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MC cartridge and step up transformer


Price (in Poland): 36 900 + 36 900 PLN

Via a form on the Manufacturer’s website


Provided for test by: AUDIO ATELIER


Images: Piksel Studio/Bartosz Łuczak | Marek Dyba

No 205

June 1, 2021

Murasaki Co., Ltd. was established in July 2014 by Mr. Daisuke Asai. From the start it was involved in the import and distribution of three audio brands - Amazon Audio, Solid Core Audio and Durant Tonearms. In 2018 however, they also started to offer products under its own brand - two phono cartridges (mono and stereo) and a step up transformer. For this review we received a set consisting of the stereo MURASAKINO SUMILE MC cartridge and a NOBALA step up transformer.

ANS OF VINYL RECORDS are, I believe, aware that the world’s designing and production center for phono cartridges is JAPAN. It is there that literally a handful of masters, and at the same time true artisans, develop most phono cartridges for their own and many other well-known brands. In a word, there is only a small group of people who are behind most high-end cartridges available on the market today.

One of the youngest brands that specialize in phono cartridges is MURASAKINO. Mr. DAISUKE ASAI, the man behind this company, used to design audio devices already as a young man, and his very first one was..., no surprise there, a tube amplifier. The hero of this story started his career at Denon Labs, and continued it at A&M Limited, better known as Air Tight. In the latter, he gained most of his knowledge and experience under the supervision of Mr. Ishiguro.

He developed his musical sensitivity and knowledge of how real, live music sounds like by being an amateur musician himself - he has been playing an oboe for many years. The combination of these two elements sort of "condemned" Mr. Asai to become a member of the audio industry. In 2014, he founded a company, which initially dealt with import and distribution of audio products. The offer included three types of products - turntables, turntable tonearms and cables from renown brands.

At some point Mr. Asai decided it was time to develop his own range of products. The first one was a moving coil cartridge called SUMILE MC. A bit later, the SUMILE MONO, clearly a mono cartridge and a matching step up transformer NOBALA were introduced. The manufacturer has already announced another step up transformer, the MT510, but the problems caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have delayed its release.

As you may have noticed, the Murasakino's lineup is quite small. The thing is not only in the fact that it is a young brand, but also that it aims - as it seems - exclusively the top shelves of the audiophile market, offering products for the most demanding and, let’s be honest, quite wealthy vinyl record lovers. The pricing of all their product is a highly indicative factor confirming my words, but I based them also on my previous experiences with the Murasakino Sumile MC. I had an opportunity to listen to this cartridge several times, during distributor’s presentations but also in my room, and each and every time it left an unforgettable impressions as one of the absolutely best pickups I’d ever listened to. The Nobala is a step up transformer primarily intended as a partner for Sumile, but obviously it is suitable also for any other cartridge with lower than 5 Ω internal impedance.

Sumile MC

MURASAKINO SUMILE MC is - as the name suggests - a moving coil cartridge, a low-level one I may add, with an output voltage of 0.35 mV (1 kHz) and a low internal impedance of only 1.2 Ω. There is one more characteristic feature hidden in its name, namely the color of its body. 'Sumile', or actually Sumire (Japanese spell ‘r’ as ‘l’), which in Japanese means violet (color and flower) and this is the dominant color of this pickup’ body, that is complemented by some golden accents.

As Mr. Asai says on his website:

Sumile is not lavished with superfluous technologies or rare materials. Instead, through our commitment to fundamental quality, it is the ultimate analog product., accessed: 10.05.2021

The low internal impedance is one of the characteristics of many, or even most, top MC cartridges. It is achieved by using as few turns of the coils as possible. Low impedance is a desirable parameter as it allows the mechanical energy (vibrations read from the record's groove) to be transferred more efficiently to the cartridge motor, which then converts it into an electrical signal.

A small number of turns of the coil means, however, at the same time a lower level of the output signal of said cartridge (the fewer turns there are in the magnetic field of the magnet, the lower the output voltage). This, in turn, forces users to use a higher gain in the phono preamplifier, and this causes problems with higher noise level. Therefore, in such cases, designers come up with certain solutions used in their cartridges (special cores, or strong magnets), which them allow to output a relatively high signal level even from pickups with such a low internal impedance. In this case, we get 0.35 mV, which is a value high enough for the cartridge to work well with most MC phono preamplifiers.

