Analog Corner #272: Kuzma CAR, Miyajima Madake Snakewood, TechDAS TDC01 Ti phono cartridges

At Stereophile, we don't generally allow Mulligans—review do-overs. Usually, we take a second look at a product we've reviewed only when the first sample turns out to have been defective, especially if it was damaged in shipping—and we rarely do even that.

In my March 2018 column I reviewed two new cartridges from Kuzma Ltd. (footnote 1): the CAR-50 ($5895) and the CAR-60 ($12,995). Presumably, CAR is an abbreviation of cartridge, but for $12,995 you could buy a car you could climb into and drive home—so the CAR-60 had better be a damn great cartridge. The CAR-60's qualities of parts and construction were certainly great, as were both its published specifications and the measurements I took of it. (See last month's column for details.)

Although I described the CAR-50's overall sound as "bland," I wrote very positively about both cartridges' spectacularly wide and appropriately deep if somewhat distant soundstaging. I described the CAR-60's strengths as transparency, liquidity, and freedom from such artifacts as hash, grain, and edge. But I concluded that the CAR-60 lacked the slam or bass grip or low-end extension delivered by Transfiguration's somewhat less expensive Proteus D. The only differences between the $6000 Proteus and the $10,500 Proteus D are the rhomboid-cross-section, solid-diamond cantilever and specially designed dual dampers of the Proteus D and their recommended vertical tracking forces (VTFs): 1.9gm for the Proteus, 2.05–2.07gm for the Proteus D.

I haven't heard the original Proteus since 2014, so it's difficult to precisely pin down the audible differences between it and the D, but I still feel that it was among the handful of best-performing cartridges I've heard—and, at $6000, a bargain (don't hit me!) compared to the far more expensive competition. However, when I compared the Proteus D with the Kuzma CAR-60, the Proteus D was the clear, diamond-cantilevered winner.

To Franc Kuzma's credit, his reaction to my review of the CAR-60, while not happy (how could it be?), was 100% adult. Accepting my opinions as just that, he added, "In Slovenia there is an old saying which roughly translates as '100 people will have 100 opinions.'"

In last month's column I noted that Kuzma's instructions recommended loading the CARs with ">100 ohms," which I found surprising, as the internal impedance of all low-output models was 6 ohms, which would indicate <100 ohms. It turns out the symbol used in the instruction sheet was the opposite of what was intended. So if you own a CAR, please try loading it with less than 100 ohms.

But because I used the current-amplification–based CH Precision P1/X1 phono stage, the loading should have been irrelevant. Scot Markwell, a spokesperson for Kuzma's US importer, Elite Audio Video Distribution, asked if I'd be willing to listen again, this time using a more traditional voltage-amplification–based phono preamplifier. I agreed. So back came the two CARs for another listen.

The Kuzma CARs reevaluated
While a subsequent e-mail from Franc Kuzma conceded that the CAR-60 should perform well into the CH Precision P1/X1's current-amplification input, I ran it into the P1/X1's voltage input and, using the CH-supplied test record, ascertained that the flattest response was produced with a loading of 70–100 ohms. So I listened that way, as well as into Ypsilon Electronics' VPS-100 Silver Edition phono preamp, using Ypsilon's MC-16L step-up transformer. I also listened again through one of the CH Precision's current-amplification inputs.


As the Transfiguration Proteus D was still installed in my Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm, I again compared it with the CAR-60 in Kuzma's 4Point arm—and, as the D was going back to the distributor, and to be thorough to a fault, I finally installed the CAR-60 in the SAT arm. I'd already recorded, at 24-bit/96kHz with the Proteus D, the Who's song "Bargain," from the Classic Records reissue of Who's Next, cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering (LP, Decca/Classic DL79182). After installing the CAR-60 in the SAT arm, I recorded the track again, which allowed me to A/B the two needle drops in real time, with no variable other than the cartridges. The things we do for love! By the time this column is printed, both 24/96 files of "Bargain" will be posted on for you to compare.


I used other records, too, including a 45rpm edition of Duke Ellington's Masterpieces by Ellington (Columbia Masterworks ML 4188/Analogue Productions AAPJ 4418-45)—which I also played for The New Yorker's David Denby in a New York audio shop, along with a variety of classical, jazz, and rock (footnote 2).

It was reassuring that the differences between the CARs that I heard in my listening for last month's column consistently reappeared in my listening for this month's. But I'm glad to have had another listen. While I stand by my observations of last month, I feel that I injected my personal tastes into my conclusions.

Preferences for specific cartridges are among the most personal and most strong that an audiophile can hold—even more so than for loudspeakers. I have a friend in this business who thinks that if it's not a Koetsu Coralstone, you're not hearing music. Others prefer the spherical-stylus Denon DL-103R, which can't possibly trace the information in the grooves with accuracy. Some people—I'm one of them—love the house sound of Lyras; others hate it. I love detail and resolution—but what I hear from Lyras as detail and high resolution, others hear as analytical and just plain unnatural.

I am also very much in favor of Ortofon's A90 and A95, with their Replicant styli—the shape for a playback stylus that's closest to that of a cutting stylus. I'm less enthusiastic about the smoother-sounding cartridges from My Sonic Lab, and thus about the Air-Tights as well—although, of course, these are top-shelf cartridges in terms of both design and execution, and the folks who love them do so absolutely.

