Allnic Rose Moving Coil Phono
I agreed to review the Allnic Rose low-output moving coil cartridge largely because its reputation precedes it. This cartridge is designed and made by the same company that makes the award-winning Blue Note Best Of 2020 H-7000 vacuum tube phono stereo preamplifier that I reviewed that year. After listening to this phono cartridge for only a couple of weeks, I was already quite impressed, even before it was fully broken in. During the first few weeks of listening to this phono cartridge, for some reason, I thought that its price was $5999, which I thought was fair, given how impressed I was so early in the review. One can imagine how surprised I was when I discovered that this Allnic Rose cartridge sells for $2900. I had to recalibrate my way of thinking. To make things easier on myself, I attempted not to think about how much this cartridge cost but simply reviewing the cartridge and telling you about my experience with it in my system.
I suppose I should apologize for the above spoiler. Yes, it "only" sells for $2900. But for many, that's still a good chunk of change. It does put it in a more "affordable" class of phono cartridge, but still, a cartridge at this price demands a thorough review, and because I assumed it costs more than twice its actual price, I wouldn't feel too bad if I compared it to cartridges costing more. But first, some background.
I mounted the Allnic Rose cartridge on my reference Tri-Planar 6 tonearm with no trouble at all. I ended up with a tracking weight of about 1.9 grams, only slightly less than Allinic's recommended 2 grams. I set the tonearm's VTA (vertical tracking angle) with the tonearm sloping downward towards its pivot just a bit, so slight that it looked level unless I held up the setting jig to the tonearm. Auditioning different VTAs was made easier with the Tri-Planar with its accessible "dial" on the tower at the base of the 'arm. The phono preamp's loading was set at 200 Ohms, one of the settings that Allnic's US distributor recommended. Even though I used some measuring and test equipment, including a simple mirrored overhang gauge made by Tri-Planar, it mainly was my ears that ended up being the best measuring device when setting up the cartridge. As usual.
All the cables in the system were made by the Blue Note 2020 award-winning Kimber Kable. I used Carbon 8 interconnects, Carbon 18 XL speaker cables, and some Ascent power cables. But most of the power cables weren't necessary because much of the gear in my system was connected to battery power supplies. The inconvenience of using battery power supplies that are not designed for audio was outweighed by the significant improvement in the system's overall sound quality. The two brands of battery power supplies I used were Goal Zero and Rockpads, neither of which I recommend unless one is willing to endure a substantial lack of features.
The features that are lacking include having only two AC outlets per power supply and noisy fans. The wattage of the power supply might demand that it be isolated from one's listening room because of fan noise. Still, the improvement that the batteries made to the sound quality of my system outweighed these inconveniences. Your mileage may vary.
I would consider the Rose's greatest strengths its low-frequency reproduction, a tight, pitch-specific, deep bass, combined with a vast, drawn-to-scale (when appropriate) soundstage, with pin-point images. Instruments were always placed as far from each other as appropriate, or often as much as what seemed physically possible - I often imagined measuring the distance between two sounds, instruments, or voices with a yardstick.
All of the above traits were very recording-dependent, as I never thought that the Allnic Rose was editorializing any of the information read from the record's grooves. And so, an excellent recording sounded like an excellent recording, and a poorly engineered record sounded like a poorly engineered record. Yet, as I've said many times in the past, no one sets out to make a bad-sounding release. Recording technique is often thought of as an art, and sometimes it's a crapshoot. Often this responsibility is left in the hands of a sonic magician and sometimes an amateur.
I believe that most audiophiles appreciate a component that tells it like it. But it should also be good enough to have come from our speakers what many audiophiles consider the "magic" to reproduce the intentions of all involved in making the recording. The Allnic Rose has a good helping of this.
The above was very apparent when I played one of the first reissues the label Classic Records pressed in 1994 Witches' Brew, a compilation of "scary" scores. This album was originally pressed in 1958 on the RCA label, even though the Decca engineering team recorded it. This record is a blockbuster early stereo recording with ridiculously good sound quality, despite the ubiquitous tape hiss present in just about every classical recording of that era, especially on these early stereo recordings. It features The New Symphony Orchestra Of London, led by conductor Alexander Gibson. The orchestra is another name for the London Symphony Orchestra, as it was regularly having contract disputes; this orchestra has used quite a few names in its comparatively long history.
The Rose phono cartridge was able to take full advantage of the recording prowess encoded into the deep grooves of this record. The Allnic Rose's bass frequency reproduction was impressive. While listening to this album, due to the sound pressure levels of the bass frequencies, I imagined myself being pushed further into the cushions on the back of my listening seat!
On familiar pieces such as Night On Bald Mountain, Mephisto Waltz, and especially on Danse Macabre, the nightmarish warhorse was written by Camille Saint-Saëns (and made even more popular when featured in Disney's Fantasia) all use a large orchestra employing seemingly every percussion instrument ever used in western classical music. All these instruments sounded patently lifelike. The percussion instruments seem to be predisposed to sounding realistic on a high-end audio system, so this wasn't the most challenging feat for a cartridge. Still, it did aid in creating the mental picture of skeletons dancing at midnight.
