Sumiko Blue Point & Blue Point Special phono cartridges

In these waning days of Analog's Last Stand, it might seem absurd to review midpriced phono cartridges when this space could be given instead to the gear Stereophile usually covers—like $3000 OTL tube amps built by guys like that "Rainbow Man" lone nut who used to dance in the stands at Super Bowls before he took hostages in a hotel room with a .45 screaming, "MIT CAPACITORS!!! MIT CAPACITORS!!!"

C'mon! Nobody buys $3000 OTL tube amps built by guys who wear rainbow afro wigs. No, kids today are buying DIGITAL RIGS, and who can blame 'em? These days, LPs are harder to find than crack, and they're usually found in the same neighborhood. I buy used LPs from an old guy here in Austin who has a garage full of the things, 78s too, but he scares me so bad I never wander too far into his garage without a clear path in case he finally snaps and I have to bolt; the place is strewn with garbage and a half dozen beat-up pairs of old DCM Time Windows.

"I'm always looking for another pair, so let me know if you see any," he rasps to me, wiping the butt of his 12-gauge with a grimy rag. His prices are great, though; last time I went I scored a ton of '60s soul records and a mint copy of the Bee Gees' Cucumber Castle (footnote 1).

So why do I risk getting my ass blown off by some crazy old hermit? Because no matter how much I upgrade my digital rig, my trusty $1195 Well-Tempered Record Player (footnote 2) blows it away without half trying. The killer $3600 Theta Data II/Basic II combo I'm using nips at the heels of the very best that digital has to offer, but it just can't match even an affordable turntable like the WTRP for sheer musical satisfaction. If you've been lusting after the Levinson No.30 but thought you'd never get to achieve that level of sound quality, I'm here to tell you that a kilobuck overachiever like the WTRP/Linn Axis/VPI HW-16 Jr./Roksan Radius (review on the way) will kill the No.30. Costs less, sounds better. It's heresy, I know, but that's why they call me the Audio Antichrist.

Now, when you see a cartridge reviewed in Stereophile, it's always some top o'the line muy expensivo job that costs $2000, is fragile as hell, and has a "certain limpid ambiguity, coupled with a sweet Belgian truffle-like blah blah blah through the..." [slump] ZZZZZZZZZZZ. I'd sooner buy a llama than drop a couple of kilobucks on a fragile, temperamental cartridge that only lasted a year or so if I was lucky enough not to break it first.

But you don't want to swing too far in the other direction, either. Dealers are telling me that their customers who used to buy expensive cartridges back in analog's heyday won't buy anything now but the cheapest Grados, reasoning that the dearth of new LPs automatically precludes a serious cash outlay on a phono cartridge.

Man, that's CRAZY! What about all those records you've already got? Don't you want to hear them sound as good as they should? Most of my records aren't available on CD, and the ones that are sound a hell of a lot better than their digital reissues.

That's why I corralled a bunch of promising midpriced cartridges and spent a couple of months settin' 'em up, breakin' 'em in, and listenin' to 'em on my favorite records.

Sumiko Blue Point: $125
The $125 Sumiko Blue Point is one of the most popular cartridges in modern times, and with good reason; this affordable li'l gem is a sensational-sounding cartridge. For just $125, probably less than you paid for all the foo-foo rubber balls and cones under your gear, the Blue Point offers a fat slice of true high-end sound.

The story behind the Blue Point is an interesting one. Seems that Sumiko had worked up a design for a cross-coil type high-output MC they wanted to produce, and found a large run of some empty blue plastic cartridge bodies that had been intended for another brand of cartridge that never got off the ground. The only problem was, the blue cartridge shells were P-mount types intended for EZ-2-Setup, Lame-O Japanese plastic turntables and the lazy-ass mofos who buy 'em. Fortunately, the people who'd made the blue P-mount bodies also made screw-on adapters for standard headshells, so Sumiko stuck the guts of their cartridge into the el-cheapo blue body and, amazingly and totally out of typical high-end character, priced the cartridge accordingly.

