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as reviewed by Danny Kaey
I admire the Japanese immensely. The country was virtually obliterated in 1945, yet it became a true global power within only a few decades. High-quality audio has been a Japanese specialty. From Nakamichi cassette decks to Luxman tube gear to Sony's compact disc (with Philips) to Technics components of all kinds, Japanese corporations have produced electronic wizardry for decades. Add an insane number of small high-end companies, and it becomes clear that Japan is one of the dominant forces behind modern audio.
Phase Tech is the brand name of the Kyodo Denshi Design Co., led by Noboyuki Suzuki, who got his start in high-end audio in the 70s designing analog recorders and other equipment. Arturo Manzano of Axxis Distribution recently added Phase Tech to his stable of brands, and he is slowly building a market for Phase Tech products in the U.S. and abroad. When I visited Arturo at his office nearly a year ago, he offered me a P1 MC cartridge for review, and I gladly accepted. I had always wanted to spend time with a high-end Japanese cartridge.
The P1 is a wood-bodied cartridge that utilizes 6-Ns oxygen-free copper for the coil and samarium cobalt for the magnet. The cartridge is of low compliance, and should be used with heavier tonearms, so it was no surprise that of the three arms I had on hand, the P1 mated best with the TriPlanar and the AudioCraft 4400, which are heavier than my Brinkmann arm. The installation was a breeze, and I was able to quickly spend some quality time with the P1. I set the tracking force just shy of 2 grams, which was close to the recommended maximum.
The P1 is definitely in the dynamic, vibrant, and resolving category. If you want polite, forgiving sound, this isn't your baby. Take, for example, Coltrane's Ballads LP, on the super-pristine Speakers Corner reissue. Coltrane's playing was immediate and forceful, yet sensual—distinctly Coltrane. The P1 rendered an extremely three-dimensional space, with the soundstage nicely laid bare. I heard gobs of resolution, perhaps even a bit too much. I could clearly hear more hiss in the background than I could with, say, the Shelter 501, which has been my reference for nearly two years. The 501 may not have the Phase Tech's ultra-dynamic character, but its midrange makes you go "Ahhh" in response to certain recordings. The P1 doesn't sound quite as welcoming and warm.
The Phase Tech's bass extension and slam were more prominent than the Shelter's. When I cued up Verve Remixed Vol. 1, which contains funky remixes of famous Verve titles, my room was pressurized in ways I can't begin to adequately describe. Several of my friends simply could not believe that a turntable (the Brinkmann LaGrange, in combination with an equally high-quality phono stage, the E.A.R. 324) was able to play music in such a dynamic, yet totally transparent and effortless way. Of course, we are talking about a setup that approaches $25K, but the results were nonetheless stunning.
One of my favorite piano pieces, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, is perhaps the most beautiful piece of music ever written. The P1 played my RCA LP of this work without dynamic constraint, yet gave me an open look into Ravel's mind and soul. The adagio was very nicely resolved, though again with a tad more surface noise then I get with my 501. The aforementioned "Ahhh" effect was also diminished, in favor of a more "zero-to-60 in 4 seconds" type of musical experience. The P1 gave a bigger—if cooler—picture than the 501 could manage. In certain instances, and with certain program material, the Phase Tech's cooler tonality proved beneficial, which is precisely why I have three tonearms and three different cartridges. One is inevitably better than the others with a given record. Try that with a CD player!
With fellow PFO reviewer Bob Levi lending a hand, I recently acquired a find-and-then-some on eBay, in the form of a mint LP of Stokowski Bach transcriptions on the long-lost Phase 4 label. (If anyone is planning on reissuing those, I'll sign up!) While the 501 nicely delineated each instrument, and offered a warm midrange, I simply hadn't heard this record until I played it on the P1. The Phase Tech gave a bare-bones version of this sensationally recorded performance, which somehow seemed to fly better. It was a real treat. You should give the P1 a serious look if you want to give your system that special "kick." Danny Kaey
Danny is the US Importer/Distributor for Zero One.