I cannot remember the last time I did a review that exploded my mythological view of things like this one has done. I have said for a number of years that the Chinese have been ramping up their game in the world of hifi gear design, production and quality of execution. I run Chinese amps. The original Jolida Music Envoy amps and matching pre-amp. I run a Chinese turntable. The Opera Consonance Droplet 5.0 MKII. I have reviewed Chinese speakers, numerous amps and even CD players. All of them were good. Some far better than others from that country and a few of them as good as anything I have ever experienced from builders in Germany, Italy, the USA or any other country for that matter. The Psvane amplifiers and preamp come immediately to mind.
Now I am reviewing the first Chinese phono cartridge I have ever actually seen and heard. This myth buster, as it were, is the Jasmine Audio TIGER moving coil cartridge. Mind you I have reviewed a number of cartridges over the years. Bluenote, Clearaudio, Benz Micro, Grado, Lyra and perhaps most importantly Four different cartridges from Koetsu, the Urushi Vermilion, The Azule Platinum, the Tiger Eye and the Coralstone. So smitten with the silkiness and hauntingly smooth and, yes, the lush delivery of these elusive cartridges that I have owned two of them and they have been my main go to cartridges for 10 years or better. I have the pleasure of owning the Azule Platinum and the Urushi Vermilion.
The point of this review is not wax poetic about those cartridges but rather to discuss the merits of the cartridge on review. Stay tuned though and you will understand the direct and inescapable fact that this new player has been studying the competition and have learned some pretty interesting lessons.
I really did not know what to expect when the cartridge arrived. The minute I opened the package I was pleasantly surprised by the packaging (see pictures). Classy and carefully crafted. One would expect something of this level on a $10,000.00 cartridge but not one in this price range. Koetsu could learn a little something about packaging from Jasmine.
The second thing was the cartridge body, which is crafted of blue and white porcelain. Rugged, dense, delicate and infinitely beautiful. I have always been fond of porcelain items from the Far East. I used to own a turn of the century porcelain opium pillow that was in the shape of a baby lying on its stomach and the lower back was a neck cradle. The opium chamber was in the baby's head. It was a beautiful piece that was ultimately stolen in a house burglary. (It was a collectible and was not used by me. That is my story and I am sticking to it!)
I digress! This is a beautifully executed piece of gear. As for the Tiger's aesthetics, I would put it up against any cartridge on the market including the Koetsu stone bodies. While that is certainly a plus to have a piece of kit that is easy on the eyes it matters not how nice it is to look at if it does not perform! Right? Actually that last comment can apply to so many of a man's playthings come to think of it. Good sense tells me to not walk but run away from discussing that analogy any further in these pages.
This cartridge is not establishing any new sonic territory nor is it based on some new technology that is leading the charge in to the next decade. It is actually a fairly standard recipe for a moving coil cartridge.
While the Jasmine cartridge line is billed, and properly so, as Chinese made cartridges the cantilever and the stylus assemblies come from a Swiss maker Gyger. The rest of the components are all made in China and the final assembly is done in China. This includes the beautiful and elegant looking porcelain bodies.
The stylus is the Gyger FG2 mounted by Gyger to their ruby cantilever. The weight is that of a stone body Koetsu. In other words it is slim challenged at 15 grams.
Internal impedance comes in at 6 ohm. Output of the Tiger is .3mv and the stated frequency response is 5-50 kHz, =/=1dB. Channel separation > 30dB@1KHz. Optimal tracking force is said to be between 1.5 and 2.5 grams. Compliance is 11 um/mN.
Setup was simple and straightforward and the tracking weight initially was set at 1.85 grams. I used the Ultimate Analogue Setup LP to check tracking angle etc. It was during this phase of setup that I found that on my table and arm combo the tracking weight of 2.15 grams was ideal. That 15-gram weight may well present some challenges for an arm or two out there but overall should be pretty easy to mate up to most arms.
Once I was satisfied with the setup I let the cartridge run in for about 30 hours. The manufacturer states a minimum of 20 hours of burn in but I let it go a bit more before settling in to do the critical listening.
Those who have read my reviews know I am a creature of habit if nothing else and to keep continuity in my reference points I keep things like my pre-amp, amplifiers, cables, phono stage etc. fairly consistent.
The only variable is the item I am reviewing at that time. This assures that I will be able to get right to the point about how the sound of my reference setup changes. I keep this philosophy right down to the source material.
So off to the races as it were.
This cartridge immediately produced a sizeable sound stage in my system. The width seemed to extend a good four to five feet beyond the speakers on either side. The Von Schweikert VSR4 MKIII speakers throw one of the best soundstages around but only if the front-end source creates it first. The Tiger did that in spades. Height and depth were equally impressive to be sure. The ability to produce the proper placement of the barking mutts in Roger Water's "Dogs" from the album Live in the Flesh is a real test that the Tiger passed with flying colors!
