For those of you out there on the Internet reading this who grew up in the ’70s, you might remember a suspense thriller called The China Syndrome. It details how a series of events lead to a climactic conclusion at a nuclear power plant in the United States. The film is driven by the strength of convictions in each character, with suspense, and a healthy dose of fear created as events inexorably draw the viewer to a heart-pounding finish. The Hana SL had a similar effect on me while I had it in my system: I had no idea anything out of the ordinary would occur at the start of the review, but by the end I was a bit breathless.
The $750 USD Hana SL cartridge is relatively new to North American shores, and Edward Ku at Element Acoustics had some on hand, and asked would I be interested? I said “Yes!” He popped by soon after to mount the five-gram, black, plastic-bodied SL to my Linn Sondek. This was a bit trickier than usual because of the Hana’s light weight, but Ku persevered, and after some initial consternation, and a final azimuth tweak, it was good to go.
When the Hana SL was dropped off, I also had the acutely musical Avid Acutus SP turntable with an AMG Lorenzi tonearm, and Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum LOMC cartridge (review of this combo coming soon) in the mix courtesy of Mobile Fidelity. The phono stage at the time of this review was the incredibly versatile, and transparent Dynamic Sounds Associates (DSA) Phono II ($10,500 USD, review coming soon). Because it can handle three turntables or tonearms at a time on-the-fly, the Phono II seemed like the perfect way to see how the fudai Hana got along with the likes of a shinpan Koetsu ($11,000 USD).
But let’s back this up a bit. I’m sure you’re curious (as I was), as to where this cartridge comes from. Info is a little thin on the ground, but from what I gathered the Hana is built in Tokyo, Japan by the Excel Sound Corporation, a manufacturer which has been around for some 50-odd years producing OEM cartridges for a number of other companies.
The story goes that senior company management wanted to stop having their expertise hidden behind the curtains, and go for the spotlight. Thus, four cartridges were born last year: The EH, an elliptical stylus equipped high-output (2 mV) moving coil design, the EL which is identical to the EH except it is a low-output model (0.5 mV), the Shibata-tipped SH (2 mV), and finally the subject of this review, the SL (0.5 mV), a nude, natural diamond Shibata-profile stylus LOMC.
Suggested loading for the SL is greater than 400 Ohms, but after a few days of playing with everything from 100 to 1,000 Ohms, I settled on 175 Ohms, and 60 dB of gain, with a tracking force of 1.95 grams. YMMV, as this is obviously, system, and ear dependent.
“Still your pride looks small at midnight And I’m tired of being alone So I thought about Marie And reached for the phone…”
This is a rich emotional cake of music writ large over a sad, vodka-soaked heart. Every attacking note from the violins, and cellos throughout the LP alternately soothes, and makes your stomach muscles tighten. What I’m talking about here is nuance, delicacy – the ability to easily differentiate between stringed instruments in the background while simultaneously having your thoughts focused on every papery brush stroke of Nat’s voice on a 36-minute canvas that plays like a film at times in your mind’s eye rather than simply lyrical majesty.
I was at a fantastic party in my early 20s, and I drank way too much. Thankfully it was a big house stomp with BBQ, outdoor lights, and a friend spinning albums on the porch while I lay like a spilled drink in the grass of the backyard. It was a warm, late-summer night, and as I looked up at a spinning starfield in my rather delicate state I can still clearly remember how tactile the sound of the music was; as if I could reach out, and snap off pieces of the song from the clear night air like pieces of Lego. I got that same feeling listening to the XX’s Coexist through the Hana. Romy Madley Croft’s ethereal vocals on Missing, and Angels sounds like it’s cutting paper hearts out of foolscap with brand-new scissors. Add in the thundering drums, and stadium-sized guitar-reverb echoes overflowing the room, and it was all I could do to sit transfixed on my sofa like a distracted toddler’s rag doll: unable to move without assistance.
Completely lacking pretense, or subterfuge, this is a cartridge for honest music reproduction, and for those who honestly love music. It is incredibly quiet in the groove, so quiet in fact that at times when waiting for the first track to start I jumped up because I thought I hadn’t lowered the tonearm. While it may not have the cachet of a Benz Micro, or the safe sonic recognition of a Dynavector (both of which are brands I have tremendous respect for), at $750 USD it simply cannot be overlooked, ignored or unknown. It is a bargain of musicality at this price, with proper set-up, and in the right tonearm it will absolutely sing for years to come thanks to its long-wearing Shibata stylus, which should net an easy 2,000 hours of listening on clean, well cared for LPs.
- Stylus Profile: Natural Diamond Shibata
- Cantilever: Aluminum
- Output Level @ 1kHz: 0.5mV
- Output Balance @ 1kHz: Less Than 1.5dB
- Vertical Tracking Force: 2 grams
- Trackability: 70 um/2 grams
- Separation @ 1kHz: 28 dB
- Frequency Response: 15-32,000 Hz
- Impedance @ 1 kHz: 30 Ohms
- Suggested Load: 400 Omms
- Cartridge Weight: 5 Grams
- Body Color: Black
- Price: $749.00 USD