A phono cartridge is deemed to be the first contact in an analogue audio system. Its stylus comes 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 and then to the magnetic core of that cartridge to create small electrical signals that will eventually be amplified through a phono amp for a dedicated preamplifier to work with. These electrical signals 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 in appreciating the importance and difficulty in assessing 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 the best workmanship.
When I first laid eyes on it, and compared it 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 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 (on loan from a dear friend) and I made a point to purchase the Blue Lace. I was equally impressed with the Koetsu’s house sound that is being brought up a few notches by the Blue Lace. I knew that the Apollo MC will have a tough fight to maintain its position on my reference analogue rig that comprised of the Vertere Reference tonearm on the TechDas Air Force One.
Two months later…
Tom Vu, the owner of TriangleArt, asked me when will the review be done. He was not insisting or pressuring me for the review. I did tell him that I needed 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 asked me about them, too. Instead, they were praising the Apollo MC. I believe they have good reasons to do so.
“The First transducer”…What is not gained 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. The moment the stylus of the TriangleArt Apollo MC dropped unto the grooves, I knew it was a great transducer. Already my first impression then was that it is able to put all those fine details into order and at the right order of importance. You have the feeling and confidence that the music of whatever genre, is being played right. The detailed 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 am pleased to have it confidently entertain my audiophile guests to fully appreciate my audio system.
Now that I have gotten my first impression out, it may not be sufficient to justify this cartridge’s actual performance. Let us dwell deeper with music that is frequently played for reviews here.
She is asked to sing…and to me alone.
Recently, Gary Koh of Genesis Advanced Technologies (of the famed ribbon loudspeakers system of four massive towers) paid me a visit. Gary brought along some of his prized vinyls to play and upon hearing the first note, told the guests present that the Apollo MC is a great cartridge! He mentioned that it was important to have the vocalist ‘sing’ to you. According to Gary, it’s akin to two lovers having an intimate conversation. I believe this is the level of intimacy to be expected when Gary positions any loudspeaker, the final transducer, in any audio set up.
I expect the first transducer to be able to capture the essence of the vocalist’s voice, emotions expressed and artistry involved. To clearly portray this, there must be space separating the vocals from the rest of the musicians and instruments. The vocalist’s effort must be given her own stage.
Of course, not all recordings are equal. I put on FairyTales (Odin LP003) where Ms. Toneff gave an emotional vocal performance with one of the better recorded piano playing. The voice enjoys 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. 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 to Ms. Toneff’s voice and Mr. Dobrogosz’s piano playing. Each piano key is well defined from top to bottom, and given complete decay.
I put on Rob Wasserman’s “Duets” (MCA42131) album where Jennifer Warnes sings “Ballad of the Runaway Horse”. I like to listen to her ‘emotions’ and artistic manner in rendering the lyrics. Here, the Apollo MC is able to capture the essence of her voice accurately, with Rob Wasserman’s double bass strings accurately presented without overwhelming the vocalist.
Other well-known cartridges are able to capture the vocals and musical instruments very well but they have certain preferences to a particular bandwidth, especially in the mids (and it is not wrong since this bandwidth can be most enticing, sensual and alluring). This will ultimately affect the spacing. I believe most designers of phono cartridges will have to draw that balance. The Apollo MC is more apt towards the balanced approach that allows spacing to be retrieved from the recording. Most assuringly, 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 with the male voice too. The space really allows 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 plucked with energy, along with pace and rhythm, as it was meant to be. The lows from the guitar were presented clearly and cleanly (instead of the usual shadow or hint drowned amidst the mids). I do hear the strings resonate across a wider bandwidth comparatively.
The recording session…
I do my listening with many top flight cartridges and found similarities with the Apollo MC. Many cartridges do allow me to hear the differences of time, venue and session but the Apollo MC presents the differences with greater clarity. I believe it is the ability to present space, and how it places emphasis, on the importance of the recording that makes the listening experience a tad more intimate and special. It is an added sensation and tangible aspect of that element of space in the music (as if another musician is present). Imagine discovering a new musician(!) in a recording that I know well. That’s truly exciting stuff, courtesy of the Apollo MC…
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. But each has its differences, thus rendering the presentation of these passages a slight difference but equally as entertaining.
The first complicated musical presentation that I love to play to start off this writing is “Festival”, conducted by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Analogue Production/Living Stereo LSC 2423).
Here, you can expect most top flight cartridges 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 of 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 is able to play its respective parts from one section, as directed and envisioned by the conductor, to the next at the correct pace makes the listening experience more meaningful and intimate. I believe this is due to the well-spaced out section in the orchestra (and timing space) that allows the experience to be so special in my book.
Next up is Howard Dunn, conducting the Dallas Wind Symphony on the album “Fiesta” (Reference Recording RR-38). I normally check out the thunderous bass from that giant drum on 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 waves 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’ to be slightly faster and shorter in decay than the other cartridges on hand (such as the Koetsu Blue Lace and the Ortofon MC Anna). The pace of decay here did not affect the impact and definition of the notes. Each note stops and disappears at a faster pace. I believe this is the effect of a cleaner and well defined presentation with each tone well spaced out to allow pace to be clearly and cleanly defined.
What the Count has to say about this?
Let’s get the big band playing and hear what Count Basie has to say about the Apollo MC. I find that when the Count is leading, he always allows his musicians to shine with ample opportunities. “No one is left behind” is the motto, I believe. You want a transducer that can really bring out those levels of detail and hear those musicians play, individually or in a group. You want to enjoy the palpability, density and presence of both the musician(s) and the musical instrument being played.
One of my favourites, the album Count Basie and his Orchestra, “Me and You” (Pablo 2310-891) fully illustrates this. The Apollo MC really separates the musicians and gives 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. In comparison, the Ortofon MC Anna tends to give greater presence to those musicians at the front and 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.
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 up, I played a band leader from a different part of the world, Eiji Kitamura & All Stars’ “30 years in 30 minutes” (Toshiba Records LF-95012). This is one album I love and frequently have on duty. As expected, the band came to life and was swinging away handsomely and clearly. The musicians were brought forward, including those at the back, and were clearly separated with distinct spacing. The spacing also adds up to improved palpability and density of each musician in play.
One last song for the road.
Before the end of this listening session, my last pick for the guests was none other than Murray Head’s “One Night in Bangkok” (Chess PD-13959). The guests were puzzled by this selection as it is not a well recorded piece. To me, it depends on what you look for in such a track. When they finally heard it, they exclaimed that (even) in the midst of all those electronic mess, the vocalist is clearly in his respective space. The effects put in by the artist and recording engineer were clearly spaced out and thus clearly audible (I have to qualify here that the track has many layers of SFX). Here, the conductor is not conducting a group of musicians but a whole lot of different sounds, effects and other recordings. The Apollo MC handled this track like no other. Everything was in its respective space and the whole ‘mess’ became an ‘un-messy entertaining piece’ during 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 fits your bill the most. In 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. This is a first from any phono cartridge that I have ever had the pleasure to play with. Bravo to Tom Wu and his team for this magnificent product!
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),
Danon Han iPad