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In the Forum: Analog Playback
In the Thread: The mystery of Koetsu Onyx Cartridges.
Post Subject: The mystery of Koetsu Onyx Cartridges.Posted by Romy the Cat on: 6/19/2008

What they say:

Every audiophile music lover knows of the legendary sound of Koetsu phono cartridges from decades past. Those old enough to have experienced Sugano's Koetsus retain the memory of a musical experience unequaled. Few were privilegedd to own and enjoy a Koetsu. Many of the converted searched out second and third Koetsus, assuring a long, cherished relationship.

Now, in analog's Golden Renaissance and through the efforts of Sugano's sons, Koetsu phono cartridges are again available. Though limited in quantity due to their personal, handbuilt nature, the Sugano family offers a range of models including the Rosewoods, the Urushi, and the ultimate Koetsu, the Onyx Platinum.

To fully appreciate Koetsu, we must know Yosiaki Sugano, artist, musician, swordsman, calligrapher, business executive and creator of the world's most renowned phono cartridges. In his youth, choral singing introduced him to western music, He pursued sword making, dueling, calligraphy and painting, emulating his hero, the 17th century Japanese landmard figure, Honami Koetsu. In postwar Japan, Sugano rose to prominence in one of Japan's largest industrial companies, yet continued to pursue his passions, now including hi-fi.

In the 1970's, Sugano began to experiment with phono cartridges by substituting his own parts in commercially available models. His keen ear and deductive reasoning, combined with an artist's sensibilities, led to the creation of what would become a legend in audio. Sensing the moment, Sugano named his cartridge after his hero, Koetsu.

Sugano's quest led him to enlist universities, specialized industries and master craftspeople to create the special parts to go into his masterpieces. One of the first to use 4 nines copper (99.99% pure), curent production uses 6 nines copper (99.9999% pure). Platinum signature models feature silver cladding of the 6 nines copper, a process where a silver sheath is slowly drawn over the copper conductor.

Ultra-pure iron square plate formers were sourced for their most predictable magnetic characteristics and lowest oxidation. Pre-aged to the perfect consistency, rubber suspension parts are sourced under license with a rubber damper manufacturer. Special magnetic materials, including Alnico have been featured. Today, samarium-coblalt is used with platinum magnets reserved for the flagship models. Japanese craftsmen carve the rosewood bodies, lacquer coat the Urushi bodies, or cut stone for the onyx Platinum. Styli are specially designed and precision ground for Koetsu.

Today, Sugano's sons have revived his art and continue to create musical masterpieces under the watchful eye of the old master. For every music lover, your journey to musical nirvana is incomplete without a Koetsu phono cartridge in your system.


I do not know why Koetsu cartridges have such a glorious reputation as they have among audio people. I have to admit that I am not the Cartridges tracing type of person. Although I own a few cartridges I usually found what I like and chance needles no more. Over the last few years different people proposed me different “exclusive” or better cartridges but I always replayed that I have no interest. I usually ask questions those guys who were in my listening room and who were trying to propose to me their new cartridges. I ask them “What kind current cartridges-related problem they can point out in my currents Sound and what kind improvement of this problem a new cartridge will bring.” So far right there the sales did not go any further. It is important to note that I express this attitude not because my analog sound has no problem but because whatever problem it might have I feel is not cartridges-related. If somebody sanely sudsiest me opposite then I would gracefully try a new cartridges – unit then - I have no interest in any new needles.

So, in 2000, when I was much more gullible to what audio people say I bought what they considered the crème de la crème of the MC cartridges:  Koetsu Onyx Paninum. At that time it was around $6.5K needle, I paid around $3 to Japanese’s Koetsu dealer in Kyoto during my visit. I brought the Onyx home and for a next few years I was a trail of mystery – whatever I did I hated this cartridges. It is not that it is horrible-horrible but it is very far from the high-flying reputation that the strange audio people surround the Koetsu needles. My first reaction was that the Japanese’s dealer gave me some kind of faulty cartridge, I have seen it happened. So I send my Onyx back asking to expect it. In a few weeks I got a new cartridge directly from Koetsu with a very nice letter from Koetsu himself assuring me that my cartridge was perfect and the new cartridge that they sent to me was vigorously tested by his and it is perfect as well.

Well, had no way to found other excuses and I decided to get an “interesting” sound from the Onyx. However, I was not able. I have heard from other needles better dynamic, I have heard much richer tone, have seen better trackers, I have heard way more expended frequency extremes and I have heard mach more interning balance between transients and liquidity. I was trying Onyx in context of few arms, lodgings, mass allocations,  gains and phonostage but I never was able to get more out of it them juts a mediocre MM cartridge. There is certain train of thoughts that the some needles need to be use with specific tonearms topologies. In marginally agree but I do not completely buy that. A properly set up cartridge will be better of worse but it shell still to give the basic more or less none-evasive result of context of any good sounding arm and locked default setting. I was not able to get out of the Onyx – it always was too dull to me taste.

I consulted with the people who use Onyx and who pay the songs of glory to this needle. Then give me many advices but I look at the advices very skeptical - I have to say that I personally never heard their installations. In the end bought the FR-64 arm and the borrowed the Graham 1.5 arms, trying to make Onyx to work – not success – the sound was not different then with my MAX 282 arm or with any other arms I was trying. I never was able to play a whole side of a record with Onyx it juts sound to me incredibly none expressive.  I do not know, perhaps the people who love Koetsu Onyx Platinum found that subdued sonic expressive and some kind a new wave of lushness, I do not. I found Koetsu boring like hell. If you run Koetsu and get other result then place educate me, or better let me to hear it.

Well, conceded that I just do not like this the type of the sound Koetsu is trying to make. The Onyx was sitting in the box or in the inserts of my experimental arm for years without me being able to use it. A few years back I listed the Onyx for $3K in my “Shameless Commerce Division” - the section of my site where I am getting rid the things that I do not need. Since the dollar doing down to drain and the price for the new Onyx Platinum nowadays is around $9K I have quite a number of inquiries from different people to buy it. People ask about the hours on this needle and I replay that very little (In fact this cartridge hardly ever played music and played mostly my own test LP on which I confirm that a sound of a cartridge passes the initial acceptance test after setting up) and if to look in the microscope (it is what I always do) then it will be considered as absolutely new. What I also say to the people who ask me about it is that I do not like the sound of Onyx – I never was a good salesperson for audio falks.

I really do not need this cartridge and I would like to let it go but there is a very minor catch in this: who is right? Was I an ignorant fool who was not able to make Koetsu Onyx Platinum to sound as it might or the famous Koetsu Onyx Platinum is just the Naked King?

Rgs, Romy the Cat

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