As we already know from the quotation from the manufacturer's website, the cartridge does not feature any exotic materials, but rather ones that were carefully and purposely selected. Stainless steel is used in the base, i.e. the plate that fixes the cartridge to the headshell of a tonearm, and in the inner part the generator and the coil are attached to. Many competing products use aluminum, but Mr. Asai took advantage of the fact that steel is a more rigid material. This feature offers certain advantages and yet many manufacturers do not take advantage of them simply because steel is more difficult to machine (and therefore more expensive).

As we know very well thanks to numerous Japanese products, for example by Harmonix, their designers believe an importance of such tiny details as what the main material of the product’s body is finished/covered with. This is an element that fine-tunes the ultimate sound of said component. In the case of the Murasakino Sumile MC, using his musical experience, Mr. Asai decided that the surfaces of steel elements should be gold-plated. When it comes to wind instruments, such a solution is used to obtain a desired resonant frequency of the material, which translates into a better, more natural sound. No wonder that our designer decided to use this solution also for his own "instrument".

However, the main body of the Sumile is made of aluminum. The cartridge features a neodymium magnet, a pure boron cantilever and a diamond semi-contact stylus. Let me add that Sumile features easily removable stylus guard. In an elegant, padded box, apart from the cartridge, you will also find a set of screws and an Allen key that will allow you to mount the cartridge in a headshell.


NOBALA IS THE FIRST step up transformer in the Murasakino’s range. Its appearance, or more specifically the color scheme, clearly suggests that it was developed as a partner for Sumile MC. It is a relatively small, but quite heavy (2.6 kg) device with ... Sumile (violet) chassis, with a golden element in a form of a thick, solid base.

The front baffle is devoid of any decorative or functional elements, as all (the of the latter) are placed on the rear panel of the device. This is where we find two pairs of high quality Cardas RCA sockets, plus a ground clamp and ground lift switch. On one side there is an input and output for the right channel, on the other for the left channel, and the other two elements sit in the center. One plugs the phono cable from the turntable /tonearm to the inputs, another interconnect to the Nobala’s outputs and then to the MM input of a phono stage. As I mentioned, the Nobala is designed to work with MC cartridges with an internal impedance of up to 5 Ω and offers a signal gain of 26 dB.

Most Japanese engineers agree that step-up transformers are a better solution than active gain stages used in most MC preamplifiers. There are no elements introducing additional interference to the signal, but achieving perfect results is possible only in the case of the best transformers (which are very difficult to find today) and providing them with optimal working conditions, i.e. the best possible isolation from external distortion and vibrations.

In the case of the Nobala, in order to obtain optimal results, the manufacturer decided to use a housing consisting of as many as three metal layers. The inner one is made of thick aluminum elements, the next one of 2 mm thick copper plates and finally the outer shell is again made of aluminum precisely machined using CNC machines. We also know that in order to minimize the transformer vibrations, a number of vibration damping elements have been used, although the manufacturer does not share the details of the solutions he used.


⸜ Numerous cartridges used for comparison

A TRADITIONAL SYSTEM FOR VINYL PLAYBACK in Japan, in addition to the turntable, tonearm and cartridge, usually consists of a phono preamplifier for MM cartridges (moving magnet ones) and, if a MC cartridge is used, a transformer called a step-up. This is why not only most of the cartridges, but also step-up transformers come from this country.

As I already mentioned, I once had an opportunity to listen to Sumile MC at home before, when I tested the best MM / MC phono preamplifier known to me, i.e. Tenor Audio Phono 1. From that experience I remember the sound that was stunning in every possible way and a perfect cooperation of these two components. Nevertheless, the price of the Canadian phono preamplifier places it beyond the sphere of not only financial reach, but even the boldest dreams of most vinyl records fans.

Therefore, most of us have to look for other solutions, more „friendly” priced. There is nothing one can do with the Sumile MC price, which doesn’t come cheap either, but you can try to find other elements of the system that will offer a performance that is at least close to Tenor's level, but that don’t come with a six-figure price tag. I had an opportunity once to talk to an owner of Sumile MC, who tried many different phono preamplifiers and ended up with a set that wasn’t cheap, but didn’t cost anything close to Tenor, that, as he claimed, offered excellent performance which could (almost) compete even with the Tenor. The said setup consisted of an excellent Reinhard Thoeress Enhancer, a tube phono stage, and the tested Murasakino Nobala step-up.

I know the Thoeress very well and I had a chance to learn that it is a great partner even for top MC cartridges, yet the experience of the aforementioned user suggested that the dedicated Murasakino transformer does an even better job than the MC section of the German device. Unfortunately I did not have the Tenor Phono for comparison, nor the Phono Enhancer to use its MM section. I did what I could, which meant using my own (solid-state) GrandiNote Celio phono preamplifier and the Allnic Audio H-5500 tube device, as MC references and as MM partners for Nobala to compare it to their MC sections.


