Sumiko Amethyst Moving Magnet (M/M) Turntable Cartridge Review

2020-04-23T13:04:21+00:00April 23rd, 2020|Reviews, Turntables and Cartridges|8 Comments

Back in the late 1990s, I was facing crippling student loan debts, hernia-inducing car payments, obscene property taxes, and a backbreaking mortgage. Stated succinctly, money was in rather short supply. As an audiophile with a meagre income, Sumiko’s Moving Magnet (M/M) and Moving Coil (M/C) cartridges were what I — literally — dreamed of owning.

Around 2000, Sumiko’s Blue Point Special cartridge established a benchmark as an affordable High Output Moving Coil (HOMC) cart that delivered superb sound beneath the $500 USD price point.

By 2004/2005, Sumiko’s BPS Evo III HOMC cart ($549 USD – current 2020 MSRP) and their Blackbird M/C cart ($1,250 USD) had earned Sumiko a reinforced concrete strong reputation as THE company with killer sounding M/C carts at reasonable prices.

Today, Sumiko’s generational pedigree of manufacturing outstandingly good sounding phono cartridges at sensible prices continues with their new $599 USD Amethyst.

Product Description:
The Amethyst M/M cartridge features an elliptical stylus and copper (Cu) wiring. It has an aluminium cantilever that’s 0.5 mm in diameter and a weight of 6.5 grams. With an output of 2.5 mV @ 1 kHz, loading compliance of 47 kOhms, and a recommended tracking force of 2.0 grams, Sumiko has clearly designed this cart to work with a wide variety of tonearms and phono stages.

Set-up and General Sonic Impressions:
While I primarily tested the Amethyst with my heavily modified Rega Planar-25 TT and RB-600 tonearm, I also mounted it on a $6K CAD level 1877-Phono Badlands ‘table and Aeshna tonearm.

I ran the Amethyst through a Sonic Frontiers Phono-1 SE vacuum tube phono stage as well as a Manley Steelhead tube phono pre-amp. With cartridge loading, it’s (usually) best to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. As such, I set the loading at 47 kOhms when using both of these phono pre-amps.

After setting the Vertical Tracking Force (VTF) and dialling-in the cartridge’s alignment, I flipped as many records as I could for a week before conducting any serious listening tests. In terms of break-in, after about 30 hours the Amethyst seemed to settle in. Beyond that, I didn’t hear any significant changes in the cart’s sound.

Comparison Tests:
For perspective, I compared the Amethyst M/M to a wide variety of Sumiko’s cartridges: a), a Blue Point Special Evo-3; b), a Blackbird M/C cart; and c), a Pearwood Celebration Mk#2 LOMC.

The BPS Evo-3’s 2.5mV output allows most M/M phono pre-amps to drive its output signal to decent volumes. Compared to $3K USD level M/C cartridges, the BPS Evo-3 had less dynamic punch, a smaller soundstage, and an inferior harmonic structure. Its elliptical stylus allowed it to track well, though, and it created a vivid and musical sound even from aged vinyl records. While it wasn’t as warm as similarly priced wood-bodied carts from Grado, if your TT needs a shot of caffeine, the Evo-3 is (probably) the brew you’d be looking for.

Compared to the $495 USD BPS Evo-3 M/C cartridge, the $599 USD Amethyst had faster transients, better dynamic slam, and a larger soundstage. While both carts created a similar balance between warmth and detail, overall, the Amethyst consistently delivered deeper resolution and a more engaging sound.

Sumiko’s Blackbird M/C cart has a retail price of $1,250 USD. Its 2.5mV output and 47kOhm suggested loading means it can be paired with most M/M phono stages. For a sub-$1,500 USD level phono cartridge, the Blackbird has an uncommonly low noise floor as well as exceptional extension, timbral accuracy, and resolution down into the bass registers. While it is possible to get superior sonics in the mids and highs from $3K+ USD M/C carts, the Blackbird’s bass extension, lower frequency articulation, and soundstaging readily competes with most M/C carts up to the $2,000 USD mark.

No surprise at more than double the asking price, the $1,250 USD Blackbird had superior sonics to the $599 USD Amethyst. The Blackbird offered a larger soundstage, improved spatial delineation, a lower noise floor, and deeper resolution in the bass registers. Both of these carts have similar transient speed, PRaT, and dynamics.

Sumiko’s Pearwood Celebration 2 ($2,799 USD) is a low output moving coil (LOMC) cartridge. With a 0.7mV output and an exotic pear wood body, the Celebration 2 was the class of the field in this review. This cartridge offers an extremely nuanced and refined sound that very few M/C phono carts beneath the $5K USD level do.

