Analog Corner #306: Phasemation, DS Audio, Audio Research, Clarus

I feel compelled to repeat here an eerie occurrence I related a while back on AnalogPlanet. I reviewed, in the February 1999 Analog Corner column, the Cartridge Man's Digital Stylus Force Gauge, which back then sold for $299.

I still have it, but a decade ago, the battery stopped taking a charge. I put it aside, planning to replace the battery someday.

One late October afternoon, I looked over at the device and decided it was time to resurrect it. I opened it up and inside found an odd-looking soldered-in battery. I emailed Len Gregory, aka the Cartridge Man, and asked how he was all these years later. Then I inquired about the battery.

Instead of waiting for a reply, I took the device further apart and got the battery number. I found one online for under $10. I ordered it.


That evening, around 9pm—3am in the UK, where the Cartridge Man is based—I received a return email. It read, "I am very sorry to tell you that Leonard died this evening, quite suddenly.—Jean Gregory."

Rest in peace, Len Gregory.

While we're on the subject—the subject of dying—a reader emailed recently to say he'd just been to a used record store and found a Guess Who record with an "Art Dudley" sticker on it. Did I want it? He sent a picture and I passed it on to Janet, Art's widow. She confirmed that it was Art's handwriting, so I told the reader, "yes." According to Janet, Art was not a huge Guess Who fan, and neither am I, but I remain a big Art Dudley fan, so I'm glad to have it.

Can't do that with streaming.

The Phasemation PP-2000 MC phono cartridge
Phasemation, a product of Japan-based Kyodo Denshi Engineering Company, has kept a low profile in America despite the "analog revival." I've seen their cartridge lineup in Munich and elsewhere, but I can't recall seeing it in America before. In addition to cartridges, Phasemation also offers an extensive line of step-up transformers and phono preamplifiers.


Well, Phasemation is here now (footnote 1).

The North American distributor, Toronto, Canada–based American Sound (aka Angie's Corner Audio), supplied the review sample. The website lists South Carolina–based Finest Fidelity as the sole American dealer.

The $6999 PP-2000 is Phasemation's top-of-the-line cartridge. The packaging is familiar: old-school Japanese elegant, a look familiar from back when I couldn't afford such a product. I like the presentation.


Other than the equally "old school" mount using bolts and for some reason round nuts, which makes it difficult to get a tight headshell bond, the circuit is standard low-output MC fare: The internal impedance is 4 ohms, output is 0.3mV (or more), compliance is 8µm/mN, recommended tracking force is 1.7–2.0gm, channel separation is 30dB or more, and matching is within 1dB.

Additional features include a samarium-cobalt magnet and a Permendur (iron-cobalt) coil core. The website lists "six-nines" oxygen-free copper as the wire damper material but doesn't specify what the coils are wound from, which is odd. A familiar-looking Ogura line-contact stylus (0.03 × 0.003mm) and a boron cantilever complete the internal construction details. The body is made of Duralumin attached to a mounting base of stainless steel. Both feature a DLC (diamond-like carbon)–treated coating that produces an attractive, mirror-like satiny sheen that feels as good as it looks.

Though the cantilever is somewhat tucked under the body (which makes it less susceptible to "oops" moments), it protrudes sufficiently forward to make alignment relatively easy. The PP-2000's construction was exemplary: 92°–93° SRA was achieved with the arm parallel to the record surface, and maximum channel separation of 30dB and interchannel balance within 1dB was achieved with the cartridge body parallel to the record surface and the cantilever perpendicular to it. This is how every costly cartridge should set up and measure.

Lush listening: The listening mirrored the setup ease. Even before break-in, the PP-2000 produced an expansive soundstage and a smooth spectral balance that was free of obvious defects or easy-to-hear limitations. The lush quality was not a result of any timbral trick or coloration but rather the generosity of the sustain: Notes and musical events lingered, hovering in space, before decaying gently to black. "Generous and plush," my notes said.

