Phono cartridges is deemed to be the first contact in an analogue audio system. It's stylus come into contact with the grooves imprinted on the record surface. The whole vibration, resonance and movement generated as the stylus maneuver through those grooves are sent through the cantilever then to the magnetic core of that cartridge to create those small electrical signal that will eventually be amplified through a phono amp for a dedicated preamplifier to work with. These electrical signal will only then be transferred to an amplifier for the final transducer, the loudspeaker.
I hope the above "over simplified" journey of the audio signal from a phono cartridge to the final transducer can assist one to appreciate the importance of it and the difficulty to access a cartridge's actual performance. Any minor discrepancy in the manufacture of a phono cartridge and/or in set up will ultimately affect the desired result from it. At the price point of the TriangleArt Apollo MC cartridge, you can expect one of the best workmanship. When I first laid eyes on it, and compared with the Koetsu Blue Lace at US$20,000-00, Ortofon MC Anna at US$8,950-00, Transfiguration Proteus at US$8,000-00, and My Sonic Lab Eminent BC at US$8,500-00, I believe they are of equal quality, in term of quality workmanship. At that time, I was listening to the Ortofon MC Anna and the Koetsu Blue Lace. I was deeply impressed with the Koetsu CoralStones that I loaned from a dear friend, thus I embarked to purchased the Blue Lace. I am equally impressed with the Koetsu's house sound that is being brought up a few notches by the Blue Lace.
Two months later...
Tom Vu, the owner of TriangleArt asked me when will the review be completed. He was not insisting or pressuring me for the review. I did tell him that I need two months to write the review. Come to think of it, I did not miss any of the other wonderful cartridges that I have on hand. None of my visiting audiophile friends ask me of them. Instead, they were praising the Apollo MC. I believe they have good reasons to do so.
"The First transducer"...What is not gain at the beginning won't be retrieved at the end.
Thus, I will always seek a cartridge that is able to dig deeper into the grooves to give me more of the music. Upon the first instance, the stylus of the TriangleArt Apollo MC dropped unto the grooves, I knew it is a great transducer. Already my first impression then is that it is able to put all those fine details into order and position at the right order of importance. You have the feeling and confidence that the music of whatever genre, is being played is played right. The detail retrieval of this cartridge is definitely on par or above all the cartridges that I have the pleasure to play and/or own so far. As the first transducer at play, I would be pleased to have it to confidently entertain my guests of audiophiles from around to fully appreciate my audio system.
Now, that I have gotten my first impression out that may not be sufficiently enough to justify this cartridge actual performance. Let us dwell deeper into it with the music that is frequently played for review here.
She is asked to sing...and to me alone.
Lately, I have the pleasure of visit from Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies of the famed ribbon loudspeakers system of four massive towers (but, of course, they do produce smaller two towers and even bookshelf). Gary brought along some of his prized vinyls to play and upon hearing the first note, I remembered he told the guests there and then, it's a great cartridge! He shared to us that it is important to have the vocalist sing to you and to you alone and intimately. It's like a lovers' intimacy kind of communication. That is what to be expected by Gary when he position any loudspeaker, the final transducer. I expect the first transducer is able to capture the essence of the vocalist's voice, emotion expressed and the artistry involved. To clearly portray the above, I believe that there must be space separating the vocal from the rest of the musicians and instruments. The vocalist's effort in the voice must be given her stage to express and that is to be spotlighted. Of course, not all recordings are being recorded equal and intended the same. Here, I pulled out FairyTales (Odin LP003) where Ms. Toneff gave an emotional vocal performance with one of the better recorded piano playing. The voice enjoys her spacing well separated from the piano but yet not away from the musical combination as intended. The space allows the voice to enjoy her individuality uninterrupted, as if I am hearing from the actual mike feed from her lips. This is not to be confused with the house sound of the Koetsu's rendition of the human voice, that tend to enjoy the mid bloom or flesh out (my opinion). The Apollo MC does not set itself apart like the Koetsu. If it need to be categorized then I would categorize the Apollo MC as a great retrieval of detail and of space in a recording.
