Arai Laboratory MT-1 MC step up transformer review

Micromachines! Don’t we all just love them!? Let them be in the form of mechanical watches, fountain pens or our beloved cartridges. We’re not merely affected by the rough and raw machinery mechanics, but also by the refined inner workings of the analog “klangmeisters”.

When Yoshi Hontani asked me if I’ll be interested in evaluating something truly unique and of Japanese origin, that is intimately associated with our beloved minuscule music generating machines I was graciously accepting the offer. Yoshi-san has introduced me to more than a few high-end audio products, that were breaking the boundaries of predicted. You can imagine, that my analog cognoscente’s sensors were all alarmed...

As each Arai Laboratory step-up transformer is made up to a request I’ve had to choose the cartridge that is most frequently used as the reference and with the “loading”, that is close to my preferred values. The Gold Note Tuscany Gold cartridge has proven to be a consistent reference companion a long time and I’ve followed the particular values as this would grant me to examine also few other cartridges while keeping the objective assessment. 

One of the major flaws or to often overlooked factual associated with the utmost sonic delivery is the proper synergy (loading). The Pandora box of too many agendas can be freed too hastily when something is being generalized, so let us stick with the fundamentals. The matching phono preamplifier input loading is prerequisite for the expected high-level performance and most phono preamplifiers offer an approximate that can vary a lot. Everything matters on such low signal plane and you can imagine how much is lost in translation when input loading is not matched with the cartridge output…


Those of you who are accompanying me on my audio adventures, know about my deep fondness and fascination for the products coming from The Land Of The Rising Sun. From my early age, I was cherishing the culture and traditional commitment for the Japanese perfection. When it comes to the bespoke objects, I can still identify the healthy proudness of taking time for making the objects of desire with the appropriate pace. The path is indeed as sacred as the end. 

While this philosophy isn’t adopted as widely as before, it’s still linked with a number of products. And luckily some of the stand out high-end audio achievements are the results of such specific modus operandi. The ARAI Laboratory MT-1 MC step-up transformer is one of the such and carefully made devices. 

Acoustic Revive has co-developed with Arai Laboratory a super high-end MC step-up transformer MT-1 which is produced on “Built-to-order” basis corresponding perfectly to the specifications of an individual MC cartridge.


Here are the special features and design imperatives of MT-1 step-up MC transformer: 

1) The impedance of a MC cartridge and a MC transformer should be equal, otherwise, the electrical signal is not transmitted smoothly and there will be a transmission loss and deterioration of sound.

MT-1 is produced on "built-to-order" system exactly according to the specifications of a specific MC cartridge.

2) Super wide-range 1.5Hz - 140KHz. A frequency range of MT-1 is perfectly flat from 1.5Hz to 140KHz, while a flat frequency range of conventional MC transformers is from 100Hz to 15KHz.(This is the reason why the sound through a MC Transformer is so narrow range.)

3) A coil quality factor (Q) can be mentioned as a numerical value that determines the performance of the transformer. This value of Q corresponds to the driving force and braking force of the amplifier. 

Currently, MT-1 boasts Q of more than 30 times on the primary side and more than 70 times on the secondary side compared to the most expensive MC step-up transformer on the market, boasting more driving power and braking power than upgrading the power amplifier. 


There is really not much to say. Two single ended inputs, two RCA outputs for the signal in/out and double grounding connector. MT-1 is a heavy and small, but way bigger than some tinny step-ups. 


The tone? This query is sort of forecasted and as can read later, MT-1 never failed to preserve the tone intact. Not solely that. There’s considerably more to what Arai Laboratory’s step-up transformer managed to encapsulate.  

I own The Bespoke Audio Company Ultimate Silver preamplifier and it’s at the core of my reference system for its ability to render utterly fast, dynamic, transparent and energetic transfer of the music. 

It’s never exactly simple to pass on the auditory impact, yet with MT-1’s in play, it was never complicated to portray its inner potency. An abundance of the listening remarks surely helped. Yes, the larger amount of notes is always an excellent sign!

