Audio MusiKraft Polished Lithium Nitro 2 Cartridge Review
Audio MusiKraft's polished Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge with Ipe wood inserts is a dramatic enhancement of the classic Denon 103 that performs in a nuanced, balanced, lively, engaging, musically satisfying way with having a stunning bejeweled shell. While the cost is way beyond that of the basic 103 cartridge, so is the performance! The MusiKraft cartridge will be appealing to the most discerning and demanding audiophile and can be the ultimate tunable piece of equipment for bringing listening enjoyment.
Deciding upon a cartridge can be a complex and difficult challenge for any audiophile. Cartridges are not usually an item that can be borrowed to easily install at home for a demo evaluation. One beneficial advantage of this cartridge is the ability to be adjustable to any system, which was evident after listening to this innovative tunable cartridge for nearly a year on various pieces of equipment. Audio MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge, as reviewed here, is gorgeous looking in the metal shell and interior wood casing.
The designer, Guy Pelletier, is not the first person to develop a new housing shell for the classic Denon 103 cartridge originally introduced in 1962. However, he developed a variety of shell choices, adjustable features, and the nitro motor to bring out the best attributes and performance levels using various metals, plating options, and types of woods with different finishes to enhance the musical experience. Each of the finishes and materials resonant, vibrate, and sound differently. The wood inserts and motor compression on the MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge can be adjusted to tune the sound.
My friends wondered about the cost of the MusiKraft cartridge until they heard it in use. The performance level and aesthetic beauty of the cartridge along with the cost of research, development, and materials used is the justification. The cartridge is a combination of creative artistry, intellectual property value, and handcrafted design assembled with exceptional attention to detail and quality. The cartridge is intended to be used in a high-end system by a music aficionado who understands that elusive quality that stirs our passion and soul.
Guy started the project in 2012 with a few friends that wanted to develop the 103 with the unique body having an adjustable design to maximize the sound for their special analog setups. Guy said the shell design took around four years of part-time work to evolve with many novel ideas and developments being evaluated with listening and weekly conferences. Guy took over in 2016 to complete the final manufacturing plans while completing the latest implementations in 2019 of the Nitro motors. Guy currently is developing a comprehensive Fidelity support program to allow clients to add, change, or renew any parts of their existing cartridges because of the modular design.
A Thorough Test
The housing has several miniature screws that are adjustable with the provided key. This may sound quite complicated but the details and descriptions on the MusiKraft website are very extensive and helpful for understanding the myriad possibilities. In all honesty, I spoke to Guy about the style and way I like to listen to music. He made a few suggestions and provided an assembled cartridge that sounded great right from the box. The only further adjustments I made were to the screw tension levels. That was sufficient for me to customize it to achieve an excellent outcome.
Some records I used to demo the Audio MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge were by Gil Evans. Evans often said, "The sound is what you hear first, before the content." Gil was an amazing jazz innovator who did early arrangements for the Claude Thornhill Band. He worked with Miles Davis to orchestrate, arrange and conduct their famous trilogy of Columbia records, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches Of Spain. These recordings have some of the most complex, lavish, and incredible jazz band sounds and performances. Evan's later recordings feature a more modern take with electronic instruments when the composer and trumpeter Hannibal was in the Band. I have worked with Hannibal on several of his compositions and commissioned works with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The presentation of the Miles set was perfectly balanced and detailed to reveal the incredible orchestrations and sound of his music.
Enjoy the Music.com reviewer and musician Bob Grossman at the Philadelphia Orchestra Library with Hannibal.
Another favorite of mine is Gil's Impulse recording Out of the Cool. I have the Analogue Productions 45 rpm reissue. Listening to the incredible trombone solo by Jimmy Knepper in Where Flamingos Fly sounded like I was in the studio with the band. I was impressed that the cartridge could display the myriad details and subtleties of the music. I also listened to the outrageous guitar solo and driving bass on Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn. That music would always bring the house down whenever I heard Mancini perform. However, it is the tune Dreamsville a few tracks later on the record that I always love to hear.
The cartridge was able to do a luscious presentation of the horn section solos, followed by the full-bodied sax solo. Unraveling the complex chords and details of those horn tunings, balances and harmonies is a true test to hear, enjoy, and evaluate any cartridge and stereo. This was so dreamy that I felt a warm memory of hearing Mancini perform at the Philadelphia Orchestra summer concerts.
Audio MusiKraft's Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge had a gutsy and vibrant delivery of sounds in the John Williams "Star Wars Suite". I was part of the production for a Williams special commemorative concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra so I was remarkably familiar with the live sound of his music. I decided to listen to the London Records performance of "Star Wars Suite" by Zubin Mehta and the LA Philharmonic. The sound was close and immediate like at the concert. I could hear a cascading cacophony of instrumental sounds when I listened to the crazy and wacky Cantina Band movement. The tuba had an aggressive blatty beat, the Island Steel Drums were banging and clanging with an intense metallic resonance, and the bright winds sounded reedy and squawky like a Philly Mummers parade band marching down Broad Street.
