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Sumiko Rainier and Olympia cartridges Review

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Sumiko Rainier

During the 1980s I had a Sumiko Talisman S sapphire low-output moving coil cartridge, which was a great match for my Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm. It had a beautiful midrange to go along with a rich natural sound. By the time it wore out, that model Talisman  had been discontinued. I did find a less expensive Talisman A (aluminum) to replace it. I was pleased as the Talisman A was close enough to the Talisman S in performance. Unfortunately, after a few years, the stylus got caught on the turntable felt mat when I was lifting the tonearm at the end of a record and was ruined. It sat in a drawer for almost 20 years until I had Soundsmith retip it. It now sounds wonderful in my second system in my living room. The turntable is a very inexpensive Goldring GR1 but even this turntable can make great sound when paired with this cartridge. I now look for this type of sound every time I listen to a Sumiko phono cartridge.

Sumiko Audio just released six new phono cartridge models: Rainier ($149), Olympia ($199), Moonstone ($299), and Amethyst ($599) joining the existing Oyster series of moving magnet phono cartridges, while Songbird ($899) and Starling ($1,899) will be part of the Reference Series moving coil cartridges. The Rainier, Olympia, and Moonstone have a stylus that is interchangeable with one another, so if your budget is limited you can start with the Rainier and work your way up to the Moonstone by just purchasing additional styli. I purchased my Rainier from my local stereo shop, Shelley’s Stereo in Woodland Hills, CA. The owner, Alon Moscovitch, and their turntable guru Stan Zeiden were available to answer any questions and if needed would install the cartridge for me. Sumiko’s Bill Rudolph felt the flagship moving magnet Amethyst model would be a huge step up from the Rainier and I would really enjoy listening to this very special cartridge. However, I decided to just purchase an Olympia stylus, since I already owned the Rainier.

My favorite phono cartridge has been the Hana EH, which is a moving coil cartridge, so when it wears out you need to either trade it in to an authorized dealer or have it retipped, which can be expensive. I like to rotate my cartridges just for a change and, since I play my records on a regular basis, rotating my cartridges can actually postpone the time before I will need to retip the Hana. And now, given my fondness for Sumiko cartridges, the Rainier and the Olympia may be a couple of new additions to the rotation.

The Sumikos were used on my AR turntable (“The AR turntable”) with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm. I used the NAD PP1 phono stage feeding an Antique Sound Lab Line One tube linestage. The power amplifications is a pair of Quicksilver Mini Mite tube amps currently using 6L6 output tubes. The speakers are the Acarian System Alon 1. My records are cleaned regularly with a Nitty Gritty vacuum record-cleaning machine. The styli are cleaned periodically using Last 4 stylus cleaner. I oil both the turntable bearings and the turntable motor with Singer sewing machine oil as part of my regular maintenance about once a year.

The Rainier was a very easy phono cartridge to install and align due to the threaded holes on the cartridge body – similar to the Grado Platinum cartridges. I use a number of different headshells because it takes me a while to align my phono cartridges to dial in the sound. That way I just set the tracking weight and I do not have to realign the cartridge every time I switch cartridges. I used an Ortofon SH-4 headshell for both the Rainier and the Olympia and compared the two by swapping in either stylus. I tracked the cartridge at 2.4 grams. I usually like to track a little higher for tighter bass and a little added warmth. I set the anti-skate to just below the tracking weight. Compliance was stated by the manufacturer using the Japanese standard of 100Hz so it was difficult to accurately compute the resonance, however, this cartridge worked very well with my MMT tonearm. The output is 5.0 millivolts. The break-in for this cartridge seemed to take a lot longer than my other cartridges no matter which stylus.

After an extended break in time, the virtues of the Rainier became apparent. It was a little forward sounding, however there was no harshness to the music. Some poorly recorded, overly compressed records such as my Buddy Rich Big Band Machine Buddy Rich album recorded on the Groove Merchant label sounded better than they usually did. Listening to a number of my over 40-year-old records was impressive because there was very little surface noise on these much-played records. The tracking was outstanding and there was no inner groove distortion. The music lacked a little richness and seemed a little more two-dimensional, however the sound had a nice clarity making it easy to listen to with no listener fatigue. As the cartridge settled in, the sound improved in every aspect. I consider this cartridge a good value for $149.

Sumiko Olympia

When moving up from the Rainier to the $50 more expensive Olympia by switching the stylus, everything seemed to improve. I double-checked the alignment and the vertical tracking force, making minor adjustments even though everything should be exactly the same. The midrange was not as forward sounding and a little better balanced. Bass was a little deeper and fuller. Vocals took on a more natural sound. The music had a more three-dimensional sound with images more clearly defined. As with the Rainier, there was no record surface noise. Also as with the Rainier, tracking was outstanding with no inner groove distortion. The Olympia was easily worth the extra $50 to me. I gave the Olympia plenty of break-in time just as I did with the Rainier. No matter which stylus I used, there was no hum and both were extremely quiet. I consider the Olympia an even better value at $199.  Based on the improvement the Olympia offered over the Rainier, I have to think the performance of the Moonstone for another $100 would be a worthwhile improvement over the Olympia.

