The Kubotek Haniwa HCTR01 MkII-6T Green Marker Phono Cartridge

The moving coil cartridge advantage comes in great part due to its far lower moving mass. A relatively light-weight coil moves and reacts faster than a far heavier magnet. The lighter the coil, the less the mass.

Over the past few years, thanks to improved magnets and coil and former materials as well as how they are implemented, designers have found ways to increase output efficiency. Thus fewer turns of wire are required to produce a given voltage output.

The choice then is to lower coil turns and mass while producing equal output, or maintain coil turns and mass and greatly increase output, or balance the two by lowering turns but not the maximum amount, while increasing output.

A decade ago ultra-low output cartridges of as little as .15mV were popular because they were incredibly fast, detailed and exciting -sounding. The disadvantage of such designs was that the miniscule output required specialized ultra-low noise phono preamps and/or high ratio step up transformers.

Today’s modern designs can produce higher outputs of around .5mV while being ultra low mass utilizing fewer coil turns. It’s a ‘win-win’ situation.

However, there’s another variable introduced into few coil turn designs and that’s internal impedance and inductance. The fewer the turns, the closer the circuit gets to being a “short” circuit. This can be used to great advantage or create difficulties depending upon the design of the associated phono preamplifier and the connecting cables used.

While some designers seek to create cartridges with moderately low internal impedances to make them more “user friendly,” Kubotek’s founder Dr. Tetsuo Kubo set out to design an ultra-low inductance and impedance cartridge. The advantage of ultra-low inductance is less phase shift, the reason for which isn’t necessary to discuss here. Less phase shift improved transient response.

The HCTR01 Green Marker version (also known as the mk II) of the cartridge has an internal impedance of .4 ohms. Most MC cartridge internal impedances range from 4 to 30 or more. The HCTRO1’s inductance is .3µH (micro-Henrys). Typical inductance is 11µH or higher.

Nonetheless, despite the few coil turns required to achieve these specifications, thanks to special core material and thick oxygen-free copper coil windings and powerful Neodymium magnets, the cartridge outputs a generous .35mV.

However, because of the low impedance and inductance standard phono preamps need not apply. Instead Kubotek manufactures theHEQA02 phono preamp that also pays particular attention to phase shift (rate at±1 degree 20Hz-20kHz) as well as accurate RIAA equalization.

Recommended tracking force is between .8g and 1.2g. When used with the HEQA02 the suggested tracking force is between .6g and 1g. Those are the actual VTF numbers not a typo!

Dr. Kubo’s friend Mr. Y. Matsudaira owner of My Sonic Labs who builds and markets that brand, which is imported and distributed in America by Basis Audio builds the Haniwa cartridge. Mr. Matsudaira also builds cartridges for Air-Tight and probably others. The cartridge features a boron cantilever and line contact stylus.

The cartridge alone, should you be daring enough to try it with another phono preamp, costs $8000. Bundled with the HEQA02, the total is $12,000. The HEQA02 alone costs $5000. In other words, you save $1000 buying the bundle, though it still costs a bundle!

The combination produced the promised sonic and tracking abilities. I was able to successfully track the cartridge at under a gram, which is unprecedented in my experience. However, I chose not to. Long ago I discovered that tracking too lightly does more damage to the grooves than tracking a bit too heavily. Too lightly and the stylus can bounce around the grooves. I ruined more than a few records with a V15 Type III or IV tracking at the minimum so here I ran the cartridge near the upper end of the recommended force just to be “Shure”.

But being accustomed to the velvety smooth yet ultra-quiet sound of the Ypsilon VPS-100 I found that the HEQA02’s sonic performance a limiting factor, plus it produced less than jet-black backgrounds. If you are interested in the cartridge, by all means try the HEQA02, especially if the importer will allow you to return it and get your money back.

Current to the Rescue!

A moving coil cartridge is an electromagnetic generator ie: a conductor (coil) moving through a magnetic field. This means the system will generate an electric current in a closed circuit. It will generate a voltage if the circuit is open. Connect the circuit to a resistive load and it will also generate a current but it will generate maximum current if the resistive load is 0. In a moving coil cartridge, the current flow is limited by the coil winding resistance. So the less resistance the more current that flows.

Most phono preamps are voltage amplifiers but a few, like the $3890 B.M.C. MCCI operate as current amplifiers. They don’t care what the cartridge’s voltage output is. If I’ve done a reasonably good job explaining this you see what’s coming next: the closer the cartridge is to a short, the more current it produces and the more current produced the more a current amplifier like the B.M.C. MCCI likes it, though the B.M.C. works well with virtually all MC cartridges—even high output ones with low coil inductance.

