If you are into vinyl and haven’t been holed up in an Ecuadorian embassy for the last few years, the name ‘Hana’ will probably not have escaped your attention. A small, Japanese expert brand making high performance moving coil cartridges is always halfway to the stuff of legend, but the fact these cartridges do not cost a small fortune helps cement that reputation firmly. We missed out on the first round of goodies (the £389 EL and especially the £599 SL have already developed powerful reputations among the vinyl cognoscenti) but the new top duo – the £995 MH high-output and the £995 ML low‑output are something truly special.
We can cover both on the same pages because the two share so much in common. They both sit in a black Delrin body and brass base, feature high-purity copper wire and other metal parts that are cryogenically treated, have nude Microline stylus tips on aluminium cantilevers, and both use alnico magnets. They have identical tracking force and compliance demands and return the same frequency response, output balance, and channel separation. The differences – on paper at least – are that the high output design has a higher output and load impedance than the lower output model. And one has ‘ML’ on the side and the other has ‘MH’ on the side.
The reality is the ‘MH’ model is the one best used with more prosaic phono stages and ones with limited adjustment. On the other hand, if you have either a phono stage that can cope with that kind of low output, or includes a step-up transformer of suitable quality, the ML is the one to go for. If you read a review comparing SL and SH models, you’d pick up the same basic division, and the same conclusion. However, the further up the price points you go, the more the higher-output models become harder to justify; in a £389 cartridge, there’s a strong possibility it will be used with a phono stage that simply has a button to switch between ‘MM’ and ‘MC’, but a £599 and especially a £995 cartridge are more likely to be used with a more adjustable equaliser, and that skews things in favour of the more quicksilver performance of the lower output models. But let’s not damp the higher-output models with faint praise. The MH is awesome, but in the right setting, the ML is awesome-r!
In the manner of all Japanese cartridges, the name means something, and that something comes close to ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Beautiful’ in English. This is surprisingly fitting because the M-series is Masao Okada-san’s hitherto greatest expression of those two goals. They are ‘brilliant’ in detail resolution and ‘beautiful’ in tonal balance.