The Glanz MH-124S Premium tonearm review is the most difficult review I have ever done for two reasons. The first reason is the sheer beauty of the tonearm and its absolutely flawless sonic performance, making it very difficult for me to return the sample to Hamada San. The second reason is a more somber one. Three months into the review, my beloved brother-in-law took his own life after a silent battle with depression, leaving behind his two-month-old child and widow. For a couple of months, I simply could not bring myself to do anything audio -related as I went through a hard and long period of grieving. Hence I would like to dedicate this review in remembrance of Victor Lee.
Words and Photos by Richard Mak
I also wanted to thank Glanz’s aforementioned designer Hamada San and Toshio Muroi San of Axiss Corporation of Japan for their gentlemanly patience. The Glanz MH-124S Premium arm was in my possession for nearly a year.
Ever since I reviewed the original Glanz MH-124S 12” Tonearm in 2015, it has occupied a permanent spot in my reference tonearm collection. My level of appreciation for the tonearm has increased quite a bit after my review in 2015. If the review was written today, it would have been much more enthusiastic. Nearly 20 tonearms have come and gone during the last five five years and the Glanz tonearm remains my top choice for Japanese tonearms, outperforming my old Fidelity Research FR66 12”. Very few tonearms on earth can rival the dynamism and transient attack of the Glanz tonearm, and the ones that do often fall short on the rendering of fine details or maintaining the organic naturalness on human voices. The Glanz MH-124S does both exceedingly well, and it is one of the liveliest four bearing pivoted tonearms on the market.
Hamada San, the designer of the Glanz tonearm, attributes the lively sonic characteristics to the engineering precision of Glanz’s manufacturing. He strongly emphasizes direct metal to metal contact between moving parts, and the avoidance of using elastic materials such as polymer or rubber, which he believes will result in a loss of energy transfer. The Glanz tonearm is exactly that, and it is made entirely with stainless steel with a machining precision which epitomizes Japanese engineering. There is no play whatsoever with all the moving parts. The crown jewel within the tonearm is its high-quality bearing. Like the original Glanz, the Premium houses the same four-point bearing. Three are radial bearings and one is a thrust bearing which supports the arm from the bottom. It is one of the smoothest and the most precise bearings I have ever seen, rivaled only by Acoustical Systems’ Axiom Anniversary Tonearm (€25,000), and the DaVinci Master Reference Virtu (US$16,000).
This particular Glanz MH-124S “Premium” is the very first one to hit North American soil. When it arrived at my doorstep it was met with a high level of skepticism, as I said to myself, “How can perfection be made even better?”
The Glanz “Premium”
The Glanz “Premium” carries a price tag of ¥ 2,750,000, which is equivalent to nearly USD 26,500. That’s 3.5x the price of the original Glanz MH-124S (¥715,000). Unlike the original Glanz, the Premium model comes in a matte black finish in its entirety, except for the clip on the arm holder. Despite their similar appearances, there are notable differences between the two tonearms.
The black color on the Premium is not a paint, nor is it anodizing. It is an expensive coating called Diamond-Like-Carbon (DLC). DLC is not a marketing term invented by Glanz. It is in fact an advanced, expensive and time-consuming process well adopted in the defense and aerospace industry. The process deposits a thin coat of amorphous carbon material that posses a hardness similar to diamond but is as light as carbon. The DLC coating is extremely resistant to wear, and lab tests reveal that a coating of only 2 μm increases the resistance of common stainless steel against abrasive wear, changing its lifetime in service from one week to over 85 years! Almost the entire Glanz Premium tonearm, over 30 components, is coated with DLC. This not only increases the hardness of the tonearm but also changes the damping characteristics to allow for an even more efficient level of energy transfer.
The second most noticeable difference is the counterweight. On the Premium model, it is inserted with tungsten rods. This significantly reduces its size while increasing overall weight and density. This allows the counterweight to be moved much closer to the fulcrum of the arm, which changes the moment of inertia of the arm wand’s rotation.
The arm tube which supports the counterweight is sleeved with a carbon graphite tube instead of just stainless steel. Again, this is done to improve the energy transfer as carbon is lighter and stronger than steel. The headshell of the original Glanz has a rubber-like insert on the top, but on the Premium the insert is now carbon fiber.
