Analog Corner #283: Grado Epoch Mono, Miyajima Infinity Mono, MuTech RM-Kanda Hayabusa, Angstrom Audiolab Stella, Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl
Lately, there’s been too much gear worth covering and not enough space to cover it in. So this time . . . less think-piece filler and more hardware!
Grado Labs Lineage Epoch Mono cartridge
The Lineage Epoch Mono is based on Grado’s stereo Epoch, which I reviewed in my December 2017 column, and to which it looks identical. According to John Grado, who hand-builds each one, while the stereo version has one pair of coils per channel, the mono version has just a single pair of coils, configured to pick up a single channel; the resulting signal is then fed to both outputs. Grado says that great care is taken to ensure that the signals appearing on both pairs of output pins are “absolutely equal.
The per-channel specifications listed on Grado’s website (footnote 1) for the stereo Epoch differ somewhat from those included with the new mono cartridge. Both list the output as 1.0mV, with a recommended input load of 47k ohms—but while the insert included with the Epoch Mono lists its inductance as 8mH and its resistance as 90 ohms, the website specifies these as, respectively, 30mH and 91 ohms. The Epoch Mono weighs 12gm and is designed to track at 1.5–1.9gm. In my Kuzma 4Point tonearm it tracked flawlessly at 1.6gm.
Like the stereo version, each of the Epoch Mono’s two coils is wound of “properly sized and annealed 24-karat solid gold wire,” per Grado’s website. All internal magnetic circuit parts are “Swiss screw machined or molded metal,” with “tolerances on the order of the best Swiss-made watches.” The “specially designed diamond stylus” is mounted to a sapphire cantilever—a first for Grado.
Grado claims that its new Epoch models “feature a unique system that has the lowest effective moving mass of any cartridge.” The new generator system is housed within an unusually large body of superhard cocobolo wood.
Like the stereo Epoch, the mono version’s stylus tip sits well behind the body’s front edge, making it difficult to set overhang and zenith angle—but it’s doable, and well worth the effort.
Even with proper setup, the Epoch cartridges aren’t system-friendly unless your phono preamp can produce a great deal of quiet gain, and can do so when the cartridge in use is loaded at 47k ohms. Remember, most moving-magnet phono preamps with 47k ohm loading are designed with 4mV-output cartridges in mind. The Epochs’ 1mV output is one-fourth that of a typical MM cartridge.
If you need to use a step-up transformer (SUT) into a MM phono preamp (or if your phono preamp has a built-in SUT), you’ll be loading down the Epoch with, at best, 500 or so ohms, which is far from ideal. I experimented with the Ypsilon MC-10 SUT into Ypsilon’s VPS-100 phono preamp—this produced a 500-ohm load—and with the Epoch Mono it sounded surprisingly open.
During The Great Vinyl Dump of the late 1980s, when stereo LPs were plentiful and cheap, mono records were doubly so. Back then I picked up mono originals of John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic 1366), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue (Columbia CL 1355), Gil Evans’s Out of the Cool (Impulse! A-4), and others, each for just a few bucks, and not knowing that the mono master tapes no longer existed. But I didn’t play any of them until I woke up to the fact that these laterally cut recordings arguably sound better in mono than in stereo (“arguably” is the operative word!). So many early “stereo” records really were multichannel mono recordings intended to be folded down to mono.
Hearing the original mono makes that clear, and makes obvious that for many of us who came of age at the dawn of stereo, our fixation was more about hearing “different stuff” from each speaker rather than hearing a coherent soundstage stretching between the speakers—though that was more true of pop and jazz than of classical recording, where brilliant recordings in true stereo appeared from the very beginning of the two-channel era.
In any case, when played with any great mono cartridge, these mono editions produce a coherent, transparent, solidly three-dimensional sound picture that entices me as well as does any stereo soundstage. While throwing a Mono switch when listening with a stereo cartridge cancels out all the vertical noise and the rumble, mono records still sound best when played with a mono cartridge.
