Analog Corner #290: The Haniwa LP Playback System Page 2

The arm comes with the headshell's overhang—in this case, it's actually "underhang," since the stylus is intended to fall short of the center of the spindle rather than extend beyond it—preset for the HCTR-CO cartridge, which also makes cartridge setup easy. All you have to do is install the counterweight and set the tracking force: There are no other adjustments. It's as close to plug'n'play analog as it gets. I'm not going to go into too much detail on the arm other than to write that I think the lack of an offset angle and an "underhung" arc to avoid skating issues—and thus admittedly problematic antiskating solutions—is both misguided and demonstrably ineffective.

By not having a combination of an offset angle—effected either at the headshell or via a bend in the arm tube—and a precise amount of stylus overhang, you end up with far greater tracking error and thus far higher distortion. My mentor, the late Wally Malewicz, a skilled mechanical engineer, confirmed that, and demonstrated how offset and overhang could be combined to produce two zero-error null points—one nearer the lead-in groove, the other nearer the lead-out groove—and an optimized degree of error everywhere else on the record's surface. (All alignment geometries produce somewhat high distortion at the lead-in groove, and a very sharp distortion rise just beyond the second, innermost null.)


And guess what? Eliminating the offset angle does not eliminate skating! While much of the cause of skating is the offset angle—since the arm's pivot is offset from the cantilever instead of directly behind it, the frictional drag produces a force vector that pulls the arm inward—there's a secondary skating force set up by the lack of groove tangency produced by the stylus's arc of travel across the record surface.

This is easy to demonstrate. While using a blank record is not the correct way to set antiskating—the amount of frictional drag produced when "tracking" a smooth surface is far less than what a stylus would encounter in a typical grooved record—it certainly is useful to demonstrate that, despite the lack of an offset angle, the arm skates! I tried it with The Player, first making sure that everything was level (including replacing its tapered mat with a flat one), and the arm skated inward like Nancy Kerrigan—though I wasn't left asking "Why? Why? Why?" because I knew why: Since there's no antiskating mechanism on the HTAM01 as there is on most pivoted arms, there's no way to counter it! So, I'm not a huge fan of this arm: I think it's a (failed) solution to a nonexistent problem.


Also, at least as used on The Player, the HTAM01 doesn't allow you to set either azimuth or VTA/SRA, which created a problem on some records. The mat's height effectively lowered the back of the arm (and of course VTA/SRA) to where, on many records, the rear end of the cartridge body hit the record lip. I double-checked tracking force and it was correctly set at 1.5gm, per the instruction manual.

My only solution was to remove the mat and replace it with a thinner one, or to use none at all and place the record directly on the platter's vinyl surface. I used a Stein Music The Perfect Interface mat, which solved the interference problem, put the bottom of the cartridge body parallel to the record surface, and greatly improved the sound by opening up the top—as you'd expect from raising VTA/SRA and whatever other magical stuff the Stein mat does. (Try it, you'll like it.) Clearly this is not what Dr. Kubo intended, so I'm not sure why it occurred. It did, so I'm reporting it.

The HEQ-A03-CI phono stage
The HEQ-A03-CI is a current-sensing phono stage in a relatively compact chassis that weighs approximately 9lb and is fitted with an attractive brushed-aluminum front plate. The only control is an on/off button. The rear panel includes a pair of balanced XLR inputs and a pair of RCA outputs. (The brochure shows both single-ended and balanced inputs, but obviously Haniwa made a running change; offering balanced-only inputs is typical of current-sensing phono preamps.) Because the arm output is RCA jacks and the phono stage is XLR, Haniwa provided a pair of short RCA to XLR cables.


While the accompanying literature makes it seem as if current-sensing phono preamplifiers are revolutionary and unique, there are several such products on the market. What is unique about the HEQ-A03-CI is its WRC, or Waveform Recovery Circuit, although Dr. Kubo doesn't say precisely what it is and does. But Haniwa's literature provides a "with and without" graphic comparison, in which "with" shows higher and sharper amplitude peaks, though the time period shown isn't specified. The literature makes the well-known point that cartridges are velocity-sensitive, not amplitude-sensitive, devices and claims that this "deforms" the waveform and compromises the sound. WRC is said to correct this by eliminating phase shift that all other phono preamps ignore.

