Kiseki Blue Goldspot Phono Cartridge
"Look, sonsee what Scottie just beamed down."
"Gee, Dad, it's big and blue with a gold spot on the front, and it kind of looks like a cartridge."
"Nice guess, son. No ordinary cartridge, this one. Let me tell you about the Vulcan analog freak in Hong Kong..."
At its asking price of $700, the Blue Gold brings up the rear in the Kiseki lineup (footnote 1). However, don't mistake this cartridge for a halfhearted effort to fill in an attractive price point. It's well built; with a body machined from a solid block of aluminum/magnesium alloy, it looks as if it could easily withstand a trip into outer space. The cantilever is similar in concept to that of the Sumiko Virtuoso DTi, although less expensive materials are used: a boron deposit overlaying an aluminum rod. The low mass of the aluminum rod maintains a low stylus-tip mass, while the boron layer stiffens the rod and provides damping for resonances in the aluminum.
The coils are made of oxygen-free copper, and I'm told that a proprietary fluid is applied to the coils to reduce the effects of temperature and humidity on the generator. The magnets are charged after the yokes are connected, to achieve the highest possible field strength. Another interesting feature is that, as with other Kisekis, the stylus is super-polished with human hair! I guess the guys at Kiseki get plenty of haircuts.
Since this cartridge is unlikely to be partnered by a very expensive tonearm, I approve of the choice of a nonline-contact stylus footprint. For optimum performance, a line-contact stylus requires a tonearm that allows for precision VTA and azimuth adjustments. I venture to say that most audiophiles who own such cartridges have not set them up properly. Styli that mimic the cutterhead profile look good on paper, but few audiophiles have the tools or the patience to set them up correctly.
The "Big Blue" was partnered exclusively by the Graham Model 1.5 tonearm throughout my evaluation. Because the top-plate screw holes are threaded, mounting the cartridge to the headshell proved easy. Tracking force was set at 2.0gm. I experimented quite a bit with VTA before settling on about a half a degree's (at the arm pivot) tilt from parallel to the surface of the record.
Entering the reference system right after the Koetsu Pro IV's exit, the Blue Goldspot was really on the spotthe Koetsu's sonic glory was still vividly fresh in my memory. Surprisingly, the Kiseki did not in any way embarrass itself, in some performance aspects actually matching or exceeding the majestic but overly lush Koetsu.
The treble balance was restored to its proper perspective, and the bass kicked ass right out of the box. Many affordable MC cartridges are recognizable by bright balances which, at worst, are accompanied by threadbare midrange textures. The resultant presentations are typically etched and overly analyticala sonic blend that unfortunately spells "Hi-Fi" for many audiophiles.
Not so with the Kisekiits presentation was never analytical. But neither at any time did it sound lush or romantic. This cartridge consistently sat on the fence between good tube sound and solid-state directness. It was thus more comfortable with the Convergent Audio Technology SL1 preamp than with the Threshold FET-ten/e.
With the Threshold, the slightly wiry and grainy lower treble bothered me much more than it did with the CAT. This was most noticeable during the reproduction of soprano voices, when the timbre of the highest-pitched formants was affected. I spent a considerable amount of time experimenting with cartridge loading in order to tame this coloration, finally settling on a 20 ohm loading as a compromise between lower-treble zip and loss of dynamics. Pushing the loading lower provided more effective damping of the resonance, but at the cost of a loss in dynamic breadth, hence dramatic impact. At this setting, treble transients were quick and well-controlled, and the extreme treble nicely extended, but the texture of the lower treble remained a bit on the dry and gritty side.
With the CAT SL1, I was able to push the cartridge loading to 300 ohms as the best compromise between treble control and dynamics. Even a 50 ohm loading with the SL1 proved disastrous, as the treble took a nosedive and dynamics were noticeably squashed. On the other hand, a 47k ohm loading proved too much; the lower treble turned wiry. A loading in the range of 300 to 400 ohms appeared to be optimumexactly what John Hunter at Sumiko had indicated.
Big Blue did very well in fleshing out a soundstage. The expanse of voices in a natural acoustic that lends Laudate! (Proprius 7800) so much charm was not lost on the Kiseki. The feel of the hall was clearly communicated. The Kiseki's soundstage presentation was consistently spacious, this due in great measure to its ability to realistically portray depth. Image outlines, though nicely focused, were not floated in space with the sort of conviction only much more expensive cartridges are capable of.
