Sunday, August 26, 2012
Transfiguration Phoenix--First Impressions
I mounted and aligned the Transfiguration Phoenix earlier today, and I've been listening for the last few hours. It was a bit more difficult to mount this cartridge for two reasons. First, it has sort of a large body and a rather small cantilever, so it was harder to see where the tip of the stylus was landing on my alignment protractor. Second, it's a $4250 cartridge, and I get a little nervous when mounting the big-dollar carts. I'm reminded of my Koetsu days, where I nearly had a heart attack every time I swapped cartridges. I busted a cantilever once due to carelessness, and I still have nightmares about having to write the $880 check for a re-tip.
That said, all went well today. My only real obstacle came when I tried to remove the stylus guard from the Phoenix. It's a stubborn little mofo. I wound up calling Colleen into the room; she has longer fingernails.
Once installed, the Transfiguration Phoenix immediately impressed me. The first thing I noticed was that surface noise was significantly reduced. That's one of the magical things about the nicer low-output moving coils, they tend to relegate surface noise deeper into the background so it's less noticeable. My Koetsus did that, and so does the Phoenix.
So what was the first LP I played? My Nautilus Half-Speed version of Ghost in the Machine by The Police. It was the last LP I'd listened to with the Unison Research UN1...just last night. While the Phoenix is going to need about 100 hours of break-in--which is why I have it in the first place--it still had an open, relaxed and effortless feel to it. This is an album notable for the black, velevety silences between the notes (I talk about this further in my next Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever), and the Phoenix's low noise floor really brought these qualities to the forefront. There's still a little harshness in the upper treble, but this will go away after a few more LPs.
Together with the PureAudio Vinyl preamplifier and the Giro turntable, this is probably the best analog rig I've used for a long time--maybe even ever. As great as my old Michell Gyro SE, SME V and Koetsu Rosewood were, mated to whatever phono stage I was using at the time, this rig is less fiddly and much more solid in both sound and in build quality. Colleen sat down for a while and listened to one of our favorite reference tracks, "Yulunga" from my MoFi pressing of Into the Labyrinth from Dead Can Dance, and she said, "This is the best our system has ever sounded." I agree wholeheartedly.