AS I ALREADY MENTIONED, I had listened to the Murasakino Sumile cartridge several times before, mounted in several different turntables, in different arms, paired with several phono preamplifiers, including the best phonostage I know, the PHONO 1 ULTIMATE REFERENCE PHONO STAGE (see HERE). The conclusions from all those listening sessions were simple and were confirmed almost immediately as soon as I started listening to it this time (at first without Nobala) - this is an incredibly, incredibly resolving cartridge.

It was obvious even with with much cheaper (than Tenor) phono preamplifiers. The abundance of information throughout the whole band was incredible, although it were its upper regions that impressed me the most. Let me add quickly that Murasakino Sumile is by no means a cold, highly analytical beast that floods the listener with a million details. The plethora of information is not overly exposed, it is not an essence of this cartridge;s performance by any means, but rather its basis, a great value that a larger, coherent, open, smooth, content-filled whole is based on.

It is a whole that is colorful, multi-layered, vivid, spatial, as I’ve mentioned already, incredibly coherent, and yet allowing listeners to take a closer look at each element read from the disc grooves, to dive deep into the mix due to a very good separation and perfect differentiation. It also delivers an explosive dynamics, and I am talking about both, macro and micro level. It presented this feature in full scale while the Vienna Orchestra playing the BEETHOVEN’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, as well as with LED ZEPPELIN’s Whole lotta love, In both cases (and many more) the walls of my room were trembling because I almost involuntarily pushed the volume up and up trying to force Sumile, or the whole system, to fail (to no avail, let me add).

With the former recording, the Japanese cartridge was able to handle even the most complex, densest, most dynamic moments, winning me over with beautiful timbre, texture and momentum of the presentation. Its unique ability to reproduce the huge dynamic scale of this piece and the power of great orchestra froze me in my armchair keeping me on the edge and hold my breath so as not to miss a single note of this stunning performance delivered in such an astonishing way by my system lead by Murasakino Sumile MC.

On the Led Zeppelin, on the other hand, PLANT's vocal sounded fantastic - charismatic, expressive, unique, but it still had to compete for my attention with Page's energetic, properly "dirty", dynamic, „fleshy” guitar. And although it is not an audiophile recording, the Murasakino Sumile, with all its precision, the ability to extract even the smallest bits of information from the grooves of the record, created a performance in which energy, emotions and dynamics were the truly important components while any weaknesses of the production while present, seemed insignificant in comparison to the events taking place on the stage.

The dynamics, to a greater extent at the micro level (though not only), delighted me also when the BLICHER HEMMER GADD trio appeared on stage. This is a live recording, and excellent production and release (Matthias Lück from Brinkmann was involved in its production, as you may remember from other reviews), extremely precise on the one hand, and on the other hand, rich in subtleties and flavors, open, airy and natural and the Sumile MC is a true master in conveying this type of live performance.

Murasakino Sumile is precise in terms of presenting this immense amount of information in a perfectly orderly, meaningful way, in the location of phantom images on the stage, and the use of acoustics cues allowing it to reproduce the ambiance of the premise where said music event took place. All these element are used to re-create a realistic, convincing musical event played out in front of a listener. Its presentation is incredibly rich not only in terms of abundance of information, but also tonally. The Sumile MC delivers an amazingly rich, saturated, natural, engaging sound that I listened to with a smile glued to my face. I am pretty sure that with a right system (meaning good enough) one may feel equally involved in the event as any other actual participant (because it is so easy to not just feel like, but to „become” one of them). The Murasakino pickup took each of the advantages of this recording, polished and refined it and used all of them by mixing them together into a coherent, natural sounding whole that was simply stunning.

I felt almost the same level of involvement while listening to a few albums of the RODRIGO Y GABRIELA guitar duo, who’s performances can only be described as pure, volcanic-like eruption of energy. Maybe their records are not that technically perfect, they may not necessarily be considered audiophile releases, but they are still really good, and the music, the way it is performed, and the insane energy of this performance come to the fore, engaging listeners completely and unconditionally. Especially when you listen to it using such an excellent cartridge as the reviewed Murasakino Sumile MC. Those who are familiar with the music of the Mexican duo know very well that one can’t listen to it quietly. The volume knob tends to travel way up the scale and the system, starting with the cartridge, has to deal with it.