Keith Jarret - The Köln Concert 

Straight to the chase as this album really needs no preface. It represents a fantastic musical act in time and I treasure it for the unprecedented performance as well as for the abiding atmosphere, that eludes the fatigue of repetitiveness. Arai Laboratory MT-1 has not simply repetitively carried out the profound essence of Mr. Jarret one of the kind lyrical outspoke, but with this unique MC step-up transformer in action there was a new quality added into the portrayal of the Köln Concert. Such immediacy I’ve haven’t encountered before at such an instantly revoking impact. Not only the piano was portrayed beyond solidly tasking, but the notes’ overlays were also displayed with a juvenile impact and the qualities of being there factor jumped up quite a few notches on the grading scale. An attribute alone worthy of the double highlighting! 

Another one of the albums, that I’m cherishing very dearly is Harry Belafonte ‎– Belafonte At Carnegie Hall: The Complete Concert (RCA Victor ‎–LSO-6006, LSO 6006 (2), LSO 6006-1, LSO 6006-2). It’s really too essential for what it represents to leave it out of the equation. 

The spirit, the instruments’ three-dimensionality and most importantly again the being there factor on this timeless black vinyl are one of the kind and seldom matched. It’s of reference class and designation! I’ve grown up listening to this record and it was undoubtedly deeply etched into my subconscious mind. Once again, my listening notes took way more of the writing space as usual. MT-1 evoke an uplifting aura by providing mesmerizing performance. The relief-like layering of the instruments and atmosphere were carried out beyond being captivating. I’ve had a hard time in trying to call up similar encounter with Belafonte’s monumental masterpiece! A stand out feat!

The power exchange challenge? Saint-Saëns/Liszt - Michele Campanella, Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, Aldo Ceccato ‎– Piano Concerto No. 4/Totentanz, Hungarian Fantasy (Philips ‎– 6500 095) is no shy in this respect and a part of the requisite recommendations. This particular recording expertly challenges the analog front end’s ability to disclose the objective mirroring of the orchestra and piano scale without losing the focus of each side. Arai Lab’s MC step-up transformer has delivered the grander grasp of the sheerer scale and a dramatic projection of both the orchestra and Michele’s piano playing way above of the usual standards! 

Prokofiev, Cleveland Orchestra, Maazel ‎– Romeo & Juliet (Complete Ballet)Decca ‎– SXL 6620-2.

There’s no objective evaluation without the classical music and challenging act of the orchestra where the transformation of the energry and its unaltered distribution takea a major role in the objective evaluation. The lively interplay of a perpetual varying from pianissimo to forte fortissimo must me tracked without any restrictions. We’re talking about lightning velocities and accelerations needed to be accomplished and applied at any given juncture. This demands an unaltered via medium and it is literally one of the Arai Laboratory MT-1’s principal assets. Not a number of devices comes close to the clarity and momentum of the passive operations and MT-1 was sterling at both of these with a magnificent impact.


Arai Laboratory MT-1 is the first product from this Japanese boutique manufacturer and it doesn’t disappoint! On contrary. This inspiring step-up set deserves a quite few of the higher level credits.

The upper echelon digital and analog reproduction has attained a new riches and finally examines the domains, that were not completely simple to infiltrate back in time. Yes, the price tag of an ultra-high-end apparatus is not exactly entry level. Then again, it’s not that different from other luxury industries. Take for example Patek Philippe Calatrava watch. What was once regarded as an ideal, upscale gift for the employment anniversary, a retirement gift etc., nowadays doesn’t employ the same appeal. As within our beloved industry, the prices went up and 15k doesn’t represent truly the same value (or investment) as it did before. One can claim that paradigms were altered, either we like it or not...

Everything is relative when it comes to the pricing and for most of the individuals, even 1k product price is of luxurious origins. On the other hand, anything that’s handmade, of limited production series, made to custom order cost considerably more nowadays. While we’re at the watch analogy… Despite being hand assembled and in almost as a rule, hand polished, the cases and most of the mechanics are actually made by machines in substantial volumes. Without even entering further into the cost structure, it’s evident that an enormous fraction of the price is set aside for the branding. Anyone that even remotely follows the luxury industry knows this fact. And yes, our beloved niche industry has already joined these realms quite some time ago is too often not different in this regards. 

When it comes to the certain high-end audio products we’re very often disregarding the initial expenditure, R & D, time put in for the development and nonetheless needed tools and infrastructure for materializing the commodity. Consider all of this even before including the marketing budget. 

