As soon as most vinylphiles see a trapezoidal nugget in wood, stone or metal with some delicate Japanese Kanji, our moving coil hearts skip a beat. I’m a Phasemation guy—Japanese made, but no Kanji. Just a beautiful hunk of Duralumin. How many of us have lusted after a Koetsu Jade Platinum or Blue Lace? Hand made gems of the very best audiophile jewelry. And the heart of a fine analog front end.
The Kiseki Purple Heart NS (New Style) is the modified version of the Japanese cartridge that made the turntable rounds thirty years ago. These new models are made by hand and in small numbers. They originally sold for $3499 but can now be purchased for $3199.
The 30 mm body is made from its namesake wood with a boron cantilever and a diamond stylus. It is a lightweight 7 grams (my Phasemation PP-2000 is 14 grams!) and puts out just under 0.5 mVs. For the review, the cart was hung under an Acoustic Signature TA-2000 Tonearm on a Pure Fidelity Harmony Turntable. The Purple Heart was well broken in and setup professionally. The musical commentary herein is derived from listening sessions with this combination. Phono stage duties—a Modwright Instruments PH 9.0 Tube Phono Stage, primarily, and backed up by my reference Sutherland Engineering DUO Monoblock Phono Preamplifier.
Seems there’s quite a bit of consternation on the web regarding the cartridge’s loading requirements. The manufacturer recommends 400Ω but others insist it’s much higher, up to 800Ω or more. My PP-2000 loves 200Ω but can handle 100Ω up or down without a problem. The PH 9.0 phono stage load changes on the fly. The highest setting is 470Ω—I used it for the duration of the review. It sounded like a perfect match (the Gain was 64 dB). No strain or distortion of any kind. As an alternate, I set the loading at 400Ω on my Sutherland and the match seemed harmonious.
Cantilever: Solid Boron Rod: 0.3 mm diameter
Stylus: 0.12 x 0.12 Nude line-contact diamond, mirror polished
Stylus tip radius: 4 x 120 μm
Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA): 20 degrees
Coil: pure iron coil
Output voltage: 0.48mV at 5cm/s
Internal impedance: 42 ohms
Frequency response: 20 – 30,000Hz ± 1dB
Channel balance: 0.2dB
Channel Separation: 35dB at 1kHz
Tracking ability at 315Hz at a tracking force of 2.6 grams: 80 μm
Dynamic Compliance: 16 μm/mN
Recommend tracking force: 2.0 – 2.6 grams
Optimum tracking force: 2.46 grams
Recommended tone arm mass: Medium
Optimum working temperature: 20 °C
Break-in period: 50 – 100 hours
The Purple Heart looks beautiful on the arm, and, if you follow forums, reviews, etc., has many admirers. It even has a few heavy hitter endorsements found in advertisements. So, it was more than surprising the cartridge did not impress me on initial hearing. It was a little anemic, lacking the thrust and drive I expect from a legacy cartridge design of such obvious pedigree. Also surprising was its inability to track some of my old albums with even the slightest groove damage. Time after time I had to lightly pressure, or lift, the stylus over the impediment. All cartridges reviewed in the past two years have passed these tracking tests easily.
Time for some deductive reasoning.
Let’s begin by eliminating the obvious.
Yes, the cartridge was set up correctly. Yes, the cartridge was broken in. Yes, I experimented with loading. Yes, VTF was within manufacturer suggested parameters (at 2.4 grams, within .06 grams of ‘optimum‘). I set the phonos’ gain at 64 dB, a perfect match for my Jeff Rowland Continuum S2 Integrated Amplifier. Even compliance was a good match for the Acoustic Signature TA-2000. I maintain a 72F average in my music room. And, unlike a cartridge in for review from a few years ago where the diamond had ‘disappeared’ from the cantilever during shipping, everything on the Kiseki was intact. Time to grin and bear it. Time, as it turns out was the operative word. As for ‘bear’ it? Hardly. It’s a classy product made carefully by hand with exotic materials.
Over the review period my ears and musical sensibility came to appreciate the story the Kiseki was telling. It is among the most transparent, uncoloured cartridges I’ve reviewed. Literally, sweetness and light. So much so, the midrange could seem unexciting and the bass uncertain. For sure, you’ll get all the octaves and most likely be transfixed by the diaphanous treble, but on many LPs the Sturm und Drang of the performance was insufficient. So, while listening to Karajan’s seminal Blueback of The Planets (VPO/London), the massive crescendo into the Mars reprise did not have the intensity that I expect as a listener and require as a conductor. Sure, it got louder. It’s right there in the score. But like an unsympathetic conductor in front of a top class orchestra, the players gave only the notes and markings. The private energy? The inner Thrasos? You’re out of luck, mate! That’s how the Purple Heart sounded to me.
On performances of a more intimate nature, especially chamber music and vocal recordings, the Kiseki could spin sounds of pure delight. A recent LP acquisition—Mary Coughlan’s 1987 debut album Tired and Emotional—was the perfect illustration of the Purple Heart’s quite beautiful timbral connection to the female voice. Couglan’s Irish lilt sounded rhythmically confident yet with a sweet disposition. Thus, all the subtleties of this remarkably assured debut album were demonstrated by the cartridge, both of the voice and Coughlan’s accompanists, featuring some of the most tactile acoustic guitars I’ve heard in some time.
In comparison with the $1295 Shelter 501 III MC Phono Cartridge and $1799 Phasemation PP-300 MC Phono Pickup Cartridge, the Kiseki’s transparency and timbral sophistication bettered both these go getters, and for many audiophiles that will be enough. Yet, both cheaper cartridges gave more of the emotion of recordings—a connection to the rhythm and flow through the performers’ energy, talent and soul. That may be more important to you. When compared to the $2245 Shelter 5000 MC Phono Cartridge, the Kiseki once again was the more transparent, though, not by much. But the gravitas and gorgeous instrumental timbre of that cartridge is a very winning combination. Later, I made an unfair comparison to my reference moving coil, the almost twice the cost Phasemation PP-2000 MC Phono Pickup Cartridge. The shoot out was a was a non starter and continued to prove why this $6000 cartridge is an absolute world beater. Interestingly, the Purple Heart’s reason for being did not change significantly under the scrutiny of two utterly different phono stages.
Kiseki (奇跡) is the Japanese word for ‘miracle’.
Referring back to the internet buzz, the encomiums come thick and fast. The Purple Heart and its sister ‘New Style’ cartridge (Blue) are built in Japan by Goro Fokadu from specs by PrimaLuna’s Herman van den Dungen, Kiseki’s true father of its rebirth. There’s a lot of history here. And a hell of a lot of interweb back slapping. Some, from publications I respect. So, with analogue lineage such as this, consider me respectful. But not a fan.
Further information: Kiseki