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Phono cartridge | MC


Price (in Poland): 5290 PLN

Ikebe-cho 4900-1 Tsuzuki-ku,
Yokohama-shi Kanagawa 224-0053 | JAPAN


Provided for test by: NAUTILUS Dystrybucja


Images: Marek Dyba

No 205

June 1, 2021

PHASEMATION is a Japanese brand owned by KYODO DENSHI ENGINEERING Co., Ltd., founded by Mr. NOBUYUKI SUZUKI. Its offer includes mainly vinyl-related products - phono cartridges and phono preamplifiers, but in recent years the Japanese brand introduced also expensive line preamplifiers and power amplifiers. For this test we received a new MC cartridge, the PP-200.

HASEMATION AGAIN?, probably some of the "High Fidelity" Readers thought after seen the content of this months edition. You didn’t? Right..., that's what I thought. And then I checked the archives and, if the search result is true, in all 17 years of the magazine’s history, we (Wojtek and I) wrote about Phasemation products only seven times. Do the math - it means less than one review every two years. So where did my initial thought come from? I thought about it and it seems that it is probably simply due to the fact that every experience with this brand's product was worth remembering.

Whether it was a set of separates, namely CA-1000 + MA-1000 (Wojtek's review can be found HERE) from a very high shelf, one of the phono preamplifiers (EA-300, EA-500, or EA-550), or the former top cartridge of this manufacturer, the PP-1000, each of these components turned out to be quite unique. Unique in terms of the performance, fit&finish and its "Japaneseness", in the best sense of the word, or actually in each case it was actually a combination of all these elements.

So when highly excited Grzegorz Wyka from Nautilus, the Polish Phasemation distributor, called me, to try and persuade me to review the new Phasemation product, the very brand name (and maybe tone of his voice) was enough to say: yes! As it turned out, the most interesting part was still ahead of me. Why? Because, Grzegorz did not call me to convince me to test the latest top amplifier, preamplifier or a cartridge that costs more than a car, but a new entry-level pickup, the Phasemation PP-200.

When we look closely at the development of this Japanese brand in recent years, we will see that its range includes several products that, although they come to us from very far away, are very attractively priced. Who would have thought that the cheapest phonostage "Made in Japan", the Phasemation EA-200 could cost around 5,000 zlotys? The next level (EA-300) is admittedly more expensive at a dozen or so thousand PLN, but looking at it realistically, it's still not that much. Let me remind you that the PP-300 model, until recently the least expensive cartridge, costs about PLN 7.500. However, the excitement that was clearly noticeable in Grzegorz' voice was caused by the model that costs even less - the PP-200, which you can buy for just over 5,000 zlotys. Of course, we should always keep in mind that it is not about the price as such, but about what we get for it.

Although I’ve been using for a few years a cartridge, which - when it was produced - cost about three times as much, after the test of HANA ML that I prepared a few months ago, which is another competitor from the Land of the Rising Sun costing around 5,000 PLN, I had already known that it was possible to prepare a hell of a cartridge already at this price point. By "hell of a..." I mean one that, despite such a large difference in price, I could live with in case something happened to my Air Tight. It's not in the same league, of course, but the difference was much smaller than I expected.

I’ve mentioned Hana, my favorite at the moment, in the price range of up to 7-8 thousand PLN, in the context of the high expectations that the Phasemation PP-200 had to meet from the start. Since that test, I compared each cartridge even up to 10,000 PLN to the Hana ML. I did not have it at my disposal for direct comparisons, so I could only rely on memory and notes, but the Phasemation cartridge had a fierce competitors it had to face not only in HANA ML, but also a handful of other pickups that I tested around the same time.

Among them was, for example, ALLNIC AUDIO AMBER (PLN 17,000), or the best cartridge I know (you can also read its review paired with the company's step-up in the May issue of "High Fidelity") MURASAKINO SUMILE costing (without the step up) some seven times as much as the PP-200. So how did the tested cartridge fare against such great performers? Well ... we’ll get there in a moment. First, let me present some information about the new cartridge from Japanese Phasemation, so that you know what we're dealing with and, in part, spoiler alert !, why it performs so well.


PHASEMATION PP-200 is a low-level Moving Coil (MC) cartridge, i.e. with a moving coil, with an output voltage of 0.3 mV, wound with 6N pure oxygen-free copper wire. The first contact with the packaging makes a very positive impression - in the outer, black, cardboard box there is another one that looks as if it was made of black leather (but I have no idea whether it is natural or so-called eco one) which opens like a ring box. It is rectangular and the hinge is on its shorter edge.