Instrumental attack was not overly sharp, but neither was it soft. There are so many Blue Note Tone Poet releases worth getting; it's no wonder many readers have a "gotta buy them all" mentality. Bobby Hutcherson's The Kicker (Blue Note BST 21437/B0031654-01) is recommendable; it demonstrated the PP-2000's sophisticated transient performance. The attack of Hutcherson's vibes was satisfying; mallet hits were neither unnaturally hard and brittle nor soft—just pleasingly round and believable. (There's nothing worse than brittle or mushy vibes.) The bell-toned sustain was addictively sumptuous and physically round. If you know Joe Henderson's "reedy" tone, without reading the jacket you'd know who was entering on the right channel. In the context of this recording, every musical element, including piano, bass, and drums, sounded right. The presentation was similar to that of the latest-generation Lyra Lambdas, though with a little less dynamic authority. The Phasemation is priced more than $5000 below the Lyra Lambda SL.

Because of its fine balance of all cartridge parameters, the PP-2000 lets you crank up and enjoy every musical genre—at least I did, though the cartridge's relaxed personality is better suited for acoustic than electric music. The addictive top end extends smoothly, airily, and without grain or etch, seemingly to Everest heights.

I used Bowie's Station to Station in a recent review, so I listened through the PP-2000 and found that the overall presentation was satisfying. Here, though, is where the more costly Ortofon Anna D produces the missing low end "grunt" and drive as did the equally costly Lyra Atlas Lambda SL. That's what you get for the extra money.

With the Phasemation cartridge, the spectacular-sounding direct-to-disc production of Má vlast (Accentus Music B088GDGQ7F), with Jakub Hruša conducting the Bamberg Symphony, created a notably wider, deeper, and more dramatic soundstage than the Ortofon Anna D did, although the Anna D produced greater image specificity, solidity—and "grip" that the PP-2000 slightly smoothed over. The Anna D was slightly drier and less timbrally rich. The PP-2000 produced massed strings that were silky and sonorous but not overly smooth. Horns had plenty of bite without drawing sonic blood.

I'd love to keep going, but there's more to cover, and you get the sonic picture: the Phasemation PP-2000 is smooth, timbrally sophisticated, rich and generous sounding. It committed no sins of commission that I could detect. Its dynamic performance at both ends of the scale was fine. There was macrodynamic slam—a sudden horn blast in Má vlast's familiar Die Moldau caused me to jump—and microdynamic subtlety, too.

While the PP-2000's low-frequency performance was not structurally epic—electric bass was slightly soft—it did everything well enough to make easy an enthusiastic recommendation for classical and jazz lovers. Rock fans are probably best off elsewhere.

If you are a classical music lover and were lucky enough to hear, via the Phasemation PP-2000, any of the new Electric Recording Company's reissue of The Complete Orchestral Works of Maurice Ravel, with André Cluytens conducting The Paris Conservatoire Orchestra (ERC 061/SAX 2479-9), you would likely exclaim, "I'll buy it!" The cartridge, that is. It's available. The record is probably sold out already, just days after release.

In today's costly cartridge market, the PP-2000's combination of sophisticated sonics and superb build quality make it an attractive choice.

The DS-E1 optical cartridge and equalizer
I may have been the only reviewer who didn't go bonkers over the original DS Audio cartridge and equalizer, which was released more than a few years ago. Yes, the tech is incredibly cool, the father-son story maybe more so—neither of which I have space here to repeat.


Three years ago, I visited DS Audio in Sagami-Ono, Kanagawa Prefecture, about an hour from Tokyo. It was my pleasure to meet father Tetsuji Aoyagi and son Tetsuaki (better known as Aki); you can meet them, too, and learn more about the technology in the video I made during that visit.

It was not my pleasure to describe what I heard as frequency-balance anomalies, specifically way too much bass and a plasticky quality in the upper midrange. I tried not to hear it, but I couldn't.

Not surprisingly, importer Garth Leerer sent later models to other reviewers—not to me. I can't blame him. So, I'm not the first on the block to review this $2750 version that includes both equalizer and cartridge. I thank Mr. Leerer for sending this one (footnote 2).

