Buying a high-end cartridge is not for the faint-hearted. Dealers, however good, are not always willing give up their time to conduct the extensive demonstrations required fully to understand what a cartridge is doing, as they are fiddly and take time. Loaning customers cartridges can be equally onerous in the case that something goes wrong, so the only way to get to terms with a cartridge’s personality is by a review, or taking the plunge and buying blind. If you get it wrong, it can be a costly, painful three or four year mistake!
Miyajima has been making cartridges in Fukuoka, Japan for the past thirty years, under the aegis of founder Noriyuki Miyajima. The company’s current range includes several specialist mono cartridges, as well as dedicated 78s cartridges, tailor-made for these older formats.
In a traditional moving coil cartridge, the cantilever is held in place by a wire under tension: As the stylus tracks the groove, this tension changes, and some ‘slack’ can appear which results in a loss of information. In the patented cross-ring system (CRS), the rear end of the cantilever touches a ‘slide bar’ making point-to-point contact, like the end of a shaft on a turntable bearing, and is thus much more accurate. The other major difference in this technology, is that the core of the CRS is non-magnetic, and a forward and backward motion of the cantilever is equally easy. The conventional MC has a magnetic core, and forwards and backwards motions are not equally easy. These two significant innovations should yield greater accuracy of converting tiny cantilever motions into voltage changes.
The Kansui is beautifully constructed from the Tanzanian hardwood known as ‘mpingo’, which may be found in clarinets and oboes, and requires the use of a Roland Camm-3 CNC milling machine to ensure the accuracy of cutting required. The cartridge uses a Shibata stylus, and tracks at between 2 and 2.5 grams.
Installing a high-end cartridge for someone as cack-handed as myself can rapidly reduce life-expectancy – both the cartridge’s and mine when I see the repair bill. Some manufacturers recognise this and make the surgical procedure as painless as possible by the inclusion of a stylus guard. The Kansui has a flexible plastic stylus guard that covers the bolts, but as it cannot be used when fitting the cartridge to the head-shell, installation has to be done unprotected!
The cartridge apparently was two degrees off-centre in terms of azimuth alignment, and using a Feickert spirit level, I inserted some paper shims to rotate the cartridge in the head shell. Azimuth adjustment is something that the all-singing and dancing SME V tonearm sadly lacks.
Having set up the cartridge on the arm mounted on an Inspire Monarch Direct-Drive turntable, playing through a VAC Signature Mk2a phono stage and preamp, with VAC Phi 200 Monoblocs driving B&W802d speakers, I set about doing some listening.