Mysterious Cartridges: forgotten Argent MC


Something from my private investigation:

Back in the 80’s the Direct Sound Corporation Inc. introduced new series of low compliance MC cartridges under their new brand — ARGENT. Here is an old flyer with advertising of the best Argent models.

The name Argent is virtually unknown to most of the audiophiles nowadays, correct me if i’m wrong.

I tried to find out who was the manufacturer of the beautiful and extremely rare Argent MC phono pickups.

I have 3 different models:

1) One of them is high output 1.9mV MC500HS with Sapphire cantilever and Hyper-elliptical 0.3x0.6 stylus tip (30 years ago retail price in the USA was $260). Here is the same Argent, but on another tonearm.

2) Another one is MC500H with Nude Parabolic stylus tip and Super-Boron cantilever (retail price in the 80’s was $200). Both carts selfweight is 7g each. Same as my 500HS, just with Boron cantilever.

3) And the last one is ultra rare LOMC 0.2mV Argent MC110 with aluminum boby on sapphire base. The stylus is hyper-elliptical. The price in USA in the 80’s was $385. The weight is 8 gramm. Dynamic compliance of all of them is 8cu, tracking force range 1.8 — 2.2g (recommended tracking force is 2g) and frequency response is about 10Hz - 50kHz.

Argent MC cartridges never turns up for sale, i’ve been looking for them for about 6 years to find and buy some, mainly because i was very impressed by the sound quality of my first discovery (Argent MC500HS w/Sapphire Cantilever) long time ago.

However, the LOMC (0.2mV) Argent MC110 recently impressed me even more. I would love to find the rarest Argent Diamond which was the ultimate MC model ($1200 in the 80’s — serious price for the cartridge at that time). I think the "DIAMOND" is basically the same cartridge, but with different cantilever (and tuned accordingly). There was a RUBY version too!

And this is all we know about mysterious Argent brand:

Untill the mid 90’s the Argent was a trade mark of Direct Sound Corporation filed as a Domestic Business Corporation in the State of New York and is no longer active. This corporate entity was filed on Monday, August 9, 1982 and expired on Wednesday, March 13, 1996 as recorded in documents filed with New York Department of State. In June 5, 1996 the Argent Audio, Inc. was born as recorded in documents filed with New York Department of State. Chief Executive Mr. James T. Laudeman. Current entity status is inactive. Their latest product was so called The Argent Room Lens ($395 each) for Acoustic Room Treatment. The last review dated May 11, 1999. Argent Audio closed the business in 2003. Mr. Ric Cummins was a designer of the fabulous Argent Room Lens. Mr. Cummins is a sculptor by trade. His name related to another company called the Argent Cable - manufacturer of the speaker and digital cables. It’s easy to find a reviews about Argent cables and Room Lenses than any info about misterious Argent cartridges.

Who actually designed and made those obscure Argent cartridges?

I’d like to stop speculations about it — definitely NOT the Dynavector!
But american brand Argent indeed received their cartridge from Japan and that was the origin of manufacturing.
Someone on another forum said they are similar or even identical to Dynavector, but they are not, except for the silver color. As always so much misinformation posted online. They are completely different beasts (i have dyna and argent on hands). Dynavector has nothing to do with Argent, because the manufacturer of the Argent in the 80’s was the Excel Sound Corporation!

Japanese Excel Sound has more than 50 years of cartridge-making experience, much of it OEM work for other companies such as Argent in USA, SAEC in Japan and others.

Vintage entry level Argent ES-1CE is nothing but an Excel Sound 1CE, those cartridges looks similar to the Argent 500H, 500HS (Sapphire) and the 500HR (Ruby). The only difference is the plain black color of the Excel Sound 1CE and much cheaper cantilever and stylus.

I will tell you more. The current state-of-the-art $8000 Excel Sound’s Etsuro Urushi MC looks very similar compared to the stylish and very rare Argent MC110 made in the 80’s. They are both have unique sapphire base, similar specs and they came from the same manufacturer after all, just in different time.

"The Etsuro MC cartridges series was jointly developed by Mr. Masao Okada, CEO/CTO of Excel Sound Co., Ltd., which has more than half a centuryʼs experience manufacturing MC cartridge, and Mr. Etsuro Akiyama of Dai-Ichi Shoji Co., Ltd. which has been exporting audio equipment including phono cartridges and electronic measuring instruments since the 1970’s. The two companies started manufacturing the Etsuro MC Cartridge series to aim for the highest Japanese quality, which has never existed in the past, and to challenge high-end audiophiles around the world with this work of art. President Okada of Excel Sound created the Etsuro model by focusing on the high-fidelity characteristic of the sound being transferred from the groove of the record to the audio equipment."