In my system, obviously, the fantastic, rock-steady J. Sikora Standard Max turntable with the remarkable KV12 tonearm plays a major role in achieving such result, but the tested cartridge also significantly contributed to it. As a result, regardless of the volume level, everything that flowed from the speakers was crystal clear, open, transparent and presented in an utterly orderly fashion. In other words, each element of music and performance was perfectly described in terms of shape, timbre and placement within the stage, and the air-filled acoustic environment of each performance was equally accurately reproduced.

Simply put - the Murasakino Sumile MC is a fantastic, top-performance cartridge, without a doubt one of the best available on the market today (probably even the very best among those I know). I can’t point out its any weaknesses, it seems to do everything perfectly, so the question was whether (in a given system) adding the Nobala step-up transformer could add some more quality on top of that? Was it even possible? Obviously, I know from experience, there is always room for improvement no matter how good said audio component is, but sometimes it is hard to image what could get even better.

Sumile + Nobala

IT'S TIME TO MOVE TO the actual topic of this test, i.e. an assessment of the whole Murasakino set, instead of just the cartridge itself, even though, as we already know, the latter is simply phenomenal. Before I move to describing the Japanese duo, let me digress for a moment and tell you a little story. I once mentioned the Murasakino Sumile to Janusz Sikora (of the J.Sikora), praising its remarkable performance, particularly on his turntable and tonearm. It so happened that thanks to one of his distributors, Janusz got this cartridge for auditioning and ... he decided to keep it. So we are both huge fans of the Murasakino, but Janusz has an advantage over me, as he is also an active user of one.

Let me share also a little gossip regarding the aforementioned Polish manufacturer - the Sikora gentlemen, i.e. Janusz and Robert, are currently working really hard preparing their own showroom/listening room. I am willing to bet that it most likely will become an analog center of Lublin and will attract not only Polish, but also foreign, fans of vinyl records. I try to follow the progress of the works and it seems there is a chance that in a few months the room will be ready. It should be clear by now, but just to be sure - the reference system will include the Murasakino Sumile MC (among other, top notch components). End of digression.

Adding the Nobala step-up transformer to the puzzle, although it was hard for me to acknowledge it at first, raised the bar even higher. Its influence was more noticeable with the ALLNIC AUDIO H-5500 tube phonostage, featuring separate MM and MC inputs, than with my Celio (same input, selectable gain), but even with the latter it worked some miracles. First, the Sumile MC played connected to MC input of the H-5500, and then via Nobala (using the Hijiri Kiwami HGP RCA cable) to its MM input (I used a similar procedure with the Celio preamplifier), which allowed me to compare the influence of the Nobala.

The H-5500, although not that expensive (about 17,000 zlotys - this is the cheapest proposition in the Korean manufacturer's range), did already a great job with the reviewed cartridge connected to its MC input, and yet the addition of the second subject of this review to the mix was immediately recognizable and had a clearly positive impact on the sound quality. The changes observed from the start were twofold. On the one hand, the readability of all these even the tiniest pieces of information - details and subtleties - increased even more while the presentation as a whole maintained this brilliant coherency and fluidity that makes this pickup so stunning. On the other hand, the bass became less "tube-like". When cartridge was used with the MC input of the H-5500, lower range was more compact, faster, better differentiated than with most tube phono preamplifiers I knew, but with the Nobala step-up, while maintaining a beautiful timbre and saturation, it still gained in terms of immediateness, tautness, but also of perfectly controlled power.

After a few albums, the first impression, an owe that resulted from realizing the further improvement in terms of refinement, scale and power of the presentation, and above all from how much more natural and real the sound became after adding the step up transformer, passed a bit, and then ... And then a man (meaning me) forgot about one’s job of analyzing, evaluating, nitpicking, taking notes, as his curiosity took over and as soon as one album ended he immediately started looking for the next one just to find out how it would sound like with this amazing Murasakino set.

With this set as soon as the stylus drops into the groove of a record, attention becomes 100% focused on the extraordinary wealth of information reproduced by the speakers, but smoothly combined into an extremely effortless, vivid, coherent and open whole. As soon as almost every album’s playback was finished, I immediately felt like either moving to the next one as soon as possible or starting to listen to it again. Often I was convinced that with each next time I would discover some new elements that I had never paid attention to before, and which I now had an easy access to. And only caution was able to stop me from doing this (it is not recommended to play the same album, or at least the same side, again and again), so I only returned to the same discs after several hours.

