In our sector there are brands or names that still recall precious and rare objects, sometimes even esoteric or arcane. Mysterious and magic masters -most of the times from Japan- that hidden in their secret, dark and dusty laboratories, work restlessly to wind transformers, examine with a microscope copper and silver to see if it's pure and at the same time, solder very expensive electronic equipments made with noble metal to get best performances. Their names are well known to all those that are long time hi-fi followers. Sakuma, Kondo, Imai, Shibazaki, Shindo and Ikeda, of course, are in audiophiles’ mind. Isamu Ikeda is part of the legend since 1964 when he founded the brand Fidelity Research that designed and built tonearms, cartridges and step-ups. The importance of FR64 And IT407 tonearms is universally renown, it's a 12" tonearm that is considered one of the best ever. The cartridges, FR1 and FR7 have reaffirmed the success of this enterprise that has been also listed in stock exchange. In 1985 this enterprise closed down for reason that have not been divulged. After a while the Ikeda Sound Labs were established and in 2011 production line and marketing has been moved to IT Industry Company Ltd. We are lucky enough to have in our hands the last of their phonographic cartridge: the 9TT. This cartridge exists also the monophonic version, to please all kind of vinyl records lovers. A characteristic feature of these series 9 cartridges has been the fact that they didn't use the cantilever because Ikeda reckons that it is the cause of some noise and causes the loss of the dynamics of the recording. If I don't go wrong only Decca has a similar product. On the other hand the absence of the cantilever causes a wrong reading of ondulate vinyl and no superiority is demonstrated. Surprise surprise, 9TT has a cantilever so we're back to tradition once again. We hardly read about the look of these cartridges but I want to stress the fact that this 9TT is really harmonious and it looks nice on the tonearm. To be exact on 2 tonearms. As you will read shortly this review has been made using ... 4 ears. The review of this Ikeda is a special event so I asked a friend and valuable reviewer to write about his listening impressions. Domenico Pizzamiglio has a very vast experience in the analog field and so he's the right persono to do it. I haven't read his impressions yet because I don't want to be influenced by his ideas.
Here are some technical facts that are important when choosing a phonographic cartridge:
Type: MC cartridge
Output Voltage: 0.16mVrms (35.4mm/sec., at 45°peak)
Coil Impedance: 2.0 ohms (1kHz)
Appropriate Stylus Force: 1.8 grams ±0.2 grams
Frequency Response: 10Hz ～ 45kHz
Channel Separation: over 27dB (1kHz)
Channel Balance: within 1.0dB (1kHz)
Stylus Chip: Solid Diamond, Line Contact
Cantilever: Double layered duralmin pipe.
Weight: 10 grams
Now we have to face the dilemma: step-up or not step-up? I personally stay with those that say “no step-up”. With one exception when the levels of the cartridge output are so low that there's no way to amplify them actively. The only exception I see is for those that use a tube phono-preamplifier that generally have to limit its gain because of the noise it generates. The solid state designs, today, can gain up to 70 dB and can amplify cartridges that pass the 0,1 mV. I might be strange but in this world where less is better the idea of putting 2 extra connections and hundred odd meters of copper coil has no appeal for me. Every transformer, no matter how it is built, modifies the frequency response at the top and, sometimes, at the bottom too. All in all there are not many good step-ups and the connecting cables that can reproduce the original sound are really expensive. This is why I reckon that these transformers must be avoided if not really necessary. I want to deal also with the matter of the impedance of the load that the cartridge needs to play at its best. I often read about rules, sub-rules, formulas, square laws and fractions ... but all these calculations are oftentimes denied by the hearing. Allen Wright, lamented founder of the Vacuum State Company, suggested to try and load all the MC at 47KOhms "not to damp the life out of them". According to him there were exceptions represented by some Ikeda and Dynavector Ruby. These two had a better sound at 100 Ohms. This is an interesting theory that I subscribe only in part. I think that it depends also on the components used in the system. My personal experience is that my Lyra Helikon, when amplified with a phono preamplifier Audio Research PH3 is at ease with 47 KOhms, while with Einstein's "The Turntable's choice" I use 85 Ohms. This is just one of many examples. For this Ikeda I have found correct the same value I use for the Lyra and in effect it has an impedance similar in its absolute value (5.5 Ohm for the latter).
The system used for this review was the following:
turntable Basis 2001, tonearm Graham 2.2, phono cable: LAT International XLR, phono preamplifier: Einstein "The Turntable's Choice" balanced, cable between pre and phono preamp: Transparent Super XLR, CD/SACD player dCS Puccini + Puccini U-Clock, cable between CD player and preamplifier: MIT Oracle MA Proline, preamplifier: MBL 4006, cable between pre and power amps: MIT Oracle MA-X Proline, power amplifiers: Bryston 7B ST mono, loudspeakers: JBL 4350B, AC1, Black Pearl and others self-made, mains filter: Black Noise 2500.