Inside there is an extremely beautiful cartridge, protected with a thick layer of foam, featuring a blue body (slightly purple-ish, depending on the lighting). A pair of black screws with nuts is hidden under another layer of foam, and the set also includes a leaflet with the technical specification of the cartridge and that's it. It seems modest, but it truly pleases an eye, because it is this Japanese modesty, with even the tiniest details refined to perfection.

The body of the cartridge is made of aluminum, and the plate attached to its upper surface (black for a change) is made of duraluminum. The PP-200 is quite light, as it weighs only 10.5 g. Looking at its parameters, you can easily see some similarities to the PP-1000 that I tested in the past. Both are equipped with what seems to be the same line contact 0.03 × 0.003 mm diamond stylus, mounted on a boron cantilever (Ø 0.26 mm). This time, a neodymium magnet was used, not a samarium-cobalt one, as for the more expensive model.

The internal impedance is the same and amounts to 4 Ω, which means that this cartridge may work better with a matching step-up transformer rather than a classic phono preamplifier. Obviously, Phasemation’s own phono amplifiers should do a good job with it. As it turned out, my own (with current, not voltage gain) ESE Lab Nibiru, which, thanks to its design, sounds the better, the lower the cartridge impedance, did a great job too. So although there are some differences in the design between the PP-200 and PP-1000, other elements used in the "budget" cartridge and the declared parameters (mostly identical or similar) already suggest that one can expect a lot from this cartridge.

Let me point out two other elements that will make life easier for the user (irritated after being force to use screws and nuts to install the cartridge) - a regular shape that makes the setup process easier and, traditionally for the brand, a large, stylus guard that is easy to put on and take off.


⸜ Other cartridges I compared the PP-200 to

THE PP-200’s TEST PROVED TO BE BIT MORE DEMANDING than it is the case with most other pickups. It so happened that the already broken-in unit just before it was supposed to be delivered for this review was mounted in a turntable delivered to a customer for an audition. After hearing this setup he (or she - I don’t know) didn’t want to give it back anymore (I mean - they made a purchase). So instead I received a brand new unit that needed breaking in. In case of cartridges this process is necessary but, excuse my French, it is a pain in the ass. Unlike most other audio components, one can't just loop some music for several dozen hours. So in order to shorten this process as much as possible, I reached for the record prepared by ClearAudio precisely for this purpose - to shorten / optimize the break-in process of a phono cartridge.

Obviously, even with this special record I had to make several trips from my chair to the turntable to cue the stylus again, and again, but the specificity of the signal in the record's grooves meant that I could start listening to the cartridge after some 15 hours (two days) of breaking it in. Judging by what I heard already with the first album, it was enough time to get an almost optimal level of performance from PP-200. Almost, because the next few, maybe a dozen more records played still brought a slight improvement, but in my opinion it was not more than the ultimate 10 percent, or maybe even less than that.

I mounted the cartridge in the J. Sikora KV 12 tonearm on my J. Sikora Standard Max turntable. The process turned out to (as I expected) quite painstaking since the PP-200 features no threaded mounting holes. Fixing a pickup in a headshell when you have to use tiny nuts is „a lot of fun" when you’re young, but with age it becomes an opportunity to refresh your knowledge of the most exquisite curse words. In this case the latter kept slipping of my tongue each time that I had to look for those tiny, f...g nuts under a rack or on a carpet using a magnifying glass.

The second issue (for me) was a relatively low weight of the PP-200, which limited the VTF range I was able to operate within, simply because I misplaced the lighter counterweight for my tonearm. The manufacturer suggests a range from 1.7 to 2 g. I settled on 1.78 g because ... to set a higher tracking force I would have to replace the regular screws with heavier ones, that is ... start the whole fun with mounting the cartridge and looking all over for nuts from the beginning. Fortunately, as it turned out, the Japanese cartridge performed perfectly with the VTF set at 1.78 g both in terms of sound quality and tracking ability. The signal from the cartridge was sent interchangeably either to my ESE Labs Nibiru or to the Allnic Audio H-5500 tube phono preamplifier (it is a basic model of this brand costing about PLN 17,000), but due to the low internal impedance of the PP-200 and the fact, that I was much more familiar with my own device, for the purpose of this review I focused on listening sessions with Nibiru.

From the very beginning, from the very first record I listened to, it was clear to me that the entry level cartridge from the Japanese manufacturer offers several features that (I think) we all like very much starting with (but not limited to) - a very low level noise of stylus traveling in the groove and, obviously, present, but also quite quiet pops 7 cracks. The first album on my list was released by Pure Pleasure RON CARTER’s All Blues. Recorded in 1973 at Van Gelder Studio (and originally released by CTI), the double bass master's album sounded somewhat "smoky". It had nothing to do with the PP-200 cartridge or the rest of the setup (apart from them delivering a high fidelity performance) - that's how this album sounds like. It is not about the proverbial "blanket" imposed on the sound suggesting the lack of clarity as such, but rather an impression of the event taking place in a room filled with smoke of some kind.