The Allnic Rose's high level of transparency was easy to notice on this album, so much so this record often sounded as if I was listening to the master tape. I've heard this record with many phono cartridges, from "budget" models to those nearing the state-of-the-art. When listening to this LP with the Allnic Rose, it demonstrated that this phono cartridge should be in the category of those costing much more, in large part because it captures the gestalt of the music, much like the mucho expensive models do. Of course, I couldn't hear all the traits of those more costly cartridges, because unfortunately, it captured those things to a lesser degree. But still, it was amazing how much signal the Allnic Rose could capture from the grooves and turn into not just sound but music.
After listening to and taking notes from my audition of the Witches Brew LP, I needed to balance things with something more modern. Much more modern. I put on a record featuring compositions by the Hungarian-born György Ligeti. Back in the day, his records were tough to find. Especially those living in the US, since most of them were on the German avant-garde label Wergo. This label has a fantastic catalog of post-war music, but the sound quality of these pressings was B+ at best. But Ligeti's compositions have appeared on other labels, including the Swedish label Bis, Deutsche Grammophon, and many compilations. But the best sounding Ligeti I have on vinyl was released by Decca as part of their "Decca Head" Series. This LP pressed in the UK features the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton and was recorded in 1975 at London's Kingsway Hall.
Many will recognize this period of his music from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Ligeti termed this style of his music "micropolyphony", that Kubrick thought that it was perfect for the scenes featuring the enigmatic monolith and what is often called the psychedelic "Stargate" sequence.
When playing the Melodien For Orchestra, which fills all of side 1, one trait of the Allnic Rose phono cartridge that immediately struck me was the Rose's ability to suppress surface noise. Even though most classical records pressed in the 1970s in the UK were some of the best-sounding records in my collection, there will still be some surface noise present. The quiet background led to an increase in a multitude of other sonic traits. The music on Melodien enveloped me in sound in the most realistic way I've ever heard from a cartridge in and well above its price class.
Kingsway Hall in London is notorious for the subway running under the hall and how it can interrupt recordings and performances. There are even stories about how some engineers would attempt to time a section of a recording session between the passing trains. But when recording a 20-minute composition, that is difficult, if not impossible. And so, the low-frequency prowess of the Rose was evident when the subway line running under Kingsway Hall seemed to shake the ground (in this case, the floorboards) under me, slowly rising and falling as the subterranean cars underneath came and went.
More importantly than this sound-effect, the display of the Rose's midrange transparency resulted in a very lifelike sound of much of what came through my speakers. This midrange transparency made the dense, tightly woven, often slowly moving clusters of chords that Ligeti composed spellbinding. This complex music is often difficult for phono cartridges to unravel, and so they frequently add a layer of distortion. The Allnic Rose sailed through these passages.
The micropolyphonic style of Ligeti is essentially atonal. There is no doubt about that. To the uninitiated, his music must sound like "noise." But to those who have come to love his music, repeated listening can often bear great rewards, one of which is to decipher his masterful orchestration, and these once grating and very tightly structured chord structures sound much more harmonious. For me, the Allnic Rose was able to unravel this music even further, and at the same time, let me enjoy a wide and deep soundstage with broadly separated instruments. I could "see" this medium-sized orchestra in front of me as if it were an ensemble in miniature, if you will.
This album was Sonic Youth's first record on a major label and also happened to be released when CDs were gaining a significant foothold in the market and on the music-buying public. Because of CD's greater capacity, rather than make it a double LP, they instead put more than the usual amount of time on each side of the record. To fit all this music on one side of the LP, they were forced to decrease the width of the record's grooves, which lowered the volume by about 6dB. These narrower grooves are a challenge for some phono cartridges, and the result is that more background noise is introduced. There is often a more significant level of distortion, too. Some cartridges are better than others than rejecting this noise and distortion.
Thankfully, this Mobile Fidelity LP was mastered very well. The excellent mastering, and because the Allnic Rose was in the category of rejecting this noise and distortion, much more than I had expected for a cartridge at this price, I was able to enjoy one of Sonic Youth's best combinations of noise-rock, avant-garde, and alternative rock in their extensive catalog.
Although, as I got further into the review period, I noticed that the Rose had a very slightly darkened tone. This slight darkening didn't appear to come from a reduction in its high-frequency response; I just sensed that the amplitude of these frequencies was just a tiny bit lower. Still, this struck me as odd since Allnic is also a manufacturer of top-tier vacuum-tube equipment, and so before hearing the Rose, I would assume it would lean in the opposite direction. Allnic makes a more expensive Amber MC phono cartridge which costs one and a half times as much as the Rose. Perhaps these nit-picks have all but been eliminated in this model.