Spatial outlines, though resolved well enough to adequately differentiate massed voices, lacked the incisiveness that marks the transition from mere reproduction to the Gestalt of live music. The illusion of being there was further hindered by a loss of soundstage transparency. Still, the degree to which the ability to see far into the soundstage was diminished was not large. It was as though I was gazing at the soundstage through a window which had not been washed in a while. While the dirt built up on the glass was small, it kept intruding in a cumulative way to remind me that I was, after all, listening to canned music.
The Kiseki proved a very good tracker, unfazed by anything I threw at it. The choral climaxes that punctuate much of Belshazzar's Feast (EMI SAN-324) were reproduced cleanly and without congestion. Perlman's violin tone (Bruch, Violin Concerto, EMI ASD 2926) was deliciously sweet and focused.
The mids in general were naturally detailed: while I was made aware of plenty of low-level detail, I was neither overwhelmed by it nor made to feel that the underlying texture of the music was being laid bare. Musical textures were neither hard nor mechanical, and, especially with the CAT, were capable of sounding eminently liquid. In this respect the Kiseki resembled the performance of a topnotch moving-magnet cartridge more than that of a moving-coil.
The Goldspot's bass response far exceeded what one might expect from a cartridge at this price point. It even exceeded the bass performance of the Koetsu Pro IV! The Kiseki's bass punch, pitch definition, and control really broke the price barrier. Tympani strokes were reproduced with full weight and punch, bass lines were tight and readily resolvable, and plucked double bass was articulated with great clarity. There was never any need for me to strain to pick out the double basses from the basement of the orchestra.
To get a good feel forand just plain feel good aboutwhat the Kiseki can do right, give a listen to Ernestine Anderson's Never Make Your Move Too Soon (Concord Jazz, CJ-147). "What a Diff'rence A Day Made" will make a believer out of you. There was Ray Brown on bass, his delivery still fresh and sturdy after all these years. This guy is amazing. It's hard to believe he was one of the founding members of the original Modern Jazz Quartet in 1951. Each of his chords cut through the soundstage with convincing speed and control. And there to the right was Monty Alexander on piano, strolling smoothly through the melody. There's no problem in picking up the drums, brushed cymbals, and all. Ah, Ernestine...her sultry, honey-colored voice leaped forward cleanly, with full emotional impact. Here the Goldspot hit the spot just right. When you think of Ernestine, think Kiseki!
It's safe to say that the Kiseki Blue Goldspot does nothing really badly and some things very well. Bass control and definition would be outstanding at any price. It's just what the doctor ordered for clearing up orchestral foundations and tightening up bass lines. The mids are tonally quite neutral, being neither lush nor romantic, and, with the assistance of an excellent tubed preamp, are capable of sounding texturally liquid and sweet enough to satisfy even the most jaded of appetites. Low-level detail is resolved without overloading one's nervous system. Some MC cartridges, assuming that the listener is a pincushion, take aim with lots of piercing, etched detail. Not the Kiseki. Its presentation is natural and easy on the ear. Treble transients are quick and well-behaved, with excellent top-end extension. The soundstage presentation is spacious, with convincing portrayal of depth. Image outlines are nicely focused, though outlines do not float in space with the solidity and spatial resolution afforded by much more expensive cartridges.
On the debit side, the soundstage is slightly veiled. How much will that distract you from enjoying the music? Only you can decide. I found the cumulative effect of constantly peering into the stage through a slightly dirty window a hindrance to full involvement. Also, the lower treble tends to be wiry and grainy. Proper cartridge loading does dampen the lower treble, but even so, this range remains a bit too dry for my taste. This is another reason to match the Kiseki with a tubed preamp, so as not to aggravate this region with solid-state treble nasties.
The Kiseki would make an excellent choice for someone graduating from a moving-magnet cartridge. The transition should be painless and rewarding: the Kiseki emulates some of the natural qualities of a good MM while offering additional benefits through the upper octaves. Provided that care is taken in the choice of a partnering preamp (a tubed preamp would be ideal), the Kiseki Blue Goldspot is a safe recommendation.
Footnote 1: Kiseki cartridges are designed by Herman van den Dungen, of Durob Audio in The Netherlands, the company responsible for the PrimaLuna and Mystère tubed products.Ed.