A miniature Allen Key is used to slowly adjust the settings of the cartridge while it is mounted onto the tonearm by using incremental quarter turns in both directions of the screws. The four top plate screws hold the cover in place with the base squeezing the motor between them by tight friction. The three fine-tuning screws only serve as pressure points at strategic areas on the motor to link them to the shell by varying the tension. These three screws are not used for holding the motor but strictly for adjusting the sound.
I could hear subtle differences in the piano playing of Artur Rubinstein performing Chopin on a vintage RCA Shaded Dog record. The MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge was adaptable to get the piano sounding free and natural when adjusted properly so it had the correct heft and strike to the keys. Then I played Ella Fitzgerald singing with Duke Ellington at The Cote D'Azur. The sound was adjusted to have a clearer balance between the highs, lows, and even the staging effects. Ella had the right balance of chesty voice, projection, and diction without sibilance. The depth of her presence on stage was clear while the instruments were resonant and detailed within their sections which allowed the layers of a big band to appear.
Audio MusiKraft's Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge captured the fast, furious, and intense pace like when I am listening up close on stage with an orchestra. This is one of the most appealing characteristics of the cartridge. I found the presentation to have a feeling of being close to the musicians and performers on stage as if sitting in a tenth-row center seat compared to the more distant balcony presentation or further away perspective that other cartridges can deliver. Yet, the cartridge is not overly etched or hyper-detailed to achieve this effect. It can portray a deep and clear soundstage. It accomplishes the lively sound of music, a recognizable characteristic of the classic Denon103 cartridge that it is based upon.
However, the MusiKraft design allows it to go much further than a stock cartridge. The Denon has been a fabulous go-to audiophile cartridge since the introduction of it in 1962 but it does have some quirks and frequency balance issues that need to be dealt with. The MusiKraft is unique in enhancing the design in so many ways that any need and preferred sound can be resolved with their cartridge material options and adjustability.
The Importance of Quality Materials
The base metal receives an exceptionally light surface plating, typically a nickel alloy that makes for a bright and quick sound, yet silver plating is available that can be smoother with colorful overtones. The bassoons of the prewar era were made from well-aged and naturally seasoned maple. The old wood had a special resonance and performing character that does not occur with today's kiln-dried wood. Modern instrument manufacturers are aware of the influence of wood treatments and tree growing conditions when sourcing and choosing materials. I could share many stories from visiting instrument makers in England and Germany but do not have space during this review.
Enjoy the Music.com reviewer and musician Bob Grossman on stage at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia with John Williams and Maestro Stéphane Denève.
As a bassoonist, I can tell the different tuning and response from tiny adjustments to the keys and pads regulation which is the sort of engineering that went into the MusiKraft cartridge design. These important material choices and their resonance characteristic are true of all musical instruments and are a critical part of how they are made to sound. The MusiKraft housing material, plating, and manufacturing techniques are truly state of the art, something any musician and audiophile can appreciate.
Guy Pelletier has been evolving the design of the cartridge for many years resulting in several shell finishes along with twenty different wood inserts. The shells are available in Aluminum, Magnesium, Lithium, and Bronze. The small wood panel inserts have different resonance characteristics. The cartridges have easily adjustable screws to tune the pressure of the motor mounting and cartridge housing. The adjustments can make a dramatic difference just like fine-tuning a musical instrument.
The More You Listen, The More You Appreciate
I initially installed the cartridge on a VPI Aries turntable with a lighter 3D unipivot 10" arm and then went to the VPI HW40 turntable with a larger 12" gimbal Fat Boy arm. The cartridge sounded superb on both tables and arms. The heavier metal shell of the cartridge was especially effective on the larger 12" Fat Boy arm. The cartridge was evaluated with three different phono stages. It was able to hear the different sounds from the Manley Chinook, Rogue Ares, and Zesto Andros Tessera. The MusiKraft cartridge never disappointed or limited the resolution and performance of my stereo system.
My experience with the Audio MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge was filled with a lot of great listening times. Several guests visited, relaxed, and enjoyed the MusiKraft with high praise compared to my other cartridges. Guy has developed the cartridge to a level of performance that rises to compete with expensive models from other manufacturers.
If your budget allows the selection and purchase of a cartridge in this price range, I highly recommend giving the MusiKraft Lithium Nitro 2 cartridge your consideration. What could be more important than the initial signal source for everything else your stereo does? The MusiKraft quite possibly can be the perfect tunable piece of equipment to balance and bring your system to a new realm of listening enjoyment.