Footnote 1: Phasemation, Web: US distributor: American Sound, 12261 Yonge St., Richmond Hill, Ontario L4E 3M7, Canada. Tel: (905) 773-7810. Web:

Footnote 2: DS Audio. US distributor: Musical Surroundings, 5662 Shattuck Ave., Oakland, CA 94609. Tel: (510) 547-5006. Web:


mmole's picture

When I first met Art Dudley he had been doing a series of interviews with bluegrass masters for Listener Magazine. Unfortunately, several of his interview subjects dropped dead almost immediately after the interviews. Art (jokingly) was starting to think he was a jinx. It suddenly occurred to him that he had just interviewed Tony Rice. "Gosh," he said, "I hope Tony is all right." Ironically, it was soon after this that Tony started to develop the health problems that would plague him for the rest of his life.

Thus began a long running joke between us. Every time I met Art at a high-end show, he would tell me without prompting, "I just checked. Tony is hanging in there."

And now they're both gone. Damn it.

Jack L's picture


Yes, digital stylus pressure gauge is a MUST for any serious vinylist.

Were I so lucky or what? I got one for free in an large electronic show off shore some 15 years back. Built pretty stylish in a quasi heart shaped, silver-coloured plastic case with its protective lid on, measured only 4"x2.75"x5/8"thick. So light & handy.

3-digit LCD display in oz or gram units, powered by a dollarmart-type common 3V button-sized battery replaceable easily at the case bottom. Being an electronic handyman, I converted it for external powering by a small 5V wallwart, available handily from my parts box.

So no more worry about inaccurate stylus reading due to low battery power as I need it to check up my MN & MC cartridge stylus pressures routinely.

I still recalled the show booth manager who donated me this gadget, looked curiously at me, wondering if I would use it for weighing powder drugs !!!

It works like a chime. 1.15gram for my MM cartridge which tracks all my LPs, pre-owned & brandnew, no sweat.

Jack L

Jim Austin's picture

>>I still recalled the show booth manager who donated me this gadget, looked curiously at me, wondering if I would use it for weighing powder drugs !!!

I got mine years ago at a seedy pawn shop. I'm sure it was being sold there for precisely that reason. At some point I picked up a couple of calibrated weights, which help me ensure its continued accuracy and are useful for implementing the "credit card" mod.

Jim Austin, Editor

Jack L's picture


Yes, accuracy verification is crucial for stylus gauge. My cheapskate way is to use a dime (10-cent coin) = 1.77 gram, which is kept inside the gauge case as its weight reference.
Curious enough, all coins even of same value dont' weigh the same. So I have to keep that particular one as reference.


Jim Austin's picture

In my experience, nickels pretty consistently weigh 5gm. Shiny new pennies weigh 2.5gm. Older pennies can vary; I recently weighed a '60s penny at 3.1gm. Not sure about dimes. With all coins though, that second decimal place is questionable.

Jim Austin, Editor

Jack L's picture


Yes, it depends on what currency of the coins. I tested a few shiny new dimes which show substantial weight difference.

Too true, 2nd decimal might be deemed too academic here.

But yours truly is a precision nut. Like I routinely test the tracking of my cartridge by placing a small featherlite bulleye spirit lever ($2 from my local hardware store) on top of the detachable headshell momentarily. I do it simply because, as I posted in the tonearm forum here earlier, the headshell is detachable & could be screwed back on improperly to cause undue offset & overhang issues.


PS: I have chosen the dime which weighs 1.77 gram to ensure such weight reference is closely relevant to the tracking pressure of my MC & MM cartridges (1.15gm).

Trevor_Bartram's picture

I just pulled my forty year old Dual turntable out of storage. The only thing wrong with it, the Grado cartridge was distorting. While ordering a new Audio Technica at Amazon, ads for stylus gauges popped up. So as a treat, I ordered the best reviewed model ($12). When the new cartridge arrived I mounted it in the tone arm and dialed in tracking force and anti skate. I checked the settings with my new stylus gauge, the Dual was spot on. I should not have doubted German engineering. We live and learn but in the scheme of things an inexpensive mistake!