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Ikeda Sound Labs IT-407CR1 Long Tonearm Review

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Ikeda Sound Labs IT-407CR1 Long TonearmHistory

Isamu Ikeda was born in 1929 in the Koto district of Tokyo. His pursuit of a perfect analog sound is a legend, which began in the 1940s. Dissatisfied with the production at a previous audio company in 1964, he decided to form his own company, the now-legendary and world famous Fidelity Research Inc. Its products have been desired and owned by audiophiles and music fans the world over, including the Imperial Household Agency and the Imperial Family.

Ever since the end of WWII, Ikeda-san has been making phonographic equipment. The early moving-coil cartridge out of Japan was one of his developments, and many of the Japanese cartridge-makers apprenticed under him. From the mid-sixties through the early eighties, cartridges like the FR 1 and MC 201 and tonearms like the FR 12, FR 14, FR 64, and FR 66 from Ikeda-san’s company Fidelity Research achieved international acclaim. He pioneered the use of silver wire, featherweight styli, yoke construction, and pioneered higher-efficiency magnets which allow for coils with fewer windings.

Fidelity Research’s first two products, the FR-1 cartridge and FR-64 tonearm were big hits in Japan. When Ikeda-san introduced the FR-7, which featured the world’s first “empty core, four pole structure” and the FR-64S tonearm in 1978, the company became a major business including being a big player in the Tokyo Stock Market. Unfortunately, due to many unfavorable circumstances including the popularity of the CD, Fidelity Research was forced to close in 1985.

Nevertheless, Ikeda San’s enthusiasm continued and in that same year, he established a small audio company, Ikeda Sound Laboratories Company. This new company was a place where he was able to do things that had been impossible under the mass production company that Fidelity Research had become. He came out with the 9-series of cartridges, and the IT-407CR1 and IT-345CR1 tonearms. The 9-series took the empty core technology of the FR-7 and added a groundbreaking new development: the world’s first moving coil cantilever-less cartridge, much like the London Decca moving iron cartridges. The new tonearms were improved over the FR-64 and FR-66 by eliminating more vibration through the use of a combination of aluminum, zinc-bronze, stainless steel and brass to form an extremely rigid and musical tonearm.

Mr. Ikeda is now in his mid-eighties, and has handed the work over to IT Industries. The spirit, technology and craftsmanship continues to live on with the new company. IT has been with Mr. Ikeda all along in the production of his products. I was assured that IT Industries was still making everything by hand in Japan. Now, the wonderful and beautiful Ikeda products are once again available in the United States. We can all say a word of thanks to William Demars of Beauty of Sound located in East Greenbush, New York for importing them to the United States once again.

Description and Setup

The Ikeda 325 is listed as the short tonearm and the 407 is described as the long tonearm. The 407 is a dynamic balanced tonearm, so one balances it and then dials in the prescribed tracking force. Sadly the VTA adjustment is not as easy as it was on the old FR tonearm, yet it is not difficult to loosen the nice large thumb screws and move the arm up and down in small increments. The supplied headshell is very nicely built and easy to work with.

I used the Ikeda 407 on a beautiful brass and burled wood pod that Mr. Demars supplied with the tonearm. A tonearm pod is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that almost everything in the setup is more easily adjustable since you can simply move the pod. The curse is if you bump the pod hard enough to move it, out comes the protractor and you have to get to the right spot again.

The pod was furnished at my request and is not the subject of this review, it was just a learning experience for me. What I should be saying is that setup was easy and mounting different cartridges was a breeze. Like the revered Fidelity Research arms, this tonearm is made for heavy moving coil cartridges and, man, does it make them sing.

Listening

Just in case you don’t know it, there is no perfect arm for every cartridge. The most versatile tonearm I have ever used was the Clearaudio Universal tonearm. It was an incredible arm for the Benz-Micro Ebony TR, the Miyabi cartridges, and several other cartridges I tried with it, but was not the best for some of the heavy, low compliant cartridges or vintage cartridges like the ADC XLM.

