect sense. If they are given what they need (they were originally voiced on a Garrard 301 with SME 3012 arm) to perform there is a natural presence that is hard to describe. The best I can say is that to me it is like the Pierro della Francesca paintings which somehow get the viewer to appreciate “time in space”.
I hope you have enjoyed the pictures and brief descriptions. It has been a pleasure for me to share something which has brought so much insight into music.