So I'm not here to tell you which products to like, but how they sound. I wrote that both CARs were "real smoothies, and coherent from top to bottom within that smoothness and wholeness. But they sounded smooth without ever sounding soft—smooth like skating on ice." I'm sticking with that assessment. "The visual perspective was on the distant side, with small, finely drawn, delicate images. Transients were super-clean on top, delicately drawn on bottom." I'm sticking with that, too, along with: "Delicacy trumped muscularity in every item on my sonic checklist."

What I shouldn't have written was that without the recommended loading, the CARs' smoothness and freedom from "etch, edge and grain . . . prevented percussive transients on top and bottom from developing excitement-generating bite and textural grip." My "excitement" is someone else's ear-bleed. Rather, I should have written that the CAR-60's transient attacks were supple, its sustains generous, its decays precise. So let me try again: Tonally, the CAR-60 was as neutral-sounding a cartridge as you'll find. It was neither tipped up nor rolled off on top, and its bottom-end extension and resolution of low-level detail were what you should expect from a cartridge costing in excess of $10,000.

That said, I also must stick with my original conclusion: that regardless of phono preamp or gain circuitry, while the CAR-60 will be a great choice for all genres of acoustic music, and cast an airy, sensuous, luxurious sonic spell, its overall polite attacks produced, in the lower octaves, less than what I consider to be the amounts of slam and grip needed to effectively communicate rock music's muscular drive. I would write, and have written, similar things about many other cartridges.

Footnote 1: Kuzma Ltd., Hotemaze 17/a, SI-4205 Preddvor, Slovenia. Tel: (386) 4-253-54-50. Fax: (386) 4-253-54-54. Web: US distributor: Elite Audio Video Distribution, PO Box 93896, Los Angeles, CA 90093-0896. Tel: (323) 466-9694 x22. Fax: (323) 466-9825. Web:

Footnote 2: Read Denby's account of our encounter here.


Jack L's picture


Sorry, I beg to disagree sonically. I wish Art Dudley is still around to tell you not so. I recall he once mentioned he preferred spherical stylus to ellipitical, sonically.

No, I am not going to dispute the readings provided by yr precision stylus tools.

I share Art's view. I prefer playing my MM cartridge with conical stylus (Japanese made) over my MC cartridge/factory matching headamp of same Japanese brandname. For more natural sounding music, IMO. Tracking is never an issue at all since day one decades back.

FYI, I so often test traacking of my TTs with my test record: "How to give yourself a stereo check-out" (London ffrr label), particularly tonearm anti-skating. I do not find my MM cartridge goy any groove tracing issue at all.

Its flip side band 5 of the London test record is a music performance testing: a short extract from "Hary Janos" played by London Symphony Orchestra conducted by I. Kertesz. The conical stylus tracks the music grooves like a chime, reproducing the performance so enjoyable like live !!!

Listening is believing

Jack L

Michael Fremer's picture

Of course a spherical stylus can TRACK the grooves (negotiate through them) but it simply cannot TRACE them as accurately. It's physically impossible for a spherical stylus to catch all of the details. What's more there's a time lag as the stylus rises and falls. It's physics, not opinion. I'm quite sure if Art was still here he'd agree with me about that though he might prefer the less detailed sound you also prefer.

Jack L's picture


"Phyics" or not, I could be one-of-a-kind demanding "detials" of ALL the music coming from my loudspeakers.

I can tell you, very honestly, my MM cartridge/conical stylus does sound very details even compared to my MC though I still prefer
my MM for its overall sonic neutrality on top of its very detail. The music performance test track on the flip side of my London test record comes out so so detailed & livelike that beats most of my pre-owned vinyls. It is some ear-refreshing experience, IMO.

I did not know until you just told me Art would prefer "less detailed" sound. I demand always most detailled sound. That's why I always go for the principle of less electronics better sound. This is physics. Any redundant electronics in the signal path will impair the details of the music. Hence I always prefer signal sources connected directly to the power amps whenever possible, e.g. thru possive linestage.

Listening is believing

Jack L

kelven's picture

How much more honest could a reviewer be?
I like to think the studies and research done in sensation and perception can help us to accept that the best we can hope for is "the relative sound."
That said, I recall some years back when my older sister was in rehearsal with Leonard Slatkin conducting the Saint Louis Symphony--and when it came time for her to open her mouth and vocalize. . . nothing came out.
It turned out her "imprint" of middle A (432 Hz?) was different from that of the piano tuner (and/or the orchestra's chosen tuning frequency).
With respect to the above, where some might call it an inability to adapt, others call it "perfect pitch."
As her younger brother, I just thought she was stubborn.
I took the time to listen to the recordings Michael kindly provided:
To my ears and nervous system, the difference could not be more stark.
I prefer the Kuzma in every respect, almost to the degree that I have to wonder if Michael might have adjusted the recording to highlight the benefits--and what I perceive to be a palpable superiority--of the CAR 60.
But that's just me, and among the cartridges in my collection--including stock and rebuilt versions of the Denon 103R--I upgraded from a CAR 40 to a CAR 50.
My preferences are not cognitive choices, or (as far as I can tell) driven by an out of balance sympathetic nervous system playing a survivalist/fear driven zero-sum game where my preferences serve as a gain for me and a loss for others.
In fact, I'm not really sure how to account for some of my imprints/biases/preferences. . . ?
Like everyone else, I'm just listening.