Likewise, the Ikeda is great with the high mass, low compliance cartridges that didn’t work as well with the Clearaudio Universal. Its detachable headshell makes it possible to use it with several cartridges you can’t use with tonearms with nondetachable headshells. For example, it worked great with SPUs and EMTs in their own head shells.

Of all the cartridges I tried in the Ikeda tonearm, by far the best match was the Miyajima Shilabe; the combination was simply magical. This may not be the least colored way to listen to music, but you will be hard pressed to find a more emotionally involving and fun way to listen to music. With this combo in my system, the sound was big, dramatic, and very tactile.

The Shilabe cartridge is among the fastest, quickest cartridges I have heard at any price. This mates very well with the slightly warm, damped sound of the Ikeda 407. This combination allows the colors of music to come alive in your listening room, with great drive and scale. The midrange has a beautifully warm, colorful texture with lots of drama.

In regard to bass, the Ikeda let each cartridge I use go very low, and the bass was very fast with no trace of boominess. Again, the Shilabe was the perfect match for the Ikeda tonearm, together they create a bottom-end in my system very much like live music. The bass had both power, slam, and great decay. I especially loved the way upright basses sounded with this combo. The bass was equally good with the EMT TSD15, but with that special drive and power of the EMT.

Whether I used the Shilabe, the EMT, or the Shindo SPU, the sound always had great PraT; which resulted in my being drawn into the music and involving me in the performance. Overall, music was incredibly fun to listen to with the Ikeda tonearm in my system. I think it’s amazing that a tonearm can do such good job of handling the energy of these great moving coils and still have such great macro- and micro-dynamics.

With each cartridge I tried with the Ikeda 407, the midrange was liquid, sweet, yet still sounded plenty detailed, and fast. I think this is probably because of the arm’s ability to handle vibrations, and the quality of the bearings. In light of o f its scary, real-sounding midrange, this has the be the SET amp equivalent of tonearms.

Yes, the Ikeda has its own distinctive sound, and a fun sound it certainly is. I own a Shindo Mersault RF-773 12-inch tonearm and I have had the privilege of reviewing the DaVinciAudio Grand Reference Grandezza 12-inch tonearm. These three long arms are all magnificent. The Grandezza is the best with lighter moving coils, the other two work best with heavier moving coil cartridges. The Shindo arm is limited pretty much to the Shindo SPU cartridge, Ortofons that are SPU A cartridges, or the EMT cartridges that are being made for it. Though all three tonearms sound a little different, they are the three best tonearms I have had the privilege to use. All three had a relaxed musicality that the VPI 12.7, the Tri-Planar, the Clearaudio Universal, and the Helius Omega Silver did not. I feel truly lucky to have been able to hear all these tonearms in my system, but the three 12-inch arms mentioned above are simply wonderfully, emotionally involving.

Let me close by saying thanks once more time to Bill Demars for letting me have the privilege of reviewing this magnificent tonearm when it is so hard to come by. If you truly love listening to vinyl and you can afford it, you owe it to yourself to hear this arm. If you can’t afford it, don’t let it get anywhere near your system or you’ll have real regrets.

Pictured: Ikeda IT-407CR1 in a Garrard 401 turntable with custom slate plinth designed and owned by U.S. Importer William Demars of Beauty Of Sound.

Ikeda Sound Labs IT-407CR1 Long Tonearm

U.S. Importer’s comment:

Many thanks to Jack Roberts for his insightful and thorough review of the Ikeda IT-407CR1 tonearm. Jack’s comments about it’s sound and looks are the hallmarks of this legendary tonearm. The arm-pod is actually made from a phenolic tube, not wood. Phenolic is known for it’s extreme density and anti-resonant character and was chosen for this reason. It was custom-made for me. I have secured the spike cups the surface-base with bees-wax. This prevents the arm-pod from sliding around. Also of note is the arrival of the new Ikeda 9TT moving coil stereo cartridge. It sounds amazing on the Ikeda arm!

Again, sincere gratitude to Constantine and Jack for their years of great work for the audio community.

Bill Demars
Beauty Of Sound

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