The VPI House might be closed for public events because of COVID-19 but you can bet we are still spinning music and trying to have as many virtual opportunities as possible! This past week we finally had the opportunity to work with an evaluate a cartridge that has been a hit item in the US market, the Hana cartridges. For the purposes of this blog post we are only going to focus on the Hana SL with the good, the bad, and joys of music. At VPI we are often asked by customers for our recommendation and opinions on cartridges. We make it a rule that we do not have an opinion either way on any product we haven't physically demoed and listed to in our listening room. That is the only way to be honest and provide the best information for an interested person.
For over a year now people have asked us about the Hana cartridge and I have always given the same answer, "we have heard good things about it from other customers who use it, but we have never heard it in our listening room." We finally made the plunge, called up Garth at Musical Surroundings and got both the high output SL and low output ML into the shop. We chose to demo the SL on an upgraded Prime Scout since that table hit the price point and made sense from a package price.
The rest of the system consisted of KEF Blades with Isoacoustic feet, Moon by Simaudio electronics, and Nordost cabling. Full disclaimer, a cartridge at the price point of the Hana SL would usually go into our "middle of the road" price point system but that system is temporally down. To get a baseline I compared it to a brand new Audio Technica OC-9 that was also brand new (this way both cartridges were on the same level of break-in). I mounted up the OC-9, let it warm up with playing through a full albumin, than pulled out a reference track. Because I live streamed the listening experience I chose the track "Birds" from the album "Nameless" from Dominique Fils-Aime because it is agreeable with the facebook police.
We played through the whole track on the live stream for everyone to hear and than after the live stream I gave it one more critical listen to make sure I really grabbed the sound signature before switching to the Hana SL. I had made jokes during the stream about needing more coffee because this was all very early in the morning, and everything is better with coffee! And this was where I made my first mistake! I should have taken the time for the coffee because I went to mount up the Hana SL to discover the body is NOT threaded.
I posted the above picture and some playful banter expressing my frustration (and need to make my coffee an Irish one). In the midst of the post dialogue someone commented I shouldn't complain like an amateur, and that person to an extent was right. Any set-up "guru" worth their salt can handle mounting a cartridge with through holes, but not everyone is a set-up guru. In fact, most people set-up (of have someone set-up) their cartridge and never have it set up again until they upgrade to their next one. The moral being, products need to be made with the expectation of the amateur handling them with potentially no access to a proper set-up professional. However, that isn't the end of the world as there are many cartridges that do the same. I.E. Audio Technica, Miyajima, and Grado to name a few all of whom we have yelled at about through holes as well.
After a number of records I had a good listen to the Hana and feel for its musical signature. The Hana was dead quite between the notes which let me hear more subtleties that I would usually needed a higher price cartridge to achieve. The Hana had a bit more on the low end/base compared to the OC-9 where I felt a touch more vibration from the floor when a musician would strike a base drum. While listening to the drum solo on my Charlie Byrd, Old Hymn, album I was able to feel the kick drum go right up through my legs!
I love that the Hana is a higher output making it more flexible and easier to match with your system especially from an entry level stand point. With the OC-9 I had the volume cranked up to 52 on my Moon by Simaudio electronics, but has it down to 33 when switching over to the Hana. I forgot to mute when I had the OC-9 which gave me a loud volume pop through my system, wouldn't have had that issue (to that extent) with the high-output Hana).
I have possibly been over hyped on what to expect from the Hana from other's opinions, mainly customers and dealers, which always has a subconscious impact when evaluating anything. Below is actual (slightly exaggerated) dialogue from Harry and myself about movies:
Harry: "That movie is the best, we just watched it and couldn't take our eyes of the screen! It will blow your mind, you need to watch it right now!"
Mat: "Wait, that's it? That's the ending? It was really good, I really liked it, but I was waiting for the life changing moment! I think Dad went a bit overboard."
The Hana is a hero for silence between notes, more base, and the ease of the higher output but there is some ease taken out of the equation from mounting a cartridge with through holes. If you have a set-up technician that isn't a concern, of if you like to have a personal challenge. I can 100% recommend the Hana SL but there are other cartridges that are worth an AB as well. In the end its more about someone's musical flavor than anything else.
Update: Recently got and listen to one of their models higher on the food chain, WOW! More on that later on.