That said, the Grado Epoch beat every other mono cartridge I’ve ever heard in terms of effortlessness, transparency, and, especially, harmonic expressiveness. Yet it didn’t soften or romanticize the sound, and transients were appropriately sharp and well defined. Through my system, the Epoch’s attack, sustain, and decay were just plain ideal, and the images it produced were solid and three-dimensional.
While writing this, I played a 1D pressing of Miles Davis and Gil Evans’s Miles Ahead: Miles Davis+19 (Columbia CL 1041, sailboat cover). The brass just screamed, but without harshness or unnatural etch. The Epoch’s dynamic expressiveness was also unmatched in my experience of mono cartridges. The Rolling Stones’ Out of Our Heads (mono LP, Decca LK 4733) was appropriately bright and searing but not at all harsh—except when it’s supposed to be. The muscular bass in “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” engineered by the great Ron Malo at Chess Studios in Chicago, was all there.
I’m done. And if you’ve got the right phono preamp and $12,000, you’re done! But if you run it into your step-up transformer to get enough gain and aren’t impressed, don’t blame me.
Miyajima Laboratory Infinity Mono cartridge
Let’s say you don’t have $12,000 to drop on a mono cartridge, and/or your phono preamp can’t produce enough quiet gain at 47k ohms—by all means check out this monster from Miyajima Laboratory (footnote 2). The Infinity Mono ($3350) is big, but it should fit in most headshells, and it’s otherwise an electrically “normal” moving-coil cartridge. Its body is made of African Blackwood, and it weighs a hefty 14.8gm.
You can order the Infinity with either a 0.7 or 1.0 mil stylus attached to its aluminum cantilever. The 1.0 mil is more appropriate for mono LPs from the early days of microgroove records. The 0.7-mil stylus is better for tracking the grooves of modern monos from the start of the stereo era to the present, and especially for new monos cut using a stereo cutter head and stylus. My Infinity came with the “all-purpose” 0.7-mil stylus.
With an internal impedance of 6 ohms and an output of 0.4mV, the Infinity Mono is a more typical MC cartridge; it has a specified frequency response of 20Hz–24kHz, and is designed to track at between 3.0 and 4.0gm. This pure mono cartridge has no vertical compliance whatsoever. As in other Miyajima mono cartridges, the Infinity’s cantilever can rotate about its zenith axis up to 180° without harm, but don’t do it deliberately. If it happens accidentally, just use your thumb to rotate it gently back into position.
Also as with other Miyajima cartridges, using the Infinity Mono’s long brass screws and tiny nuts to mount it in a headshell can be a difficult, sometimes frustrating job, not helped by its mostly curvaceous shape, or by the fact that the stylus guard must be removed to access the bolt holes. You’re advised not to overtighten the nuts—doing so can split the hardwood body.
The Infinity tracked well at 3.5gm. I used it with Ypsilon’s MC-10 SUT and VPS-100 MM phono preamp. The Infinity is Miyajima’s most costly mono cartridge; it’s also the line’s fastest and most linear and neutral sounding. The richer, somewhat old-school sound of earlier Miyajimas has yielded to a more “modern” sound that’s no less enticing.
From bottom to top, the Infinity doesn’t quite have the Grado Epoch’s bottom-end weight or midband richness, or, especially, its deep soundstage. But its overall timbral presentation was fuller and rounder than the more typical lean, modern MC sound, and its transient speed and resolution of detail compared well with those of more costly MCs.
Footnote 1: Grado Labs, 4614 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220. Tel: (718) 435-5340. Web: www.gradolabs.com
Footnote 2: Miyajima Laboratory, Japan. US distributor: Robyatt Audio. Web: www.robyattaudio.com
Published at Tue, 04 May 2021 20:11:14 +0000
Article source: https://www.stereophile.com/content/analog-corner-283-grado-epoch-mono-miyajima-infinity-mono-mutech-rm-kanda-hayabusa-angstrom