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July 2012
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Haniwa Audio System HCTR01 Low Impedance Moving Coil Cartridge
Wonderfully involving and reminding me what keeps vinyl recordings alive and well.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

  The retrieval of information from the spirals of the vinyl vault has not gone, so what cause is it that lingers on? It is for me, a smooth flowing stream of sound that allows music to calm my mind. Fortunately, the art and science of tracking a spinning spiral is alive and well in the mind of Dr. Tetsuo Kubo. It is he who has designed a very different Moving Coil cartridge for Haniwa Audio Systems. Haniwa is a subsidiary of a Japanese company named Kubotek. Dr. Tetsuo Kubo is the company's President and Founder. I spoke with the very affable American representative of Haniwa Audio/Kubotek U.S.A. a Mr. Robert Bean. We had a very interesting conversation during the New York Audio & AV show. Not incidentally, the Chester Group International show was held at the posh Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue, April 2012. The tale Bob Bean told was of two almost identical cartridges both using the same HCTR01 model designation one priced at $12,000 and one priced at $5000.

Haniwa Audio System HCTR01 MC Phono CartridgeThe first was a super low impedance version we will call the Mark II. This version absolutely requires and includes their dedicated phono preamplifier. The other option was the second cartridge, a near twin of the first. They look exactly the same and both share the same painted on model designation, HCTR01. The difference is internal, both have low coil resistance and low inductance but my review sample has a higher number of coil windings and a higher output. Therefore, it should work with any quality phono preamplifier that is purposely built for moving coil cartridges.

 

Of Coils And Cantilevers
Dr. Kubo's, design goal was to build a low mass, low inductance cartridge. Additionally it should have high compliance along with a reasonable output. The actual builder is a Mr. Y. Matsudaira who owns a company called My Sonic Labs. It was he who made this cartridge to Dr. Kubo's specifications. Consider the result; theHCTR01 is indeed a very low impedance moving coil phono cartridge. Unusual in that it has a very small internal coil resistance of only 0.8 ohm and a low inductance of 1.3uH (micro Henry). This is achieved by winding the coil with only a low number of turns of wire. Amazingly, the cartridge can still output a very reasonable0.35mV.In part; this was possible by advances made fabricating ultra-powerful magnetic alloys. It is made with a Hi-mu SH-uX metal core and oxygen free 0.5um copper coil wire and uses Neodymium metal for the magnetic circuit. The tracking force is specified at a low 1.0 to 1.5 grams. The stylus is a line contact profile mounted at the end of a boron cantilever. Minimizing the HCTR 01 cartridges coil inductance was the single most important design parameter. Inductance my dear Audio pals is highly detrimental in that it will alter frequency response and smear phase response. The specification given for Phase Variance is less than, plus/minus 1%.

 

Employment
When installing this cartridge there are certain factors you must attend too. As with any MC cartridge, matching the resistive load to the cartridge is an important consideration. By rule of thumb, the output from the cartridge should see approximately 10 times the internal resistance of the coils. Now if you wanted to be ultra-precise you would need to factor in the series resistance of the tone arm wiring and the cable connection resistance to your phono preamplifier. That series resistance would need to be deducted from the value of the resistive loading set at the phono amplifier. In this case, that total resistance should amount too only 8 Ohms. Understand this small value of resistance might be an impossible setting for some phono preamplifiers. Even with this consideration in mind, I decided to give it a go. The cartridge was carefully adjusted and mounted to a Grado Signature tone arm affixed to my SOTA Sapphire turntable; tracking force was set at 1.2 grams.

Auditioning began with the cartridge signal feeding my refurbished Audio Research SP9 MK 3 preamplifier. Speaker power came from my Roger Sanders ESL amplifier. The resulting sound was, Cloudy, muffled and muted, just as if someone threw a thick blanket over my Aurum Cantus Leisure 2 SE speakers. Now the Aurum Cantus speakers are a two-way design with a lightning fast ribbon tweeter. Placed on top of these is a pair of Mark and Daniel 360 degree Heil Air Motion tweeters. Adding them to my system extended he treble frequencies out to 40 kHz. This is the same ultra-resolution kit I use to audition wiring, specifically speaker and system interconnects. In this instance distorted sound is just what you should expect it is a gross cartridge impedance mismatch with an inadequate amount of amplifier gain. However, there was a solution at hand. It was the Audio Standards MX10apre-preamplifier, a moving coil transformer. Formally, it resided hidden away in a drawer and I had almost forgotten about it.

 

Transformation
Like the sun finally cutting through a gray haze, the MX10a lifted the veils and music beamed into my room. The MX10a had increased the gain, and a noise that had been audible as a very low-level hum was now made inaudible. I usually set everything up listening to, Another Page by Christopher Cross [Warner Brothers 9 23757-1]. This is not so much because it is a great performance but because I know it so well. The recording is a studio mix containing many small-layered nuances just waiting to be decoded. The second cut on side two is, Talking In My Sleep. The very first back up music you hear is infused with a transient speed that injects an air of excitement. That excitement rides predominantly on the treble side of things. But this is not because the high frequencies seem hard or exaggerated. Rather the HCTR01 seems able to project an expansive treble image above and between my speakers. Now this effect is primarily a space-expanding dimension of height. There is more of this height information present now than with any other cartridge that I have listened to. This airy quality, albeit to a lesser extent adds space around and between individual elements in the mix. Safe to say I can wallow quite comfortably in this field of sound. It acts like a magnet drawing me in as I wait for the lead out groove to carry me to the next song, The Nature of the game.  Once again, there exists an expansive aura of delicate details highlighting the sounds of a piano passage through the compositions bridge. Clear to hear the piano notes origins are not acoustic but rather spring from an electronic keyboard.

