Miyajima Laboratory WAZA i PREMIUM BE
Price: Waza – 8100 zł; Premium BE – 4850 zł
Polish distributor: T-PRO
tel.: 600 44 66 64 - sprzedaż
tel. kom.: 500 291 856 - tech & faq
WWW: Mijajima Laboratory
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski
Miyajima Laboratory is an exceptional company, founded and led by Noriyuki Miyajima – music and good sound lover, a man active in audio for years. First, as a hobbyist, he followed the development of technology and everything related to it, later he started sales of audio equipment to finally concentrate on the manufacture of phono cartridges and peripheries. This company was present only due individual purchases from aesthetes and music lovers (as the product is aimed at that client – more about that later). But lately a new distributor appeared, which decided to represent this company in Poland. T-Pro is the name of the company, which is in fact a manufacturer, a new brand on the market, although the man behind the company – Robert Rolof – is far from being a novice: he was the one to design the phono preamplifier RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, which I am using for three years now. So he knows the one and the other about turntables… Using his knowledge, I asked him to write a series of short articles about adjusting cartridges, etc, which – I hope – we will be publishing shortly. The information below is also prepared by him, helped by the miyajima.pl web page, which he also prepared.
Like we said, Mr. Miyajima is most of all a music lover. In the company materials he writes: “…Staring from just a fan of music as my hobby, I have been running a dealer of audio related products, and now I have become MANUFACTURER. As much I have been interested in audio history and technologies, as less I have been satisfied with the existing products. Moreover, I have felt uncomfortable that we have not endevored to succeed such favorable audio technologies obtained by tremendous efforts of our frontiers in this field…” So he decided to construct devices, that would fulfill his demands. His choice was the cartridge, as according to him, that is the most important element in the analog audio chain. Analyzing most constructions he came to the conclusion, that none of the cartridges available on the market allows for optimal contact between the diamond and the groove. He concentrated his research around that, and in 2002 he patented his own construction of a mono cartridge, and in 2005 a stereo cartridge. In both cases, the employed solutions increase tracking precision and the contact with the groove.
The main goal of a cartridge is to transform mechanical movement into electric current. This is done by induction, by placing a coil in a magnetic field. One of the elements influencing the quality of the signal generated that way, is the mechanical connection between the moving elements and the cartridge body. In most cartridges available on the market, the cantilever, where the diamond is mounted on one side and the coil on the other, is fixed to the cartridge with a wire, which fixes it and pushes against the magnet placed behind the coil (Fig. 1). Between the coil and the magnet, there is an absorber, made from elastic material (rubber, silicon). This is not the best solution, because as you can notice on the picture, the axis of the moving elements is not in the middle of the coil, but is shifted to the back. When active, the moving elements need to brake the resistance of the wire, what decreases sensitivity and increases inertia of the suspension. Moreover, the coil wound on an iron core has to overcome additional pulling force generated by the core in a strong magnetic field. The solution used by Miyajima the cantilever is mounted on a pin extending from the back magnet and is pressed against the front yoke (Fig. 2). Here the absorber is placed between the coil and the front yoke. The visible asset of this solution, is that the fixing point of the cantilever is exactly on the axis of the coil, what allows for a most effective way of transforming oscillation into electric current. This kind of suspension does not introduce additional resistance, and has a much lower inertia. The core of the coil is made from resin, which does not influence the magnetic flux and does not introduce additional distortion.SOUND
Discs used for testing:
I have no doubts, almost none, that the master for Mr. Miyajima were cartridges from Ortofon SPU series (test of the SPU Synergy A HERE), EMT or something similar. An indirect indicator for this is the high tracking force those cartridges require (suggested VDF for the Waza is 3g), but it was for me enough to listen to any disc, to exactly remember, what I heard with the mentioned Ortofon. The Waza sounds in an incredibly, really incredibly coherent way. The gravity point of the timbre is placed on the midrange, slightly lower, than the 1kHz range. This gives natural boost to the vocals. This is one of the reasons, the vocal of Mel Torme from the disc Mel Tormé Sings Schubert Alley sounded so incredibly natural. I bought this disc recently on ebay for 4USD, an it finally arrived yesterday. It is in mint condition, and furthermore it turned out to be a Japanese pressing – this is what you could call luck. I know this disc from CD, from a Japanese CD, but that, what the Waza achieved with it, was world mastery for me: it played everything in a warm, precise way. The voice of Torme was to the front, it had a warm timbre and large volume. But it did not cover the band, it did not dominate the sound. That would be an error, because on the disc he is accompanied by The Marty Paich Orchestra and it is an equal partner to the artist. Also sound wise.
