Auditioning cartridges is a lot like wine tasting and shopping for televisions. You never know how good a glass of wine from a $100 bottle tastes compared to a $10 bottle until you've experience it for yourself. And you never truly appreciate the delta between TVs until you've seen them side by side at an electronics store.
The funny thing is, once you bring home your new OLED the memory of next model up, the one you really wanted but couldn't justify, quickly fades and you're perfectly happy with the picture you have.
Without side by side A/B comparisons happening in real time it's very difficult to appreciate and remember the differences between two wines, two TVs, or for that matter two cartridges.
There are a lot of great cartridges to be had in the $500-$1200 range, Audio-Tecnica's AT-0C9 and Dynavector's 20X2 come to mind. Both fine cartridges in their own right, both cartridges I've had in my system and thoroughly enjoyed. These are solid general purpose carts that can provide years of enjoyable listening for veteran audiophiles or those just getting into the hobby.
Read the review of the Koetsu Black Goldline Moving Coil Cartridge by Michael Corsentino for Positive Feedback:
However once you've heard the improvement a reference level cartridge can make to your analog front end it can be downright painful going back to your perfectly fine "budget" cartridge. We all want to be that much closer to our music, and that in a nutshell is what great reference level carts provide.
The thing is, reference level cartridges can also be obscenely expensive, easily tipping the scales at 5, 10, and 15k, price prohibitive for many. As a consumable with an approximately two to three year lifespan, that kind of investment can be a bitter pill for even the most inveterate audiophiles to swallow. The good news is there are values to be found, even in the reference cartridge category. The Koetsu Black Goldline Moving Coil Cartridge is one such cartridge, long on performance and even longer on value.
I first heard the Koetsu Black via Oswaldo Martinez's South Florida based Let There Be Sound. Oswaldo is a friend, and those who know him know he is as passionate about vinyl as he is open reel. He sent me one of his famous demo tapes when I was venturing anew into the world of open reel. The recording was captured using his VPI Avenger turntable and Koetsu Black pairing. I was immediately smitten with the great sound he achieved. At the time I was also using an Avenger but with a Dynavector 20X2L installed.
It was pretty cool being able to hear the same table with a different cart through my system, even if it was through the lens of an open reel deck. I knew right then that the Koetsu Black was indeed something special and that at some point I needed to install one on my own table. I've included a few of Oz's YouTube demos of the Koetsu Black that exemplify it's top end, midrange, and bass chops at the end of the review. I suggest listening to these with a good pair of headphones. While it's not a home demo I'm betting these videos will give you enough of a taste of the Koetsu Black to get you excited about this awesome cartridge.
Now that I've had the opportunity to hear the Koetsu Black for myself in my own system I'm happy to report that it's even better in person. The thing that really grabs me when listening to this moving coil cartridge is its overarching realism, musicality, clarity, and wide open extended sound. The Koetsu Black is a dynamics powerhouse that suffers none of the vagaries of coloration, bloating, or exaggerated frequencies. Details and high frequency information are plentiful, but never biting or shrill. This is key as the increased details and clarity offered by some reference level cartridges can quickly veer off the rails into brightly aggressive territory. In fact one such cartridge, which shall remain nameless, and costing 3 times as much as the Koetsu Black, was so detailed and bright in my system that it nearly made my ears bleed. Not so with the Koetsu Black.
The Black's top end is crisp, clear, and detailed with plenty of resolution but never brittle or fatiguing. Midrange is beautifully fleshed out, vocals sound alive, exciting and present with an in the room realism. The Koetsu Black also leaves nothing on the table in the bass department. Its low end is tight, fast, controlled, accurate, and powerful. Transient attack, bam! Dynamic contrast, check! Whether it's jazz, classical, rock, pop, or anything in between the Koetsu Black has you covered six ways from Sunday.
Installing the cart using a Smartractor, Fozgometer, and Analog Productions test record was relatively easy although I do wish Koetsu had opted for a threaded body rather than the through holes provided. This, along with smaller nuts to secure the included screws to the head shell, would have made things considerably easier.
Setting the gain knob to high and loading to 100 on my Zesto Tessera phono stage provided the best results, your mileage may vary.
Far from the overly sweet Koetsu of the past, the Black Goldline is a modern day 21st century cartridge which strikes the perfect balance between musicality and neutrality. Prior to founder Yoshiaki Sugano's son Fumihiko taking the helm 15 years ago and revamping the Koetsu line, I've been told many found their house sound golden hued, syrupy, slow, polite, muted, and un-extended, although I have no personal experience with older models.
Suffice it to say, this is not your father's Koetsu! While the Black Goldline is the least expensive Koetsu, to call it entry level is a bit of a misnomer. Each Koetsu stands on its own merit, with unique and different characteristics due in large part to the materials used for their bodies, their resonance, and compliance.
The Koetsu Black sports the only aluminum body in their lineup, the rest being wood, lacquer, stone or a combination thereof. The Black's aluminum body, copper coil wiring, Samarium Cobalt Magnet, and Boron cantilever, highly regarded for its natural realism, give this cartridge a fast, detailed, extended, neutral, highly resolving, and most importantly musical presentation.
There are a lot of products that make sound, but few that make music, the Koetsu Black makes music.
The Koetsu Black is more neutral than anything else, and far from what I would describe as cold. If a warmer sound is more to your liking, Koetsu's wood clad Rosewood is a great option. Regardless of where you end up in their product line you can be sure you're getting the good stuff with Koetsu. That said, the Black Goldline is a reference level cartridge with a very appealing price vs performance sweet spot.”
Even with recent price increase from $2495 to $2995 the Koetsu Black is still a tremendous value giving you a raft of amenities typically found in first class reference level cartridges costing two and three times as much. Are there better reference cartridges? Sure, just be prepared to potentially shell out an additional 2 to 12 thousand dollars! However, if you're in the market for reference level cartridge that doesn't break the bank, provides a ton of bang for your buck, and brings your record collection to life, the Koetsu Black Goldline deserves a spot at the top of a very short list.
• Anodized Aluminum Body
• Copper Coil Wiring
• Samarium Cobalt Magnet
• Boron Cantilever
• 0.4 mV Output
• 10.8 g Net Weight
• Recommended Tracking Force 1.8-2.0g
• Recommended Load 80-1,000 ohms
Koetsu Black bass:
"Walk On The Wild Side" - Lou Reed [VPI Avenger Reference / Herron Audio VTPH-2A]
Koetsu Black high frequencies and detail:
Friday Night In San Francisco (Original Pressing) [VPI Avenger Reference/Koetsu Black/Herron VTPH-2]
Koetsu Black midrange:
Willie Nelson - "Stardust" CBS 1/2 Speed-Mastered (VPI Prime/ Koetsu Black Goldline)
READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE: