Analog Corner #299: Haniwa HCVC01, CAD Ground Control, DS Audio Vinyl Ionizer-001

Lately, current amplification–based moving-coil phono preamplifiers have gotten a great deal of well-deserved press. For years, Haniwa's Dr. Kubo has been designing and selling super–low-internal-impedance cartridges because such cartridges work best with such devices. He has also been designing and selling his own current-amplification phono preamplifier; I recently reviewed one of each as part of Haniwa's Vinyl Playback System, which consists of The Player—a modified Transrotor supplied turntable—the HTAM01 tonearm, a modified ViV Lab Rigid Float tonearm; the HTCR-CO phono cartridge; and the HEQ-A03-C1 current-mode phono stage (footnote 1).


Here's something new to Haniwa's range and to hi-fi: the $6000 HCVC01 passive current-to-voltage converter. It's analogous to a step-up transformer and is intended to feed your choice of moving-magnet phono preamplifiers. I don't believe anyone has previously produced anything like this. It's housed in a modestly sized, substantial metal chassis about 7.5" × 5" × 3.5". On one side are a pair of XLR inputs, a pair of RCA outputs and a banana jack ground lug. Maximum output voltage (depending on the cartridge used) is claimed to be 10mV—about double that of your average MM cartridge. That's maximum, so it should be fine for most MM phono preamps.


I was sent one of those, along with a new version of the $10,000 HCTR-CO phono cartridge, which has the same model designation and looks very similar to its predecessor, which I wrote about in last October's Analog Corner. The HCTR-CO is designed and built by Kubotek, whereas previous Haniwa cartridges were made by Y. Matsudaira, who makes cartridges for Air Tight and his own brand, My Sonic Lab. Buy 'em together—the HCVC01 and HCTR-CO—and save $2000.

The HCTR-CO has an internal impedance of 0.2 ohms—just 1/10th that of, say, Ortofon's Anna D or Lyra's Atlas Lambda SL. It's almost a short circuit, which is what a current-based phono preamp wants to see.

The other thing that makes the HCTR-CO cartridge special is that it's designed to track at a very low tracking force: 0.5–1.0gm "for general use" and 0.3–0.5gm when using the Haniwa "ThePlayer" and its tonearm. (The new HCTR-CO has a higher compliance than the old—it's now twice that of the Atlas Lambda, so you'd expect a low tracking force, but the specified VTF is nevertheless very low, especially when used with ThePlayer 'table.) According to Dr. Kubo, the current-loop circuit created by the low–internal-impedance cartridge and the HCVC01 together produces a powerful electromagnetic damping circuit that makes such low tracking forces possible.


Yes, the previous Haniwa was also called the HCTR-CO. Robert Bean, Haniwa's business manager, says that after the newest version had been announced, he collected all the HCTR-COs already sold in the US, at Dr. Kubo's request, and sent them back to Japan, where all were upgraded to the new design at no charge. Dr. Kubo felt that anyone spending $10k on a cartridge deserves the improved model, which has higher compliance and a new damper to match.

I installed the HCTR-CO in the SAT CF1-09 arm and set the tracking force for about a gram. Before playing music, I used the Ortofon test record to see if the cartridge could negotiate the 80µm test band at 1gm. That's what the Ortofon Anna D is spec'd for—and delivers—at 2.4gm. Once I reduced the antiskating force to compensate for the lower VTF, the HCTR-CO negotiated the 70µm band at 1gm, but 1.2–l1.3gm was necessary to handle 80µm. That's still the lowest moving-coil cartridge VTF I've encountered.

Haniwa supplies adapter cables for use with any arm terminating in RCA jacks. Instead, I used custom Cardas RCA-to-XLR adapters that, in contrast to standard adapters, don't tie pins 1 and 3 together, connecting pin 3 to ground and rendering every current-mode phono preamp I've ever tried useless. (All with XLR inputs, that is: The CH Precision P1 has both XLR and RCA inputs.) In general, MC phono cartridges with tiny internal impedances—including the HCTR-CO—produce tiny voltages but are capable (in a low-impedance circuit) of producing abundant current—which leads us back to the HCVC01 current-to-voltage converter If you want to use a cartridge like the HCTR-CO with a standard voltage-mode phono preamp, you need to put something in between.