I think the old Argent MC110 and Argent Diamond are a prototypes of the modern Etsuro Urushi and even more expensive Etsuro Gold cartridges! Would you believe it? Remember that in the late 80’s the Argent was top of the line cartridge Excel Sound ever made for US market at very high price unilizing exotic gemstone cantilever. Etsuro Urushi MC is most likely upgraded version of the Argent MC110. Introduced in 21st century Etsuro Urushi MC cost $8000 in the USA (and £7,499 in UK), it’s extremely high price for ANY Moving Coil cartridge (imo), but this is modern high-end marketing, no wonder.

No, Etsuro Urushi does not have a gemstone cantilever like vintage Argent DIAMOND from the late 80’s, but the price for Etsuro Urushi with Sapphire cantilever is even higher than Argent Diamond! At the same time the cantilever itself is identical to my Sapphire Argent MC500HS (absolutely the same).

Let’s looks at the U.S. Inflation rate, we can convert $1200 price from 1986 to 2018 and it will be no more than $2800 in "today’s" dollars. This is the price for LOMC cartridge with DIAMOND cantilever from the same manufacturer. Don’t you think that $8000 for very similar cartridge with Sapphire cantilever is too much even for the japanese luxury Urushi lacquer finishing?

I’ve got a feeling that all "new" cartridges from Excel Sound / Etsuro is just a "remastering" of their very old cartridges they made for Argent in the 80’s.

The latest release from Excel Sound is new top of the line model ETSURO GOLD with DIAMOND cantilever (finally). Remember Argent Diamond and MC110 ? Same sapphire base, almost the same size, under the new finishing there is the same aluminum body with samarium cobalt magnets.

The price for Etsuro Gold with Diamond Cantilever must be insane, it has a natural gold finishing.

On the lower side Etsuro have the Cobalt Blue model. At the moment Etsuro made only 3 models, the lowest model cost $5200 in the USA (official retail).

Not so long ago Mr. Fremer uploaded his video tour at Excel Sound in Japan. After watching you will realize that Excel Sound hasn’t produced cartridge for decades and has been making some cheap accessories instead. No wonder that making return to the cartridge business they’re quickly "remastered" an old models from the 70s/80s to sell them in a fancy packaging under the brand Etsuro with better stylus profile and very attractive luxury finishing of the cartridge body, but for extremely expensive price.

As you know the Excel Sound Corporation today is also the O.E.M. (Original Equipment Manufacturer) of the entry level ($450-750) Hana MC cartridges with elliptical or shibata profiles on aluminum cantilever. Hana available in High Output version too, just like the old Argent 500H series, but the Argent 500 was available with Boron, Sapphire, Ruby cantilevers. Now you know where the Hana came from.

Not everything in today’s High-End business described as "new revolutionary product" is actually new. Vintage cartridges made on peak of analog technology can be as good, better or very close to multi thousand dollars new luxury cartridges released today.

If you have more information, pictures or manuals for the obscure Argent cartridges please share in this topic.

I’m gonna take some more pictures of my 3 vintage Argent samples soon.

P.S. The images of Etsuro cartridges i’m using here are from the web (not taken by myself).



10076406 d6c5 4854 a751 76cefa9d8a70chakster

Showing 12 responses by chakster

Discovered a source for Etsuro Urushi and Etsuro Cobalt Blue models in Japan, international shipping available from these guys (and they speak english).

In Japan they are branded EXCEL SOUND

Cobalt Blue / 418 000 YEN with tax / = $3970
Urushi / 792 000 YEN with tax / = $7520

Both model based on Argent cartridge designed in the 80’s by Excel Sound for American Brand Argent.
Very interesting read, and awesome bit of sleuthing!

Thanks @neonknight


While it does seem that the Argent is related to the Etsuro as you mention, it does not prove the innards are the same. There have been cartridge designers that have plied there craft for decades, and what is currently offered is significantly different in performance when compared to what was offered.

Did you check the specs for all of them ? I did and they are very similar.

I only have 3 models of Argent in my collection, i can’t buy Etsuro cartridges for obvious reason. But after watching Michael Fremer video tour at Excel Sound i feel that there is nothing special about those Etsuro models, except for a fancy look and crazy price.

