The Sumiko Celebration 40 moving-coil phono cartridge entered the stable during a very busy time for analog at my place. I’ve plenty of phono preamps and step-up transformers and cartridges in for review, and we’re not just talking about the usual stuff I review but the next level up where I tell myself every few minutes that I have the best job in the whole wide world.
We’re talking Brinkmann and Koetsu and Goldenberg and Hana and Allnic and ZYX and wait, did I mention all the tubes? I got vinyl, powered with tubes right now? Even the CD player has tubes, but it’s not getting much play right now because LOOK AT ALL THE ANALOG GEAR!
The quiet entrance of the Sumiko Celebration 40 almost feels like a well-dressed businessman from Tokyo accidentally walking into a rave in downtown Albuquerque, something that once happened to me—except, of course, the Tokyo part. But I really wanted to hear this new version of the flagship Celebration line because I’ve been so impressed with Sumiko’s more modest offerings such as the $1900 Starling, the $900 Songbird and, just recently, the $600 Amethyst, which was the first MM I’ve used in a long time.
I’ll tell you something else. I really wanted to hear the Sumiko Celebration 40 because the last time I heard its dad, the original Celebration, I was quite impressed with the sound when mounted on one of Pro-Ject’s fancier ‘tables. This was at a show a couple of years ago, an all Sumiko and Pro-Ject exhibit room, and the Celebration was soothing and deep and mystical in all the right ways and I scribbled a mental note to politely ask for one for review the next time the Celebration line was revamped or expanded.
And here we are, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Sumiko with the $2799 Celebration 40. Despite the plethora of analog gear surrounding me, I’m actually starting to get excited about this beautiful wooden-bodied MC phono cartridge that feels like it just walked into a crowded soiree and started winning everyone over, partygoer by partygoer, by the end of the evening.
Inside the Sumiko Celebration 40 Phono Cartridge
The Sumiko Celebration 40 is an update of the very popular Pearwood Celebration II. The basic design is similar—long-grain boron cantilever, milled Teflon back plate, and the same generator. The Celebration 40, however, switches to the same Micro-ridge stylus as the flagship Sumiko Palo Santos Presentation.
The wooden body is no longer “pearwood,” a word I’ll probably always associate with Sumiko Celebration, but a “plumwood” that is still deep and dark and rich and stupendously Japanese on a visual level. That aesthetic will win me over every single time.
Output is a healthy (for LOMC) 0.5mV, and I wound up setting the tracking at the recommended 2.0 grams.
Sumiko Celebration 40 Set-Up
Yeah, I know that I’ve been totally thrilled with all the analog gear I have streaming—pun intended—through my listening room. And I haven’t been shy about boasting about it.
Truth be told, the Sumiko Celebration 40 wound up spending the majority of its review period in a fairly stable system, one that’s such an outstanding combination that I’ve slowed down that reviewing train between stops and just enjoying music. That system, for the most part, consists of the Technics SL-1200G turntable with DS Audio Headshell, the Allnic Audio H-5500 phono preamplifier and T-2000 Anniversary integrated amplifier, and either the humongous TotalDAC d100 speakers or the tiny Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition monitors on Acora Acoustics SRS stands.
This system has been a brief oasis during a flurry of reviewing activity, providing one truly memorable listening session after another. I only switched between the vastly different transducers because they each excelled with certain types of music—the LS3/5as for my jazz, and the d100s for everything else.
The Sumiko Celebration 40 Sound
To tell you the truth, I did not expect the Sumiko Celebration 40 to sound like it did. It’s a completely different sound from the Sumiko Amethyst MM, which was meaty and direct and reminded me of PRaT for the first time in quite a while. Nor did it sound like the two models from Sumiko’s open architecture line, the Songbird and the Starling, which both featured stunningly deep bass and a lively sense of detail.
Instead, the Sumiko Celebration 40 turned out to be the ultimate chill-out cartridge with its huge sense of space and three-dimensionality. Did it supply extraordinarily deep bass with aplomb like the Starling and Songbird? Did it turn that beat loose like the Amethyst? Sure man, the Celeb 40 does all that if you’re into that. But sit down for a minute. Listen to this. This part right here. YEAH. That was really sweet and open and effortless, wasn’t it? Have you ever heard that sound like this before? Me neither, until the Sumiko Celebration 40 started celebrating its own thing right here in my listening room.