But it's more than that—it's something new to audio. Which makes me very curious about what it will do to the sound.

HCVC01 into Ypsilon's VPS100 phono preamplifier
Ypsilon's VPS100 is a moving-magnet phono preamp, which means that if you've got a standard low-output moving coil cartridge, you need a step-up transformer. For the past decade, I've used it with Ypsilon's MC10L and MC16L transformers and a range of other SUTs, and I've thought I had a handle on the VPS100's sonics. Trying it now with the HCVC01 has me rethinking that: with the Haniwa converter, the Ypsilon sounds different. Or perhaps I should say that the HCVC01's sonics are overwhelming the Ypsilon's.


The first record I played, because I'd just cleaned it (using the Kirmuss "full-on" restoration regimen) and had never played it before, was Jazz/Concord (Concord Jazz CJS-1), which was Concord Jazz's very first release, featuring Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Ray Brown, and Jake Hanna. According to the liner notes, it was recorded in Los Angeles at "Wally Hyder Studios." (That should be "Heider.") And wow!

The VPS100's usual warmth and liquidity was nowhere to be heard—not that the presentation was bright or etchy. Ellis and Pass trade licks hard left and right, with Brown and drummer Hanna center stage. The presentation was superfast, clean, transparent, and transient-precise. Rhythm'n'pacing were excellent throughout. Brown's bass was nimble, tightly focused, and placed well back in the mix alongside Hanna's kit, which emerged subtly out of a black background. Instrumental attack, particularly on Hanna's somewhat distantly mixed cymbals, was effortless and had a convincing metallic ring. A good start for a record about which I had no sonic expectations.

That got me to pull out an original UK "Porky Prime Cut" pressing of Squeeze's East Side Story (A&M AMLH 64854), which totally smokes the American A&M edition, so that I could check out the always-spectacular "crack" of Gilson Lavis's snare drum on "Tempted." The HCTR-CO/ HCVC01's rendering of that and everything else on this track did not disappoint, including the cymbals' metallic ring. It made me turn up the volume to stupid levels, enjoying Paul Carrack's lead vocal—East Side Story was his only album with Squeeze, and "Tempted" was his only lead vocal. (Glenn Tilbrook and Elvis Costello also trade lines in the second verse.) Vocal transients were cleanly handled. This cartridge into the HCVC01 tracked everything cleanly at 1.2gm.


The level of transparency and (especially) timbral neutrality produced by this combination might not appeal to everyone, and the presentation did veer toward cool. Maybe that's because (take your pick): 1. the bass was attenuated; 2. a resonance was removed. I need more time with this combo to be sure.

However, warm records did not lose their warmth altogether. The bottom end on everything I played, while not as prominent and rich-sounding as I've heard it, was taut, well-defined, and all there. When I first began playing the recently released and soon-to-be-legendary János Starker box set of Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (Mercury/Analogue Productions SR3-9016), which I'd not yet played through any other front end, it sounded timbrally, spatially, and (especially) texturally correct and notably free of bass overhang.

When I substituted the Ypsilon MC16 transformer for the HCVC01, I had to turn the preamp gain way up because as expected, the cartridge didn't output much voltage. (The HCTR-CO's output voltage isn't specified.) I also tried, briefly, a 20:1 Consolidated Audio Berlin Transformer on loan for review from OMA (Oswalds Mill Audio), but this was a mismatch too great for any transformer to fix.

When I swapped out the Haniwa for the Lyra Atlas Lambda SL and used it with the CH Precision P1/X1, things warmed up through the midbass region, but the Haniwa's taut grip and bass "punch" were M.I.A.

