Transfiguration Proteus MC phono cartridge Page 2

The cantilever is of 0.3mm-diameter solid boron, to which is affixed a PA (3x30µm) stylus of solid diamond. The claimed channel separation is better than 30dB (200Hz–1kHz), with a channel balance within 0.5dB at 1kHz. Compliance is moderate at 13 x 10–6cm/dyne, and the recommended vertical tracking force (VTF) is 2.0gm. The recommended resistive load is greater than 10 ohms (or 10 times the internal impedance, which is a useful rule of thumb for the resistive loading of moving-coil cartridges). The body is of resonance-controlled aluminum. The cartridge weighs a moderate 7.8gm, meaning that between its mass and compliance, the Proteus is intended to be used in a tonearm of medium to high mass.

In short: When you buy a Proteus, you get the build quality and low-tolerance specifications you're entitled to for $6000.

Installing the Proteus in my Continuum Audio Labs Cobra tonearm was hampered only by the cantilever's being tucked well under the body, which somewhat impeded the setting of overhang and zenith angle. The advantage is that it's almost impossible to accidentally break the cantilever.

A stylus rake angle (SRA) of 92° was easily achieved with the tonearm close to parallel to the record surface. Using a digital oscilloscope, I got minimal crosstalk with the cantilever very close to perpendicular to the record surface. What's more, separation was 30dB.


On the advice of Ypsilon's Demetris Baklavas, I connected a nude Vishay 15k ohm resistor in parallel with the secondary winding of my Ypsilon MC-16L step-up transformer, which resulted in the Proteus "seeing" a load of about 44.4 ohms. (If your step-up transformer doesn't have loading plugs, you can still load the secondary by putting resistors in parallel with your transformer's output cables.)

Unprepared for Proteus
Even before I'd heard a single note of music, just based on the set-up measurements, I was certain the Proteus would be a solid performer. Having recently reviewed the new Phoenix, I had certain expectations, one of which was that the Proteus might sound like the Phoenix, but with more precise and subtle attacks, more fleshed-out sustain, and a more generous decay. In addition, I expected better microdynamics and textural "ripeness." In other words, play a well-recorded piano LP and it should sound even more like a piano.

Whatever my high expectations, I wasn't prepared for what the Proteus, not yet broken in, delivered from the first record I played: a test pressing of a 45rpm reissue of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble's Couldn't Stand the Weather (Epic/Legacy/Analogue Productions). I expected something like what I'd heard from Lyra's stunning Etna, which has a meaty midrange more closely resembling that of the Temper Supreme. Instead, I got Lyra Atlas–like dynamic explosiveness, high-frequency air and extension, and electrostatic-like transparency and texture and touch, all on an enormously wide, deep soundstage. Even before the Proteus had had a chance to fully break in and develop, what I was hearing put it up there with the best, most musically involving cartridges I've heard at any price.

If the Orpheus transformed the top of Transfiguration's model line from dependable four-door sedan to Lamborghini, the Proteus makes it a rocket sled—without sacrificing the line's tonal neutrality and overall linearity. This is not the sort of sound everyone wants—some prefer richer, warmer, softer—but from my listening chair, this is the sound that produces both musicality and an intensely vivid sense of space. It's got the rich, red velvet some prefer, while sacrificing none of the transient and spatial fireworks many consider essential in a state-of-the-art cartridge.

I could not fairly describe the Proteus's sound as being "analytical," or so fast that it skipped over important musical landmarks to arrive at the next. The Proteus handled the intense sibilants of closely miked voices with clarity and ease, producing natural detail without softening or smearing, while allowing the full development of vocal textures and tonalities.

A 45rpm reissue of Peter, Paul and Mary, the trio's first album, sensationally recorded by Bill Schwartau (2 LPs, Warner Bros./ORG), spotlit the Proteus's prowess with voices—something Transfiguration has always done well to begin with, and now does only better. Its rendering of this album, mastered from the original analog tapes, took me right into the studio, within kissing distance of the lips of the young Mary Travers (or of Peter Yarrow or Paul Stookey, if you prefer).