When word spread of this amazing-sounding inexpensive cartridge, the Blue Point became a cult fave. Real-world audiophiles bought Blue Points by the sixpack, ready to hunker down in their bunkers through the Digital Winter. Finally, there was a great-sounding cartridge that was cheap enough not to worry about, and for those of us who routinely send our tonearms skittering across the record because that's where the panties landed, the Blue Point's almost "disposable" nature makes analog as idiot-proof as a CD player.

Sumiko Blue Point Special: $295
But soon word came down the pike that you could get much better sound out of the Blue Point if you "nuded" it; that is, carved away the hollow blue plastic body and let it all hang out, hombre. And so countless low-rent modkateers fell upon their Blue Points with switchblades, Dremel Moto-Tools, and their own gnashing teeth. Sure enough, after trashing the requisite 2–3 cartridges, reports were that the one that finally didn't get mangled sounded GREAT!

Curious to see just how hard it was, I tried nuding my Blue Point once it was worn out, and let me tell you, it's a bitch. Removing the plastic body without trashing the delicate exposed coils and magnet assembly is very, very difficult, and I don't recommend it unless you're the kind of guy who can always get the funny bone out during "Operation" without setting off that *%&#! buzzer and everybody yelling, "Butterfingers!"

Lucky for the rest of us, Sumiko's come out with the Blue Point Special: same cartridge, but naked as a jaybird. Sumiko's also 86'd the flimsy plastic P-mount adapter and mounted the Blue Point's guts to a thick brass mounting plate for better mechanical grounding to the headshell.

The first sample of the Blue Point Special I listened to was identical to the standard version aside from the nudity, but Sumiko sent me a revised Special which represents all current production. The revised Special is the same cartridge as the older version except its suspension tension is tightened a wee bit, to better match the Special's 9gm weight. Other than that, though, it's the same cartridge as the stock Blue Point: same stylus, etc.

Question authority
You might ask yourself how a self-confessed expensive-cartridge–avoiding lowbrow like moi has the chutzpah to presume he can judge phono cartridges. After all, if you've never heard Elmore James, how can you say with any real authority that George Thorogood SUUUUUUUUUCKS?

And you're absolutely right. I've never kissed a Koetsu, never bought a Benz. The Decca was never my Mecca. I wouldn't know a Grasshopper if it jumped up my skirt. I could go on all night, but I'm saving the best stuff for my summer job in the Catskills.

But even though I haven't scaled these peaks of phono-cartridge prestige, I've recently taken delivery of a fully loaded Linn LP12/Lingo/Ekos record player, in order to review both the new Linn Klyde MC cartridge and report on the sonic differences between the Basik, Valhalla, and Lingo versions of the classic LP12 'table.

I'll tell you right off: As good as some of these midpriced cartridges sounded on the $1195 WTRP and $1300 Roksan Radius, none of them sounded as good as the $1000 Klyde and $5000 Linn rig, which really set a new high-water mark for analog playback in my listening room. So, as the Linn rig is a real mutha for ya, I used it as the Mother Of All References for this review.

The cartridges were auditioned on the Well-Tempered Record Player and Arm, as well as the Roksan Radius turntable and Tabriz arm. The cartridges were all broken-in with at least 20 hours of playing time; this translates to approximately 30 LPs' worth of break-in, and if any of the manufacturers wanna carp that their baby needs at least 100 hours before the magic starts flowin', let 'em carp! Would you sit there and dutifully run your cartridge in for 100 hours before you sat down to enjoy your new booty? Me neither.