As the listening session to the unplugged Nirvana concert from NY showed, the Japanese cartridge slightly “rounds” the upper treble and lower bass. Because I listened to the red disc of the Seattle band just after changing the cartridge from the reference, for me, PC-1 Supreme Air Tight, I heard this immediately. The Supreme is much more neutral, more linear cartridge. Although the threefold increase in price between the Air Tight (26000 zl) and Miyajima (8600 zl) allows for this easily, I need to mention that, to describe what I heard as precise as possible. The lower bass in the Waza is less controlled, and not so differentiated as in the PC-1 Supreme. But the midrange… Like I said, it is placed a little lower than in the reference cartridge. This results in a fuller (subjectively) and more saturated sound as a whole. This is actually a slight departure from neutrality and linearity, but one, that is treated with enthusiasm, as it levels the differences between the pressings and does not put the “dirt” from the midrange in front./p>
Until now, it could also have been the description of the Ortofon as well… There are more common points, because Miyajima played electronic music (like Oxygene and Zoolook from Jarre) and rock in a very convincing way. But I think, that the Waza differentiates the recordings better.
It is not an overwhelming difference, we can even assume that it is secondary, compared to the other assets of those cartridges, but in longer perspective, if we do not want to stay “here and now” (I do not say that this is bad, in contrary – more and more I would like to stay with the nice, warm, amber sound like the Leben CS-660P forever), but it will not be the answer for those, who believe, that we need to go forward, and improve the sound as much as possible at a given time point. And Waza is that step in the right direction. Its elliptical diamond does not allow for some things, there is no way it could achieve the resolution of cuts like Shibata, or other “super-line”, but yet we receive here more information, than from Synergy A, for example. Some process of homogenization, a small one, but existing, can be easily extracted from the sound, but it is much subtler than in the Ortofon.
I will not exaggerate, I think, when I say, that the Synergy A sound a bit “old school”, and the PC-1 Supreme modern. Both descriptions are positive for me, very positive, but they are cut from two different worlds. Both cartridges have a characteristic sound, eliminating dirt and sharpness, but the differences between them are significant. If we would draw a line between them, then the Waza would be closer to the Ortofon, but in fact, not next to it. The Miyajima cartridge is slightly warm, and has a stronger lower midrange, but, like I mentioned, it does not homogenize everything into one, ever pleasing, every time the same, sound.
With curiosity I listened to the disc In The Wee Small Hours Frank Sinatra, just issued on 180g vinyl by EMI Music, with two others (Come Dance With Me! and Come Fly With Me). All those discs were pressed from digital master tapes, which were prepared some time ago for the CD re-master. And all those three discs sound bad. This is one of the cases, where the medium, vinyl, had to give up due to errors made before pressing. And it is not about a digital tape being the master – because The Doors boxed set, pressed from digital sources (24/192), or Kraftwerk discs, or Sounds Of The Universe Depeche Mode, sound brilliant. It is just, that the three Sinatra discs sound is an emotionally flat, dynamically flat way, deprived from a part of the harmonies. You just need to listen to the re-master of Sinatra&Strings, prepared by Mobile Fidelity, to know what I am talking about! Waza showed this misery of the EMI pressings really well, not adding anything by force. But… Due to the stronger lower midrange, the sound was not so lifeless as with more linear cartridges. This was not such an simplification (as in fact this sound is a simplification), like with the Ortofon, but there was something to it..
I did not yet mention, that the Japanese cartridge is very dynamic. Maybe this cannot be heard at first, like with the Air Tight, or Dynavector cartridges (like the DRT XV-1s), because this is a more “viscid” sound, but when we listen to a good pressed, good recorded disc, like the mentioned Mel Torme, or the new double maxi-single (12”, 33 1/3 rpm) Depeche Mode Hole To Feed/Fragile Tension, then we will notice, that everything pulsates there, that the bassdrum kicks strong, bass is strong, etc. The attack of the sound is slightly softened, and this stronger midrange, I keep mentioning during the whole test, also becomes audible, but this does not prevent the sound to be presented in a good, strong way. And this is how the Waza is. It sounds in a warm way, but not stretched or veiled. Strong, warm vocals sound with slight emphasis, but are not nasal, or “too” warm. The upper treble is not too strong, and it is audible, as if it would be poured over with honey (I am sorry for the comparison, but I just opened honey beer). But the treble is not withdrawn, not at all – they are just warmer and a bit more round, than with more resolving cartridges. Most important is of course the midrange, but it connects ideally with the strong, full and nice bass. The dynamics is splendid, what makes the sound far from heavy or lazy. The cartridge handles lesser quality discs (with scratches, etc) well, not exposing the clicks. The sound stage is fantastic – well differentiated, wide and deep, with nice differentiation of the planes. A splendid cartridge with a defined character, not so clearly “vintage” as – the equally interesting – Ortofon SPU Synergy A cartridge.