This effect of making me pay attention to details and subtleties hidden in the grooves of each record did not apply only to some super-duper audiophile releases in mint condition. It worked with „regular”, not necessarily coming strait from record cleaner disc, such as, for example, the Al di Meola’s Elegant gypsy, a CBS release from 1977. The disc is (at least) a second-hand item, that plat quite often, and it was released on "normal" vinyl. And yet, with the Murasakino set it sounded great. From the already mentioned brilliant dynamics, through the perfect "flow" of music, multi-layered and spacious (studio recording) soundstage, to the purity and precision of sound suddenly comparable to that of the audiophile releases, this all record sounded remarkably well. The Japanese set built a surprisingly wide stage with percussion instruments in both channels playing far beyond the speaker spacing, but also with the right depth to accurately reflect the position of the musicians.

The presentation was immensely energetic, which (somehow) the producer managed to capture in the recording and the Murasakino set beautifully conveyed. The rhythm and pace was perfect too becoming the driving force behind almost every track and causing my hands and feet to tap the rhythm all the time. The master's guitar attracted my attention every now and then, thanks to his technique, or energetic, perfectly differentiated sounds of his guitar rapidly following one another. The drive of this performance made it difficult for me to sit still in a chair. I had too much fun to do that.

It takes some time to understand and fully appreciate how the Murasakino Sumile cartridge benefits from the company of the Nobala step-up. As I’ve already mentioned, the latter makes a huge impression right from the start, but it's not the same as evaluating its full contribution. The Sumile cartridge is so good, which is obvious even with (relatively) inexpensive phono preamplifiers, that further improvement does not seem at first even possible, but than so impressive.

If, however, you spend some time with this set and painlessly, even subconsciously get used to the „better” (even if you don’t fully appreciate its contribution) sound, then unplugging the transformer will turn out to be quite painful, at least for a while, because everything without it gets "worse". All these tiny details and subtleties are not as easily accessible, the bass is not as taut, as fast, the refinement of the midrange and treble doesn’t seem to reach the same top level. The performance of the Sumile MC by itself (or without Nobala) is still fantastic, but when a person gets used to these few additional percentages of quality with the step up, the presentation will feel lacking without it. There is only one cure for that urge and it is tu plug the Nobala back in.


I have not changed my opinion about Murasakino Sumile even a bit. I firmly believe that it is - next to the Air Tight Opus 1 and Kondo IO-M - the best cartridge I have ever had a pleasure to listen to in my own system. If I wanted to point out all of its advantages, I would have to name them all, I mean everything that those who love high quality sound care about: ultimate resolution, smoothness, coherence, fantastic dynamics, high energy, openness, spaciousness, precision, and so on, and so on. I couldn’t find any downsides of the reviewed cartridge.

What are the advantages of adding the Nobala to the mix? FIRST OF ALL - to hear the remarkable class of Sumile MC one doesn’t need to purchase the Tenor Phono for nearly 200.000. PLN (or some other equally expensive top performer). My GrandiNote Celio, costing about 6 kEUR, as well as the Allnic Audio H-5500 tube preamplifier priced at some 4 kEUR, paired with the company's Murasakino step-up already allowed me to appreciate how perfect and complete the Sumile set isand how brilliantly these two complement each other.

SECONDLY, the company's step-up emphasizes all the advantages of the cartridge, allowing users to fully appreciate the top notch class of the Sumile MC, and it is able, even though it is hard to even imagine after experiencing the cartridge solo, to further enhance the naturalness and effortlessness of the sound. Adding the prices of any of these phono preamps to what you have to pay for the Nobala, compared to the Tenor (or other top-of-the-range phonostage), you can still save yourself a small fortune that you could use to buy as many records with your favorite music as possible. And then you can forget about your system and focus solely on the music and this incredible, immersive, realistic experience that Murasakino Sumile MC and Nobala are able to create for you!

As I see it, the Murasakino Sumile MC and Nobala deserve every praise and highest awards available, or translating it into „High Fidelity” terms - a well-deserved big GOLD Fingerprint.

Technical specifications (acc. to the manufacturer):

Cartridge type: Moving Coil (low level)
Internal impedance: 1.2 Ω
Recommended tracking force: 1.9 – 2.1 g
Output: 0.35 mV / 1 kHz
Frequency range: 10 Hz – 50 kHz
Channel separation: 30 dB or more (1 kHz)
Channel balance: < 0.5 dB
Weight: 14.5g
Stylus: diamond (line contact 0.03×0.003 mm)
Cantilever: boron
Magnet: neodymium