Those of us audiophiles grown up in the 80ties (last century) may remember: It was the time, were the Stereophile as also the Absolute Sounds magazine were like the bible for us, the time, were Nastasja Kinski showed her amazing curves on the front cover of the French erotic magazine “LUI” and we dreamt about Nastasja and a proper HiFi – system – but could only afford a Sony Walkman to listen to some 80ties stuff like The Cure, Joy Division and Prince or Michael Jackson (I was not a Madonna fan at this time….;-)))
One day my Sony Walkman headphones broke – a catastrophe, but a good occasion to visit one of the high end dealers in our town, instead of pressing my nose against the store window, I had now a proper reason to step into the shop .
So I pulled myself together and entered the shop…..oh my….. Micro Seiki turntables, Fidelity Research FR64S and 66S tonearms, Mark Levinson amps and preamps, a Cello Audio Platte and a Kiseki Purpleheart cartridge, mounted on a SME V tonearm. This little jewel got my attention – a dream, made of brass and a strange purple coloured wood with a tiny needle under its long body – it was so beautiful, that I could not forget about it in all the years followed that day. I promised myself – one day such a Kiseki will be mine – not knowing if it sounds good nor what such a jewel will cost. The following decade was stuffed with Rega decks and tonearms, cheap moving magnet carts, Mission amplifiers and tiny British bookshelf speakers – but deep inside my heart was still a purple shine from that Kiseki cartridge.
As the financial situation once changed and I eventually could afford such a cartridge, the company had disappeared – CD – players were now the holy cow, and Herbert von Karajan claimed – against the sound of the CD a vinyl record seems to be like gas light – how wrong he was!
Ok – no Kiseki for me – sometimes I saw some vintage ones on ebay or other audio selling platforms – Kiseki Agate Ruby, Kiseki Blue Goldspot and Kiseki Lapislazuli – but never was there a Purpleheart on offer.
Here and now
In 2010 I spotted some new old stock Kiseki Blue – and recognized that Kiseki was again back on track – the man behind that brand, Herman van den Dungen, coming from the Netherlands, decided to participate at the upcoming vinyl revival and used old parts from the 80ties to built a brand new Kiseki Blue. Since I was totally aware of that new situation – the complete series of these NOS (New Old Stock) Kiseki Blue were already sold out….
OK, again – no KIseki for me….
Van den Dungen realized that there was a growing market for his Kiseki cartridges and did a very bold step – he recreated the brand, now with new parts, a new design – and he called these cartrdges NS – which stands for new style.
Exploring the miracle
One day I found a little package at my doorstep – and my pulse began to rise. Inside the package I found the traditional round wooden box with the myterious Japanese writing on its top. Van den Dungen created the Purpleheart NS (New Style) in a different way he did with the Blue NS cartridges – the new style Kiseki Purpleheart had its traditional long body and looked like the vintage original which I was fascinated about since the middle of the 80ties. Oh, what a gorgeous looking pice of audio gear it was….nothing of its beauty had vanished in all those years – it was like I had a time machine, and was again in 1984 together with my old Walkman, the LUI magazine with Nasti on its front and all the great audio gear of that time – the only sign which tells me something was different, was the colour of my hair!
The new style Kiseki Purpleheart is a moving coil cartridge with an internal resistance of 42 Ohms, which means, that I could use it with a Denon DL 103 compatible step up transformer. The electrical output is a healthy 0,48mV – so a mach with a 1:10 Step Up transformer will give us clearly more gain, than with the classic DL 103 used with the same step up transformer. The cartridge has at todays standards an unusual long body made of the beautiful purpleheart wood. With some headshells or tonearms there might be a problem with space, as I intendet to use a Frank Schröder Reference tonearm, there was no problem with the size of the cart.
Mounting and adjustment
But there was a serious problem with the weight of that audio jewellery – the cartridge might look big and heavy but it is not – its weight is just 7g – to bring that into some perspective – a Lyra Kleos weights 8.8g and looks much lighter and smaller. There was no chance to get the optimal tracking force of 2.3g for that cart with the standard counterweight of the Schröder Reference – so I had to call Frank, praying, that he was in town and would have time to make me a smaller and lighter counterweight for my Reference arm. To my surprise Frank was at home, and offered me to come over the next day to pick up my lighter counterweight. Thank you Frank!!!!
Adjustment of the cartridge is not an easy task because you cannot see the tip of the stylus without making some Yoga exercise in front of your turntable. At the end I could have used the straight angles from the body, because the stylus of my Purpleheart was mounted with 100% precision – so no correction in geometry nor azimuth was necessary.