A better aural test will be a vintage recording like, Harry Belafonte live at Carnegie Hall, recorded [RCA Victor LSO-6006], April 19 and 20th 1959. The whole two-disk album is a revelation of a time passed; everything that happened that night was memorable. For me the last cut on side one, Take My Mother Home is filled with a horrific poignancy that evokes in me at the same time anger and sorrow. This was made all the more real by a husky at times rasping quality in Harry Belafonte's voice. This song tells about the passion, Jesus on Golgotha being nailed to the cross. From the orchestra pit comes the sound of a hammer repeatedly striking nails (into flesh). And repeatedly Jesus (Harry) cries out, "Take My Mother Home". I cannot think of any other musical performance capable of this much raw emotional impact. The only possible exception might be the sound of a bugler sounding Taps over a grave. The Haniwa HCTR01 cartridge captures all this raw emotion in microscopic detail.

 

Everything Considered
Let us see, if I purchased this cartridge that would bring my cartridge cache to number seven. That is if I could afford to buy it, which I can't. Even though the HCTR01 can do things that my other six cartridges cannot do. However to make a very positive but very long story shorter I will fast forward to the pertinent parts of the performance. Barring this cartridge from perfection there exists a slight loss of bass definition, or maybe it should be called articulation. The excellent essence of this aural presentation lies with the portrayal of details. Details that pull you into the performance like a fine thread wrapped around your ears. If that was all that there was things would still be exceptional, but there is more. There is a quality that I am addicted too, let us call it the air and space effect. There is the added dimension of height that helps push back the boundaries of my small room. The stage is wide and deep and I can move about my room and still be immersed in a field of music. Congratulations. Kubo you have ameliorated a barrier that confined music in a two dimensional frame. And in so doing you have opened a window for those of us who love music.

 

Coda
I must confess I have no resistive measurements of the total cartridge loading in my system. Even so the presentation was wonderfully involving and I would choose to own it, if I hit the lottery. Even though my MX10a Pre Preamplifier should present a very manageable resistive load, I still cannot help but wonder how much the exact cartridge loading might refine the performance. If you were to purchase the nearly identical lower inductance and lower output Mark 2 version of this cartridge. The HEQA02 Phono Equalizer would be a necessity and this cartridge should not be recommended without it. Not incidentally the Haniwa Phono Equalizer with MM and MC input with a built in degausser circuit will cost you an additional $5000.

 

Footnote
At this juncture I am reminded of just what keeps vinyl recordings alive and well. I believe the answer lies primarily in the natural decay/attenuation of any sound. More exactly, a digital recording gets the initial transient impact of sounds correctly. And along with that, there is an element of excitement. However, as the sound level of let us say a piano note lowers the digital process drops it as a less significant bit. Consequently, some of the natural harmonic overtones are shelved. Along with the efforts being made to fix things, sampling rates have gone up and word length expanded and interpolated to 24 or 36 bits, but still this is not quite doing the job. My rational is a direct result of listening to a Cary Audio CD 306 at various sampling rates all the way up to 24-bit/768kHz. I believe that 24-bit/192kHz is just about the limit. In sampling steps above that, things get increasingly strange. At the highest sampling rate the limitations of the present digital medium became glaringly obvious. Even when considering the improved DSD format the resulting sound is smoother, but still it is not, "Perfect Sound Forever". In my bailiwick, most Audiophiles do not seem to be very impressed with the sound of SACD.

As ever, Semper Hi-Fi.

 

Specifications
Type: Low impedance moving coil cartridge 
Input Impedance: 0.8 Ohms (1kHz) 
Inductance: 1.3H (1kHz) 
Output Voltage: 0.35mV 
Cantilever: Boron 
Phase Variance: Less than +/-1 degree
Suggested Needle Pressure: 1.0 t 1.5 grams [with HEQA01: 0.6 to 1.0 grams] 
Weight 10 grams 
Price: $5000 for Haniwa HCTR 01 cartridge. Lower impedance version of the same cartridge designated as the HCTR 01 Mark 2 has the same $5000 price, yet the Mark 2 version needs the Haniwa phono preamplifier to work ($12,000 for both cartridge and preamplifier combination).

 

Company Information
Kubotek Corporation Tokyo
1-3-13 Kanda Izumicho, Chiyoda-Ku
Tokyo 101-0024
Japan

Voice: +81-3-5820-3921
E-mail: haniwa@kubotek.co.jp

 

Kubotek Corporation U.S.A.
2 Mount Royal Av.
Suite 500
Marlborough, MA 01752

Voice: (508) 304-9940 
E-mail: rbean@haniwaaudio.com
Website: www.haniwaaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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