If you own hyper-detailed and analytical sounding solid-state gear, the Pearwood Celebration 2 has an amazing ability to stir a tube-like organic warmth into the overall sonic cake batter. During my tests, it reproduced both male and female vocals with a jaw dropping textural *feel*. Across the frequency spectrum, the Celebration 2 also had far better timbral accuracy than the Amethyst.

The Amethyst drew images less distinctly than the Pearwood Celebration 2 and its soundstaging was narrower. While the Amethyst’s transients were softer and less distinct than the ones drawn by $3K USD level M/C carts, overall it achieved a taste of the Blackbird’s low frequency extension while still imparting some of the Pearwood Celebration 2’s exquisite warmth, detail, and spatial delineation.

The Amethyst’s harmonic scale is organic and musical. While the Pearwood Celebration 2 is in an entirely different league, some of its considerable attributes of musicality, PRaT, and warmth have clearly trickled down to the Amethyst.

Listening Tests:
Released in September 1982, Dire Straits’ Love Over Gold offers listeners a fascinating sonic journey.

Featuring just five tracks, this album is over 40 minutes long. With wandering songs like “Love Over Gold”, “It Never Rains”, and the epic 14-minute length track “Telegraph Road”, the atmospheric sonics of this breathtaking record were made for vinyl enthusiasts.

Listening to a re-released 180-gram audiophile pressing of Love Over Gold with the Amethyst, my mind was instantly transported right back to the early 1980s when I’d first heard this amazing record. For a Moving Magnet cartridge, the Amethyst pleasantly surprised me with how warm and engaging it made all of Dire Straits’ songs sound.

In particular, the Amethyst did a hero’s job of recreating the bouncy and anthemic PRaT of the hit single “Industrial Disease”. Capturing the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of this song isn’t an easy thing for a budget cartridge to do. Surprisingly, the Amethyst managed to reproduce the Monty Python-esque sonic cheek of this track accurately.

With the shocking death of Neil Peart—Rush’s drummer, percussionist, and lyricist for 40+ years– whom succumbed to brain cancer on January 7th, 2020, recently I’ve been overdosing on Rush’s extensive back catalogue of re-released vinyl records.

For me, picking a favourite Rush album isn’t possible. Much like trying to pick a favourite pet, each deceased cat or dog brings back fond memories of specific times in my life. Each animal had specific traits and idiosyncrasies that I adored. As such, choosing one pet as the *best* simply isn’t possible. Similarly, hearing any of Rush’s records transports me right back to specific times when each album was released. I grew up with Rush. Their music made me happier and stronger. As such, their songs register with me at a profoundly deep level.

Released in 1977, A Farewell to Kings contains a plethora of percussive rhythms, sternum-belting bass lines, and black hole imploding guitar solos. Listening to a 200 gram pressing of Farewell, the warmth and musicality created by Sumiko’s Amethyst M/M cartridge touched my heart on an emotional level.

In particular, the magnum opus “Cygnus X-1” let me hear the atmospheric and haunting sonics that producer Terry Brown captured on this record with ethereal timbral accuracy. “Cygnus X-1” is an epic 10:25 length track that documents a space traveller’s descent into a black hole. Through this song’s four sections, the music carries a fearful tension and a palpable anxiety.

Neil Peart’s use of tubular bells as percussive sonic accents dramatically augmented his cement mixer heavy drumming on this heroic track. Combined with his imaginative lyrics, “Cygnus X-1” takes listeners on a remarkable sonic journey.

While I was listening to Farewell with the Amethyst cartridge, it suddenly sucker-punched me in the gut that the best rock drummer on the planet was dead. This recognition left me feeling profoundly sad. At the same time, though, hearing Rush’s music sound so alive from a vinyl record bought a glorious smile to my face. Why…? Stated succinctly, because Peart’s music and lyrics live on and Sumiko’s dedication to making records sound better can only help honour his Titanic musical legacy.

Conclusion:
Sourcing a musical Moving Magnet cartridge beneath the $750 USD price ceiling isn’t easy. You’ll (probably) have more luck finding an unclogged shower drain in a Persian household.

If you’re new to vinyl, getting back into vinyl, or are searching for a great sounding M/M cartridge with a sensible price, Sumiko’s $599 USD Amethyst is the first one I’d recommend. It creates impressive resolution and toe-tapping rhythms without the space mission price tag.

While the Amethyst isn’t the last word in detail retrieval, it communicates the essence of music—the PRaT, timbral accuracy, and midrange presence of music—with such efficacy that it will move a listener on an emotional level.

Sumiko
www.sumikoaudio.net
510-843-4500

Sumiko Amethyst Moving Magnet (M/M) Cartridge
Price: $599 US


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