TOP WING SEIRYU BLUE DRAGON CARTRIDGE REVIEW PART 1


The most valuable treasure for me as a reviewer is enthusiasm. It needs to be kept intact and ongoing. A genuine enthusiasm is a very core, that fuels the constant forward momentum and most importantly, it prevents the casual and uninvolved dealings.

After more than three decades of exploring the vastness of the high-end audio universe, I've sort of developed my own mechanism and set up a few rules, that I follow. With a non-stop flow of the gear incomings, over the years I've trained myself to focus on the positive attributes, trying to dig deeper and understand what a certain product can do especially well across the broader specter of music. Many of you, that follows me for a long time have already figured out the operational logic. If some product was announced for a review, but the follow up is not happening, such product is either not performing up to the standards, needs a revision or is not operating as advertised...



I'm (too often) asked about positive/negative writing. These days my answer is very short. One can always choose to act either with a bee or the fly mentality. We all know their different focuses :)...

So, yes. Blue Dragon caught my attention and moved my inner mechanics with quite a different pace. After my news article and highlighting of the Top Wing cartridges last year, there was a quick follow and locking down the distributions of these unique cartridges from Hong Kong, the USA to Italy etc. And as the follow-ups revealed, everyone is more than happy with the acquisition of these unique analog micro-machines from Japan. 

Koichi san from Top Wing has created more than just a stand-out cartridge and I really wanted to dedicate my extended time to evaluate this precious gem and compare it to the other industry top tiers. As you'll read on, it was more than worthy elaborated time...  

THE TOP WING WAY


"A phono cartridge converts vibration energy, generated by the stylus tracing the sound grooves, into electric signals. This vibration produces secondary (harmonic) vibration, reviving high-frequency components recorded in the master that could not be recorded with LPs. This physical phenomenon cannot be reproduced digitally but can be expressed as natural analog sounds. Even today, this sound quality is the major reason for the continued popularity of analog LPs. Nevertheless, TOP WING was concerned, because when the sound quality of CDs and LPs made from the same master tape was compared, the CD was superior in terms of soundstage reproducibility. We wondered whether superior soundstage reproducibility would ever be technically possible with LPs and whether perhaps there was something in the production process preventing success. This questioning led to our discovery that existing cartridges were not picking up all sound information necessary for sound-field reproduction."
Which brings us to the Top Wing's coreless straight-flux system...

CORELESS STRAIGHT-FLUX SYSTEM



"The coreless straight-flux system adopted for the “Blue Dragon” was conceived by Hiromu Meguro, former design assistant of the Grace F-8 cartridge and principal designer of the F-9 cartridge when he was with Shinagawa Musen Co. Mr. Meguro worked on the basic designs of the TX-1000 and Dragon CT players and on the design of the Center-Search mechanism during his time at Nakamichi Corp. Then, the notion that moving magnet (MM) cartridges were inexpensive and moving coil (MC) cartridges were of higher grade pushed to the back of Mr. Meguro’s mind this system’s concept, which was categorized as an MM device despite dramatic differences compared with conventional MM cartridges. This system, which fell short of commercialization even in analog audio’s heyday, is being revived thanks to today’s state-of-the-art technology. 
As its name suggests, the coreless straight-flux system has no core material, with the left and right coils arranged in a V shape directly above the magnet. With that, the stylus tip picks up fluctuations in magnetic flux produced by the fine sound grooves, transmitting them directly and thus accurately. Unlike MC cartridges, in which the output line of the coil moves irregularly within the magnetic flux, the output line in this coreless straight-flux system is unaffected by such fluctuations. Moreover, a rubber damper adjusted for optimum recording reproduction enhances compliance. 
The difference between the coreless straight-flux method and MM devices can be clearly seen by comparing the Blue Dragon structural diagram above and the MM structural diagram at left. MM cartridges convey fluctuations in magnetic flux to the core material, and the coil picks up the fluctuations. In this scenario, the core has a long magnetic path length and hysteresis loss. In contrast, the coreless straight-flux system is free from any such core effect. 
The coreless straight-flux system also allows stylus replacement. With MC devices, stylus replacement costs are prohibitive, since the entire main cartridge unit must be replaced due to the structural design. Stylus replacement with the Blue Dragon, however, only requires removal of the stylus unit itself. 

