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HiFi+ - Issue No. 37 - Feb 2005


By: Jason Hector


My Sonic Lab

Eminent MC Cartridge


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 components together.
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.


It's crisp 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 high frequencies.


There's no 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.


On Fourtet's 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 more body.


There's no 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.



Type: Low-impedance, low-output moving coil cartridge
Output Voltage: 0.5mV/1 kHz
Internal impedance: 1.8 Ω

Core material: SH-μX
Stylus pressure: 2 - 2.2g
Cantilever: Super-duralumin dual structure
Stylus tip: Semi-line contact (3μm x 30μm)
Channel balance: within 0.5dB (1 kHz)
Weight: 9g

Price: •2750

UK Distributor: Heatherdale Audio
Tel. (44)(0)1903 872288


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