However, individual instruments temporarily lurk out of the "dark" impressing with the clarity and purity of their sound, only to give way to others after a while and hide again in the shadows. The tested cartridge was able to perfectly reflect this character of this recording, I would even say that it was not worse than my Air Tight PC-3 cartridge in this regard. And when a given instrument emerged from the "smoke", the PP-200 showed it in a full, precise, expressive and energetic way. The timbre and size of each of them was beautifully conveyed, the sound at these moments became strong and tangible, present, and the listener's attention immediately focused on the „emerging” instrument.

For the next "victim" of Phasemation, I chose the record with the "Digital Master" notation proudly displayed on the cover. This was the Fast forward by SPYRO GYRA from 1990. Today their music is classified as "smooth jazz", but I have known them and liked them for so long that I don't care about any classifications - they were one of the bands that got me into listening to jazz. I was curious how the PP-200 would handle such "shamelessly" digital (but actually rather by the name, not the actual sonic character) sound recorded on this album.

In some systems, the record in question, and it is a quite good release really, sounds a bit bright and lean. Its „digitality” manifests itself in the high precision and general neutral character of the sound, that sometimes, for my taste at least, lacks a bit of saturation. And yet, with the Japanese cartridge, this album sounded ... great and so different than the aforementioned Ron Carter’s. It was, as expected, a clean, transparent sound, with a lot of information presented in an orderly manner, with effective (not glitzy!), shiny cymbals, with perfectly reproduced transients, with tight, fast, but also having proper weight bass.

And at the same time it sounded smooth, coherent and somehow ... completely non-digital. The already described excellent control of low frequencies resulted in a great pace & rhythm, and the whole thing was complemented by a high level of energy. With the PP-200 cartridge, I truly enjoyed this album and listened to it with a smile on my face (which was also the case when I assessed the PP-1000, confirming some similarity between these two pickups).

I usually wait at least a few days before I play new albums when there is some new or reviewed component in my system. The trick is to get to know the sound (influence on the sound) of the said component first in order to be able to better evaluate the new musical acquisition. This time, however, I was not able to resist and, I think, as the third one, I played the new vinyl from AC RECORDS, i.e. Mozart Rocks & Swings with arrangements of the music of the genius Wolfgang Amadeus. They were prepared by a well-known guitarist, MARCIN WĄDOŁOWSKI, supported on this record by, among others, Adam Czerwiński himself, the man behind the AC Records record label. The Polish label, which has recently entered the second season of its unique activity, is a guarantee of a well-prepared, beautiful release, perfectly prepared musical material of high technical quality, as well as artistic value and, last but not least, of a high quality pressing.

That is why, despite not knowing said album I still considered it perfect for evaluating the PP-200. In terms of overall character, this album resembled rather the former of the aforementioned ones, I mean the Ron Carter’s, than the digital album by Spyro Gyra. So the sound was smooth, fluid, dense, on the slightly warmer side of power, but at the same time highly resolving, rich in details and subtleties. Although the foreground was presented by the PP-200 most precisely and my attention was focused on it, the tested cartridge is so resolving, offers such a good separation and the ability to precisely place all elements on the big soundstage that it allowed me to freely study also the deeper layers of the recording, or a chosen instrument without much effort.

By offering me such possibilities, however, it actually made me want to go with the flow of the music itself, to get carried away by a story, to bask in the music of Mozart played in an very original, creative and truly interesting way rather than to analyze the recording / release, or assess the reviewed item. It confirmed my opinion that Japanese usually develop devices that are remarkably musical, involving, designed to allow user to listen to and even experience music in a meaningful way rather than to encourage sound analysis.

The first album that allowed me to assess how the Phasemation, as a Japanese (so supposedly designed for acoustic music and vocals) cartridge, deals with vocals was the R.E.M.’s Automatic for the people. I’ll skip the suspense part and get right to the point - Michael Stipe's vocal sounded great! I was impressed with how well this unusual combination of softness with a slight roughness, aka hoarseness, of his voice, as well as the vocalist's unquestionable talent were conveyed.

Diving deeper into the rock genre, I played the DIRE STRAITS’ Love over gold from the two-disc MoFi edition (45 r.p.m.). Once again, Phasemation served a rock-steady pace and rhythm, the lower part of the range was presented in a rather tight and well-differentiated way, but when needed, the there there was a powerful, low kick that i felt in my bones. This subcutaneous pulse of almost every recording was always present, necessary to push the story forward, but not overly exposed.

