My Sonic Lab
couldn't be anything other than a Japanese company What a great name, a
name thought up by a Mr Y Matsudaira who has been specialising in
tonearms and cartridges all his life. You don't get many men like that
on this side of the globe. I can't think of a single company that makes
both transducers and tonearms. There are a few arm makers, Brinkmann
come to mind, who get someone else (EMT) to make them a cartridge which
bears their name, but that's not quite the same. Given the significant
interdependence of these two components there's a lot to be said for
both coming from the same source. That's not to say that cartridge
makers can't make transducers that work perfectly well in arms made by
others. This after all is the combination that most of us use. It's just
that there must be some advantage in designing and making both
Unfortunately My Sonic Lab has not been able to afford the tooling costs
of rebuilding the Audio Craft arm that Matsudeira-san originally
designed. So we're back to the normal situation of choosing an arm that
suits the cartridge's mass and compliance. Fortunately my SME Series V
does that with ease, and while there may be more auspicious tonearm
choices this one should not hamper the Eminent's chances.
Matsudaira set up My Sonic Lab in 2003 but has been in the business for
over forty years. He started out at Tokyo Sound in 1959 where he
manufactured cartridges and tonearms for broadcasting. Eight years later
he went to Supex and Co where he designed and engineered arms and both
MM and MC cartridges for various companies, work which culminated in
1979 when he joined an independent development team that produced
designs that are still in use by some of the better known Japanese
cartridge builders today.
In 1981 he joined Audio Craft as chief engineer and produced the AC-3
(no, not Dolby Digital!) cartridge alongside step up transformers and
phono-stages. Not a bad career all in all.
With My Sonic Lab his quest has been to build a moving coil cartridge
with very low internal impedance. Matsudaira San states that the
energy producing potential of most MCs is not realised because of
impedance limitations. His premise is that high source impedance "causes
considerable consumption of" the energy generated by the coils and that
this in turn leads to a weak sound. He has tackled this by designing
a high efficiency magnetic circuit which he claims does not saturate
the pole piece, a problem he has identified with most MCs.
Matsudaira uses an ultra high-μ
material which he has dubbed SH-μX
- not such a great name as My Sonic Lab but it looks damn technical.
This material is claimed to have "huge saturation flux density", so much
so that it allows a "remarkable reduction" in the amount of coil wire
required to give a decent output level.
The only potential disadvantage with this approach is that it
theoretically requires an equally low impedance transformer or
phono-stage in order to be fully beneficial. My Sonic Lab does not
specify the ideal input impedance but does make a step-up transformer,
this, however, was not supplied for the review.
The resulting Eminent MC has an internal impedance of 1.8 ohms
combined with a healthy 0.5mV output. Its construction includes a
neodymium SH-muX magnet, `dual structure' super duralumin cantilever and
a semi-line contact stylus. Downforce of between 2 and 2.2grams
is recommended, which suggests that compliance is low.
No recommendation for tonearm mass is made but the 9g mass of the
cartridge combined with the compliance would suggest a medium to
heavy arm is best. In action, aboard an SME Model 20A and feeding
Tom Evans' Groove phono-stage the Eminent turned in a performance that
would suggest its maker's claims about getting energy out of a cartridge
are well founded.
This is a
powerful MC with impressive low-level resolution and a sense of speed
that is quite rare. It suits more lively recordings extremely well.
Him's "Many In High Places Are Not Well" mixes percussion, drums and
bass with guitar to produce subtle, but engrossing music with a sense of
tension that this cartridge makes the most of.
and clear yet also muscular and hard hitting when you get someone
like Narada Michael Walden kicking the bejeezus out of his kit on Jeff
Beck's She's A Woman. Jeff's playing is rendered in a highly nimble
yet fluid fashion that seems to be as responsive to the subtleties as it
is to the weight in the bass.
Bringing the VTA down a bit to pretty well flat improved the bass
response even further and eliminated the hiss that was apparent with
some LPs. Spinning Massive Attack's Mezzanine under the Eminent's tip
proved a scary, dark and hypnotic experience, so much so that it
inspired me to write up the album as an audiophile classic for another
magazine. If you enjoy low frequency power there are few more
entrancing albums in contemporary music, it is a bit dark and foreboding
though, so not for the Elton John enthusiasts.
The more upbeat rhythms of Cornelius are delivered in richly textured
fashion, the guitar and bass portrayed with a chunkiness that makes
them seem all the more real. While the dynamic impact of the Eminent
is slightly behind my vdH Grasshopper II[ GLA, it clearly has smoother
shortage of power and weight though, an area where both these
cartridges excel. In fact the Eminent's bass is both taut and deep, the
usually over•blown double bass on the Cinematic Orchestra's Theme De Yo
Yo enjoys a degree of resolution that I've not previously heard. Which
might suggest that this is a lean cartridge but this is patently not the
case, as albums such as Mezzanine prove. This tautness also brings
with it a tunefulness in the bass which is extremely gratifying and
means that tunes make better rhythmic sense.
With acoustic material such as John Fahey's Rain Forests, Oceans and
Other Themes there is a vitality and expansiveness that is entirely
convincing and natural - his guitar strings have a fresh zing
combined with plenty of body and tonal colour while the reverb on the
percussion behind him sounds very realistic and adds genuine acoustic
space to this fine recording. This album gave the cartridge a chance
to show off its ability to expose the quieter sounds such as the rub of
fingers moving along strings from the accompanist.
so called electronic folk album Pause the cavernous reverb applied to a
typewriter used as a rhythm section is fully realised while on Steely
Dan's classic Night by Night the wah wah guitar provides a sublime pulse
that drives the track along. There's no getting around the slight
compression of the recording but it's nice to be able to differentiate
the two guitars so easily.
Going over to a vdH Colibri XGP (gold wire, plastic body) you actually
hear more weight but less shimmer which makes for a more relaxed sound
that's a little more fussy about vinyl condition and presents slightly
denying the strong sense of pace that the Eminent brings to the
party and the degree to which it responds to each recording. This is
a first class moving coil that deserves to be a front-runner for any one
with this sort of budget.
It will dramatically revitalize any decent record collection (probably
some rubbish ones too!) and bring back the vital spark that made you buy
each album in the first place. Maybe there is some•thing in low internal
impedance after all.