It is always a telling trait. How well a cartridge presents bass from a particular recording? The single best example that I have in my collection is the song "Mistral Wind" from heart's Dog and Butterfly album and Pink Floyd's "Any Color You Like" from Dark Side of the Moon. What I immediately noticed was that the Tiger had a very impactful bass delivery but not over bearing. The Tiger produced a tight and tuneful delivery without any attendant wooliness. The bass guitar and organ pedals were delivered with earth shaking depth and strength but without the haze that can envelop low frequencies. On "Mistral Wind" there are some very deep and low bass passages that can shake the foundation of a house with the right setup. Of course the most impact seems to come when you have a sub capable of going below 20HZ. I do not run subs in my system but still when I cranked things up the bass was enough to literally rattle the house but without any muddiness at all. In fact the notes were quite distinct and recognizable as music as opposed to rumbling frequencies of, say, an earthquake! On Pink Floyd's tune the bass was smooth and seemed to flow from the speakers like a stream of mercury. Solid, fluid and with a liquid property that made it flow right around the listener, enveloping and actually swallowing me up in the presentation. That tingling sensation that can hit you right in the nether regions and send shivers up your spine can come from a bomb going off beneath you or from a deep, vibrating and soothing message. Think the second example when evaluating the Tiger. I always prefer soothing and comforting, to explosive and noisy!
There is no doubt that Koetsu cartridges seem to reign supreme in the area of midrange. Even the most hardened critics of Koetsu generally concede no other cartridge does it better. That is still the case I can assure you. That being said though the Jasmine Tiger can certainly equal it and that is an astonishing feat! Creamy and smooth with an intimacy that easily eclipses what a talented lap dancer can do for your intimacy button. With a familiar liquidity as that of the bass, the midrange just flows out of the speakers with no strain, harsh edge or falsely imposed restrained politeness. The female voice, at least for me, is where the proof is in musical reproduction. Eva Cassidy is the reigning Queen to whom all others must bow and her rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is still the best version ever recorded. Years after her untimely and so tragic passing she still walks into your audio room, sidles up on her stool and sings straight into your soul and she does it for no one but you. A great cartridge can produce this track in a way that will cause me tears. A poor cartridge will do the same thing for very different reasons. Suffice it to say that the delivery from the Jasmine Tiger is as true to the emotion and intimacy of the performance as it can get. Every breath, every pregnant pause just stops you in your tracks and the crescendo of her voice towards the end of the song is almost as if she was setting her own soul free to leave the body that would all to soon fail her. The speed and attack of leading edges and an ability to deliver a focused yet balanced delivery of the midrange frequencies make this one of the better cartridges I have ever listened to. On Martin Tillman's "Odessa", you get the soul shaking depth of feeling from the cello coupled with the texture of the horsehairs as the bow glides across the strings. It is a truly balanced delivery of ultra high resolution, low noise floor and impeccable dynamics! This is something I look for in every component I review. This cartridge gave me everything I was looking for and when you compare it to cartridges in the $4000-6000.00 range it acquits itself admirably especially in the all-important midrange.
Well I have had a few in my 60 years and they have been accompanied by a number of lows but as I look ba… wait... I was off on another tangent there. Sorry about that but sometimes I just leave for a mini vacation to New Zealand or some other exotic place.
High Frequencies! That is what we were about to discuss. Yes the Jasmine Tiger certainly delivers them. At first, prior to hitting the 30-hour mark I would have called them shrill, edgy and even a bit annoying here and there. At approximately 50 hours that diminished and by 70 hours it seemed another cartridge took its place. Once the cartridge settled in with my system it really began to shine in every aspect of music delivery and as the bass and midrange began to show their worth the high frequencies were a little late to the party but when they did show up it was a full on blitz. Shimmer without grain, cymbal decay with great resolution. Emerson Lake and Palmers, "Father Christmas" has a number of instruments that hand you shimmer and sparkle en mass. From bells to a jangly twelve-string guitar the anchors the entire song there are high frequencies to die for. With a cartridge that does not do a good job of resolving individual instruments the song can almost be annoying as all that sparkle becomes on annoying, grating screech. This does not happen so much with the Jasmine Tiger. It does a fabulous job on this track of separating each of the instruments and weighting them accordingly. What you get is the delicate chiming of the twelve string delivering the melody in matched octaves, the bells with distinct tones ringing through but not overtaking the song, the brass weighing in with strength and power and strings with a smooth delivery absence any falsely elevated string bow noise.
Overall this cartridge is every bit the measure of cartridges costing 4 times as much and most of those do not offer what is truly a unique visual presentation at the end of the tonearm. Is it better than a Koetsu Coralstone? No! Is it better than a Koetsu Urushi? Well maybe just maybe but that is a subjective. Wait isn't every review somewhat subjective? As neutral as reviewers try to be at the end of it all we are giving you our take on the gear and that cannot help but be somewhat subjective by it's very nature.
This is a cartridge that for a relatively small amount of coin will leave 85% of all audiophiles very, very satisfied. This also allows the freeing up of precious hobby money for the average listener to invest in other things like better speakers, a better phono stage (check out the other Jasmine offerings).
With our current economic state what it is, every dollar saved is incredibly important. This is the audio equivalent of getting a Ferrari for a Fiat price!
Have I mentioned the price of this little gem yet? Did I say it was only $1295! Did I mention that? Seriously this cartridge is only $1295! Did I tell you that it only cost $1295? That is the equivalent of the sales tax on a Koetsu Coralstone cartridge!!! Think about that long and hard. I have owned two of Koetsu's finest cartridges. I have lived with both a Coralstone and the Tiger-eye for extended periods of time. Both of which are simply out of my price range and as lovely as they are a guy like me can not justify the cost of either. But I most certainly could swing the cost of the Jasmine Tiger! Did I mention that it is $1295?
If you are in the market for a really lovely cartridge and you are not looking for the last word in ultra neutrality and analytics (think Lyra) then you owe it to yourself to take a listen to this cartridge. Gary Lea
Jasmine Tiger Moving Coil Phono Cartridge