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November / December 2003
Superior Audio Equipment Review

The Miyabi / 47 Labs MC Cartridge
The Ferrari of cartridges?

Review By Rufus Smith

 

The Miyabi / 47-Labs MC Cartridge  My first "high-end" turntable was purchased in 1987. It was a Systemdek IIx fitted with their OEM Profile tonearm and a Grado Signature 8 cartridge. That table served me for less than one year when I replaced it with a SOTA Star Sapphire fitted with a Premier FT-3 tonearm. The Grado was transferred to the SOTA where it served me faithfully for three years. When it finally bit the dust, it was replaced with an Accuphase AC-2, a series of Sumiko Blue Point Specials and finally a Lyra Clavis. While my system was undergoing a series of major upgrades, the SOTA/FT-3 combination remained a constant for eleven wonderful years. However, in 1999, a decision was made to upgrade the entire analog front end and the SOTA was passed on to a new owner.

After endless conversations with Myles Astor, the decision was made to go the VPI route. I had already purchased an Immedia RPM-2 tonearm, which I understood was a synergistic match with the VPI tables. So, a call was put into VPI head honcho, Harry Westfeld to discuss which table to get. I was leaning toward the Aries, but Harry really felt the new TNT V with flywheel was a better match with my system. So, the TNT it was. Only one major problem, the cost difference between the Aries and the TNT blew my budget to pieces. I didn't have enough left to get a cartridge since the Clavis was now around six years old and was suffering from a collapsed suspension. So, I made the decision to get a well-known highly respected budget cartridge. I was not, however prepared for how good a cartridge it proved to be. Therefore, I put off upgrading for a while.

It was at this point that I got into trouble. I had become telephone buddies with Frank Peraino, an audio buddy I had met on an online site. Frank and I spend too much time on the telephone talking about ways to improve our systems. It is also Frank's providence to give me grief at every opportunity. Given the nature of my analog front-end (VPI TNT V with flywheel and SDS, the Immedia RPM-2 tonearm and a Pass Labs Xono phono stage), Frank kept saying that taking the TNT V/Immedia combination and putting a $500.00 cartridge on it was analogous to putting a Yugo engine into a Ferrari. Of course, this is from someone who uses a TNT V/JMW 12.5 combination with a Van den Hul Grasshopper as his analog front-end. Every one of our conversations began with some comment about when are you going to put a real engine into that Ferrari of yours. So, when editor Steven R. Rochlin called and asked if I would be interested in reviewing the Miyabi/47 for Enjoy The Music.com™, I jumped at the chance. Now, maybe I thought Peraino would leave me alone (no such luck according to Peraino).

According to Yoshi Segoshi, 47 Labs' American importer, the Miyabi/47 is the result of collaborations between 47 Lab's Director of Marketing, Koji Teramura and Miyabi designer, Haruo Takeda. Takeda-San is best known here as the designer of the Krell and Mark Levinson cartridges, which garnered so much praise in the late 80's/early 90's. Their design goal was simple, to create the ultimate Miyabi cartridge.

The Miyabi/47's output is a low 0.3mV, which will require the use of a phono stage that is not only quiet but also one that can supply the requisite gain. At this point, it makes sense to discuss the set-up of the cartridge, which for lack of better words is nerve wracking for someone like me who has fat fingers and doesn't have the most stable hands in the world. The Miyabi uses a plastic body that lacks a threaded top plate. Instead of having holes in the top plate through which the screws can be slipped to hold the cartridge in place while attaching the nuts, the Miyabi has rectangular slots in the side of the body. Because of this design, the cartridge ends up being bolted to the headshell instead of being screwed to it. The problem with this is that if one is not real careful, the screw can slip out while the cartridge is being tightened to the headshell. I know, it happened to me at least four times as I tried to mount the thing. I really recommend that you leave the supplied stylus guard in place until you have the cartridge securely mounted (just remember to carefully remove it after installation, as the cartridge sounds better with it removed rather than in the raised position).

For a cartridge with a plastic body, you will probably be surprised to learn that the Miyabi weighs a hefty 13 grams. According to the information I have read on the cartridge, this is due to the use of Alnico magnets, which are denser than other types of magnets. The extra weight of the magnet assembly also provides an additional benefit in that it helps reduce unnecessary resonances in the cartridge. Tadeka-San also fitted the Miyabi with an aluminum cantilever, a line contact stylus, and a semi-open structure which all contribute to its high performance.

Continuing with the set-up, the recommended tracking force is 2.0 grams, however I got the best tracking results at slightly lower 1.85 to 1.90 grams. I tried loading the cartridge at several different levels, but kept coming back to the standard 47K as it offered the best performance. Also, unlike many moving coils, the Miyabi is very sensitive to VTA. It also differs from most moving coils in that it prefers to have the back end of the cartridge elevated slightly instead of the other way around. Set the VTA too low and you will be rewarded with a midrange that sounds bleached out and thin.

Break-in should take about 100 hours and is rather uneventful with one little exception. The Miyabi is a real low rider. In most cases, its bottom just skims above the surface of the record. As a result, as it's suspension breaks in, the Miyabi will have a tendency to settle and you may find it making contact with the surface of your record. This usually occurs around 50 hours or so and can be a little unnerving if you are not prepared for it as the thought will probably go whizzing through your mind that the suspension has collapsed. Don't worry; just raise the arm a bit and you will be back in business.