It's one thing to reduce phase distortion by reducing the impedance the cartridge sees; it's another thing to reverse it. I wonder, does it do so in the digital domain, as Haniwa's amplifier does? I hope not, but none of this is convincingly explained. For that reason, and because the literature contains so much hype and all-caps jargon—including the claim that the combination of HCTR-CO and HEQ-A03-CI is "THE WORLDS FIRST CURRENT DOMAIN ANALOG SYSTEM CARTRIDGE+PHONO STAGE/EQUALIZER" (if that's true, then what can we call the industry's other combinations of low-impedance cartridges and current-sensing phono preamplifiers?)—I'm limiting myself to simply describing the sound produced by the complete Haniwa system.


Since Haniwa says their "with and without WRC" graphic was made using the album Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, I figured I'd compare the sound of that record (footnote 5) on the Haniwa system (using the Oyaide butyl mat, since that's part of the supplied system) and my reference: Hardly work! (I made comparisons using many other recordings, but space doesn't permit going there.) Of course, on this 1957 Roy DuNann-engineered recording, Art never really "meets" the rhythm section of Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, and Red Garland; Art's on the left and the others on the right in this two-channel recording made to get a good balance in the mix to mono.

In any case, I'd be lying if I wrote anything other than that the Haniwa system sounded far greater than the sum of its parts—including those parts I griped about! The system sounded darker, richer, and far drier, with a hint of added grain compared to my reference, very powerful and full on bottom, though not nearly as well-controlled or as fully extended. I attribute some of this to the added second-order harmonic distortion I presume is produced by the tonearm: The HCTR-CO certainly didn't sound like the same cartridge in my system!


Whatever it was, as with a rich-sounding tube amp, the result was intoxicating, though it lacked the reference system's air and reverberant delicacy. Red Garland's piano was much bigger and fuller, Pepper's sax was full, round, rich, and "buttery" on the bottom, but not as airy and breathy on top. Chambers's bass was full, sometimes overly ripe. His arco bass strokes pressurized the room—well beyond what's really on the recording, IMO, but was it fun, as the added bottom-end weight also contributed to a generous room sound!

It was an almost "old fashioned" sound that, in a blind test, I imagine some less experienced listeners in particular might prefer to my reference LP front end, thinking the Haniwa more dynamic—particularly when Philly Joe smacks the toms and/or slams the kickdrum and Chambers plucks the lowest notes.

Maybe it's all as Dr. Kubo's graphics suggest, but I believe the unique pleasures of the Haniwa combination were more of an additive nature than the result of the elimination of an otherwise unaddressed distortion; at times, those pleasures reminded me of a great juke box. However, when you consider the price differential—the SAT tonearm alone costs more than the entire Haniwa system—this assemblage may just be what the doctor ordered. In fact, it definitely is.

Footnote 5: My copies are a mustard-label copy of the original (Contemporary S7532) and a 1992 RTI test pressing of its reissue (Contemporary/Analogue Productions APJ 010).

Jack L's picture


What caught my eyes is the bulleye spirit level installed at the top of the tonearm support column. This feature is crucial to ensure the contactless support bathing in a bath of magnetic fluid is perfectly balanced with the turntable/cartridge as a whole unit.

That said, I do not see any similar level indicator installed for the headshell which is DETACHABLE from the tonearm tube !!!! This will be another must to ensure the detached headshell/cartridge once screwed back onto the tonearm tube still maintain the same balance without any offset & overhang issues.

Is it a design overlook? This is not a cheap tonearm, my friend !

FYI, I very frequently check up the proper tracking of my TT/tonearm/cartridge with placing momentarily a small featherlight bulleye spirit lever on the top of the headshell/cartridge while playing a LP. The dead centering of the 'bulleye' inside the lever indicates perfect realtime DYNAMIC tracking of the record player - no offset & overhang problems.

AFTER such tracking test, I then proceed to anti-skaing test of the tonearm by spinning it on the grooveless track of my test record.

The bulleye lever only cost me 2 bucks from any hardware store. Yet it works bigtime for me, saving big bucks to acquire complex alignment tools.

Play vinyl smart, pals.

Jack L

rbafna's picture

The Player turntable is based on the Transrotor Max, plus the optional Eins power supply. It's not clear from this review why The Player costs more than 5x the price of the Max.