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Sumiko Black Pearl with LP Gear ND phono stylus Review

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LP Gear ND phono stylus

I play records almost every day including a number of records that I bought as a teenager. Some of the older and worn records do not show as much benefit using a more expensive phono cartridge. Several years ago, I purchased a Sumiko Black Pearl ($100) moving magnet cartridge to see if it, with its spherical stylus, would do a better job tracking my older scratched and worn out records than my current phono cartridges. It did not track these records any better and it was not musically engaging for me at all. The sound was dull and very two dimensional. I also missed the lushness or bloom that my much more expensive Hana EH and Ortofon MC1 Turbo high output moving coils give me, which made the musicians sound like they are right in front of me. I reviewed the Sumiko Rainier and Sumiko Olympia moving magnets and felt they were both considerably better than the Black Pearl and easily worth the added price. The Rainier, and even more so the Olympia, approached the sound of my more expensive moving coil phono cartridges. It could have been that the spherical stylus was just not for me. Eventually I removed the Black Pearl from my cartridge rotation. I considered replacing the stylus with the Sumiko Pearl elliptical stylus to see if this worked better. Through the internet grapevine, I learned that a company called LP Gear has a $60 replacement stylus (model ND) for their Deft phono cartridge that may greatly improve my Black Pearl’s performance.

LP Gear has been in business for over 20 years as a global analog resource specializing in turntable stylus replacements, phono cartridges, belts, needles, headphones, audio electronics and accessories. They offer an extensive line of replacement styli and turntable belts along with a variety of turntables and cartridges. They carry the highly rated Nagaoka phono cartridges, which are not widely available in the United States, as well as their own line of LP Gear phono cartridges.

One big drawback I had initially in dealing with LP Gear was the lack of telephone communication. You have to email or fax them to order or ask any questions. This is strictly a company that does most of its business through their website, including ordering their products and resolving problems. Most people would probably be okay with this, but I am very old school and prefer to order by telephone. It will be up to the individual to determine if the prices are low enough or their hard to get phono supplies would be enough to offset the lack of telephone communication, especially if there is a problem with the order. I did find ordering fairly easy as long as you know exactly what you want.

The Sumiko Black Pearl cartridge with both its original and the new styli was used on my “The AR turntable” with Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm feeding a NAD PP1 phono stage. The rest of my system includes the Antique Sound Lab tube line stage; a pair of Quicksilver 25-watt tube power amplifiers currently using KT77 output tubes; and a pair of Acarian System Alon 1 speakers.

I compared the LP Gear ND stylus with the original Sumiko Black Pearl stylus. I had the Black Pearl already installed in its own headshell, so all I had to do was change the stylus, double check the alignment and tracking force, and I was ready to play records. By the way, the LP Gear stylus was a perfect fit and it took no time to swap between the two styli. I double checked the alignment and the vertical tracking force and made minor adjustments because the stylus is from a different company than the cartridge. I tracked the cartridge at 2 grams and set the anti-skate to just below the tracking weight.  Compliance was not stated by LP Gear, however, the cartridge with the new stylus seemed to be fine with my MMT tonearm. The output with either stylus is 4.0 millivolts.

The first thing I noticed when moving from the Sumiko Black Pearl to the LP Gear ND stylus was the phono cartridge became more musically engaging and the clarity increased. I played a number of my really old records, such as The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy, an album I bought almost 50 years ago. This is not a great recording and does not really benefit from an expensive phono cartridge, but the record sounded almost new using the Black Pearl with the ND stylus. Next up was my Jethro Tull Living in the Past double album. This recording is a little better, but the record is really worn and scratched. The biggest strength of my Alon speakers is their ability to present a credible soundstage with good side to side and front to back imaging when you combine it with the right phono cartridge.

Both of my moving coil cartridges and, to a lesser extent, the Sumiko Olympia can take advantage of this benefit. I have noticed with less expensive cartridges that the music is extremely two dimensional and there is no front to back depth. This was the case with both the Sumiko Black Pearl and the LP Gear ND Stylus. The music was very two dimensional, but this is basically an under-$100 phono cartridge. Using the LP Gear stylus, the midrange did have a little more life and more of the missing lushness. Both styli had similar bass as well as recessed highs. The recessed highs are great for limiting noise on older records.

No matter which stylus I used, there was no hum and both were extremely quiet. I played some classical recordings and I found this is where I really appreciated a more expensive cartridge to give me the richness missing from these inexpensive cartridges. LP Gear informed me they have the LP Gear BIN high output moving coil cartridge ($329) that may give my Hana a run for the money. I may review that cartridge in the future.

I consider the LP Gear stylus a good value for $59. The related Deft phono cartridge is $79, making it a better bargain potentially. I still preferred the more expensive Sumiko Rainier and the Sumiko Olympia to the Sumiko Black Pearl even with the LP Gear stylus inserted. LP Gear feels the Deft 2 phono cartridge at $99 is even better than the Deft 1 and comparable to the Sumiko Rainier at $149, although purchasing the Rainier at your local dealer would include assistance with installation.

I mentioned earlier that I was very uncomfortable with the lack of a telephone number to contact LP Gear.  This is the modern era and online retailing with nothing more than email support seems to be the way things are going. The ND stylus made a nice improvement to my Sumiko Black phono cartridge. LP Gear also has a nice selection of turntable products and it would be worth your time to check out their website. They have a number of styli that can improve the sound of various existing phono cartridges.

The phono cartridge stylus can only be played a limited number of hours. My moving coil cartridges need to either be traded in or retipped periodically which can get expensive. It is really nice to have an inexpensive phono cartridge I can use for playing older, poorly recorded or scratched records. The Sumiko Black Pearl with the LP Gear ND Stylus will now join the Sumiko Rainer cartridge for playing these records.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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4 Responses to Sumiko Black Pearl with LP Gear ND phono stylus Review

  1. dave elliott says:

    If you will take the advice of someone whose day to day job was replacing stylii for most of the early 80’s, here is my recommendation. The most common commercial stylus is/was an elliptical 0f .2x.7 dimensions. These all “rode” the groove at a particular point on the groove wall so that records are typically worn at that point. If you change to a stylus with different geometry (than yours) like a hyperelliptical you can shift the tracking point to an unworn area. Or for a badly worn record, stylii like van den Hul have a vertical line vs point contact, causing an averaging effect for surface contact… cant mitigate wear imperfections entirely but your groove tracing is more stable.

  2. Dick Carr says:

    I’ve done business with LP Gear a few years back…phono carts for the most part…couple of times…and I too am a little old school, but all went well. No problems…but if I recall more specifically, there was something I needed to return/fix, through no fault of theirs I don’t think, and I emailed them and didn’t get a quick reply, BUT it was right around New Years, and I think it got lost in the holiday shuffle so I followed up with them after a reasonable time and, and they were very accommodating and all went well.

  3. I’m considering using a JICO stylus1 SAS/B as a replacement stylus for my Black Pearl cartridge. Thoughts?

    • Eyewanders says:

      I’ve used the SAS and line-contact (“Vividline”) replacement stylii from LPGear a couple of times and they’re excellent. I think the line-contact is the better value overall.

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