To get the most out of this cartridge I would advice you to use 2.3g VTF, which is a tad under the official figure – and a straight VTA, so that the top plane of the cart is parallel to the record surface. You could use a full active phono stage with up to 1 Kohm internal termination, but I think the best sound will be achieved with 400 Ohm. Or you can use a step up transformer in the range of 1:10 or 1:15 – i opted for the latter – and connected the Purpleheart with the Hashimoto HMX trannies in my Air Tight ATH2A using its high impedance switch. The transformer will give us 23db of gain, and the cartridge “sees” around 210 Ohm.
The first thing I recognised was the silent ride of that cartridge – you wont get much noise from the grooves, which means, that we have a larger dynamic window for all the small details. The Purpleheart needs less than 20 hours of playing time to come to live – that is something I cannot stress enough – because today some cartridge manufacturers tell us – you need 150 – 300(!!) hours to judge the sound of a moving coil – which is ridiculous. What we can expect after round about 20 hours is a bit more openess in the treble region and a more fluid sound in the midband – but it is not a dramatic change.
Kiseki means miracle – and the name could not be better chosen – because the sound is like a miracle. Out of a very black background we get a fast and articulate sound, with bold colours and a silky smooth top end with an amazing amount of detail and resolution. The bass section is sinewy and reaches into the deepest octave – this bass performance is fast, and has a lot of tone – not that typical one note deep bass with slow action. The stage the Kiseki is able to render has a slight up front gestalt – a singer is not on level with the speaker plane – instead he is placed a good portion in front of the speakers, which gives us a very intimate vocal performance. From the mono center toward the sides, we get a very good rendering of recorded space with a lot of detail and an amazing resolution. The space between the instruments is also very good – not on par with a Lyra Kleos SL – but there is not much missing. The kind of projection is a mixture of pin point accuracy and a sort of wholeness, which makes it very easy to get the whole picture of a recording, while also being able to listen to a large amount of detail.
In comparison with the Lyra Kleos
As the price of the Kiseki here in Germany is around €3000,- it is fair to compare it with one of the best cartridges in this price range, the Lyra Kleos SL. Both perform in a wide margin above its price class, you have to spend nearly €2000,- more to get really something more. And this “something” is not another class or a whole different picture – differences are shown in the amount of resolution and attack pureness, as well as the blackest black in bass of the really big boys. As you spent such a serious amount of money for a moving coil cartridge, it gets difficult to gain more sound quality for the developer of those high end gems. So do not expect a complete different sound quality if you spent €6000,- or more – as I said – you will gain performance in some single aspects of the reproduced sound. A Lyra Etna for example puts a better resolution on the table and has a tighter and deeper bass register with a good more portion of dynamic shades, than a Kleos SL can give us. What I try to explain is – from a certain price range on, you have not a linear function between your investment and a better sound quality. There are some “jumps” in that function between price and sound quality which take place from under €1000 – to the limit of €1000, and there is another bigger gap existent if you double your investment to around €2000,-. After the 2000,- mark it gets much more complicated – so the next little jumb will take place at €4000,- but it is much smaller, than everything till that point.
The Kleos offered in my comparison a better pronounced leading edge. The Kleos has the ability to start and stop immediatly. The speed of this cartridge is astonishing – the Purpleheart in comparison is a little bit slower with not so much accent on the rhythm of the music. The story behind the Kiseki is more about the tone – and in this category it is more beautiful than the Kleos. The latter might be more neutral more transparent, but the Kiseki gives you a more emotional picture of the music. There is a certain emphasis on the lower midband, which renders the body of instruments and vocals with greater impact and a greater sense of authenticity. Both share a nearly equal ability to render recorded space, the Kleos is doing that in a more pin point kind of way, the Purpleheart shows us the soundstage in a broader more bolt style, which makes it sounding a little bit bigger and greater. In the treble area the Kleos is more refined and more open with a greater sense of resolution and detail, the Kiseki is a little bit on the warm side of neutral at this point, which can be an advantage if the engineer or the mastering facility cut the treble slightly too hot, which is often noticeably with the sibilance S or T or SCH. On the other hand the Kiseki is not rolled off – it renders the highest treble with a slight drop of energy – and while doing this, there is a very sophisticated quality at the treble – it sounds wett and three dimensional.
The Kleos is a bit dryer in that area and misses some of the plasticity of the Kiseki. The Midband of the Purpleheart is one of the best I ever heard – it is so colourful and real, with a huge dimension – a dream! The Kleos is fleshed out with an ever so slight cut in the upper midtone spectrum – which gives it the ability to render a very clean and structural sound, even if the record gets more dense and highly dynamic. Both are amazing cartridges – I would vote for the Kleos if you are a kind of listener, who is consuming music in a more intellectual way – the Kiseki touches more the heart and soul of the listener. And the Kleos is more about rhythm, while the Kiseki is more about tone – so both will be a perfect complement to each other.
There is a certain tendency to have more than one tonearm mounted on a record player…..
Relax and enjoy your music