The Apollo MC has equally given the same treatment on Ms. Toneff's voice to Mr. Dobrogosz's piano and play. Each piano key is well defined from top to bottom, and being given actual complete decayed. Then I pulled Rob Wasserman's "Duets" (MCA42131) where Jennifer Warnes sings "Ballad of the Runaway Horse" that I like to listen to her emotion and her artistic manner in rendering the lyrics. Here, the Apollo MC is able to capture the essence of her voice accurately with the strings of Rob Wasserman's double bass accurately presented without overwhelming the vocalist. Other well known cartridges are able to capture the vocal and musical instruments very well but due to certain preferences to a particular bandwidth, especially in the mid (and it is not wrong since this bandwidth can be most enticing, sensual and alluring), that will ultimately affect the spacing. I believe each designer of cartridge will have to draw that balance. To me the Apollo MC is more apt towards the balance approach that allow spacing to be retrieved from the recording. Thus all the recorded musical elements will and shall have its place in the music, as intended.
Now, he is asked to sing...
You can expect the same treatment whether it be the male voice or the female's. The space really allow the voice to take shape to its intended size, strength, sweat and sin. I like to play Doug MacLeod's "Come To Find" (AudioQuest AQ-LP1027), where his voice is clearly recorded with a certain presence, weight, energy and spirit. The Apollo MC will dig deep to extract the essence of that spirited voice out within its own space. As for the instrument played by Doug here, the guitar strings were plugged with energy and I can hear the pace and rhythm picked up along the way, as it is meant to be. The low from that guitar is presented clearly and cleanly instead of the usual shadow or hint missing amidst the mid. I do hear the string resonate across a wider bandwidth comparatively.
The recording session...
I do hear with many top flight cartridges the recording session(s) of the tracks contained in an album. So it is of no great deal to mention that I do hear the same with the Apollo MC. Many cartridges do allow me to hear the differences of time, venue and session, but the Apollo MC present the difference with greater clarity. I believe is its ability to present space and emphasize its part and importance in the recording that make the listening experience a tad more intimate and special. It is an added sensation and tangibility to that element of space in the music as if it is another musician present. I know how excited I will be if I discover a new musician in a recording that I know well. That is how excited I am with the Apollo MC in presenting that space of the recording session.
As complication goes up...
Most top flight cartridges that I have the pleasure to enjoy in my set up can really handle complicated musical passages with ease. This is one of my top criteria before investing in any cartridges anyway. But each has its differences, thus the presentation of these complicated musical passages differ (maybe) slightly, but equally entertaining.
The first complicated musical presentation that I love to play to start of this writing is "Festival" conducted by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Analogue Production/Living Stereo LSC 2423).
Here, you can expect what most top flight cartridges are able to perform such as the ability to control each section and the musicians with their respective musical instrument. You will hear each section of the musicians come into play clearly and cleanly, and flow with the presentation, as if you are flying with the conductor. The Apollo MC will even direct your attention to the row of musicians of a particular section in a session. To me, what draws the Apollo MC apart from the other top flight cartridges, is the way it's composure and direction in the presentation. It is more of the conductor's intention and presentation that you are hearing. The way each section of the orchestra able to play its respective part to its full then continue with the next section as directed by the conductor at the pace that it's rightly envisioned and directed by the conductor that make the listening experience more meaningful and intimate. I believe this is due to the well space out section in the orchestra and timing space that allow the experience to be so special in my book.
My next play is Howard Dunn conducted the Dallas Wind Symphony, "Fiesta" (Reference Recording RR-38). Here, I always want to check out the thunderous bass from that giant drum at track 1, Side 1, La Fiesta Mexicana's Prelude. I find that the low bass can really go low low with very good articulation, transient and clean throughout. The wave of low low can really move the end of your trousers and hairs on your legs (this is not an exaggeration). If there is a 'but', then I find the decay of the low low and any other tunes to be slightly faster and shorter decay than the other cartridges on hand such as the Koetsu Blue Laced and the Ortofon MC Anna. The pace of decay here did not affect the impact and definition of the notes. It's that each note stop and disappear at a faster pace. I believe this is the effect of a cleaner and well defined presentation with each tone well space out to allow pace to be clearly and cleanly defined.
What the Count has to say about this?