Even if the design DNA has common genes. Such as Accuphase versus ZYX.

Accuphase does not even looks like ZYX and i owned at least two ZYX models (Airy III, Premium 4D SB2). Nakatsuka-san patented so many things for his ZYX recently, so they are definitely not the same if you will compare them to his work for Accuphase or Monster Cable. Those two may be close to ZYX entry level models, but not close to the reference models (design is completely different). And Nakatsuka-San never stopped making cartridges since the 70's, he constantly upgraded his models while Excel Sound stopped making cartridges for decades. 

So while the prices have climbed, and there seems to be a correlation between the Argent and the Etsuro, it does not prove they are going to sound the same, or even similar. Although similar is a conclusion that could be inferred, but in the end would require a side by side comparison to validate it right?

Sure, i’m not trying to say they are identical, but Excel Sound was out of phono cartridge business for a long time, at that time they have been manufacturing some cheap junk for digital (watch Fremer’s video tour), they are returned with cheap Hana cartridges. Later reference (and very expensive) models of Esturo cartridges from Excel Sound utilized the same design with sapphire base and very similar specs. Same Diamond cantilever on Etsuro Gold (just like Argent Diamond) and Same Sapphire cantilever on Bordeaux (just like on Argent model i have) they made in the 80’s for Argent. You’re free to believe that they come up with some unique ideas, but in my opinion it just looks like they re-issues their old model in a new fancy boxes for crazy price.

What was ultimate in the 80’s (in cartridge design) is still ultimate in today’s world.
We have many examples of superior cartridges from that era and they are all cheaper (and often better) than today’s reference models.

I don't think a car analogy is valid here with vintage cartridges. If everything NEW is better by default than no one will be using old speaker drivers,vintage tubes, rare transistors, vintage microphones, reel to reel recorders, vintage turntables and cartridges... some labels can't even make a vinyl record as good as the vintage vinyl.

In many cases it is a regress, not a progress, it's a digital world after all. Not everyone need a phono cartridge like it was in the 70's, not many serious competitors anymore in the game. 

But it is true that they can be good or bad, and for the cartridges condition or the damper and stylus tip is very important. I don't have any cartridge in bad condition, i just don't buy them. NOS or Excellent condition only. It's hard to say how many vintage cartridges i tried, maybe over 50. The latest new cartridge i bought was Miyajima Kansui, the rest of the cartridges are all vintage and i can't remember any problem with any sample, except for the damper problem with all my Technics high-end cartridges (205mk3 and mk4, 100mk4  series, several samples) and a few Victor X-1 samples. So 90% of all vintage cartridge i have tried are perfect. 10% are weak, but only specific models from a few manufacturers. 

All those Argent cartridges (i have 3 models) track all 4 bands on Hi-Fi Test LP, just like any other vintage cartridges in my collection.

If these two track on Hi-Fi Test LP are Ok for every cartridge:

A6 Bias Setting (300Hz Tone L+R At +12dB)
A7 Bias Setting (300Hz Tone L+R At +14dB)

These two tracks on Hi-Fi Test LP are very difficult to track, only great cartridges can go through (but all my vintage carts can do that): 

A8 Bias Setting (300Hz Tone L+R At +16dB)
A9 Bias Setting (300Hz Tone L+R At +18dB)

It's funny, but only NEW cartridges can't track well on those last two bias setting tracks on Hi-Fi Text LP. It was hard for my ex 2 ZYX cartridges, for my ex 2 Ortofon SPU cartridges too.  

Actually it's much easier to track well for high compliance MM cartridges. 

P.S. I also have Ikeda cartridge (9c III), this one is probably not the best tracker, but his earlier design such as FR-7f and FR-7fz are very nice and sealed suspension never fails, even after 40 years.

When someone trying to offer me a brand new cartridge made with super duper nano technologies for astronomical price i'd rather stick to vintage cartridges i know very well. It's an emotional contact with the music and i'm pretty sure in the golden age of analog technologies serious cartridge designer were capable to reach nirvana. Now in the digital world i'm not sure anyone can offer something better, but if they will not tell us it's better then who will buy it for the asking price ? 
 

      






One of the problem with modern cartridges for me is their cost, i can't deal even with $5k cartridges, basically anything over $3k is too much for me, the most comfortable price is under $1k even for used models and i have to dig deeper to find the best deals for my needs. Spending something over $3k for some ultra high-end modern LOMC (years ago) was a mistake, but we have to learn making mistakes, so i think it was a positive experience anyway, even if i lose money on it. 