Comparing the Sumikos to other cartridges, the Ortofon MC1 Turbo still has a little more bass extension. The lack of surface noise with either the Rainier or the Olympia is similar to the Hana EH and the Ortofon MC1 Turbo. I’ve found over the years that moving coil cartridges, both high-output and low, have a musicality that my moving magnets just cannot match. The Grado Platinum, a moving iron design, had a similar musicality. Both the $475 Hana and the $240 Ortofon were clearly superior to the Rainier in this area; however, the Olympia is really close to the Ortofon in performance. The Sumikos provided a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience, although I liked the Olympia quite a bit more than the Rainier. Just for fun, I decided to listen to my Sumiko Talisman A retipped by Soundsmith in my other system. The richness of this moving coil was clearly apparent, even in this relatively inexpensive system. The differences reminded me of the differences between tubes and solid state amplifications. The Talisman sounded better than the Rainier even in this modest setup, however, the Olympia would be close in performance and the fact that you have an easy to replace stylus would make me consider this cartridge over a similarly priced moving coil cartridge. Keep in mind, I am comparing the Olympia and the Rainier to more expensive cartridges and I’m using the Talisman in a different system.

Sumiko Audio distributes a wide arrange of cartridges from the Oyster ($79) to the Palo Santos Presentation ($4,4499). They also distribute Pro-ject turntables and phono stages; Sonus Faber speakers; Bassocontinuo audio racks; Sumiko subwoofers. You get great customer service in the United States buying a Sumiko product. There are not only a number of Sumiko authorized dealers in the US, but I was also able to call the US distributor directly and ask them questions about their products. Their new Sumiko Rainier and Olympia phono cartridges can hold their own against any comparably priced phono cartridges that I have heard. I enjoyed listening to both of these cartridges, especially the Olympia, and have now expanded my cartridge rotation to include both Rainier and Olympia.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

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7 Responses to Sumiko Rainier and Olympia cartridges Review

  1. AF says:

    Great review!

  2. tom roy says:

    nice review Byron, it makes me curious. if i wasn’t presently experiencing a problem with my SOTA Sapphire tt (a light intermittent squeal from the motor and some speed variation) that precludes vinyl listening at this time, i would love to try the new Sumiko designs.

    i would suggest that the Ortofon headshell you are using could easily be bettered by using a jelco based unit with the two retaining pins. my first usage was with the Sumiko HS12 but the price of the Sumiko has risen a bit too high when Jelco branded vesions of the same shell are available for significantly less money.

    my actual preference is for low output MC carts but MM is certainly worth a try in view of the new Sumiko models and the current ones from Nagaoka.


  3. Rian says:

    Good review. I too am interested in the Olympia and the Moonstone for my Technics SL-1200mk3. I have a ProJect 5.1se with Sumiko blue point #2, which has excellent separation and clarity. My Technics just has a ortofon DJs needles. Looking for another MM cart can be a long process. Tried a Denon DL110 with my SL1200 and just sounded too clinical. I listen to metal/classical…and sometimes the Blue Point #2 can sound CD like. But my ears like the tight bottom end, 3D space it has. On the other hand I want a little analog warmth.

  4. Byron Baba says:

    I enjoyed both the Sumiko Rainier and the even better Sumiko Olympia substantially more than the original Sumiko Bluepoint (I have not heard the Bluepoint #2). If you want warmth you may want to consider the Grado Platinum cartridges. I replaced the Bluepoint with the Grado Platinum and I really liked the warmth and bass of the Grado using this cartridge as my main cartridge for years. Grados do tend to hum in some setups. Dagogo has a review of the Grado Reference Platinum 1 in May, 2013 and the review is consistent with what I heard. I have not heard the Sumiko Moonstone, however, if it improves on the Olympia it may also suit your needs.

  5. Bill Cheadle says:

    Great review. I have the Olympia, thinking I would one day step up to the Moonstone for the $100 or so cost. Seems $100 isn’t enough for anybody as the stylus alone costs almost as much as the Moonstone cartridge! More than likely, I’ll go another direction and try something different, maybe a Denon MC?

  6. Jason Marple says:

    What phono pre-amp would you recommend pairing with the Sumiko Rainier? Something adds to the depth and soundstage without it being too boomy or loud? Thanks!

  7. Byron Baba says:

    There are a number of phono stages that I am sure would work well with the Sumiko Rainier including the iFi ZEN which I reviewed a few months ago. I enjoyed the ZEN so much that I bought the review sample.

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