Phasemation PP-1000 MC Phono Cartridge

My quest for the Phasemation PP-1000 cartridge started four months ago, when I was perusing photos from a good friend’s recent excursion to Asia and the exotic analog setups he saw on his journey. Most were the usual suspects in mega analog systems: the Koetsu Onyx Platinum, Lyra Atlas and Clearaudio Goldfinger. However, one cartridge stood out—the Phasemation PP-1000, which I initially mistook for a Denon DL-103R. My friend informed me that the Phasemation is extremely popular in Asia at the moment.

I had the good fortune to talk to Nobuyuki Suzuki, the president of Phasemation, who offered insight into his company’s products. He revealed that the designer behind the PP-1000 is Satoshi Kanno, who has 30 years of cartridge design under his belt. One of his premier creations in the 1980s was the JVC Victor MC-L1000, a benchmark in its day. Phasemation’s parent company, Kyodo Denshi Engineering Co. Ltd., has been making precision measuring equipment and OEM step-up transformers for over a decade now.

Suzuki-san makes it clear to me that accurate portrayal of acoustic space is Phasemation’s primary goal, with a strong emphasis on the relative positioning of voices and instruments within that space. Like many listeners, he wants to know where the musical instruments are located and he wants to feel their presence during playback. The key to good cartridge design is “to increase the electric-generation efficiency of the cartridge mechanism,” he says. In layman’s terms, that means Phasemation is trying to achieve the highest output with the smallest coil possible. The specs indicate that the company has succeeded: the PP-1000 produces an output of 0.29 mV, with an internal impedance of only 4 ohms. (Lower impedance reflects fewer coil windings.)

“The specs do not necessarily reflect the actual efficiency of the cartridge,” says Suzuki-san, “because it is not representative of the entire audible frequency spectrum. The PP-1000 is a well-designed cartridge because it is able to deliver an efficient output at all the frequency ranges that express music.”

In this regard, the PP-1000 does seem to produce a much higher output level compared to the two similar cartridges I compared it with. When paired with the Burmester 100 phono preamp, the PP-1000 requires only 60 dB of gain to achieve the same volume level as My Sonic Lab’s Ultra Eminent BC, which has an output of 0.29 mV, or the ZYX Universe II, at 0.24 mV. Interestingly, the 0.29-mV PP-1000 produces a volume level comparable to my 0.56-mV Lyra Atlas, which goes to show you can’t judge a cartridge by its specs alone.

Setup and Break-in

Removing the PP-1000 from its exquisite Rosewood box, I take note of its rather large size. It has one of the largest cartridge bodies I have ever seen: 22 mm by 17 mm by 14.3 mm, with a close resemblance to Denon DL-103R, as I mentioned. This large body makes it more difficult to achieve optimum alignment. While the cantilever itself is not small, it is hidden somewhat within the body, making visual alignment rather difficult, reminding me of the Kondo IO-M cartridge and the Dynavector 17D3, which are equally difficult to align. The PP-1000 is one of only a handful of cartridges I have mounted that requires the mirror reflection of a mounting template like the Uni-Protractor. Those using a non-reflective template or protractor will find this process much more difficult, though not impossible.

The instruction sheet does not specify a torque tolerance for the mounting screws, something I wish all cartridge manufacturers would note. My experimentation yields optimal results at 0.6 to 0.65 pounds per inch, which I gauge using a precision micro-torque meter. This measurement is consistent with the readings that Nakasukan-san of ZYX provided me a while ago for the Universe II cartridge. If the torque is too high, the music becomes tense and agitated, with a reduction in ambience; if it’s too low, the cartridge comes loose.

Phasemation recommends setting the tracking force between 1.7 and 2.0 grams; my review sample sounds optimal at approximately 1.86 grams. This cartridge is considered low compliance (8.0 x 10 (e-6) cm/dyne), but Suzuki-san says the PP-1000 is relatively unaffected by the mass of the tonearm and that it can be used with any tonearm on the market.

During this review, I use the DaVinci Master Reference Virtu and the Schroder TA-1L tonearms mounted on a TW Raven AC turntable. The PP-1000 only requires about 10 hours of break-in to sound great—much less than the 20 to 50 hours that most cartridges require for the cantilever suspension to settle. This greatly affects frequency extension and makes the overall presentation feel more relaxed. The PP-1000 remains stable at an input loading of 100 ohms, which should make it easy to integrate with any MC phonostage or step-up device.