Some changes are hidden from the naked eye. The internal wire of the tonearm is now silver wire, tightly wound by silk thread to prevent mechanical ringing. It is covered with polyethylene texture felt and then covered by another layer of carbon fiber texture. The Premium also comes with a coaxial DIN-to-RCA copper tonearm wire.
Mounting of the Glanz MH-124S Premium tonearm follows the exact geometry of the original MH-124S, and a paper template is included. The onus is on the customer to machine a proper arm board for mounting. The pivot column requires a 30mm diameter hole to be drilled onto the center of the pivot column, which should be positioned according to the specified pivot to spindle distance. Given the usual thickness of an arm board is usually around 1 inch or 25mm thick, a 60mm wide counter-bore needs to be machined to accommodate the mounting plate. The drawing below may come in handy for potential customers.
Once the hole is drilled, a strap wrench is a better alternative than a wrench for tightening the mounting bolt, as it will not damage the surface. Using the numbers provided with the template, I used the Acoustical System’s SMARTractor to perform the alignment. By virtue of the dual-layer alignment grid lines on the SMARTractor, a higher degree of accuracy is allowed by providing a proper viewing angle which is not possible with a single layer paper template.
The Glanz MH-124S Premium tonearm allows for the adjustment of anti-skating, and vertical tracking angle, but it has no adjustment for azimuth. My philosophy in cartridge alignment is the accurate retrieval of signal from an LP record, and this entails the ability of the tonearm to allow for adjustments in all possible angles so that the stylus can sit perfectly in the LP grooves. Just like the DaVinci Grandezza, the Glanz Premium does offer any azimuth adjustments. For a tonearm of this price bracket and caliber, not having an azimuth adjustment is a detrimental mistake that could make or break the alignment process.
Thankfully, the Glanz Premium and the original MS-124S both employ the use of SME-style headshell connectors. The SME headshell connector standard has loose compliance; it has a bit of play on both directions so the imperfection turns into a blessing in disguise. This bit of play allows a 1 to 2 degree of wiggle in both directions, giving just enough room to account for azimuth adjustments within 1 to 2 degrees. Alternatively, the Glanz headshell can be swapped with an Ana-Mighty UAE Ebony headshell or an Acoustical System Arche headshell, both adjustable in all possible directions, with either solution solving the azimuth problem. This would, of course, change the sound of the tonearm so my review is conducted with the Glanz Premium headshell.
With Ana Mighty Sound’s TNT15 cartridge, designed by François Saint-Gérand, my AnalogMagik cartridge alignment software determined that no anti-skating was required. The anti-skating counterweight was removed entirely.
It should be noted that because the arm has an offset angle that is not parallel to the pivot, a change in VTA would result in a change in azimuth. Given all parameters are inter-related and interdependent, a change in VTA would require readjustments to the azimuth angle. This is simply a matter of high school geometry and applies to any tonearm with an offset angle that is not parallel to the pivot, not just the Glanz MH-124S Premium.
The Sounds of Perfection
I pulled out all the albums which I played in my 2015 review of the original Glanz MH-124S to see if the Premium version would be sonically different than the original, as well as versus other tonearms. From female vocals such as Agnes Obel’s Philharmonics, to Arthur Grumiaux’s To My Friends violin encore, to Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet, to Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition, and probably 20 more albums, I listened carefully going back and forth between different combination over a period of six months.
The sound of the Glanz Premium possesses the same traits as the original MH-124S, or that which you would expect from a four-bearing pivoted arm with high-quality bearings. It is unmistakably neutral, marked with a high level of transparency which will deliver the good and the bad. On bright and analytical recordings, it will not artificially soften the sound to make it more pleasing to the ear. You will hear the sound just as how it was recorded on the album. Human voices are rendered without colorations, without ever veering to either end of the spectrum. Never too soft, and never too hard.
Both Glanz tonearms exhibit ultra-dynamic contrasts which makes holographic images solid and weighty, with very few competitors on the horizon save maybe the Kuzma 4 Point, the Acoustical System Axiom, Axiom Anniversary, or the DaVinci Master Reference Virtu. The top-end extension of the Glanz Premium is on par with the best four-bearing pivoted arms such as the Axiom, the Master Reference Virtu, Breuer Dynamic, or the Supreme Analog Tangenta. The Glanz Premium is also one of the liveliest gimbal-pivoted arm on the market, although it doesn’t quite reach the liveliness of torsional suspension arms such as the Schroder Reference, or gimbal-pivot arms such as the Graham Phantom II Supreme B52, which is as lively as it gets for a four-bearing pivoted design. But the liveliness of Schroder or the Graham is also an Achilles’ heel due to the nature of their design. They do not have the stability of the Glanz Premium and will wobble from side to side on complex passages. On grand orchestral classical music, this Glanz delivers a much more solid low end, and instrument separation in the acoustic space is also more weighty and well-composed.
