Koetsu Urushi Black Cartridge Reviewed

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Would you believe it was years ago when I reviewed the original Koetsu Urushi? Now, on the Bar Mitzvah of that review, I'm trying its latest descendent. With one difference: Sugano-San is no longer with us. Sugano believed then that the original Urushi was the finest cartridge he was capable of producing. Just shows that Koetsus are like Ferraris, and will never agree on 'What was the best ever?'

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All of which presents a problem for me, because the Urushi Black is neither the most exotic nor the costliest Koetsu in the current range (at a 'mere' £2799), and yet it strikes me as one of the most musical and 'right' cartridges I've ever used. Even without having run it in, and using a strange LP and a new phono stage, I knew that this cartridge would rank with the greats. It deserves mentioning that the original Urushi cost £2390 back in 1990. So whatever anyone says about the high-end, here's one piece which fought inflation.

Before dealing with Urushi, or - for that matter - Koetsu minutiae, note that the review model is fitted with copper coils. Absolute Sounds feels that the differences in Urushis, especially using gold or silver or platinum for the coils, cost so little in real terms that the company is charging £2799 regardless of the model. I'm using copper because I've always preferred it to silver. Sonic differences? The Vermilion with platinum parts has lower output and a rounder sound, the Black with copper wiring is more dynamic, while the Gold with gold and silver parts is leaner, less voluptuous but especially detailed. Your Koetsu dealer or Absolute Sounds will help you match your system to the right Koetsu. Oh, and any can be upgraded, if that's the right word, to platinum.

Like the original, the Urushi Black's body is a slab-sided alloy block covered in hand-applied lacquer made from the sap of the urushi tree. This finish is hard to describe, as it looks - even when brand new - 'distressed', as if created to look vintage from the outset. Unlike the original, which was finished in red and gold splashes, the Black's composition is its eponymous colour plus gold flecks, and I heartily recommend that you look at it in the sunlight before forever committing it to a life indoors. It's only then that you can appreciate the artistry, this lacquer also used on the very rare Loiminchay fountain pens. I also wrote in the original review that, '...urushi lacquer had a function other than aesthetic. With time, the lacquer would harden even further, enhancing the strength of the already-rigid body, eliminating whatever vestiges of resonance might remain.'

Read more about the Black Cartridge on Page 2.

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