I'm definitely a fan of vintage cartridges, turntables and tonearms, Ikeda-San passed away when he was over 90 y.o. So his generation of cartridge designers from the golden age of analog is not active anymore for a long time. I want to have every best cartridge from designers like him. 

New cartridges will be available for a long time and they will only lose its value when they will be replaced by next models from the same companies. So i think i have plenty of time to buy some of them in the future for much lower prices (if needed) in the next 20 years, because i'm 44 this year. 

In my experience vintage tonearms are better than most of the new toneamrs, vintage cartridges (NOS or MINT) are better than more expensive modern cartridge i have tried before in $3-5k range. 

It's not fair to say vintage are better than all of the, but new high-end cartridges cost easily $5-20k and even if they are superior i can't buy them and i think that i'm not so crazy yet. 

Two turntables and 4 tonearms is what i need, no more. So i could end up with 4 cartridges, but before i will end up with 4 of them i want to check 40 to select the best and it's interesting process, this is a part of the hobby. I'm happy to buy $500 MM every month, but i can't buy $5000 MC every month. 

  



 


They know how to make cartridges looks so sweet just for $8000: https://www.etsurojapan.com/
Has anyone ever tried those premium line from Excel Sound / Etsuro ?

1) Gold

2) Bordeaux

3) Cobalt Blue

Have you ever seen a thick Sapphire base on any other cartridges ?
Personally i've seen ceramic base, but never seen a sapphire base, except for my Argent MC110




Updates links here (because old links expired):

1) Specification and retail prices in USA in the 80’s for ALL Argent models. Don’t know why the type of the stylus marked "X", for this index they have grouped together "Hyper Elliptical, Stereohedron, Fine Line, Long Line, Line Trace or similar."

Does that mean that Hyper Elliptical and LineContact is the same ? I’m still not sure what profile i have on some of my Argent cartridges, at least Hyper Elliptical which is not bad.

2) This one is the Argent MC-500HS in wide picture format (on my Reed 3p "12), a high output Moving Coil with Sapphire Cantilever. It was my first discovery long time ago. I’ve never seen this model for sale since i bought my sample 6-8 years ago. What a beautiful design!

3) This is my Argent MC 110 (on the right side) - this is basically the same cartridge as Argent Diamond, but with cheaper cantilever.

4) And flyer for Argent MC110, Diamond, Ruby... that you can compare to the modern series of cartridges from the same manufacturer (Etsuro Urushi and Etsuro Gold)

A person in another thread recently mentioned that Etsuro Gold retail price in USA is $24 000 !!! Remember Argent Diamond from the late 80’s was $1200 in USA according to this document.


@myles_b_astor

Conrad-Johnson sold the Argent Diamond cartridge back then for IIRC $1200. No surprise as the cartridge designer was also cj’s Japanese distributor at the time.

You’re right, any personal experience with Argent cartridges ? I have 3 different models at the moment, but my top is Argent MC110, i do not have Argent Diamond, but my MC500 series have Sapphire and Boron cantilevers.

I’l just shocked that current top model from Excel Sound cost $24 000 and still reminds me their old $1200 Argent Diamond, but in slightly better finishing. This is probably the best example of marketing in this crazy high-end world.

I'm back with some nice images of the Argent MC-500H from my collection:

Manual with specs and individual test here
Cartridge and display case here.  

Nude Parabolic stylus tip and Super-Boron cantilever. One-point suspension...  This is New Old Stock. Simply beautiful 

   

 
Looking at my Argent MC500H under macro lens I realized the "Super Boron" cantilever is identical to my Glanz MF61 cantilever.

This is a good example how different manufacturers are using same parts from one supplier. It is same Boron Rod.

Argent Parabolic stylus = Glanz PH Stylus

P.S. This type of stylus cantilever has been used only for one top of the line glanz model (the rarest mfg 61 moving flux)

The Argent MC500H is a low compliance HOMC 
I will continue to spread the light on unknown Argent carts.

Pumpkins and diamonds on macro lens today:

This tiny crystal clear stylus tip is a Nude Parabolic Diamond of the ultra rare and very expensive Argent MC-110 phono cartridge.

Here is the same cartridge on Victor UA-7082 long tonearm with beautiful AudioCraft headshell (here is the flipside).

P.S. Really enjoyed the sound of my vintage LOMC with these LUX SUTs 
The Argent MC-110 on Victor UA-7082 tonearm soon will be mounted near this TT-101.