They say that nothing lasts forever and, judging by the standards of hi-fi fashion, that certainly seems to be true. How long did it take for diamond tweeters, suddenly the must-have audio bauble, to lose their starry status? These days, unless it’s a diamond midrange driver, who even bats an eyelid? But there is one realm in which, if not exactly popular, diamond retains an enduring ascendency. When it comes to cantilever materials in that most exotic of products, high-zoot moving-coil cartridges, seemingly nothing tops a diamond. Despite a bewildering array of gemstone alternatives, rare materials, or rarer alloys, diamond cantilevers still command respect – and a serious price-tag. How-serious? Put it this way, it’s a step up from Kuzma’s £4,945 CAR-50 (with its sapphire cantilever) to the £10,995 CAR-60 with that tiny diamond rod sticking out from the underside: this rod more than doubles the price. That might seem steep for something you can barely see, but as is so often the case with audio products, the proof is in the listening. Does the CAR-60 offer double the performance of the 50? At this point you might expect me to trot out that weary old saw, the law of diminishing returns, so often deployed in defence of under-performing or just over-priced products, but I’ve never subscribed to that philosophy. To me, any product, irrespective of price, needs to justify – indeed can only justify – its existence or relevance in terms of performance. On that scale, the CAR-60 does not disappoint. This is a very, very special cartridge indeed.
However, in order to extract that performance, you need to follow a few simple rules, observe a few basic dos and don’ts and – as with all cartridges – those start with the physical characteristics of the unit itself. Fetching red colour aside, the CAR-60 shares its blocky body, high mass and low compliance with the other Kuzma cartridges. The numbers you need to worry about here are the 17g mass and 10cu compliance. They mandate a heavy (as opposed to medium mass) tonearm – at least if you are going to avoid the counterweight dangling, cirque du soleil-esque off the back of its extension. Now factor in the sheer energy and drive that characterises the Kuzma cartridges and it should be obvious that a secure, stable platform is pretty much essential to realise their performance potential. Of course, if you are using one of Franc Kuzma’s own massive (and massively stable) tonearms, you need have no qualms, but owners of wimpy nine-inch members need not apply. Unlike the CAR-20, 30 or 40, which make a brilliant sonic match for Linn decks (even if mechanically they’re really too heavy for the arms) the 60’s natural habitat is going to be arms of 11” or more – and arms that are mechanically solid and extremely well behaved, if you really want to get the best out of it. As physically and mechanically similar as it is to its junior brethren, it’s an order of magnitude more critical when it comes to matching and set-up. Get any of this wrong and you’ll quickly erode the fragile brilliance that allows this cartridge to breathe life into your recordings, leaving it sounding flat and ordinary. I used the CAR-60 in Kuzma’s 4POINT as well as the VPI JMW 3D Signature and Timestep 12” tonearms, all with considerable success. The one-piece, 3D printed construction of the VPI arm-wand and the high-mass and titanium tube used on the Timestep are far from coincidental contributors to that experience.
Other than the diamond cantilever, the CAR-60 employs a micro-ridge stylus profile and silver coil windings that deliver an internal impedance of 6 Ohms and an output that at 0.3mV is lower than currently fashionable but perfectly adequate to avoid any noise problems. Both the Connoisseur and the Tom Evans Groove Plus phonostages proved to be perfect partners, the latter loaded at 100 Ohms. Those who favour transformer step-ups should take some serious care to match turns ratio and input impedance to the CAR-60’s internal characteristics or once again, you’ll be seriously limiting its potential. Finally, once you are getting close to ideal VTF, I found the 60’s behaviour confusingly counter intuitive. Rather than bass weight increasing with tracking force, I found the opposite happening. I don’t know why and I don’t know if it is a general tendency, but if you are not expecting the possibility, it can leave you getting things very wrong indeed…
Which rather invites the question, how does the CAR‑60 sound when everything is just right? The quick, clichéd response is that it doesn’t – although that isn’t strictly true. However, with any cartridge at this price there’s a tendency to go looking for that ‘thing’... that ‘thing’ it does better than anything else and, once again, that would be a mistake. You see, what really sets this cartridge apart is just how uncannily unforced and natural it sounds. It has an ability to convince, to let the listener relax, forget the system, and simply accept (or marvel) at the performance. This is something I remember from the Kiseki Lapis Lazuli, another heavy cartridge with a diamond cantilever – and if you think that’s praise indeed, you have no idea just how right you are!