MC cartridge mini-shootout: SPU, Koetsu, FR, Ikeda

Category: Analog

Finally had a chance to do a shootout of some of my MC cartridges. We compared 3 SPU’s (Silver Meister GM, Gold GM, Royal GM), Ikeda 9CIII (cantileverless), Fidelity Research FR7fz, Koetsu Onyx Platinum and Koetsu Coralstone Platinum. All cartridges except the Koetsu Coralstone Plt was bought used and hence runned-in. The cartridges were tested on my friend Kel’s system (Art Audio Carissa 845 amps, AR LS27 pre, Hagerman Trumpet phonostage + Cinemag Blue SUT, Hagerman Bugle fully modded + Hashimoto HM-7 SUT and Kudos speakers). We used 2 TT’s: Garrard 401 with Schick 12" arm and a Garrard 301 with Ikeda IT407 12" arm. Both Garrards have upgraded plinths. Most of the comparison was finally done with the Garrard 301/Ikeda combo. We used different headshells for the Ikeda 9CIII (Ikeda Rhodium headshell/cheap leads), Koetsu Onyx Plt (Yamamoto Ebony/Ortofon Silver leads) and Koetsu Coralstone Plt (Sumiko headshell/Ikeda Hybrid Cu leads). We started with the SPU’s. Amongst the 3 SPU, the consensus was that the SPU Gold was the best. It was between the Silver Meister which has more treble extension and the Royal which was the most laid back. The Royal have all the SPU attributes but has detail, refinement, soundstage, smoothness and musicality but more punch and dynamics than the Royal and without some of the leading edge and treble extension of the Silver Meister. Mind you, all 3 had a similar SPU house sound. We then tried the FR7fz which sounded more balance, more PRAT than the SPU’s while remaining smooth, warm, detailed and musical. 2 of our group (50%) liked the FR7fz the best. We then tried the Ikeda 9CIII which was very difficult to setup. We initially tried Ikeda’s silver headshell leads but could not get one channel to work and finally had to settle for some basic cheap leads (unknown conductor) which did reduce the sonics somewhat. But we did hear what cantileverless brings to the party. A very direct, dynamic, detail, good micro and macrodynamics, very good PART. It does have a similar house sound like the FR7fz. But probably let down by the cheap leads we had to use. All favoured the FR7f over the Ikeda9CIII as a result. But it certainly wetted my appetite to try a higher end and later model Ikeda 9 REX or MUSA. Finally, we tried the Koetsu’s. We were not expecting much. We thought we would get good mids but soft bass and treble extension. We tried the Onyx Plt and we were shocked. This is not the typical Koetsu wood body sound. Great dynamic and realistic bass. Kel and I thought it had the best bass of all. Very palpable mids. Seems like the musicians are there in the room. Dynamic, detail, airy and very musical. And mind you, my Koetsu Onyx Plt has a hairline crack on the body. I bought it that way at a low price. This was the only way I could afford a stone body Koetsu (or so I thought). In fact, the sound was so good that I then bought a new Coralstone Plt so that we can put it into the shootout. We then tried the Coralstone Plt. It was even better than the Onyx Plt even though it was brand new. More bass, more dynamics, more musical than the Onyx. And strangely more gain than the Onyx. So it could be something to do with the Onyx’s cracked body. We ran it in for a few more days. We did hear some sonic changes in the Koetsu Coralstone as it was running in, so it was obviously not performing at its best. I was told by the dealer that it needed about 100 hours of run-in. In the end, we had 2 members prefer the FR7fz and 2 others preferring the Koetsu Coralstone Platinum. Obviously this is not a formal review, not same headsells etc, but just a quick shootout over 3 days to get a flavor of these cartridges. A key take away is that these vintage cartridges SPU Gold, FR7fz and Ikeda 9CIII have a lot to offer and surprised us all. Kel has a DPS turntable/arm with Transfiguration Proteus cartridge as his reference TT. I would say that all the cartridges gave the DPS/Proteus combo a good run for the money. As for me, the Coralstone Platinum is my new reference.
The Royal have all the SPU attributes but has detail, refinement, soundstage, smoothness and musicality but more punch and dynamics than the Royal

You’re comparing Royal to Royal, but it’s probably Royal and Gold?
Just to make it clear and i hope you can correct it.

There are two versions of SPU Gold and two versions of SPU Royal, actually.

Never tried Gold (this is very old model from the 80’s), but i have modern 21st century SPU Royal G mkII which is the upgraded version of the origional older Royal GM.

The original SPU Gold has Elliptical stylus tip, but the SPU Gold Reference from 1989 has Replicant 100 stylus tip (much better in details retrival than any SPU out there).

Then the first generation of the SPU Royal GM model was released in 1998 to celebrate the Ortofon 80 year anniversary.

BUT the next generation Royal G MK II was released in 21st century and comes with Ortofon Replicant 100 stylus (as the SPU Gold Reference)! The addition of Ortofon’s unique Replicant 100 stylus and reduced tip mass ensures open and detailed sound reproduction for a purely exquisite listening experience. Electrum coils, consisting of a gold and silver alloy, provides uncolored and precise transmission of armature movements while the slightly modified damping system makes it possible to reduce VTF and achieves a higher level of linearity.

The Ortofon SPU Royal G mkII is clearly the best SPU cartridges i have ever tried.
SPU Spirit Ltd is another good model, but the elliptical tip is always inferior compared to the Replicant 100 on the proper tonearm. 

Hi Chakster,

You're right. I was comparing my SPU Gold to the my SPU Royal.
You're right about the new Gold and Royal versions.
My SPU Gold was older version with Elliptical stylus. The reason I specifically bought the older SPU Gold and Royal versions was that in reading reviews on the internet, tehre seemed to be a preference amongst SPU lovers for the older versions and not the Mk2 versions. While the newer versions have arguably more detail due to the updated stylus etc, it does seem to loose a bit of that house SPU sound. FWIW