Now it's time for the listening impressions after the 50 hours of burn in that are recommended by the Italian distributor. Just a remark, after the first 30 hours we have not noticed any relevant change. For the first listenings I have used records that have no relevant technical feature. I usually take the most of this opportunity to listen to old and neglected records. I want to tell you about "Mondi Lontanissimi" by Franco Battiato (EMI). The hits of the drumstick let you hear the sound of the drumhead in a very unexpected an pleasant way. The Hi-Hat in "No Time, No Space" sounds very clear. When the timbre of the 9TT gets more stable we can listen to pieces that have a higher technical quality. Tchaikovsk’s Romeo and Juliet (Telarc) is the first one. The cartridge passes very well the romantic sensation during the opening of the strings. The kettledrums enter in a pompous way but lack a little in dynamics. The soundstage that comes from the big JBLs speakers that transform the electric impulse generated by the Ikeda, is large and free from constraint. You may have noticed that I'm not a fan of the depth of the image and I can tell you why straight away: because it doesn’t exist in the real world. That's it. You probably attend often to acoustic music concerts. If you want to listen to music far down, the way many audiophiles like it, you will have to sit in the places that are far away from the orchestra. This is not what the sound engineers record because they want to make you hear the sound just like the director hears it, and sometimes you can even hear the breath of the musicians playing. In this case if depth is excessive it is unreal. Well, let's go ahead with the description of the superb sound of this Ikeda 9TT. The extreme of the high range seem a little bit laid back but have the desired effect of producing a very sensual sound. There's no need to say that the Japanese are unbeatable in this. "Tabula Rasa" by Arvo Part ( ECM) presents a moving sound of the strings in a dreamlike atmosphere. Jarrett's piano is also outstanding in the harmony of a global reproduction with high quality and emotional engagement. The hits on the drum in the final part of "Fratres" are really impressive for their harmonic richness and plainness. Simon and Garfunkel's voices in "The Concert in Central Park" (Geffen Records) are fascinating in their simplicity, sweetness and high definition. Guitars in "April Come She Will" are reproduced with richness of details that are in contrast with the sharpness and the speed of the bass and the bass drum in "Wake Up Little Susy". Could it be that this Ikeda is nuts about Jazz? Of course this is a rhetorical question. Now that we have guessed its soul and attitude we take advantage of it and listen to "Heard Around The World" by Miles Davis (CAS). It's a double vinyl recorded in 1976. This is a quintet with Sam Rivers/ Wayne Shorter at the sax, Herbie Hancock at the piano, Ron Carter at the bass and Tony Williams at the drums. Ikeda shows its capacity of interpreting what's hidden in the grooves with strong delicacy. The recording is very natural and this is the way it is reproduced. This cartridge is highlighted by jazz and small orchestral groups. The difference between the two vinyl records, recorded between Tokyo and Berlin is clear and 9TT can reproduce the events’ atmosphere very well. The trumpets and double bass pianissimo come out of the record very clearly, on top of the hiss of the analog master. A quick passage with "Made in Japan" by the Deep Purple clears out the fact that for this kind of music there are more qualified alternatives. I have almost forgotten to tell you that this cartridge has an incredible ability of tracking the records without distorting the sound until the very last groove. The needle's cut is evidently very well done.
Well, what can I say in conclusion? This is the typical Japanese jewel with the characteristics that define all the music machines that come from that part of the world.
9TT is a cartridge that states straight away: “This is my sound, take it or leave it!” The situation of hi-fi around the world makes me guess that many people would say:” I take it!” If I had the financial means to buy all the things I like I'd be in this group for the pleasure of the many vinyl records that are lying on the shelves in my room. Ikeda has a strong attitude and this is the reason why it is extremely interesting and not expected.
Domenico Pizzamiglio's listening
IKeda 9TT has been listened also in my system that is very similar to the system of Angelo (belt turntable, pivot tonearm - his is unipivot, mine is dual - solid state phono preamplifier) but with different components.
