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Hana EH phono cartridge retipped by Vinyl Audio Science

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The original Hana EH phono cartridge

For the past three years, my favorite phono cartridge has been the Hana EH, which I have listened to  almost every day for hours. The Hana is a high-output moving coil cartridge, so, unlike moving magnet cartridges, the stylus is not user replaceable after it wears out. Since I don’t have a high powered microscope to check for stylus wear, I went to my local stereo shop where they determined that my stylus was worn down enough to warrant replacement. It still had enough life left to use on older records and maybe records not in the best of shape, but I was told my good records could be damaged. The stylus also had become bent over time. A moving coil cartridge such as the Hana EH can be traded in for a brand new one at a discounted price, in this case $332.50 versus $475.00. An alternative would be to have one of the cartridge specialists out there retip it. Consistent with my focus on stretching my audiophile dollars, I decided to have it retipped by Steve Leung of VAS (Vinyl Audio Science). Steve Leung is not as well-known in the retipping game as Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, but he enjoys a great reputation in the audio community as the distributor of the highly rated Cayin tube amplifiers as well as his own VAS line of components and as importer of the Aurum Cantus speaker line, so Steve and company cover a wide range of products. VAS has been making and repairing phono cartridges for over 10 years.

I needed the retip done quickly enough so that I could compare the retipped Hana to the original before my memory of the original Hana’s sound faded from memory. The work to be performed was to replace the worn out stylus and the cantilever with a new, similar, standard aluminum elliptical stylus and cantilever. Steve sent me the shipping procedures and I sent the Hana off and waited. A side note on the terminology here: a rebuilt cartridge is completely taken apart and put back together; a retip replaces just the stylus tip; and a repair involves fixing a broken cantilever. Since my stylus was sent in for a complete cantilever and stylus replacement, this was a combination retip and repair, but I will refer to it as a retip.

The whole process took about two weeks. When my Hana came back, VAS had screwed a plate tightly onto the top of the cartridge. This posed a problem because the installed headshell screws were not long enough for me to install the cartridge onto my headshell. Another problem was that the plate and screws were very difficult to remove. I had to remove the plate by carefully removing the pre-mounted screws. While I kept the stylus protector on most of the time, the stylus ultimately fell off anyway. I don’t understand how this happened, although the stylus on my retipped Soundsmith Talisman A fell off after six weeks of use. I have only had styli fall off on retipped cartridges, which may be a coincidence or maybe it’s an issue with getting cartridges retipped, I can’t say. In any case, Ray, Steve’s son at VAS, said no problem, send it back and he will fix it and not add the plate. Happy endings: the Soundsmith Talisman A sounded spectacular after they fixed the cartridge (for an additional charge) and has been trouble free for the past five years. VAS redid the retip on the Hana cartridge at no additional charge.

As to the retip, the cantilever has a holder on the inside in the coil that cannot be seen. What is important is to fit it back into the original holder before reinforcing and gluing it. Just gluing it to the broken cantilever piece would not be secure enough. Steve used a Japanese-made cantilever and stylus for the replacement, which looked similar, but I don’t think this was an original stylus.

BEFORE

DURING

FINISHED

The main turntable used was my vintage AR “The AR Turntable” with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm that is currently played through an NAD PP1 phono stage. The rest of the equipment used was the Antique Sound Lab Line One tube line stage and the Quicksilver Mini Mite 25-watt tube power amplifiers using KT77 output tubes driving the Acarian System Alon 1 speakers. I used AudioQuest speaker cables and interconnects throughout the system. This is the exact system that I had been using with my original Hana EH to keep the comparison with the retip as close as possible. The records were cleaned with a Nitty Gritty vacuum record cleaning machine. Steve does not believe in using a liquid stylus cleaner because, he says, when the liquid vaporizes, sometimes it can enter the inner body and corrode the coil as it condenses back, so I just kept the stylus clean by using a small stylus brush.