The million-dollar question is, of course, is whether the $26,500 Glanz Premium is “that much” better than the original Glanz MH-124S. I pulled out Berliner Philharmoniker’s limited edition Direct-to-disk vinyl recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 (Haitink directing the Berlin Philharmonic). The recording is nothing short of spectacular and is a perfect example of modern recording done right, both sonically as well as aesthetically.
Direct-To-Disc is a process where the recording microphones are fed directly into the mixing board which, in turn, are connected to the cutting head without any post-recording processing, forever engraving the live performance onto the lacquer in a one-step process. The sound of this double LP set is reminiscent of the early generation Gramophone “Tulips,” which is transparent and realistic, giving you the good together with the bad just like a live performance.
Initially, my preconception is that the Premium version of the Glanz MH-124S, with its new wiring and hardened DLC coating, would offer higher resolution, frequency extension and dynamic contrast–more “Hi-Fi” sounding, so to speak. To my surprise, the Glanz Premium tonearm did the exact opposite. The mass strings of the symphony appear to be fuller sounding, with more body and silkiness which makes the sound smoother to the listener. The original Glanz sounds “drier” and more analytical by comparison. Yet, a careful A/B comparison between the two arms reveals the exact same level of details and resolution, which leads me to conclude that the overall difference is an improvement in tonality, rather than a change of resolution. It moves in the direction which sounds more natural and organic, just like the sound of real string instruments.
I pulled out the highly anticipated soundtrack to Season 8 of Game of Thrones, which I waited for months to arrive. “The Night King” piano composition by Ramin Djawandi is mellow, dramatic and deeply melancholic, yet I was sorely disappointed with the quality of the sound. Not only did the LP arrived warped beyond acceptable, there was an audible tick throughout the song which all but destroyed the intensity of the music. Just like the rest of the seven seasons of the Game of Thrones LPs, the sound quality left much to the desired and the sound of the piano is rendered almost like a Yamaha electronic keyboard, or maybe it actually was an electronic keyboard? I was so afraid that the mediocre sound was coming from the Glanz MH-124S Premium so I immediately switched over to a 1960 DECCA album, with Backhaus playing Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23, “Appassionata.” Thankfully, the bad sound was just a demonstration of the Glanz Premium’s transparency, conveying the sound with unmitigated honesty.
The fact that a 2020-made vinyl cannot measure up to a 1960 album is simply mind-boggling. The “Appassionata” performance was nothing short of breathtaking. I fault more tonearms (and systems for that matter), on piano performances than any other type of recording because the piano is almost the ultimate litmus test. You can either render the notes with clarity or you cannot, and the size of the holographic reproduction of the piano can either be correct or it cannot. There is no in-between.
Both the original MH-124S and the Premium version passed the test with flying colors. On the Glanz original, the piano notes are more “metallicky,” with a sound that seems to emphasize the piano wires. On the Premium, you hear more of the velvet hammer. The sound is warmer and with a mid-range richness that has more body. The overall sonic image of the piano is correct in size on both tonearms, but on the Premium the lower notes carry more definition, which creates a greater distinction between notes. The increased bass definition also makes the higher notes stand out more, with improved clarity definition. On pianos, the Glanz Premium clearly has the upper hand.
The improved bass definition of the Glanz Premium tonearm is also apparent in Omnia’s Reflexions album. Omnia is self-described as neoceltic pagan folk music, and the rhythmic tunes sound almost like a Celtic version of Enigma blended with the Secret Garden. Just like the Interstellar soundtrack, listening to the album in its entirety transforms your experience into a realm beyond space and time, almost like immersing yourself in an hour-long pagan ritual. The Glanz Premium tonearm’s ability to convey low-level bass definition is well demonstrated by the album’s numerous percussive instruments, from kick drums to bouzouki, and bass notes are rendered with precise clarity rather than a crumbled smudge of blurred low-frequency mixes.
