Koetsu Urushi Vermillion Cartridge Page 2

As is my wont, I turned to a vocals-centric release, despite being at risk of wearing out my latest 'reference' – James Taylor's Sweet Baby James from the 6LP set, The Warner Brothers Albums 1970-1976 [Rhino R1 587550]. As much as this is a bath in nostalgia, its usefulness is not that it predisposes me toward a good mood, or making me more receptive. Pour me a glass of Chianti and even Paul Weller would be tolerable. Rather, I've seen/heard Taylor live, and the sound is sublime.

From the title track to the end of the disc, the textures were aptly, perfectly conveyed, a real voice rather than one EQ'd, pressed into vinyl, tracked with a wiggling diamond and played back through an RIAA stage. The transparency and fine detail throughout the midband, despite my reservations about absolute tracking capability, were peerless, with that added frisson of 'Koetsu-ness': an ethereal warmth that's impossible to pin down, as that which makes, say, one brand of valve superior to another.

Certain Majesty
Focusing on one area, though, is pointless if the rest sucks. As the late, great Arnie Nudell of Infinity hammered into me, 'If the imaging is wrong, then the rest is wrong'. This cartridge paints like Turner. And I don't mean 'dark and moody'. The feelings of space, proportion and above all cohesion are not merely palpable, they're instantly audible and almost overwhelming. Taylor's delivery is intimate, and yet each track possessed a certain majesty, whether 'nearly unplugged' or augmented by horns. What sold me on this particular cartridge's brilliance, though, was the bass.


Of late, I have been spoiled by the bottom octaves of reel-to-reel tapes. Sorry, gang, but we're talking 'prodigious' versus 'anorexic' in nearly every instance. Those who will attend/have attended the demos at our UK Hi-Fi Show Live in Ascot will know I haven't been snorting anything other than statins. As with every one of the many Koetsus I've heard, the bass is both plush and free of artifice, with as much extension as the turntable will afford – and the aforementioned TechDAS TDC01 Ti ekes out every erg of bass of which any cartridge is capable.

It was The Band's Music From Big Pink [Capitol 06025674805325] on 45rpm LPs that revealed how nobody should buy this cartridge if they don't own wide-bandwidth loudspeakers capable of accessing all that the Vermillion extracts from the groove. 'Chest Fever', that mighty showcase for Garth Hudson's Lowrey organ, filled the listening room with the aural equivalent of John Carpenter's fog – rock-solid primary notes accompanied by an airy, hazy atmosphere that seemed almost to creep across the floor.

Reality Check
OK, this was certainly helped by the prodigious wooferage of the Wilson Sasha DAWs [HFN Mar '19], but they cannot deliver what isn't there. The Vermillion created an unyielding foundation for the main melody, while righteously conveying all of the ambiance needed to render it both vivid and substantial.


The only reality-checks were minuscule manifestations of vinyl's inherently cruel nature – that is, occasional opportunities to mis-track. That hissing sound you're hearing is the importer cursing me in five languages. But it's there. However, it's no worse than certain bulky Denons and Ortofons of yore, or spherical-tipped Deccas or other cartridges with strong personalities. The issue here isn't whether or not this makes it something one cannot live with, because the virtues of these cartridges outweigh a small weakness. You wouldn't reject the love of your life if he or she snored. Ditto for the Vermillion.

Admittedly, it took challenging LPs such as the hyper-energetic Ultimate Stereo Presentation [EMI Studio 2 Stereo STWO 3] and Bravo Brasso's cover of the Beatles' 'When I'm 64' with transients hot enough to defy belief. (I'd kill for this on open-reel...) The mis-tracking manifested itself as a teensy-weensy sizzle in the upper registers. But that's it. It went by in an instant. Frankly, it was no more off-putting than being served a glass of Solaia and finding a tiny bit of cork on your lip.

That's what Koetsu is all about. Think of the Vermillion as a bunch of numbers, and you're missing the point. Regard it as you would a fine wine, with character quirks to define its brilliance, and you're ready to savour the legacy of its founding father, Sugano.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
Koetsus – for decades regarded as the 'Patek Philippe' of moving-coil cartridges – are so entrenched in audiophile culture that you're either devoted to the brand, or you simply don't get what it's all about and the name elicits a yawn. As I am one of those who has sworn by Koetsus for over 30 years, you know my verdict: this remains the ne plus ultra family of handmade, Japanese MCs. This isn't hi-fi. It's art.

Tokyo, Japan
Supplied by: Absolute Sounds Ltd
0208 971 3909