Analog Corner #290: The Haniwa LP Playback System

Haniwa's Dr. Tetsuo Kubo is an interesting fellow. If you go to shows, domestic or overseas, you've possibly encountered him in his room a space known for being strewn, shrine-like, with LPs that once belonged to The Absolute Sound's founder, the late Harry Pearson: Dr. Kubo was a fan.

He is also a fan of phase coherency and flat frequency response. Indeed, Dr. Kubo—an engineer and a medical doctor—claims both of those qualities for Haniwa's HDSA01 integrated amplifier and HSP01 single-driver "full-range" loudspeaker (footnote 1): Despite his being an analog fan, Kubo's integrated amplifier digitizes the incoming signal at 24 bits/192kHz in order to apply real-time phase and frequency control.

Over the past decade or so, Dr. Kubo has commissioned Yoshio Matsudaira of My Sonic Labs to make for him a series of ultralow-impedance moving-coil cartridges, a few of which I've reviewed over the years and greatly enjoyed. The latest of these is different. The HCTR-CO was designed by Dr. Kubo, made by Kubotek, and is part of a Kubo-designed analog front-end system, with the Haniwa HEQ-A03-CI current-sensing phono preamp; the 9"-long HTAM01 tonearm, whose pivot floats on a bubble of magnetic oil—and, just as unusually, has a headshell that isn't offset; and The Player turntable, a compact though massive belt-drive design built for Haniwa by German turntable manufacturer Transrotor (footnote 2).

Purchased separately, the HCTR-CO cartridge costs $10,000, the HEQ-A03-CI $12,000, and the combination of HTAM01 tonearm and The Player turntable $15,000. The cartridge and phono preamp can be purchased together for $20,000—a $2000 savings—while the package price for the complete front-end system is $33,000, which represents a $4000 savings relative to the separately purchased components (footnote 3).

Stereophile policy forbids system reviews, or reviews in which multiple products new to the reviewer are inserted into his or her system at the same time, in order to minimize the number of variables in our formal equipment reports—and that makes complete sense. But in a column such as this, reviewers are allowed a bit more leeway—and that's fortunate, because Dr. Kubo intends for these products to be used and heard together. That said, I also reviewed the new Haniwa cartridge "solo," in my usual reference system.

The Haniwa HCTR-CO phono cartridge
The HCTR-CO is a low-output moving-coil design featuring an ultralow 0.2ohm (at 1kHz) internal impedance. Not two ohms, which would itself be exceptionally low, but—point two ohms. To my knowledge, that's the lowest internal impedance of any cartridge ever designed and sold. The HCTR-CO's inductance is 0.1µH/1kHz.

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The cartridge features a solid diamond line-contact stylus, 3µm by 30µm, fitted to a 0.3mm-diameter boron cantilever. Compliance is specified as usefully low, at 1.2×10–5cm/ dyne at 1gm VTF and 9.5×10–6cm/dyne at 1.5gm VTF (the suggested tracking force using the HTAM01 arm). Haniwa does not specify output voltage because, in a current-amplification setting, voltage output is irrelevant. But you can be sure that with such a low internal impedance—approaching a short circuit—the coils have very few turns of wire. And given the cartridge's 8.5gm weight, it's unlikely to contain a massive, powerful magnet system—the sort of thing that would help elevate voltage output.

Haniwa recommends using the HCTR-CO with a tonearm that does not have multiple electrical connections between cartridge clips and RCA (or XLR) plugs. My reference SAT CF1-09 is wired straight through, from clips to plugs, so before listening to the full Haniwa system, I tried the HCTR-CO in my SAT arm, plugged into one of the current-mode inputs of my CH Precision P1 phono preamp (footnote 4).

Setup was easy: I achieved a 92° SRA with the arm parallel to the record surface. Haniwa doesn't specify crosstalk, but channel separation measured in excess of 26dB (using a digital oscilloscope, which usually produces lower than actual separation numbers) and interchannel balance was within 1dB with the cantilever perpendicular to the record surface. In other words, the HCTR-CO exhibits excellent build quality—as it should for ten grand.

The small number of coil turns results in both minimal output voltage and minimal back EMF, so it was no surprise that the HCTR-CO's speed, transparency, and overall responsiveness were reminiscent of the coil-less DS Audio optical cartridges. The HCTR-CO came closest in my experience to sounding as effortless and open as the best DS optical cartridge.

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I'm not sure what's more enjoyable: listening to Vinyl Me, Please's all-analog reissue of Al Green's Hi Records soul masterpiece Call Me (FPH 1146-3) or imagining a vinyl newbie hearing for the first time what recorded cymbals are supposed to sound like, as Howard Grimes's and Al Jackson, Jr.'s do on this must-have reissue, mastered from tape to lacquer by Ryan K. Smith at Sterling Sound Nashville.

The HCTR-CO's rendering of this recording emphasized the stick-on-cymbal attack over the meatier grit of the cymbal's sustain—something the Ortofon Anna D does so well—but for those who prefer speed and transparency over weight, the HCTR-CO produces that with ease. Either cartridge would make anyone happy listening to the gentle rim shots on Green's "Your Love Is Like the Morning Sun," each of which is a notable event worth savoring.