I chose, for the Morch tonearm on a Bauer DPS, the blue armtube. This is the heaviest among all those produced by J.J. Morch. A tonearm around 20 gr seems to be the most apt: with my tonearm whose mass is 20gr the resonance frequency is close to 11Hz lateral and 9 Hz vertical. Adding a 3 gr plate, the lateral resonance frequency went down to 10 Hz while the vertical remained the same. The declared compliance value seems to be real. I used a Lehmann Black Cube phono preamplifier that is also MM and gave me the opportunity to use the Ikeda with a Ortofon T20 step-up, that fits the internal impedance of Ikeda. I used also the American Hybrid Technology pre that is made for cartridges with a mobile coil and has the great advantage of having a very high signal to noise (90 dB) ratio. In this way the feeble signal coming from the cartridge has no problems with the noise. The signal is not so feeble after all, in fact the 0,16 mV declared are very prudential. I heard no differences with the Transfiguration Aria that has an output of 0,3 mV, that is to say the double. Step-up or active phono preamplifier? If it is quiet I have no doubt and I prefer the active preamplifier. Some like the step-up but I think that it lacks of those details that are present and clear with the active pre. I have read that the transformer is better because with the phono pre the MC cartridges play too sharp: I don't think this is true. I believe that we have to trust the imperfect human ear and we don't have to try loads that are excessive. The sound might seem sharp but in this case it's a mistake of the user and not of the system. I think that adding cables on cables is not so useful and may disturb the final result. There are situations though when it is necessary to use a transformer for reasons linked to the cartridge chosen or in vintage systems that have valve pre amplifiers that are not as silent as the modern ones. In my specific case, may be because I could adjust the gain of the pre amp with my two Burmester phono stage, I had no problems with Audio Tekné and also with the Denon DL S1. The latter when preamplified with its own transformer does not convince me while I find it more free with the America Hybrid Technology. It is true that modern active phono stages are very silent, or at least those that I have recently tested like Whest Audio, Tom Evans, Boulder or Burmester are really quiet. Let's go back now to the object observed. Ikeda declares only the internal impedance that is 2 Ohm. Ikeda is Japanese and in Japan step-ups are loved. For those that will use a transformer they will have to choose an apt one and those that want an active phono stage may use one that is around 100 Ohm of load. I have tried different loads. With 50 Ohms the cartridge was correct but somehow forced, with 500 Ohms the sound was excessive from mid-low range to mid-high range with very little influence on the low and deep range and on the treble that appeared almost dynamically compressed (but this was just because the other two were too acute).
Well, how does this Ikeda sound? It's different from the previous Ikeda that had no cantilever. I remember that when I tried one I noticed its speed and the fact that it was not too soft. The sound was "monitor like", a bit pushed forward and very charming. With this Ikeda, cantilever left aside, things seem to be different, less charged-up and more relaxed, calm. After the suggested hours of burn in the first octave is still not complete; the sound of the bass drum is smaller than usual There is the hit but it's positioned on a higher frequency. The highest part of the audio spectrum seems to be laid back. This Ikeda reminded me of Koetsu with their full but soft sonority. 9TT is a chamber music cartridge. Listening to strings quartets with it it's very pleasant because the timbre connotations are well defined but less contrasted than usual. It is possible to recognize all the instruments and it's ok if the cello is less pot-bellied and the violins are softer; with selected recordings
it is pleasant (the trio for violin, cello and piano by Haydn in the execution of Beaux Arts Trios on Philips for example) because Ikeda soft sound regulates the harshness of the recording. With other recordings the pathos is a bit lessened as in the concert for Violin and Orchestra by Beethoven directed by Karajan. Also the piano is enhanced by this cartridge, often the first octave is not recorded at the right level (in Petrouchka by Stravinsky for an instance, Pollini DGG) and its tendency to be soft in the high range makes long listenings possible. Ikeda did not convince me when dealing with more complex and dynamic signals. The Firebird By Stravinsky on Telarc has a medium-low range a bit advanced together with the medium range. Instruments are defined but here and there the cello sound ruins a bit the final result and is lacking of force in the highest part of the frequencies. In the Concert n. 4 for Piano and Orchestra by Beehtoven (Kempff, DGG) the sound seems to come from a room rich in absorbing materials, far from the bright rooms that we usually find abroad (Munich Philarmoniker or Berlin or again the Musikverein); well the impression is that of being in a opera theatre in the 18th Century. When listening to modern music, Making Movies by Dire Straits for example, you cannot feel the impact of the electric bass and also other sounds result less violent here. For those who love the Lieder this cartridge seems to be perfect. With this genre Ikeda's characteristics are very fitting. I don't want to deal with the soundstage, it's different in every recording. The weakened frequency answer makes the loudspeakers less present and gives to music a more defined depth. Tracking is very reliable, comparable to that of Goldenote Tuscany, Air Tight Supreme, ZYX Omega Gold Diamond, Lyra Olympos, and there's never the sensation of mistracking. I can say that this Ikeda 9TT is a focused cartridge, focused because it reproduces in a very charming way some music genres and because it has its own attitude; if you like it, you buy it.
The cost is around 3.400 euros. It's not cheap but Ikeda is one of those brands that produce dreamlike objects. In this case the price is not excessive if compared with other japanese élite production.
Translation: Francesca Rubino
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Audio-activity è un marchio della MGP Srl - PI 01839210158
All contents and graphics on this site are copyright and can not be used without permission.
Audio-activity è un marchio della MGP Srl - PI 01839210158