Like I said, with the stereo Waza, the distributor supplied for testing the mono cartridge Premium BE. Because this is a true mono model, it cannot be used to play stereo discs (stereo cartridges can however be used for mono and stereo discs). Probably you have seen pictures of Japanese systems, where there is always a turntable (or two, or three), and each has at least two tonearms. And although the Japanese have many, sometimes strange, ideas, there is one thing, they are completely right: on the second tonearm a mono cartridge should be mounted. Although I knew such cartridges, although I know, why they should be used for such discs, only after a prolonged listening session to the Premium BE from Miyajima in my system, and comparing it to a slightly more expensive cartridge from the same manufacturer (Waza) opened a closed door in my mind. One learns all life long, and this is a perfect example of that.
Mono discs sound much more natural with that cartridge, than with any stereo one. I do not say “better”, in the sense, that everything is better with the Premium BE – no, smoothness of the Waza, resolution of the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme were unambiguously “better”, I had no doubt about that. But the sound created in mono was more “truthful”. And this is not in contradiction – in audio being “better” not always means “more true”, and this because that we approach some ideal, something, we can reproduce in our homes, and not a live event. And having that in mind, I will choose the Premium BE without hesitation, as the cartridge, that gives more satisfaction from listening to mono discs, as the cartridge, that “understands” that sound better, as the cartridge that – this is probably most important – better “understands” the artistic message pressed in vinyl.
This cartridge has a higher output level (0.9mV) than Waza, and it needs different load to be selected – I listened mostly with 600Ω impedance, but it happened also to be 20Ω. It is just that the higher the load, the closer the sound. Timbre also changes slightly, but this is not significant. And this coming closer is just hypnotizing, because the mono cartridge builds big, concise, coherent virtual sources. So the voices are within the reach of your hand, and that not only from the best recordings, but also with those, I already scrapped from my list. One of such discs is the mentioned earlier In a Wee Small Hours Frank Sinatra, issued by EMI. I’ll repeat: this material was digitally re-mastered and it can be heard – there is not a trace of this intimacy, the Mobile Fidelity re-editions have. But not with the Premium BE. How much information is there, how nice Sinatra sings! Still the upper midrange is not so smooth as elsewhere, what is here an element of the cartridge and this pressing, but – again – this has no influence at all at the fact, that the sound is just “true”. And the beautiful recordings of Bach cantatas – my God! A beautiful voice just in front of us, with a strong timbre and depth. Beautiful! Equally important as the timbre and volume, is the fact, that the mono cartridge builds a completely different picture in front of us. And I am not only talking about instruments or voices – that what happens on stage – but the whole event happening before our ears. With a stereo cartridge, except for the central sound, if it is good, having a good volume, and not small and crippled, we have also some kind of fluid between the loudspeakers. This artifact comes from clicks coming from the sides of the groove, so to say “stereo clicks”, and groove noise, which is generated not only by vertical movement, like in a mono cartridge, but in both planes. This is of course distortion, something added to music, what is taken as granted by music lovers, and what can even create a certain “atmosphere”, but what is – and this must be said loud and clear – a distortion, and one with a very high level. This can be heard really loud. And it is not there with a mono cartridge! The sound is incredibly clean and strong, between the loudspeakers there is nothing softening, only music, only voices, instruments and acoustics. Everything has only a depth dimension, of course, but the virtual sources are so big, that it seems to be a stereo recording, only when an element usually located to the side, sounds in the center, like a second voice in a duet, percussion, etc, reminds us, that this is a mono disc. This is why a cartridge of that type, and the Premium BE in particular, is fantastic! It is not optional, but basic, if only we want to listen to music from such discs, to hear it as the people in the studio did, to hear the original artistic concepts. There is no other way to that “reality”, even if it is a created reality.
Technical data (according to manufacturer)
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