 

Listening And Loving
Listening sessions for me usually begin with either Miles Davis or John Coltrane. However with the Miyabi I took a different tack. As I sifted through my stack of albums looking for my 45-RPM Classic reissue of Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain [Columbia. CS-8271], I came across a copy of Mannheim Steamroller's Fresh Aire V [American Gramaphone, AG-385]. "This will make an interesting change," I thought as I pulled the LP from its jacket and placed it on the TNT. Track 1, "Lumin" begins with a low Gregorian chant that will literally lull you to sleep. However, about two minutes into the cut, the tempo and the mood change with a fierce explosion of sound that will snap you to attention. With every other cartridge I have ever auditioned, this change has been powerful but I was not prepared for what I heard as the Miyabi hit this section of recording. The music literally exploded out the speakers and filled the room with sound that was three-dimensional with convincing impact and a purity of tone that I have not experienced from my system before. The cartridge was superb in its ability to go from quiet to full tilt without any sense of bloom is absolutely amazing.

The Miyabi is also first rate in its ability to reproduce a sense of space. As readers of my other reviews will know, I am somewhat of a soundstaging freak. I want my system to as accurately as possible transport me to the recording venue. One of the things that I really enjoyed about this cartridge is its ability to not only reproduce the width of the soundstage but its depth as well. It did not matter whether it was an outdoor venue like Otis Spann Memorial Field or an intimate club such as the Village Gate. The Miyabi was consistently able to reproduce a reasonable facsimile of the recording in my listening room without exaggeration or bloat. Harry Belafonte's performance at Carnegie Hall as recorded by RCA [RCA, LSO-6060] remains on of my acid tests for a component's ability to reproduce a three-dimensional sense of space. The final track is a rousing rendition of "Matilda" in which the crowd joins in. As the crowd joins in, you are able to get a clear sense of the sheer size of Carnegie Hall.

The Miyabi / 47-Labs MC Cartridge While the Miyabi's recreation of the space of the recording is spectacular, it is not accomplished at the expense of the location of instruments within the soundstage. Take for example, Classic Records reissue of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival 1972 [Atlantic/Classic 2-502], which was recorded outdoors at Otis Spann Memorial Field. The soundstaging is real wide due to the outdoor nature of the concert. While reproducing the spaciousness of the open-air venue, the Miyabi firmly locks all of the instruments on the stage into their rightful places within the stage. As I played through all eight sides of this LP, being the 45-RPM single sided version, this wonderful trait of the cartridge never wavered.

The Miyabi also allowed me to see deeper into the soundstage than ever before. Images are projected from a pitch-black background with beautiful precision and clarity. Center Stage [Wilson Audiophile, W-8824] is an exceptional recording. The album showcases the National Symphonic Winds under the direction of Lowell Graham performing compilations of tunes from various Broadway musicals. About one-half way through "Selections from Mary Poppins, during "Feed the Birds" a glockenspiel floats out of the blackness of the stage to float above the rest of the instruments. It is very easy for the sound of the glockenspiel to get lost in the background. While I have heard this recording on several different systems with several different turntable set-ups, I have never heard that glockenspiel so cleanly reproduced.

The Miyabi is also very well balanced throughout its entire frequency range. It does not emphasize one area over any of the others. Bass notes are full, deep and very well controlled. At the upper end, cymbals have plenty of presence and detail. They were reproduced with a metallic sheen when struck that never seemed washed out. It is in the midrange where the Miyabi really shines. Female vocals, which remain one of the acid tests for midrange reproduction, were always honestly portrayed. I listened to a variety of female vocals that included Patricia Barber, Eileen Farrell, Billie Holliday, and Marni Nixon. All were reproduced cleanly with plenty of detail that let each vocalist's strengths and weaknesses come forth.

 

But Is There An Achilles Heel?
If the Miyabi has one weakness, it is in the area of inner detail. Transient attacks are slightly rounded off in their presentation. To see what I mean, get your hands on a copy of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera [Polydor, 831 273-1 Y-2]. Yes, it does exist on vinyl and it is better than the CD. Anyway, as we all know, the story begins with an auction of items found in the vaults of the cellar during the last renovation of the Paris Opera House. As each item is sold, the auctioneer closes each sale by banging his gavel down on a wooden block. The leading edge of the sound should have a sharp bite. As reproduced by the Miyabi, the leading edge of the transient is somewhat rounded off robbing the sound of some of its bite. This effect is also noticeable with stringed instruments such as a harp that are capable of exhibiting tremendous transient energy. This effect while there never detracted from the overall performance of the cartridge.

 

Final Thoughts
The Miyabi/47 is a world-class cartridge with many strengths and very few weaknesses that never detracted from my enjoyment of any LP I played. It took the performance of my analog system up to a whole new level. Without a doubt, the Miyabi should be on anyone looking to spend $3,000 to $5,000 on a cartridge short list. Yes Frank, I now have a high performance engine in my Ferrari. Hopefully this means you will leave me alone, but I am not counting on it.

 

Specifications
Designer: Haruo Takeda
Type: Moving Coil
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
Output: .3mV
Channel Separation: > 25dB (1kHz)
Recommended Tracking Force: 2 grams
Stylus Shape: Line Contact
Cantilever: Aluminum
Coils: Copper
Weight: 13 grams
Price: $3,990

 

Company Information
USA Importer:
Sakura Systems 
2 Rock Mount Road
Jefferson, MA 01522

Voice/Fax: (508) 829-3246
Website: www.SakurasyStems.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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