In the song “Suck My Flute,” the sound of a the titular instrument stands out vividly amid the sounds of percussive complexities and circulates at different locations in the acoustic space. “Suck My Flute” is a re-composed version of their famous song “Fee Ra Huri.“ The entire Reflexions album is a reconstituted, chopped, and recombined version of a large collection of Omnia music. The album is not a live recording despite appearing so, I must commend the recording engineer’s ability to recreate the illusion of a real soundstage with the sound of instruments coming from different locations. Regardless of whether the soundstage was real or not, the album–when played through the Glanz Premium arm–recreated a sonic image good enough to fool me into thinking it was a live recording.
An artificially created soundstage, however, is no match for the real thing. If you haven’t bought Dead Combo’s E As Cordas De Ma Fama (Rastilho Records RASTILHO157LP2016), please do yourself a favor and quickly bid on one on eBay or Discogs for $100 to $150–but hurry before the price goes up even further. This little known Portuguese folk band’s studio album is nothing short of a sonic marvel. From the first track “Rumbero” to the last track “Lisboa Mulata,” the Glanz Premium is my favorite tonearm of choice for this album. The album demands a high level of dynamic contrast and weightiness from a tonearm so the plucking of the strings can sound snappy enough to be lifelike (think Kuzma 4 pt or Supreme Analog Tangenta). But at the same time the ambiance, air, and top-end extension demand from a tonearm the ability to be agile enough to deliver lighting fast transients and minute details (think Schroder Reference or Graham Phantom II Supreme). Very seldom do you find both of these traits in one tonearm, and the Glanz Premium met both demands equally well, enough to strike a perfect balance between the two renderings, resulting in a lifelike reproduction of Dead Combo’s studio performance right in my listening room.
Lastly, but not least, the Glanz MH-124S Premium rendered one of the best sounding harp passages I have ever heard. When Smetana’s symphonic cycle “Má vlast” is mentioned, we often only remember the Vltava, as it is the most famous of the sixth symphonic poems. But hidden at the beginning of Vyšehrad, the first of the sixth poem, is one of the most beautiful harp performances known to man–particularly with Accentus’s direct-to-disc 3 LP boxset, with the Bamberg Symphony under the baton of its music director Jakub Hruša. I listened to all six poems in their entirety, and again the Glanz Premium gave a thoroughly realistic and flawless rendering of the orchestra. I simply could not find fault with the tonearm. From transparency to tonal balance to contrast and weight of instruments to frequency extension to realism, the Glanz Premium scored high in every criterion.
At $26,500, the price tag of the Glanz MH-124S Premium is high enough to earn the scorn and hatred of many, with plenty of evidence on my Facebook page’s comments under my Glanz tonearm post. I have mentioned time and again in my numerous articles that value is not one of my evaluative criteria. You can turn to the audio review forums and there are plenty of posts debating about value for money. My job as a reviewer is to describe the sound so readers can decide for themselves whether the sound suits their budget.
A few weeks ago, I went to price out a custom build titanium bicycle and it came to $17,500. The next day they called me back to remind me that it does not include the crank, the seat post, and the handlebar. “Come again?” I said. “Walmart has $150 bicycles for sale and they include the crank, the seat post, and the handlebar.”
The Glanz MH-124S Premium is far from being the most expensive tonearm out there. Sitting beside the Glanz, in the next position on my table, is the €26,500 Acoustical System Axiom Anniversary (the first to arrive in North America, and watch for our upcoming review). Then there is the Vertere Reference and the SAT LM-12, which also cost a lot more than the Glanz Premium. If the Glanz Premium’s price is considered high, then perhaps it has made the original MH-124S seem like more of a bargain at USD 8,000.
The Glanz MH-124S Premium is by far the best Japanese-made tonearm I have ever encountered. If the price is no object, then the Glanz MH124S Premium tonearm will surely hold a permanent position in my arsenal of the world’s best tonearms.
Amplifiers: McIntosh MC2KW, McIntosh MC3500 x 4
Preamp: McIntosh C1000
Phono Stage: CH Precision P1/X1 Mono 6 Box version
Cartridge: Ana Mighty Sound TNT15 by Francois Saint Gerand.
Speakers: Peak Consult Dragon Legend
Turntable: Micro Seiki RS5000, JC Verdier La Platine Vintage
With Special Thanks to:
North American Distributor: www.Excelstereo.com Lawrence Lin
Japan Distributor: Axiss Corporation Japan http://www.axiss.co.jp/ Toshio Muroi