After reviewing, for AnalogPlanet, the remastering of the Led Zeppelin catalog supervised by Jimmy Page, I had to pull out the version of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" that first brought the song to the attention of Page and Robert Plant: Joan Baez's, from her In Concert, Part One (LP, Vanguard VSD 2122, black Stereolab label). The recording is stunning if variable (it was recorded at various venues), and young Baez, at the height of her vocal powers in 1961 and '62, mesmerizes. The Proteus did a stunning job with this pure, natural recording (particularly on "Babe"), producing a rich, creamy, well-focused, but not overdelineated voice floating in three-dimensional space and surrounded by a large volume of air. The balance of her guitar's transient and resonant qualities was ideal, producing a vivid sensation of being present at these concerts. I listened transfixed through both sides.

The latest reissue from the Electric Recording Company arrived: a performance of Debussy's Estampes and Préludes, Book 1, recorded in stereo in 1961 by Henriette Faure (LP, EMI/Electric Recording Company ERC 006), a relatively obscure pianist who, from what little about her I could find online, was better known for performing the music of Ravel, with whom she studied. The original of this EMI recording, and of a French Decca recording of Faure performing Ravel, regularly go for $1000 and up.

What sounds like a fairly closely miked recording with plenty of spatial cues features intense dynamic contrasts produced by some heavy pounding of chords up and down the keyboard. The Proteus tracked it all with seeming ease and not a single stumble, producing florid colors, rich textures, and a sensation of musical flow that I just don't hear from digital—although an eccentricity in the pressing of side 2 produced noticeable wow. That drives some listeners bonkers, but I can live with it.

I got a test pressing of an upcoming AAA release of percussion music that the producer said created "explosions" on their turntable with a few cartridges that will go unmentioned. The Proteus sailed through it without so much as a mistracking click or buzz while delivering high-level aural and musical excitement that sizzled without sizzling, if you know what I mean.

Rather than cite more examples that demonstrate the Proteus's greatness with a laundry list of albums you might not have, let me just say that it excelled in every parameter I can think of, with no negatives I could find.

Despite its "rational exuberance" on top, the Proteus's tracing of the grooves produced sounds set against a deep, rich, velvety-black background. Its overall character was as nonmechanical as I've heard from a cartridge of full resolution and full frequency response that held back nothing—and I mean nothing.

Bright recordings sounded so, dark ones dark. The great ones sounded as great as I've heard them. Any audible character the Proteus may have had was closer to that of the Lyra Atlas or the Haniwa HCTR01-6T than of the Ortofon Anna, which is somewhat richer in the lower midbass and somewhat more polite on top.

The Proteus's sound was as effective with jazz as with hard rock as with classical as with folk. It upholds Transfiguration's well-deserved reputation for expertise and finesse in the reproduction of voices, while expanding the brand's reach into the deepest, darkest, brightest corners of every other conceivable cartridge performance parameter.

As is happening with loudspeakers, I think that with the latest generation of cartridges we're reaching a new high level of observationally linear cartridge performance in which the very best models sound more similar to than different from one another, and in which strong "tonal character" is more a deliberate choice than something unavoidable. In the case of the Transfiguration Proteus—a cartridge that gets so far out of the music's way that you might think it's out of reach—you can have it all for the reasonable, not at all stupid price of $6000.

Immutable Music/Transfiguration
US distributor: Profundo
2051 Gattis School Road, Suite 540/123
Round Rock, TX 78664
(510) 375-8651

doak's picture

"I got minimal crosstalk with the cantilever very close to perpendicular to the record surface."

Having difficulty visualizing this geometrical relationship.

John Atkinson's picture
Having difficulty visualizing this geometrical relationship.

Imagine you are looking at the cartridge and cantilever from the front. If the motor is perfectly aligned with the body of the cartridge, the cantilever will appear to be normal to the LP surface, ie, perpendicular.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

doak's picture

The words "will appear perpendicular" did the trick.

Best Regards

dronepunk's picture

Why is it when someone gives the Transfiguration cartridge history lesson the
ARIA is always left out?
You can even go to the “way back machine” and look at Immutable Sounds web page and there is nothing about it other than an announcement sayin that it will be introduced “next month”
Then nothing..... I have emailed them and was told “we have no information on THAT cartridge”
Very strange response....