Many have assumed that the digital will ultimately eradicate the interest and consequently sales of the analog/turntable related paraphernalia. Well, untrue! Even for me as the reviewer, the needed balance between analog and digital is a serious must have. Although our beloved industry’s market is niche, the current stream of new products doesn’t stop at any time! While this brings quite an investment strain on yours truly to maintain both analog and digital rigs on the state of the art level, its a need and reviving endeavor. 

MC step-up transformer might be too quickly generalized and forced into the endorsement of identical (un) rationale connected with the TVC passive preamplifiers. I’ve been around for too long to accept such easy assumptions and my reference gear list conveys a lot in the favor for the passive universe and it’s gain dealings.

As with active parts based high-end audio components, the same scores for the passive ones. It invariably comes down to the materials, design choices, quality of execution and THE system integration. 

There are at least two dominant schools of thought when it comes to the “amplifying” of the delicate signal arriving from the cartridge. One side will always almost fanatically claim how the completely active approach is the sole way to follow. On the opposite passive front is in a way more evocative bu letting their products speak for themselves. And the truth!? Well, the answer is not a straightforward one, like with anything high-end audio related...

Having a custom MC step-up transformer especially winded to the specs of the dedicated cartridge has a lot to offer. In the analog realm, we’re dealing with the transmission and conversion of the signal, that can be viewed as the form of the energy. Like mentioned before it’s fairly analogous to the operations of the passive preamplifier. 

Japanese products are as distinct as their culture and cannot be easily compared to the Occident. Their intriguing quest for excellence is undoubtedly deeply embossed within the Arai Laboratory MT-1 nucleus. 

The Zen alike pureness and unaltered energy transfer allow MT-1 to deliver mesmerizing, radiant and soulful music transmission of the music.

No apparatus is translucent in the ultimate sense, yet somehow, as with some of the passive preamplifiers, the omission of the active electronic parts allows something considerable exceptional and above of just a seamless integration in the properly balanced system. Arai Laboratory MT-1 paired notably well my Thrax Orpheus reference phono preamplifier.  
“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” - Wabi-Sabi expert Leonard Koren
The quote above wonderfully sums up an Arai Lab core concept and brings up many provocative points. One of them can assuredly be the ad hoc properties of the silver wire. On contrary to the popular (and sometimes willingly pushed) trend, the MT-1 demonstrates that the secret might be hidden in the essence. The core simplicity marvels in eliminating anything unwanted and uncontrollable in achieving the definite, desired target. As basic and elementary as this might sound, in reality, the legitimate answer can be light years away. 

As a fact, nothing good, what to talk about great can be rushed in this world of ours. Not a completely small fragment of high-end audio products escapes being a derivate of frugalness. To make it right and acceptable with something as complex and as fragile as the audio signal arriving from the cartridge calls for higher than a correct execution. 

Aria Laboratory MT-1 step-up MC transformer belongs to the products, that are submitting more and operate in another form than usual sonic affairs. The sheer delicacy and an instant thunderous nature of MT-1 make it a true chameleon, that is always ready to take the sudden changes regardless of the genre. 

There is no such high-end audio equipment on the market, that can be claimed absolutely transparent and in absence of its own signature. Then again, some of the exceptional devices do come close to this quest for the perfection and Aria Laboratory MT-1 step-up MC transformer takes place within this premium labeling. 

It was heartening and inspiring to discover and encounter how the music took much grander forte than I’m used to with an analog front ends. I’m happily awarding Aria Laboratory MT-1 step-up MC transformer with the Mono and Stereo Upper Echelon Class Award for what it contributed to my reference analog system and how it enhanced my perception of analog reproduction. 

Yes, Arai Laboratory step-up transformer is only a part of the analog setup, and yes, you’ll still require the MM capable phono preamplifier, but what the MT-1 adds to the nature of the analog reproduction is beyond of just calling it worthy of exploring! 

Matej Isak


14.900 EUR


- Frequency range: 1.5Hz - 140KHz. 
- Dimensions: W200xH160xD130mm
- Weight: 5kg


Sekiguchi Machine Sales Co., Ltd. 
3016 Nada-machi, Isezaki-shi, 
Gunma Prefecture, 372 0812 1

TEL: 0270-24-0878/FAX: 0270-21-1963