The B.M.C. uses the current to produce an amplified output voltage that is far closer to the original signal than that of a voltage amplifier for reasons again, not worth going into here.

So the B.M.C. MCCI proved to be an ideal mate to the Haniwa HCTR01 MkII. As I reported in the B.M.C. review: “With the high noise floor virtually eliminated, three-dimensionality intensified, dynamics increased, bass was fast, tight and well-extended, transients were lightning fast and ultra-precise, while high frequency extension seemed unlimited and subjectively linear. The cartridge’s promise seemed fully realized—tracking accurately at 1.4 grams.

“On “Marcel Dupré Organ Recital” (Mercury SR 90169) recorded in the St. Thomas’ Church in New York City all I can write is WOW! The MCCI/Haniwa combo produced an enormous three-dimensional space: tall, deep and wide within which was this diffuse sounding, air gushing monster capable of subterranean low fundamentals surprisingly cleanly rendered and distinctly heard and felt within the vast atmospheric expanse. I kept repeated “wow” as the fifteen minute side rolled on.

“The EMI Centennial Edition of “Hunky Dory” from 1997 sounded clean and detailed and perhaps slightly more bass heavy on bottom and brigher on top than I was used to, but I think a heavy EQ hand (top and bottom) was involved that the preamp/cartridge combo fully revealed, rather than created. The Ryko clear green vinyl edition that says “digitally mastered” on front and AAA on back, DMM mastered by Ken Perry at K-Disc sounded as hard and annoying on top as ever, while the late ‘70’s Japanese reissue, perhaps slightly softened by a tape copy, still sounded the most pleasing overall (I could never find a quiet “Dynaflex” American pressing so I’ve given up). No surprises”.

Ironically, I thought the Haniwa was more open and transparent than the MySonic Lab cartridges, which have a warm, burnished top end favored by those who prefer the “Koetsu sound”. I’m not here to tell you what to prefer, only that the Haniwa’s open but not bright, hard or “analytical” top end produced the kind of sound I like, not dissimilar to the Lyra Etna, the review of which has not yet been published in Stereophile.

The Haniwa manages “top shelf” detail retrieval and superbly rendered transient response that’s not at all etchy or too sharp.Its spatial and dynamic performance was also right where I like it. The stage was vividly three-dimensional, generously sized and precise.

So what separates a circa $4000 cartridge like the Transfiguration Phoenix used for the recently posted phono preamp comparison and an $8000 one like the Haniwa or the $6000 Transfiguration Proteus (which is not to say that just because a cartridge costs more it’s automatically sonically superior!)? Mostly yet more low level detail retrieval particularly of the textural variety—increased strumental suppleness as well as subtle macrodynamic shifts the further diminish the differences between live and reproduced sound.

The Haniwa does all of the things an expensive cartridge should do, with an overall coherence and freedom from obvious sonic artifacts that puts it in the top echelon in my opinion and it does all of that tracking well at around 1 gram!

If you’re considering the ultra low impedance/inductance version don’t expect satisfactory results unless you use very low resistance tonearm cable running into either the Haniwa HEQA02 phono preamp or one that amplifies current like the B.M.C.

Haniwa distribution is limited in America. If you are interested contact Robert Bean, Kubotek, USA: 508-229-2020, or sales: 508 982-4701. Sales at 508-982-4701 or Kubotek USA offices at 508-229-2020.

otaku2's picture

That's micro-Henry, not milli.

Michael Fremer's picture

Right. Sorry. Was thinking of Milli-Vanilli. Will fix.

mobileholmes's picture

I have the first or MK1 version, or whatever.  I listened to it with and without the Kubotech phono stage, and it does sound faster, stronger, smoother and flatter with the Kubotech stage.  Of course, I didn't buy the phono stage when I had the chance.  It still sounds very good with a tube LCR preamp and transformer stepup. 

I'm wondering if this new version sounds more like the AirTight Supreme?  Mr Fremer? 

Michael Fremer's picture

Since I heard the Supreme but I still think the Air-Tights have a "burnished" top end more similar to the MySonic Labs cartridges.

J.D.'s picture

Best copies I've found in early Bowieana aren't the Emi (nice try), nor the Dynaflex, and certainly not those green ones from Ryko, but various Euro pressings.  Uk are hit and miss, but for the core group (space oddity, man who sold the world, hunky dory, ziggy, aladdin sane) you may have the best luck with a german, italian or dutch pressing.  Having done some side-by-side comparisons before moving my collection,  I have to say that earlier, meticulous euro-analog pressings beat the run of reissue stuff we've seen in the states, and by a large mark. 

Audio Revelation's picture

Lets get right to the critical stuff: why isn't the cartridge actually green?