Koetsu Urushi MC phono cartridge Manufacturer's Comment
Editor: A very special thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Follow-Up on the Koetsu Urushi with the Expert Stylus Company modification. Musical Surroundings has been involved with phono cartridges since 1991, representing Benz Micro, Koetsu, Transfiguration, and now Clearaudio. When discussing how cartridges have evolved since the 1980s with either Albert Lukaschek of Benz or Peter Suchy of Clearaudio, both note how much more sophisticated their designs and manufacturing capabilities are today than even just five years ago. Loudspeaker design and manufacture are other aspects of the audio industry that have undergone tremendous advancements in the last decade. I do not recall a Stereophile article advocating buying "old, worn, or damaged" speakers and having the drivers re-coned or replaced, even by experts.
Just this past June, when I visited Benz in Switzerland, we discussed their rebuilding service. Their interim factory (a new one is being completed) was filled with old EMTs, SPUs, and even a Dynavector Ruby sent to them by Expert Stylus. (I inquired; they said that Expert needed Benz's expertise to rebuild that one!) I asked Albert Lukaschek if he felt the rebuilt Dynavector would be better than his new $550 retail ACE cartridge ($450 with the Dynavector trade-in), and he said no. He added that, with the new Benz Series 2 advancements (incorporated in the ACE), owners of older cartridges, including Benz models predating 1999, would be better off upgrading to a new Series 2 Benz and not having their cartridges retipped in Switzerland. When I asked why his factory continued to offer their retipping service, he replied that it was because their factory has that capability, and some people like the "classic sound" of their old EMTs and Ortofons on vintage turntables. He added that his resulting contact with these "freaks" (Eurospeak for hardcore enthusiasts; eg, audiophiles) kept him in touch with one dimension of his industry.
As I read the Follow-Up, I was troubled by such words as "gamble" and "experiment," and the contradiction between what was a stock part vs a different part, and how the rebuilt Koetsu was retipped with a different stylus shape (and even recommended to use further non-stock parts). In fact, wasn't it noted that the rebuilt cartridge did in fact sound different from the original (sonic memory being what it may)? This seemed to be the same concern addressed regarding van den Hul's rebuilding services.
There is also generalization regarding "typical factory rebuilds...for expensive-moving coils tend to cost around 50% of the cartridge's original retail price." Companies who rebuild their cartridges, such as van den Hul and Benz, charge a fixed price based on labor and parts, often as low as one sixth the original retail price. Koetsu rebuilds most models at around a third of the current retail price. Other companies actually replace your old cartridge with a brand-new model, typically at 50% off, but with the latest improvements of the new model. Many, such as Clearaudio, also allow you to trade up to a better model, paying only the difference in retail price, if this is done within a specific time period.
Many cartridge companies allow trade-ins of older cartridges for new cartridges, or even for other brands or non-working cartridges. While many of these trade-ins could be rebuilt at the Benz factory, the investment of your money or Benz's time will not produce a cartridge better than a modern-day cartridge. Cartridge trade-in programs originated as a means to stop the exodus from analog as it became difficult to repair or exchange older designs made by companies deserting the analog arena. These programs have been instrumental in fueling the analog renaissance we all enjoy today.
Yes: When it comes to a high-end audio system, you should experiment with speaker placement or listen to a new type of music or a different interpretation of a classic or standard—but not with buying old, worn, or damaged cartridges. I highly recommend that if you are thinking about a new cartridge, you contact your local high-end analog dealer.—Garth Leerer, President, Musical Surroundings