It was also important that with such a good recording (and release), the PP-200, which benefited from excellent working conditions on the KV12 Kevlar arm and on the bulky J. Sikora turntable, did not allow the bass to "bloom" or slow down or differ in any other way from what was written in the grooves of the record. An important element of this presentation was also quite high level of energy, natural for this kind of music, though not always present in the recordings of rock bands.

I would never miss a chance to use some acoustic guitars recordings while assessing any component. Among albums that I played with PP-200 was the last (so far) album of the RODRIGO Y GABRIELA duo, entitled Mettavolution (and then also 11:11). The Phasemation quickly proved that it is amazingly versatile. On the first side of this album, it showed off its ability to convey even fastest impulses - be it Gabriela's chords, Rodrigo's solos, or the percussion-style performance of the former. The PP-200 beautifully followed the clearly marked pace and rhythm, and the sound was clearly indicative of the heavy metal background of this lovely Mexican couple with its fast, joyful, sometimes even explosive energy.

The guitars sounded a bit harsh at times, even aggressive, but within a frame of a natural sound of this instrument. The other side of this album is RyG’s take on the famous Pink Floyd suite entitled: Echos. It is a melodic, slightly melancholic piece in which the PP-200 showed how fluid and natural sound it is able to reproduce, plus its ability to create an amazing atmosphere of this piece, one that makes you close your eyes, relax and just let these beautiful sounds carry you away.

In a similar fashion, the Japanese cartridge presented the PACO DE LUCIA and JOHN MCLAUGHLIN live performance recorded in Montreux in 1987. A fantastic atmosphere of the event, well captured on the tape and beautifully presented space, closely recorded, natural sounding guitars - all these elements skillfully put together made me feel more "there", sitting close to the stage than "here", in my own room. Once again, I was surprised by the amount of information presented very clearly (but not emphatically) by the Phasemation, its accurate presentation of the speed of each string pluck, the nicely marked share of „wood”, or finally a very good differentiation allowing me to follow a selected musician, enjoy the individual technique and their feeling of the music of each of these brilliant guitarists.

Interestingly, although it is not an outstanding recording from the technical standpoint (it is a bit worse than the more famous Friday night in San Francisco) and it sounds a bit too bright at times, which the PP-200 showed well, I still highly enjoyed listening to it, immersing myself in this spectacular performance. Simply put, it was an imperfectly recorded concert, which, however, was full of fantastic music, lively emotions, and outstanding individual performances of two brilliant musicians, so any minor purely technical weaknesses were not able to spoil the fun offered by this album.


I AM NOT GOING TO SUGGEST THAT THE OWNERS of the excellent PP-1000 should sell their cartridges and buy the PP-200 instead - that would be nuts. I can say though, with certainty, that those who know and appreciate the sound of the former, but can’t afford it, may and even should consider the latter. For 1/3 of the price they will get ... no, I will not try to give you a specific percentage of the sound quality. Let me just say, that it is surprisingly high considering the price difference. I would like to add that this is simply, objectively speaking, a damn good cartridge, one that will give you a taste of a true high end performance for very reasonable price!

The choice of a phono preamplifier will be important, as you need one that will not have a problem with the relatively low internal impedance of this cartridge, or not that high output. Plus a good turntable and a tonearm. When you succeed in building a nice setup for this cartridge, you will be rewarded with a refined, smooth and natural sound, emotionally engaging, spatial, with a saturated, smooth midrange and band extremes that are not showy, but will deliver everything you need them to to enjoy the fullness and richness of music, regardless of the genre.

What will probably be also important, at least for some potential users, is the fact that the PP-200 will perfectly show the quality of the recordings / releases / pressings, but at the same time it will not be merciless for the non-audiophile ones. I spent a lot of time with this cartridge, having the much more expensive alternatives at my disposal. Yes, the latter were even more refined, offered higher resolution and dynamics (especially Murasakino Sumile, my Air Tight, or My Sonic Lab Eminent Ex), but the differences were nowhere near the level the price differences would suggest.

To put it briefly - when asked for help to choose a cartridge from up to 7-8 thousand PLN range, maybe even up to 10 kPLN, starting today I will recommend Phasemation PP-200 on a par with the aforementioned Hana ML. Which one of these two is better? Without a direct comparison, I won’t even try to answer that, but for sure both play in a much higher league than their prices seem to indicate.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer):

Cartridge type: Moving Coil, LO (low-level)
Internal impedance: 4 Ω
Recommended VTF: 1.7 – 2 g
Output voltage: 0.3 mV
Compliance: 8.5 x 10-6 cm/dyne
Frequency range: 10 Hz – 30 kHz
Channel separation: 25 dB (1 kHz)
Channel balance: within 1 dB (1 kHz)
Weight: 10.5 g
Stylus: line contact, 0,03×0,003 mm
Cantilever: boron (φ 0.26)
Magnet: neodymium


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