Let's get the big band to play and hear what the Count Basie's conjunction through the Apollo MC. I find that when the Count is leading, he always allow his musicians to shine with ample of opportunities. "No one is left behind", I believe that is the motto thus you want a transducer that can really bring out that level of detail that you can really hear those musicians play, whether in single or in group and yet enjoy palpability, density and presence of both the musician(s) and the musical instrument played. Here, I like to play the album, Count Basie and his Orchestra, "Me and You" (Pablo 2310-891). The Apollo MC really separate the musicians and given them individual space to shine. I hear the direction of the Count and his musicians flowed with his direction. Those musicians placed at the rear of the stage were brought to life here, and you know that they were asked to play too. In comparison to the Ortofon MC Anna that will give greater presence to those musicians at the front and to a lesser degree to those at the rear. It's not that it does not have focus on those musicians at the rear. On the contrary, most top flight cartridges can really dig deep into the grooves to bring out most details and that are what you paid for. The Apollo MC's spacing ability is extended throughout the depth of the soundstage that those musicians at the very rear of the stage have the space to shine.
Next, I have another band leader from another side of the world to lead. I played Eiji Kitamura & All Stars, "30 years in 30 minutes" (Toshiba Records LF-95012). Another band swinging album that I loved and frequently have on duty. Similarly, the band came into life and swinging handsomely and clearly. The musicians are brought forward, including those at far back, and clearly separated with distinct spacing. The spacing also adds up to improved palpability and density of each musician in the play.
One last song for the road.
Before the end of a listening session, my pick for the guests the last track for the road is none other than Murray Head "One Night in Bangkok" (Chess PD-13959). The guests were puzzled by this selection as it is not even a well recorded piece. It depends on what you look for in such a track. When they have heard it, they exclaimed that (even) in the midst of all those electronic mess, the vocalist is clearly in their respective space. You will hear the mixes in the mixes in the track. The effects that were put in by the artist and recording engineer were clearly spaced out thus clearly audible. Here, the conductor is not conducting a group of musicians, but the whole lot of different sound, effects and other recordings. The Apollo MC handled this track like any other tracks. Everything is so in their respective space that the whole mess became an 'un-mess entertaining piece' at loud playback!
My final say...
Each top flight cartridge has a certain character and it's not easy to say which is better. The question is more to which fit your bill the most. I am still keeping my collection of cartridges. The TriangleArt Apollo MC remains the most unique piece that draws space as an element in the presentation. This space in both time and estate really give each musical element its individuality and independence. The experience can go so much deeper into the core and essence of the music and it's intended presentation which is the first from any phono cartridge that I have ever the pleasure to play with. Bravo to Tom Wu and his team behind this magnificent product!
Dato' Danon Han
Associated audio components in this review:
1) TriangleArt Apollo MC cartridge,
2) Koetsu Blue Lace cartridge,
3) Ortofon MC Anna cartridge,
4) My Sonic Lab Eminent BC cartridge,
5) ZYX Omega Gold cartridge,
6) Vertere Reference tonearm,
7) Miyajima Kansui cartridge,
8) SoundSmith Strain Gauge,
9) Graham Phantom 2 tonearm (9"),
10) Breuer tonearm,
11) TechDas Air Force One turntable,
12) Kronos Pro Limited production turntable,
13) Linn Sondek turntable with Lingo powered,
14) Clearaudio Statement turntable & dedicated Statement linear arm,
15) FM Acoustics 223 Phono Master stage,
16) Vitus Masterpiece Phonostage MP-P201,
17) FM Acoustics 268C pre amp,
18) Vitus Masterpiece Pre amp MP-L201,
19) Vitus Masterpiece Mono Amplifier MP-M201,
20) Gryphon Pendragon Loudspeaker System,
21) Skogrand Beethoven Loudspeaker cables,
22) Skogrand Tchaikovsky Balance interconnects,
23) Vermouth Red Velvet XLRs,
24) Gobel Lacorde Statement XLR,
25) Gobel Lacorde Statement Power cord,
26) Shunyata King Cobra Power cords,
27) Shunyata V Ray 2 Power Distribution,
28) Frank Acoustics Power Bank Storage PB-15000Ws (6 units),
29) Nordost QX (2 units),
30) Tombo Audio platforms,
31) Stillpoints Rack and footers,
32) Harmonix 666 Million footers,
33) BSG Technologies QOL "Signal Completion Stage",
34) Telos Audio Ground Noise Reducer (2 units),
35) Entreq Ground system (Silver and Copper units),
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