While most of you rightly regard me as a two-cartridge man - Koetsu or Decca - I'm not actually that limited. I've been known to tap my toes to SPU-series Ortofons, I love the wooden-bodied Grados and have flirted with more than a few luscious Lyras. But one family of cartridges I've neglected to mention is that of Transfiguration; I've used their Temper for years, with great results.
When it came time for a new stylus, I found out that the Temper had moved along a few generations, so the replacement was the Temper V, the lower output of the two current models. The V delivers a fragile 0.38mV, while the W bumps it up to 0.58mV. Because the Audio Research PH5 phono stage has such a huge amount of gain, I didn't mind receiving the lower output version. The dynamic range was as wide as that of a higher output design, while it retained all of the traditional low output m-c's delicacy and subtlety that has produced a generation of masochists who prefer them.
Transfiguration blends classic moving-coil design with some nice details of their own. The Temper contains a ring magnet, which endows the cartridge with five 'unique design improvements': the coils inside the magnet, there are no yokes, there are 'no magnetic irregularities,' the coils are located precisely at the 'crux of the magnetic focus,' and the design boasts more intimate coil/magnet coupling. What this translates into are greater precision throughout, fairly low mass for such a magnificently built cartridge, and the sort of sonic performance that go some way to justifying high prices.
Transfiguration, like Blue Angel (reviewed in February) isn't rewriting the book. It's merely refining the tried and tested. Its ultra tight magnet-coil coupling, which genuinely means coil/magnet proximity of only a few thousandths of an inch, provides greater focusing within the magnetic field, to improve electromagnetic efficiency. The lower dynamic mass and elimination of coil saturation mean a faster and more accurate 'stylus response to groove formation'; you will notice without question that the Temper sails through hard-to-track LPs. And the transient attack is about as close to a Decca as I've heard from any m-c.
Other details include twin SS-mu-metal square core 7N copper coils on the cantilever fulcrum, damping with a special compound to ensure consistent stylus/coil alignment and control (with very good immunity to temperature change, judging by its composure during a cold December), a special alloy core for the coil assembly, neodymium magnets, a newly-developed boron cantilever and a low mass tip in the form of an Ogura PA 3x30 micron solid diamond. All of this is housed in a flawlessly-finished anti-resonance aluminium body.
Spec-wise, there's nothing too shocking if you're used to moving-coils that need a step-up. The company recommends a 3 ohm load, which wasn't quite as much of an issue as pure gain, and the suggested tracking force of 1.8g is spot-on. I used the Temper V in the SME Series V arm on the SME 30/II turntable, during sessions with the aforementioned Audio Research phono stage, the EAR 834P, the Pro-Ject Tube, the Musical Fidelity X-LPV3 and the NAD PP2 step-ups. As I said, loading was far less important than sheer gain. Other components included the McIntosh C2200 pre-amp, MC2102 power amp, and Wilson WATT Puppy System 7 and PMC DB1+ speakers.
Considering that I'd spent the previous three months listening almost exclusively to Deccas, bar the time with the Blue Angel, the transition was painless. If you draw a line of cartridge extremes with a Decca at one end and an Ortofon SPU at the other, the Temper is, interestingly, nearer to the Decca. It shares rapid attack, smooth decay, slightly forward presentation and silky string sounds with the latest Deccas, but it has warmth more in keeping with m-cs. In fact, the Transfiguration reminds me more of a Decca than a Koetsu, except in the bass, where the Decca is ultra-taught and lean in comparison. The Temper clearly emulates the Koetsu's richer lower octaves.
Which explains why I am never unhappy with a Transfiguration. In many ways. It's the best of both worlds for a schizoid such as I, who often craves some imaginary hybrid that's part Decca and part Koetsu. Where the Transfiguration shined was with better tracking than either. , composed and conducted by Ray Martin, is a 1964 Decca Phase 4 release, not unlike . Superwide stereo, hot transients, rapid dynamic changes - you know the drill. This one also features weird takes on classical music, too, but so well recorded that even I could stomach them.Nothing, and I mean nothing on this disc could thwart the Transfiguration, whereas the Decca and the Blue Angel both exhibited traces of instability. The Temper simply ploughed on, composed, graceful and oozing finesse. It is, without any question, one of the greats.
But go back to that line. From left to right, or lush to exciting, we
have (with some gaps, of course) the SPU Ortofons, then Denons, then
Supexes, then Koetsus, still to the left of centre. Midpoint? Probably
the Blue Angel, then the Grado Reference-grade cartridges, followed by
the Transfiguration, and lastly the Deccas. What the line doesn't
indicate is price and value. The Temper V costs a heady 2250. But if
that's what it takes to get a flavourful blend of Decca and Koetsu, in
nearly the right ratios, so be it. This cartridge swings.