I installed the VAS retipped Hana tracking a little higher than the 2 grams of recommended tracking force, which, as with the original Hana, seemed to tighten the bass. I set the anti-skate to just under the tracking weight. I continued to use the minimum vertical tracking angle, which seems to always work best with the MMT tonearm no matter which cartridge I use. The output was still a little higher than the rated 2 mv output, which is consistent with the original. I continued to assume this was still a fairly low compliance cartridge that was very compatible with the MMT tonearm.

I compared the VAS retipped Hana with the original Hana EH from memory. The biggest strength of the original Hana was the way you are connected to the music as if the cartridge isn’t even there. The retip was no different. It is very quiet and surface noise is minimal. Similar to the original Hana, the treble is very sweet sounding and musical; the midrange is smooth and just right, with a rich sounding midrange bloom that I find so musical; the bass has a nice full sound. The balance on the retipped Hana through both channels is even. Tracking is outstanding and I hear no obvious inner groove distortion. I played a lot of the same records that I listened to when reviewing the original Hana, including the usual classical, jazz and rock albums. The retipped Hana has a very similar sound to the original. Like the original, it has no trouble keeping pace with the music. The retipped Hana sounded similar to the original when I compared the Crystal Clear direct to disc recording of Walter Sussking conducting the London Philharmonic and the Miles Davis Kind of Blue albums. I enjoyed every record using the retipped Hana. Even my older worn records had very little surface noise. I was constantly amazed at how close in performance this retipped phono cartridge was to the original. I am not sure if this cartridge needs the break-in time like the original, but I was pleased with its performance right from the beginning. The more I listened the more I enjoyed the retipped Hana and felt I was listening to the original.

When comparing the retipped Hana to other high output moving coil cartridges, such as the wonderful sounding Ortofon MC-1 Turbo high output moving coil ($240), I preferred the retipped Hana, which gives me more of that “you are there” feeling. When compared to the Sumiko Olympia, an outstanding value at $200, the retipped Hana was better in every category.

VAS or Soundsmith: It has been five years since I had my Talisman A low output moving coil phono cartridge retipped by Soundsmith. Prices were similar, although Soundsmith tends more to set pricing and VAS to case by case. The biggest difference was the length of time involved. Soundsmith took about 12 weeks to complete the retip whereas VAS took about two weeks. Both companies do a great job of making your worn out moving coil cartridge sound like new. I would recommend both, although if you want the job done quickly of course VAS would be the better choice. If brand name is important Soundsmith has an outstanding reputation.

Although I can’t be certain that the sound of the retipped Hana is as good or better than the original,  I am glad I made the decision to do the retip instead of trading the old cartridge in on a new one. The Hana cartridge retip gave me such outstanding performance at about half of the price of the trade-in. This is a great alternative if you are like me and play records every day because the price now would be similar to just replacing the stylus on a moving magnet. The cost to replace a worn out moving coil cartridge on a regular basis can really add up, even with a generous trade-in. VAS has really good turnaround time so the biggest advantage of trading in your moving coil or moving iron cartridge for the convenience of not having to wait is not really there. Also having a cartridge with an original stylus would be an advantage to some. The bottom line is Steve Leung of VAS did not disappoint. VAS did a great job of retipping the Hana, so I would recommend this service to anyone looking to get their moving coil or moving iron phono cartridges retipped, rebuilt or repaired.  Based on the success of my retip, their other products also seem very worthy of consideration.

 

Original Specifications:

Stylus: Synthetic Elliptical

Cantilever: Aluminum

Output Level: 2mV@1kHz

Output Balance: <2dB1kHz

Vertical Tracking Force: 2gr

Trackability: 60μm@2gr

Channel Separation: 22dB/1kHz

Frequency Response: 15-25,000Hz

Impedance: 130ohms/1kHz

Suggested Load: 47k

Weight: 5g

Color: Moss Green

Price: $475

Price with Hana Trade-in $332.50

The Cost to retip starts at $150

 

VAS

77 Cliffwood Ave, Suite 3B

Cliffwood, NJ 07721

-732-888-3288

vasaudio@comcast.net

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

 

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