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Top Wing Suzaku coreless straight-flux cartridge Review

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Eighteen records in, the numbered 2020 special re-release by European electronics giant Pro-Ject of a remastered 1959 vintage of the Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra tone poem under a young Herbert von Karajan, via the Suzaku, magically offered up vastly contrasting dynamics that bewildered expectations. In their crescendos, the textural cleanliness of the brasses, cymbal and strings made such stirring and satisfying exhibition that it was only the marginally less definitive spatiality of the sound that betrayed its age. The Koetsu, on the other hand, amidst a sweepingly complex display of tonalities, equalized the variance largely, inadvertently.

A distinct characteristic of the Pass Laboratories Xs Phono, Xs Preamp and XA200.8 pure Class A monoblocks system is uncannily fleeting coloration, high-resolution transparency and a pinch of gentleness at the upper midrange, amidst the indelible force of the company’s pure Class A disposition. The result was a revelation of the Red Sparrow’s superior openness to the Koetsu sans the beauty of tone. In that regard, the Top Wing was given the conduit with which to provide the highest degree of original sound per the studio engineers from each record played.

But I soon realized I was also bearing witness to a delicacy reminiscent of another cartridge utilizing composite, metallic body, the Fuuga. Stonebodied cartridges like the $10,995 Koetsu Jade Platinum probably reign supreme in retrieving low-level details and projecting a very evenly spread soundfield, but I reckon even the Fuuga has superior dynamics. It seems Koetsu’s use of rectangular stones for cartridge body restricts development of mechanisms and materials to those that can be fitted, whereas composite, metallic bodies can be designed around innards of superior performance.

Playing the second track “Incident at Islar Nublar” from the 2013 reissued Jurassic Park soundtrack 2LP set (Mondo-017), the Suzaku spilled out chest bumping and cleanly defined double cello and synthesizer rumbling. Witness the genius of composer John Williams in a most musical thumper as realized by a coreless cartridge. Analogphile fun doesn’t get higher than this and I have not heard a more powerful cartridge. The kind of signal a groove-tracing needle can generate is mind blowing. Continued used of this cartridge means I’ll have to upgrade to the seven-foot Sound Lab to accommodate all that the cartridge can dish out. The depth of stage of this vinyl with the Top Wing was superior of all formats.

Thirty-one albums in, I was testing the Suzaku on the first two LPs of five within the Deutsche Grammophon 1970 compilation of the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection, Volume VI, Piano Sonatas, and that point in space and time saw the emergence of the true calling of the Top Wing. Producing concise tonality and the finest piano timbre and textural rendition the likes of which I’ve not heard in any other format, the Suzaku intensified my passion for Beethoven’s piano sonatas. The day of wearing the LPs out is now foreseeable. Good thing I have a second, brand new set on standby.

Junji Kimura of 47 Laboratory is fond of saying only the simplest can accommodate the most complex. What he means is in order for the most complex musical signal to be unraveled and transmitted, the processing of it needs to be as simple as possible but no more. Simplest is not rudimentary in design but the most advanced. In this regard, the heads at Top Wing obviously is of similar philosophy, their creation of Suzaku by its lack of a core attains the simplest in implementation, and what power! And I have yet to complete the prescribed burn-in of the 90th LP.

Evening concerts put me to sleep. Digital music by lesser DACs can have that effect on me, especially if my energy level is low. But not analog. Apart from the fact that I am very cognizant of the need to get up every twenty minutes or so to lift the needle, music as generated by the cartridge’s coil from energy created by the modulations of the needle inside the groove just carries an engaging quality, truthful or not. The analog format has been under the constant threat of obsolescence since the advent of digital audio. The fact that it is able to attain its current state of being, especially as embodied in the Top Wing Suzaku, is testament to what we can achieve when given cause and resources.

The dynamic scaling prowess of the Top Wing from regular records was reminiscent of that from the Angels 45 RPM series, producing a sound meticulously powerful and resplendently ethereal. A tonally passive cartridge is an oddity and not pursued by design engineers in general for a lack of the infamous analog flavor. And they would be correct in my case as well had I not experienced it firsthand.

For many, to have a cartridge this spectrally discreet and yet dynamically explosive is the antithesis of the analog experience to many analogphiles seemingly, but musical sounding cartridges are becoming more and more readily available and I’ve experienced enough of them to know the likes of Suzaku, though expensive, are unlikely to exist elsewhere and I may not cross path with another one again. Adding warmth to the sound by the use of different cables or tube electronics is easy enough and a discretion I wish to retain. But being able to listen to recordings in their most native state is a luxury I’d rather have than to do without.

It seems an outright outrage a cartridge could cost $16,500. But just as in everything else, it is the result of years of R&D by inspired engineers, and per the Suzaku’s creation process there’s considerable investment involved. All things considered, it is not so much the physical size of the product but the costs of manufacture that dictate the cartridge’s price. And the neutrality and dynamics of the Suzaku lend itself to purveyance of characters of the rest of the system.

As a physical being, we clamor towards objects and the tactile sensibility. The analog experience with its highly material form and function funnels our sentiments like a gravity well of sorts. Until we become beings of formless energy when consciousness is shared, music will remain relevant to each of us in the most physical form of the analog medium.

Moments during which I crave the most uncolored analog experience abound while using top cartridges renowned for their musicality. My job is made more challenging in reviewing phono stages the more a cartridge imparts its own character, and the Top Wing Suzaku exposes everything. It is a technological tour de force deeply rooted in the Japanese tradition of refined sophistication, implemented in the most distilled and streamlined physical form. Its dynamics extracting skill is an uber-serious talent unsurpassed. Upon encountering a cartridge of the Top Wing Suzaku’s caliber, I am compelled to use it as my reference cartridge.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin


Review system:

PS Audio DirectStream Power Plant 20 AC regenerator

Acoustic Sciences Corporation TubeTraps
Audio Reference Technology Analysts EVO interconnects, power cable
Audio Reference Technology Analysts SE interconnects, power cables
Audio Reference Technology Super SE interconnects, power cables
Stealth Audio Cables Helios phono cable

Clearaudio Master Innovation turntable
AMG 12J2 tonearm

Pass Laboratories Xs Phono
Pass Laboratories Xs Preamp
Pass Laboratories XA200.8 pure class A monoblocks
Bricasti Design M28 class AB monoblocks
Margules Audio u-280SC Black ultralinear tube monoblocks
Sound Lab Majestic 645 electrostatic panels


One Response to Top Wing Suzaku coreless straight-flux cartridge Review

  1. mario munos says:

    An impeccable review of a most exciting product…however, at this time and level of things audio, semantics becomes important: the use of the word “analog” to describe the kingdom over which this new type of cartridge reign is at a fault. Except for Direct-to-Disc (with some minor qualifications), LP or Vinyl playback is not the playback of the primal analog medium but the last step in a complex transcription process that starts with an analog (or, yes, digital) tape master. As we well know, at the price levels of the remarkable cartridge being reviewed–plus price of the deserving turntable/arm combination– there are several offerings of equipment with extraodinary levels of performance for the playback of deserving music recordings in analog tape…goes without saying, the closest to primal anolog as it could be!

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