This is a great time for vinyl-loving soundtrack fans. As I was preparing this review, two new ones from La-La Land Records arrived: Saving Private Ryan (LLLLP 2005) and Schindler's List (LLLLP 2006), both engineered by Shawn Murphy—one of the greats working today.

The recording venue for Saving Private Ryan was not a Hollywood soundstage but Boston Symphony Hall, using BSO musicians and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. Chris Bellman cut the lacquer from an unspecified source, but whatever it was, it probably started on tape. John Williams's score captured well the somber goings on and reminded me somewhat of James Horner's electrifying score for the 1992 film Glory.

Both cartridges nailed the hall sound and the richness of the brass and strings, but the Anna D produced literal goosebumps the Haniwa did not, thanks to the former's greater weight and grip on bottom, which brought forth the timpani and double basses and helped fill in the hall sound. Not that the Haniwa's rendering was anything but top shelf.

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On the other hand, the Haniwa's presentation of guitarist Stefan Grossman's Hot Dogs (Transatlantic TRA 257)—a recent used acquisition, thanks to a Canadian friend who monitors Transatlantic records at the thrift store in which he sometimes works—produced sharp, satisfying sonic sparks and musical effervescence. The somewhat more deliberate Anna wasn't quite as bubbly.

Before moving on to the Haniwa HCTR-CO in the full system, I'll sum up the solo review by saying that this cartridge is the speediest Matsudaira design I've ever heard: a bit less liquid and "sheeny" than the recently reviewed Air Tight PC-1 coda ($8500), and definitely less so than the $16,000 TechDAS TDC01 Ti, which makes the Haniwa more of a cartridge for all musical genres rather than the best for classical music. The HCTR-CO did everything well and had no obvious faults—or subtle ones, for that matter. If you value speed, transparency, faultless (though not rich and inviting) harmonic integrity, and reasonably good detail extraction without being overly analytical, and you have the proper low-impedance infrastructure (current-sensing phono preamp, straight run of tonearm wire), the HCTR-CO is well worth considering.

The Player Turntable with HTAM01 tonearm
Haniwa bills this as "The only LP Playback system built specifically for ultra-low impedance current circuit cartridges." However, nothing about this turntable/tonearm combination distinguishes it from any other in terms of how it deals with low-impedance cartridges.

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In fact, while Haniwa advises the user to avoid wire breaks from cartridge clips to RCA plugs (not without reason), their supplied tonearm terminates with RCA jacks in back and thus has a break—unlike my own SAT tonearm, which has no breaks! Go figure.

Setting up the belt-drive Haniwa turntable was relatively easy and straightforward, so I'll skip that part. It's a massive (approximately 35lb) plinthless design, with a platter-sized footprint and an 18V twin-phase AC motor hidden under the heavy platter (no weight specified), which fits into a circular plinth cutout, thus remaining in close proximity to the subplatter. Drive is via a small-diameter belt that fits around a nicely machined aluminum pulley. This is a good place to write that I'm extremely impressed by Transrotor's machining and plating quality. However, at $15,000 there's plenty of stiff competition.

The nicely turned platter surface appears to be of the recycled vinyl type, which makes sense in terms of impedance matching. But Haniwa adds to this a 5mm-thick Oyaide BR-12 mat (approximately $50 online), made from butyl rubber and tapered, from center to perimeter, with a 1° elevation—which makes little sense to me, given that the grooves of all lipped records angle downward from the perimeter to the center, and so the mat only accentuates a less-than-ideal profile. (The Oyaide mat also has on its surface a series of "tuning holes," which to me appear more fanciful than sonically effective.)

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A large, circular outboard structure, connected to the motor via an umbilical, houses the speed controller, turns the motor on and off, and changes between 33 1/3 and 45rpm. It also houses a speed-adjustment set screw. As you can see in the graphic on this page, though the turntable ran at nearly the correct speed (it was slightly fast, but so close to speed that a typical strobe unit would not pick up the difference), the measured performance—even low-pass filtered—was only okay. (The green line should be relatively straight.) I tried adjusting the belt and making more than a few additional test runs but got similar results.

The turntable's flat arm platform, fitted with a compliant damping insert, is specifically designed for the flat-bottomed arm base of the HTAM01, which made the installation easy. If you're an Analog Corner devotee and my description of the HTAM01 sounded familiar to you, it's because you've come to know it as the ViV Laboratory Rigid Float tonearm, which I reviewed in the August 2014 Stereophile. The HTAM01 appears to be identical to the ViV Lab arm, except perhaps for its use of lower impedance internal wiring.


Footnote 1: But at shows, the Haniwa speakers sound as small as they look and are hardly "full-range."

Footnote 2: There's no equivalent turntable in Transrotor's lineup, though the Fat Bob Plus comes close, at least cosmetically.

Footnote 3: Kubotek USA, Inc. (Robert Bean), 2 Mount Royal Av., Suite 500 Marlborough, MA 01752. Tel: (508) 229-2020. Email: haniwa@kubotek.co.jp. Web: haniwaaudio.com.

Footnote 4: So, while I wasn't yet using Haniwa's current-mode phono preamp, I was using a current-mode phono preamp, an important aspect of the Haniwa system.

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COMMENTS
Jack L's picture

Hi

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.

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