Precision design and manufacture of each of the basic parts separately maximizes the potential of the coreless straight-flux system. The Blue Dragon was designed by Yasuhiro Noguchi, president of First Mechanical Design Corp. Now active in laser technology, a field in which ultra-high levels of precision are required, Mr. Noguchi also was involved in the design of the TX-1000 and Dragon CT players when at Nakamichi. 
Because of the coreless design, the output voltage of coreless straight-flux cartridges tends to be low—the Blue Dragon achieves a value of 0.2 mV thanks to the V-shaped super-precision coil, specs that are comparable to those of a typical MC cartridge. The outer shell is made of various materials, centering on Ultra Duralumin, to avoid unnecessary resonance modes. In addition, revolutionary Mitchaku Contact technology, developed by Fidelix, has been adopted for the attached headshell. Clearly, the Blue Dragon has been designed, manufactured, and assembled using Japan’s most advanced technologies.

THE IMPACT


The technical aspects written so far should cover the most important aspects of the Blue Dragon. It's by no means an ordinary cartridge and the absence of traditional generator certainly plays a major role in the Seiryu stick out nature. 

This particular signal captivation minimizes magnetic distortion, resulting in highly potent signal delivery. This was clearly evident even from the first few tracks. With Seiryu in play, more information seems to be transferred. Blue Dragon introduces a revivifying resolution and density, that started to find its firm coarse after 150+ hours of playback. 


I've found a great synergy with Thales Reference and Audio Union Helix 1 Turntable by Mark Döhmann. This combination revealed a new dimension of micro/macro loupe likeability, allowing the most reviving analog experiences up to date. There is something uniquely different about the Blue Dragon. The way that motor-less system conveys the information grants the emotional impact and interaction in a way I haven't experienced so far. 

But, there is more... The spatial cues mirrored by Seiryu are really something else, defining the three dimensionality of instruments and performers much more vividly and objectively. The music's scope expands much further in depts easily recreating the atmosphere and sonic canvas. 

Blue Dragon is a genre-less cartridge acting with the chameleon-like nature. It can shift not only from album to album but from track to track, revealing the minute changes of the music and variety of mastering decisions. 

Talking about poetic or lyrical nature of the cartridge surely pushes the descriptions into the exotic realms, but Seiryu nature allowed such refreshing emotional interactions, that it was just hard to keep my enthusiasm bottled. 

Do note, that Blue Dragon's very low output calls for at least 66-70dB of gain to perform at its best. 

SUM UP


Like many distributors, dealers and audiophiles/music lovers, that already spent some time with Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridge, I was more than just positively surprised. The initial technical scope was surely promising something unique, but the actual hands-on-sound experience morphed into an utterly game-changing experience. 

There is a certain momentum connected with the Seiryu cartridge,  that instantly locks you with the very inner core of the music. It feels like somehow-the-speed barrier is removed. A crystal clear sapphire glass with double anti-reflex coating allows an unprecedented look at the high horology watch. In a similar way, the Top Wing Blue Dragon cartridge allows one of a kind analog rendition in absence of the usual glaring side effects, translating into the smeared tones etc. 

I was always and still am baffled by the cartridge's ability to derive such minuscule information from the grooves of our beloved and highly cherished black discs. Blue Dragon pushes this agenda further and as proven by Seiryu, there is still a lot of information hidden in the endless "analog walleyes" of the vinyl.

We all cherish, love and painstakingly take care of our beloved micro music machines (cartridges). Still, they do have a relatively short lifespan compared to other high-end audio products and they can be damaged very easily. This is where the Blue Dragon stylus replacement feature comes in. Unlike with other MC cartridges, Seiryu's needle can be easily exchanged for the 1/10 of the price and most importantly in absence of degradation in the performance and without sonic shift, that is often associated with the "usual" re-tipping. As described before, the needle attaches very differently, thus not being subordinate to usual changes.  

Top Wing Corporation Seiryu - Blue Dragon cartridge clearly pushed the analog reproduction into the 21st century. For what is represent and what is capable of I'm already awarding it with a rare Mono and Stereo Editor Choice Award. 

Stay tuned for the part two where I'll focus on the Blue Dragon's particular sonic attributes with the music references and share my experience with the best loading of the cartridge. 

Matej Isak

PRICE


12.000 EUR

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS


Type of power generation: Coreless straight-flux
Stylus: Line contact
Cantilever material: Aluminum
Output at 5 cm/s at 1 kHz: 0.2 mV
Internal impedance: 12.3Ω
Inductance: Secret (but nonsensitive to capacitive load)
Recommended tracking weight: 1.75 g–2.0 g
Headshell material: Ultra Duralumin (adopting Fidelix Mitchaku Contact technology)
Weight: 12.3 g (total weight equipped with the attached headshell: 30.0 g)

CONTACT


Top Wing Corporation
1-10-2-1102 Sakae-cho Higashimurayama
Tokyo
Japan

Tel: +81-42-392-8319 
Fax: +81-42-392-8329