HANA cartridges are already well-recognized and loved by many analog aficionados and music lovers around the globe. With the Umami Red MC cartridge, HANA ventures into the delicate realm of MC cartridges, where some of the most iconic Japanese designs have been perfected, including the renowned Urushi lacquer-based cartridges.
I was thrilled when Hiroshi Ishihara of Youtek Limited offered me the Umami Red for evaluation and review. I had already tested and evaluated the HANA SL and HANA ML cartridges, their more affordable price range options, and was pleasantly surprised by their impressive and delightful music reproduction that exceeded their price point.
As you continue reading, you will discover that the HANA Umami Red not only builds upon the qualities of the SL and ML cartridges but also takes them much further. It retains the established qualities of the HANA SL and ML cartridges while reaching new heights in performance.
When you indulge in a culinary experience and savor a distinctive taste sensation, you encounter umami*. It’s the harmonious fusion of specific ingredients that creates a synergy, elevating the flavor beyond individual components. Some of the world’s most delectable and unforgettable gastronomic encounters possess the elusive umami quality. Masao Okada-san, the brilliant cartridge designer at Hana, replicates this experience for vinyl enthusiasts by artfully combining materials and techniques to craft the HANA Umami Red, a hand-built MC cartridge that delivers an unparalleled level of musical richness and intensity.
In keeping with the Hana “Brilliant and Gorgeous” tradition, the HANA Umami Red cartridge aims to provide listeners with sublime enjoyment. Hana’s E, S, and M Series moving coil cartridges have garnered praise and accolades from reviewers and customers worldwide, hailed for their exceptional sound quality in their respective price ranges. The HANA Umami Red continues this esteemed legacy, offering an even more captivating and satisfying audio experience.
The HANA Umami Way
The HANA Umami Red high-end moving coil cartridge seamlessly merges brilliant materials, classic Japanese techniques, and modern audio engineering. Ebony wood, rare-earth magnets, precision-cut diamonds, high-purity copper wires, Urushi lacquering, and CNC-machined Duralumin converge under the visionary guidance of Hana designer Okada-san.
The synergistic relationship among the magnet, armature, and coil windings in the MC generators forms a crucial aspect of exceptional cartridge design. Just like the symphony of flavors in a signature dish at a Michelin 3-star restaurant, every element and meticulous detail harmoniously contributes to a memorable and emotive experience.
Excel Sound, with its illustrious history spanning over 50 years, meticulously manufactures all major components of the HANA Umami Red in-house. The highly skilled craftsmen at Excel expertly hand-assemble each cartridge, ensuring a profoundly musical encounter that enhances the renowned HANA “Brilliant and Gorgeous” sound quality.
*Umami. /uːˈmɑːmi/ noun. The fifth taste category after salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. Coined as umami in 1908 by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda-san, it refers to a highly pleasing and delicious flavor that intensifies taste through a synergistic effect.
AuricleTM Cartridge Body
The exclusive AuricleTM body design of the HANA Umami Red mirrors the contours of the human outer ear, providing a rigid support for the “Open Air” Moving Coil generator. Crafted from A7075 aluminum, one of the strongest and lightest alloys utilized in aerospace engineering, the Duralumin body features an Ebony Wood inlay on its front fascia, delivering specific damping properties. Tapped mounting holes ensure a secure attachment to the tonearm, enhancing stability during playback.
The HANA Umami Red body boasts a multi-layered Urushi lacquer finish inspired by the revered Japanese Makie artistic tradition, augmenting both the sonic and visual aspects of the cartridge. This intricate and time-honored procedure involves a black Urushi painted undercoat, an elaborate red-coloration process incorporating fine silver powder, the “Hana” name printed with pure gold powder, and a final lacquer coating refined through multiple polishing stages.
The HANA Umami Red showcases a ‘nude’ natural diamond stylus meticulously cut and polished to replicate the cutting head stylus used in the mastering process of vinyl records. This design ensures the most precise fit into the vinyl groove, faithfully tracing the most delicate musical nuances with astonishing accuracy.
The HANA Umami Red incorporates a boron cantilever, known for its diamond-like hardness, to securely hold the Microline stylus. This robust boron cantilever ensures the faithful transmission of even the most minuscule audible details and micro-dynamics to the moving coil generator, capturing the true essence of the artists’ intentions.
Moving Coil Generator
The HANA Umami Red employs a rare earth samarium/cobalt magnet material for its generator, harnessing the finest electromagnetic energy required for this exquisitely musical design. Expertly hand-wound pure copper wires adorn the timeless square plate Permalloy armature, further enhancing the cartridge’s sonic capabilities.
A transformative cryogenic process, performed at temperatures approaching absolute zero, is employed to treat numerous components in the HANA Umami Red generator, including the gold-plated signal output pins. This cold annealing technique alters the molecular structure of the materials, bestowing a metamorphic quality akin to the realm of molecular gastronomy.
A Wonderfully Musical Experience
The Hana team takes immense pride in seamlessly integrating brilliant materials, modern audio engineering, and traditional techniques. Master designer Okada-san brings decades of experience to this extraordinary creation, embodying the very essence of umami’s concept of synergy within the HANA Umami Red, tantalizing your senses with the sheer beauty of music.
It was highly intriguing to observe how the HANA Umami Red acted as a master in unifying various elements of music, regardless of the genre I played. As always, I’ll highlight these virtues through a selection of tracks and albums.
“Everybody Loves Somebody” by Dean Martin can easily sound disconnected if the cartridge and associated equipment are not up to the task.