I’m trying to say that the Sumiko Celebration 40, if anything, is relaxed. Relaxed is a fantastic thing to be in the world of high-end audio. Relaxed means things are more open to your brain, and you start hearing more and more of the things and then they’ll form ideas and then you’ll learn something new about the music you’re enjoying. You get pulled in, time after time. That’s what I experienced with the Sumiko Celebration 40, a sense that the day was over and now it was time to leave me alone with my songs or else.
Over time, I kept thinking about the wooden body of the Celeb 40, and that reminded me of the first generation of the Sumiko Celebration MCs and how much was made about the pearwood and how it contributed to the more natural and open presentation. That made sense to me at the time because I had once gravitated toward wooden-bodied cartridges and loved how they sounded, in a very general sort of way. We’re talking about that elusive warmth that we crave from our vinyl playback.
Of course we’re talking about my Koetsu years, and how that fire has been relit ever since the new Urushi Black just walked into my dojo with its long-time pal, the Koetsu step-up transformer. Much of the Koetsu mystique revolves around those precious and beautiful cartridge bodies and how the different rare materials contribute to the unique sound of each model. I can think of many other Japanese cartridge manufacturers that had thoroughly explored the effects of wood on the overall sound years before Sumiko even arrived on the scene. But I always think of Sumiko being one of the first cartridge manufacturers to say hey, wood is good and it makes a noticeable change to the sound. Cartridges made out of wood provide the type of sound tailor-made for music lovers and audiophiles just like me.
The relaxed and open character of the Sumiko Celebration 40 led me to a steady diet of lush, expansive recordings that were full of details, the kind you don’t necessarily notice on every single listen. Perhaps that’s why my time with the Celeb 40 aligned with a re-organization of my vinyl collection, with a new emphasis placed on putting my reference discs together in an easy-to-survey location. That meant lots of record cleaning and listening to old favorites to see if they still possessed all that magic.
One reference LP, PureAudioProject’s Odyssey: China, has really been moving up the charts in the rotation, so to speak. These beautifully curated and remastered tracks from a variety of Japanese recordings are so wonderfully balanced and contain so many passages that illustrate why high-end audio can be so rewarding to us goofy audiophiles—lots of movement on the stage, enormous dynamic swings, and an embarrassment of riches when it comes to exotic traditional instruments and how to they tell the listener about the materials from which they were made.
The Sumiko Celebration 40 was also there during my brief and intense fascination of Hilary Hahn’s Paris, which features her stunning performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto #1, one of my favorite classical compositions in the whole wide world. This is where the Celebration and I forged a real bond—this cartridge’s ability to project such an airy and vibrant soundstage, with breathtaking imaging, told me so much about the fire and focus of this stunning album.
I was endlessly impressed with the Sumiko Celebration 40 and its talent for finding common ground between two wildly different speakers from Falcon Acoustic and TotalDAC. Most of you are familiar with the LS3/5a and the amazing little miracles it performs, but US audiophiles probably haven’t heard much about these big efficient towers from TotalDAC with double 12” drivers and a horn-loaded tweeter. Despite their brooding and powerful visual presence, these French speakers can sound unusually delicate and controlled with the right material—just like the LS3/5a.
I didn’t quite notice the similarities between the two speakers, their adherence to the same conclusions while derived from very different paths, until the Sumiko Celebration 40 was mounted and aligned on the Technics. Speaking of the Technics, I had the distinct feeling that the Sumiko was a beautiful match with it as well—you get both a precision machine and a truly artistic approach to sound in the same satisfying and musical rig.
Yes, I’ve described the Sumiko Celebration 40 as both a staid Tokyo businessman and your cool neighbor with the killer hi-fi, and I’m not even going to pretend that makes sense. Perhaps that’s because there’s a multitude of reasons to choose something as understated and natural and open as the Celeb 40 over what I’ve repeatedly described as a stable filled with lofty, pricy analog gear. It’s a cartridge that can be what you want it to be, whether it’s something exciting and pulsating or just something to mellow out after a particularly grueling day.
My takeaway from my time with the Sumiko Celebration 40 is this: yes, I tend to love the sound of wooden-bodied cartridges and I no longer cares who knows it. But I also know that Sumiko, as a company, is smart enough to know that there are different cartridges for different tastes, and I’ve heard a sizable cross-section of their wares by now and I think they’ll have you covered one way or another.
But as for me? I’d choose the Sumiko Celebration 40 and its approach to sound any day of the week. I need to be transported from this world when I listen to music. I need to forget myself and I need to forget where I am. The Sumiko Celebration 40 is an excellent vehicle for getting there.