The last elvis tie-in ever
Now that a BBQ-eatin', rock'n'roll-lovin', '64 Mustang–drivin', tenor sax-playin', Roe vs Wade–supportin', JFK-idolizin', McDonalds-patronizin', jelly-donut–scarfin' host body of The King Of Rock And Roll is the President of the United States, I think I can safely put the schtick of mentioning Elvis trivia in every one of my reviews away for good. I know the sense of loss can be difficult, and I want you to know that I share in your grief. Together, we can come out of this stronger for the suffering.

Sumiko Blue Point
The stock Sumiko Blue Point is a lively, dynamic, excellent all-around performer. With no nasty glaring faults and only a few shortcomings, the $125 Blue Point has to rank as one of the best, if not the best, values in all of high-end audio. As Sumiko recommends, I applied a tiny droplet of LAST stylus treatment to the underside of the cantilever where it sticks out of the elastomer suspension; Sumiko claims this loosens and settles the rubber for better bass and quicker break-in, and sure enough, it did. Both the standard Blue Point and the Special were treated with a droplet of LAST when I set them up.

Somehow, the Blue Point manages to avoid the nasal, congested midrange of most inexpensive cartridges I've heard, instead sounding more akin to models costing $500–$1000. In fact, I've had a few cartridges through here that cost at least that much, and I still preferred the sound of the Blue Point; it's really that good.

Footnote 1: This is the funniest comedy record I've ever heard that wasn't supposed to be a comedy record. This is the Bee Gees' Sgt. Pepper/Satanic Majesties Request ripoff "concept" album, with the Brothers Gibb all decked out in ballet tights and Elizabethan foppery, posing in front of an Olde English castle with straight faces and strategic bulges. If you can hunt down this great record, you'll laugh so hard your sides will ache, your heart'll go pitter-pat.

Footnote 2: See Vol.14 No.7 (July 1991) and Vol.16 No.2 (February 1993).

6655 Wedgwood Rd. N, Suite 115
Maple Grove, MN 55311-2814
(510) 843-4500

remlab's picture

Did he leave on his own, or was he run out of town by a bunch of old goats?:-)

Jim C.'s picture

It appears to be a complex story. See John Atkinson's remarks in this thread:

Glotz's picture

Everywhere! He let the punk rock get the best of him... lol.

I remember MIT Terminator boxes get sawed open, cats sleeping on knit speaker tops, Dynaco amps just generally sucking, and now stories of trashing A/V rooms and taking kickbacks from advertisers!

Corey was young and awesome. Hope he still is! I wonder what he's doing...

I find it hilarious that all morning (and now afternoon) shows on tv are all advertisers giving kickbacks! How many national network tv shows are selling products during their broadcasts? All of them?? (What's next? Selling crap during the late night interview shows?? Kill me now.)

Kal Rubinson's picture

I find it hilarious that all morning (and now afternoon) shows on tv are all advertisers giving kickbacks! How many national network tv shows are selling products during their broadcasts? All of them?? (What's next? Selling crap during the late night interview shows?? Kill me now.)

Your statement evoked the memory that Corey had a very brief (but not spectacular) reappearance on the Today Show.

Jack L's picture


I am never on street drugs. I don't how easy to find them.

Yet, I know how easy to find LPs without "risking getting my ass blown off" in garage sales.

So how & where? My collection of 1,000+ classical music LPs are built up only a few years back after I decided, withOUT regret, to switch back from digital to vinyl.

Rather than spending a fortune to get them from record stores (very hard to find one nearby nowadays!!), I got them handily from those well-known chain thrift stores nearby for a buck or so a piece !
Guarantee for exchange in case of damage or dissatifaction. It's it sooo cool !

Sound qualtiy of those used vinyl? Nooo problem after my cleansing treatment before playing the first time. I got over 30 LPs digital mastered which sound superb for a buck each ! I am so gratifying.

Garage sales for vinyl? Not for me! That said, I unexpectedly picked up an antique Northern Electric AM radio (1930s era ?) in a painted white plastic-like enclosure (when plastic not yet existed). Still in working condition for lousy 12 bucks. Were I lucky or what ?

Jack L