When it comes to music reproduction, everything is interdependent and intimately connected. Unfortunately, cartridges often serve as embellishers rather than conveying the true essence of the music.
The HANA Umami Red, on the other hand, acts differently. It connects all the dots and integrates sound particles and information seamlessly into the musical narrative, creating a cohesive and rhythmic whole.
With the Umami Red, Martin’s vocal presence becomes tangible, low-level details are easily discerned, and the drums, orchestra, and backing vocals blend harmoniously rather than feeling like separate elements.
Especially in classical music, no matter how esoteric it sounds, the spaces between notes and the silences that fill them (as often emphasized by Toscanini) play a significant role in bridging the delicate line between illusion and reality, more profoundly than one might initially perceive.
An iconic performance of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, conducted by Clemens Krauss and held in Beirut in 1953, possesses something extraordinary despite its age and recording quality.
There is an utterly mystical and spiritual quality to this opera that can render it timeless, immortal, and a recurring listening experience when everything is in sync with a well-balanced high-end audio system.
While the cast differs slightly from the famous 1951 Bayreuth recording under the baton of Hans Knappertsbusch, most notably with the substitution of Wolfgang Windgassen with Ramon Vinay in the leading role of Parsifal, Clemens Krauss’s direction showcases no less aptitude and dramatic emotional spectacle.
Particularly demanding are the sections where bells and choirs create a unique drama of transformation, requiring the full momentum of the orchestra to be conveyed minutely. Surprisingly, HANA Umami Red captures not only these transitions but the rendition of Ramon Vinay and the rest of the stellar cast, including Martha Modl, with remarkable fidelity.
This is one of the many areas where HANA Umami Red excels, along with for example the unique ability to deliver natural orchestral energy without the usual “pop” of an orchestral bubble which too often is not handled properly by most of the cartridges no matter the price tag.
The characteristic intervals, leitmotif tritones, arpeggios, and chromatically cathartic endings are handled with thrilling precision by the HANA Umami Red, surpassing even some higher-priced cartridges that may fall short in capturing the essence of the ongoing dance between subjective reality and the genuine portrayal of Parsifal.
Cartridges are micro machines that, in various ways, contend with the inherent mechanical noise of different inclusive analog apparatuses. As a result, a significant amount of musical information can remain concealed beneath unwanted vibrations.
Not so with Umami Red…
Vaughan Williams, David Nolan, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley – The Lark Ascending, Five Variants Of “Dives And Lazarus”, The Wasps – Aristophanic Suite is perhaps the best interpretation of this alluring composition.
It’s not exactly easy to reproduce The Lark Ascending unbroken, with a proper flow and orderly action within the whole, yet HANA Umami Red further confirmed its ability to captivate and beckon the listener with a spellbinding rendition of Williams’s timeless harmony.
HANA Umami Red cartridge is luring the listener into an entrancing auditory journey, as witnessed with so many albums brimming with enchanting rhythm and soulful notes that linger long after The Lark Ascending is done.
On top of it, the HANA Umami Red cartridge created a whirlwind of delicious overtones, and cascading notes, blended individual strands of music without altering the fabrics of music, and integrated three-dimensional provision expertly into a music totality, once again fetching up a glorious point of repeated sonic triumph.
Umami Red’s ability to deliver music momentum so vividly, on time and so captivatingly makes it a sealed proof for repeated enjoyment.
Perhaps phono cartridges come closest to the analogy of high-quality precision watches. Why? Because just like watches primarily display time, the primary role of any cartridge is to replay music.
On both ends, the level of precision in timing and the degree of musicality unveiled depends on the approach and underlying intricacies.
Watches, regardless of their price, ranging from the most affordable serial models to the most sophisticated ones, all present time through different mechanisms, employing various techniques and technologies. The same principle applies to analog cartridges.
What sets the HANA Umami Red apart is how it opens up sonic apertures right from the beginning, at the most crucial part of the analog path. It conveys the real message and exudes an aura of musical opulence with spades.
It’s not solely about how closely the stylus matches the grooves on a record but is more often connected to the quality of electrical voltage coming at the output. The true difference lies in the emotional connection, how stark, and how much it allows the music to be expressed and unfold.
The most salient virtue of the Umami Red is its proper natural balance and tonal equilibrium that remains unchanged regardless of the music’s progression and momentum.
The HANA Umami Red is a spirited testament to the marriage of artistry and engineering. It represents a rare symphony of unparalleled beauty and what we perceive as mechanical wonder, blending form and function in a harmonious fusion of traditionally inspired Japanese tradition, aesthetics, and timeless appeal.
The Umami Red cartridge encapsulates the very spirit of the music, offering a musically engaging analog replay that was previously unattainable at this price point. Yes, it may not be cheap, but it remains affordable compared to what is available in the market performance-wise.
The Umami Red is a tangible piece of art with an all-encompassing musical vibrancy and sensibility. It picks up music with captivating fluency and ventures far beyond the realm of entry-level high-end audio cartridges. It reaches the level of more expensive cartridges, making it a win-win for any analog connoisseur seeking more within a limited budget.
HANA Umami Red paints vivid pictures, being a sanctuary of music where each whispered note and thunderous crescendo finds their rightful place.
The pleasure derived from the Umami Red is intimately connected with the sheer authenticity of playback. It easily delivers enticing, involving, and intimate music reproduction. For these reasons, along with its exceptional musicality and alignment with the music, the HANA Umami Red is a clear winner of the 2023 Mono and Stereo Highly Recommended Product award. •
- US Retail: $3,950