The Magic

As the needle lands on the record surface, the PP-1000 immediately displays a lively and transparent sound quality. Tonally, it does not sit at the romantic end of the spectrum, a space typically occupied by Kondo and Koetsu cartridges, yet the PP-1000 does not veer towards the analytical side, like my reference Lyra Titan i. The Phasemation renders music without any artificial warmth or coloration. I sample everything from the operatic Victoria de los Angeles’ “Ich liebe dich” (EMI ASD 651), to the folky Brothers Four’s “Try to Remember” (Columbia CS 9179) to the modern indie rock of the Lumineers’ “Ho Hey.” The PP-1000 always renders vocals with natural sibilance together with human imperfections, but not the point of sounding lean or hard.

On Erick Friedman’s Virtuoso Favorites (RCA LSC 2671), and Maurice Gendron’s Schumann Concerto (Philips 835 130 AY), the PP-1000 delivers a rich and full-bodied sound with plenty of harmonic decay, although the cartridge may not have the last word when it comes to rendering the details embedded in these two recordings. The My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent BC has a faster transient response in terms of the subtle intricacies of string instruments, and the Goldfinger Statement and the Kondo IO-M make the strings sound smoother. The PP-1000 has more rawness and less tonal contrast, but without ever being coarse or flat. You will hear the good and the bad with this cartridge.

True to its design goals, the PP-1000 renders holographic images with solid rigidity, where instruments occupy their rightful place firmly rather than with a faint haze, and without any overlap or smudging of the edges. Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (Capital SP8373 Cisco Reissue) does a fantastic job revealing tonal contrasts. It’s as if the instruments are appearing right in front of your eyes with a realism you can almost feel. The already wide soundstage of the recording is stretched ever so slightly with the PP-1000, and it extends further beyond the space confined by the walls of my listening room, with layering and rightful proportions.

The second movement of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11 (EMI SLS 5177) portrays the grim events of the bloody Sunday massacre and subsequent uprising that took place in St. Petersburg in 1905. The performance is not for the faint of heart and it grips the listener with power and intensity. The PP-1000 renders the mass strings with texture in a perfect rhythmic pace that reflects the intensity of Paavo Berglund’s conducting endeavor, without ever being laid back or rolled off. Percussive instruments are solid, with good definition and bass texture. While the PP-1000 does not have the explosive dynamism of the Goldfinger Statement and the V2, nor the frequency extension of the Universe II, it does shift your focus to the music itself by delivering a fundamentally realistic performance that closely resembles the characteristic of the Lyra Olympos cartridge.

Delivering on its Promise

Realism is not a word I use lightly. It represents more than lifelike instruments and vocals. It is the cohesive musical force of instruments coming together in such a way that you forget about the individual parts of the performance. The unique combination of liveliness and vivid presence of the PP-1000 makes it difficult for me to identify the component parts of the music portrayed.

Those using a rim clamp or large center clamp on their turntable should be aware that the large footprint of this cartridge will have you jumping up quickly at the end of the record and being extra careful at the beginning, as you would with an Ortofon SPU or Ikeda cartridge.

While the PP-1000 may not be the most dynamic, the most detailed or the most romantic cartridge I have heard, it holds its own among cartridges many times its cost, delivering an immediate and realistic performance that only a few cartridges can best. With an MSRP of $3,800, the PP-1000 is significantly more attainable than the other premium cartridges I have on hand. If anything, the PP-1000 is underpriced. It has many qualities that rival the big boys and it delivers a level of satisfaction I’ve never experienced in this price category. I will be keeping the PP-1000 as a permanent reference.  -Richard Mak

PP-1000 MC Phono Cartridge

MSRP: $3,800


Analog sources JC Verdier La Platine Vintage    TW Raven AC
Tonearms Schroder TA-1L    DaVinci Master Reference Virtu
Phonostages ARC Reference 2    M Acoustics FM-122 Mk II    Burmester PH100
Power amplifier McIntosh MC2KW
Preamplifier McIntosh C1000
Speakers Dynaudio Temptation
Cables Purist Audio Design Aqueous Auries and Venustas
Accessories McIntosh MPC1500