The Haniwa's bottom end through the HCVC01 was so fundamentally different from what I was accustomed to that I need some time to take its measure before delivering a final verdict. My—no pun intended—current thinking: It's like putting heavy-duty racing struts on an old Buick. Or something.

Dark Matter: CAD's Ground Control
At one point about 10 years ago, the ground noise here got so bad that I ran a long extension cord from my window to my neighbor's house (which is two lots away) to see—rather, hear—if that would stop the ground buzz from my amplifier. All that did was set up an enormous ground potential difference between two homes—a ground loop but with houses. I was desperate for relief and willing to try anything, so I tried that.

I had set up my system using two dedicated lines, one for the front end and one for the amplifiers, foolishly thinking that I was helpfully isolating one from the other—well, I was, but that included the grounds. It was mostly okay, but this particular amp buzzed even after I put everything on one dedicated circuit connected to an auxiliary circuit-breaker box and having the electrician install a new ground rod. I hired a pretty well-known studio tech/electrician, and he couldn't get rid of the buzz, either. I tried numerous power conditioners. I was forced to sell the amp. The buyer was happy and reported no buzz.

Footnote 1: Kubotek USA, Inc., 2 Mount Royal Ave., Suite 500 Marlborough, MA 01752. Tel: (508)229-2020. Web:

Glotz's picture

I had a chance to see/hear this unit work with an AMG turntable kit.

It works incredibly well and is the 'end all' for those looking to get rid of LP static charges. It does work continually and without issues. It looks really cool as well!

Jack L's picture

.........but especially during dry winter months. " quoted Michael Fremer.

Static noise is caused by static energy discharge when the phono cartridge stylus comes in contact of the vinly record groove sides on spinning in dry environment.

But if there is moisture trapped inside the record grooves, static discharge is eliminated, so no more static noise.

That being the case, any pricey high teck tools, e.g. ionier etc will be over killing.

Since I am a die-hard vinyl lover (owning 1,000+ vinyls), static noise is therefore my prime concern. Yet I've got no no problem with static noises at all as I know how to eliminate static noise since day one I first get my first vinyl years back - WITHOUT using any anti-static tools.

So how? Play WET ! It's that simple. No rocket science!

Every time before I lower down the tonearm to play a record, I wet up the spinning record surface with a nylon paint brush sprayed wet with ionized distilled water. That's it, so simple, so easy, so effective, yet so next to no cost to me. Ionized distilled water is available dirt dirty cheap in 4-litre (3.6 gal) plastic bottle in any grocery stores.

Vinyl can be played SMART, pals. Ionizer tools? NO need for me.

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Skinny-dipping stylus? :-) ......

volvic's picture

The chance of having water running up the cantilever of an expensive MC is way too risky.

volvic's picture

18 Q: Can I save my stylus by wet replay ?
A: Yes, you can. But keep in mind that from that moment on you must play that record always wet. Whatever you try to
overcome this, you have to suffer till you change to CD. The reason is that the diamond powder from that late night a
while ago (see 16) and all other dust will dry up on the bottom of the groove after the liquid you used has evaporated.
And when you play dry afterwards, the stylus will help you by pushing the debris even more tightly into both groove walls.
So once a wet player, always a wet player. Therefore the strong advise is: NEVER start, then you also never have to stop.

audioconnection's picture

One Saturday over a year ago at Audio Connection a fellow by the name of Jáck we know good long time customer who frequents Audio show’s from Munich to Colorado pops in “Have you guys heard the CAD GC1?”Jack Owens a similar Aestetix Vandersteen system to ours we install it listening to a Rachmaninoff piano Concerto half hour noticed
the system was different. Jack can you leave this thing with me and I will get it back to you ASAP After further listing In this system and others I called Scott at CAD to get our own unit
I understand this unit works by removing unwanted chassis currents allowing a better listing Experience
We became CAD dealers w excellent reception to these units.
Best JohnnyR
Audio Connection
Verona NJ