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Three Koetsu cartridges: Urushi Vermillion, Azule Platinum and Tiger Eye Platinum Reviewed

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The Luckiest Reviewer plays with three Koetsu cartridges: Urushi Vermillion, Azule Platinum and Tiger Eye Platinum

Reviewer: Gary Lea

Every now and then you get a chance to do something really unique and highly enjoyable as a reviewer and the subject of this review is one of those times. I was recently offered a chance to audition two Koetsu stone body platinum cartridges. As an owner of two Koetsu cartridges, a Black (long since gone) and an Urushi Vermillion I could not resist the opportunity to be able to do listening sessions with all three cartridges and compare them side by side. Terrible what we have to endure for the arts but sometimes sacrifices need to be made.

If you are not in the know about Koetsu cartridges, well then, silly you! The brand and the man behind the legend continue to take on an air of mystery some seven years after the passing of founder Yoshiaki Sugano on January 20, 2002 just shy of his 95th birthday. He led a very long and very productive life and left behind an indelible mark on the world of HIFI. A descendant of the notable Japanese artist Honami Koetsu, Sugano was schooled in a great many Japanese arts not the least of which was the tradition of sword making. An oil painter, a formidable boxer in his youth and supposedly undefeated, he turned to the industry of automobile manufacturing in his adulthood and worked for Toyota. Through his years at Toyota he rose to the executive ranks and retired when he reached the age of 60. Clearly not ready for a simple and sedentary retirement life, his most prolific contributions came in his final 35 years.

Long before retirement from the auto industry he had a love for music, a fascination with music reproduction and a special interest in phono cartridges. He started to study and repair broken cartridges as a hobby, and as he retired from the auto industry he decided to form his own company. Thus was born Koetsu moving coil cartridges. The name is clearly homage to his ancestor.

I never had the pleasure or honor of meeting him and I came to learn about his works of art later in my HIFI journey; but once I discovered him and the Koetsu brand I have never looked upon HIFI quite the same. I have long been interested in Japanese culture and art. I have even spent time learning some of the more rudimentary aspects of the language. There is something that speaks to me in the various art forms from Japan. Koetsu cartridges combine fanatical design with material quality and control in the artistic flair of Japanese woodwork, and Urushi lacquer finishes and exotic stone bodies. He was a master craftsman and he created not only phono cartridges with extraordinary sound quality but also very small, visual works of art. To many, Sugano-san raised the art form of the phono cartridge to a degree never seen before.

From what I have been able to study about him, he was also a fastidious teacher and mentor. Always open and willing to share his knowledge and his ideas with others and always encouraging others to test their mettle at the craft. Today, the Koetsu brand is carried on by his son Fumihiko Sugano who was specifically groomed and trained by his father to carry on the legacy. Fortunately for all of us in the world of HIF there continues to be an ongoing supply of Koetsu phono cartridges for the world to enjoy. Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith had also apprenticed with Sugano closely, so he and his work may also be some of the closest things we have to reliving the art and spirit of the Yoshiaki today.

The Koetsu Line

Koetsu cartridges are not known to be absent in their own sonic signature. Quite the opposite actually. In general, they are not the most analytical or tonally accurate cartridges on the market. That distinction might go to Air Tight or perhaps Lyra. What they do possess is a magic that is undeniable. I liken it to the phenomenon of tubes. Measurements say that they should sound awful but your ears tell you a different truth.

The Koetsu line consists of 18 different cartridges divided into four sub categories. The aluminum body Black Goldline at $1800, the Rosewood series starting at $2600 and up to $5900, the Urushi line starting at $4300 to $4900, the Stone Body Platinum series starting at $8000 and rising to a staggering $24,000 for the limited edition Blue Lace Onyx with Diamond cantilever. In this review, we will examine cartridges at the $4700, $10,000 and $13,000 price points. So here is an insight into three distinctly different Koetsu cartridges from an extended usage and familiarity.

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Specs: (www.kuetsuusa.com)

MC Low output cartridge: .2mV.Urushi, .3mV Stone Bodies
Frequency response: 20-100,000Hz
Impedence: 30 Ω
Compliance: 5×10/6-cm/dyne @ 100 Hz
Channel Separation: over 25dB
Weight: 9g. Urushi, 13g. Azule and 12.5 Tiger Eye
Suggested Tracking Weight: 1.5g
Cantilever: 2 Boron (Diamond cantilever available option – $4000.00)
Body: Urushi Lacquered Rosewood, Azule – Dumortierite stone, Tiger Eye stone

MSRP: Koetsu Urushi Vermillion – $4,700.00, Koetsu Azule Platinum – $10,000.00, Koetsu Tiger Eye Platinum – $13,000.00

About Dagogo.com
DAGOGO (pronounced “dah-go-go”) is a U.S. high-end audio review monthly e-magazine established since November 2003. Its mission is to present both a macroscopic and microscopic view of the high-end audio hobby to its readers. Its contents include critical commentaries, industry personality interviews, specialty show coverages and music reviews. New articles are published on the 1st and 16th of every month. www.dagogo.com

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