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Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE

Price: 11 900 zł

Miyajima Laboratory
1-45-111, Katae 5-chome, Jounan-ku, Fufuoka, 814-0142 JAPAN


WWW: Miyajima Laboratory

Country of origin: Japan

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

We have written about the cartridges Waza and Premium BE from Miyajima Laboratory in the May, “Japanese” issue of “High Fidelity”. They left good impressions – intensive enough, that when the Polish distributor, Audio Classics, received the most expensive model from that company (although still far away from the priciest Air Tight) I immediately grabbed it. The character of this cartridge is completely different than my reference, Air Tight PC-1 Supreme, and in some way close to what is shown by the Denon cartridges from the DL-103 series (look HERE and HERE). Also the construction of the Miyajima is so different, so interesting and innovative, that you cannot be indifferent to it. You do not have to like it, it is not that, but you have to know what you NOT want.

Because I already wrote about that, I’ll just repeat, that the innovativeness of the cartridges coming from Mr. Noriyuki Miyajima is in the different than usual placement of coils. In most solutions available on the market, the cantilever, which has the diamond on one end, and coil on the other, is held in the cartridge by means of a thin wire, that keeps it close to the magnet behind the coil (fig. 1). Between the coil and the magnet, there is a shock absorber made from an elastic material (rubber, silicon). This is not the best solution, because, as you can see on the drawing, the axis of suspension of the coil and sweep is not in the center of the coil, but shifted to the back. The moving coil has to overcome the resistance of the wire, what diminishes the sensitivity and increases the inertia of the suspension. In addition, the coil wound around an iron core has to overcome additional attraction generated by the core in strong magnetic flux. Miyajima uses another solution, where the cantilever is supported on a pin coming from the back magnet and tightened to the front yoke (fig. 2). Here the absorber is placed between the coil and the front yoke. The clear asset of this solution is the support point for the cantilever, which is exactly in the coil’s axis, and thus allows for more effective transformation of the movements to electric current. This kind of suspension does not introduce additional resistance and has much lower inertia. The core of the coil is made from resin, which does not interfere with the magnetic flux and does not introduce additional distortion.

I am sorry for this repetition, but we will not start without it. As you can see from the test of the Waza and Premium BE, such way of presentation, although maybe not fully neutral, can hit the bull’s eye of a specific system and expectations. I liked it very much, because it eliminated annoying coloration from the sound, brightening and no crackles. Due to the quite heavy tracking force most of the flaws of the carrier are eliminated (crackles, etc), and the cartridge follows the groove perfectly, even in very dynamic, bass loaded fragments. I’ll just remind, that I achieved a similar effect with the classic Ortofon SPU Synergy A. In the sound of the Waza, because I am mostly talking about that cartridge (Premium BE was the best monophonic cartridge I know), I missed better resolution and breath to be fully satisfied. This is the reason, that the model Shilabe was created, which differs from the Waza mostly by the diamond shape – now it is the Shibata cut, so a very narrow, with long contact, but also with the material of the body – in the Waza it was Rosewood, and now it is African Blackwood. Before we go to the sound description, I want to make another remark – adjusting the cartridge in the tonearm is very troublesome and hard – I am talking about the right geometry. This because none of the planes visible from the front isn’t flat – neither the front nor the sides. So we cannot use those while using the protractor. It was not that critical with the Waza, because there was a spherical diamond. But with the long and narrow Shibata cut, the problem is more grave.

To date we tested:


Disc used for the listening session:

  • Billie Holliday, Songs For Distingue Lovers, Verve/Classic Records, One-sided, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP.
  • Depeche Mode, Fragile Tension/Hole to Feed, Mute Records, 12BONG42, 2 x 180 g, maxi-SP LP.
  • Diana Krall, All For You. A dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio, Impulse!/Original Recordings Group, ORG 006, 2 x 180 g LP;.
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps, Atlantic/Rhino, R1 512581, 2 x 45 rpm LP.
  • Julie London, Julie is her name. Vol.1, Liberty, LRP 3006, LP.
  • Kraftwerk, Tour The France Soundtracks, EMI Records, 591 708 1, 2 x 180 g, LP;.
  • Mel Tormé, Mel Tormé Sings Shubert Alley, Verve/Polydor K.K. Japan, KI 8212, LP.
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1.

I tested the most expensive cartridge from Mr. Noriyuki with a few different turntables, mostly with the Avid Acutus Reference, TW-Acustic Raven One z ramieniem TW-10.5 (HERE), and with the newest Transrotor Rondino.
But the most interesting listening session was with quite a different deck – the turntable Scheu Analog Premiere Mk2 equipped with the tonearm 12” Scheu Classic Mk2. This was interesting because the company Scheu, and their dealers, talk about a certain synergy between this set and the cartridge Denon DL-103. The company web page tells it straight forward: “The 12-inch version of the arm is as ever the perfect partner for the Denon DL-103. A well-kept secret!” It is so, that I use the Denon in many occasions for years, and since two years also the more expensive DL-103R and DL-103SA (test HERE). I do not think, that this is the best cartridge on the market, that it is ideal, etc. But at its price it has some assets, which make us listen to it, and in many cases buy it, even compared to much more expensive competition.
Its construction is so characteristic, that it influences the final effect in a large extent – because it was designed in times, when it was good to have a heavy, long tonearm, so it is a cartridge with low compliance, quite massive and high tracking force (recommended 2.5g). And although the Shilabe is a new cartridge, some things are repeated here, like high tracking force (3g), not so high compliance and substantial weight. Of course the needle is of different shape, and it contributes significantly to the sales price. But due to those similarities, the listening session on the Scheu Analog turntable was so interesting.

Going from the Denon to the Miyajima we do not just change the price category, the shelf, etc, we enter a whole new universe. Denon IS a splendid cartridge, it works well with the Scheu Classic Mk2 tonearm, but it does not allow the turntable to show, what it really can do. The Shilabe goes very low in the bass area. Although it could seem, that Denon and similar cartridges fare quite well, changing them to Miyajima shows that we are talking about a similar thing, but different. When a small child starts talking, when it mumbles “mama” or “papa”, we are enchanted and we support it, saying, that it speaks brilliantly, etc. The same thing, when it stands on a stage in school, reciting a poem, we clap our hands as hell, completely sure, that a new “speech master” is born, and we had something to do with that. That is the case with the DL-103.
In comparison, the Miyajima is like a fully completed project, like the true “speech master”, like the fulfilled promise. I do not want to be overly lyrical, but the sound of that cartridge allows for that kind of moods, in many dimensions.
One of those dimensions is related to the character of the sound. It is a slightly warm, very vivid sound. I had the same thing earlier with the Waza, but there the warmth was imprinted on each disc, and the character of the cartridge transferred over to the recordings, unifying them. The Shilabe does something similar, everything is very nice when listened to, but it allows for a wide margin of freedom, and does not call for so much attention, going discreetly to the background. We feel, that it is somewhere around, but we cannot pinpoint exactly where.

I talked about the bass – the low pulse from Tour de France. Soundtracks Kraftwerk was beautiful. It had a physical attack, so energetic, that even my reference cartridge Air Tight PC-1 Supreme did not do it better. And at that, the bass is very well controlled. Maybe not as well as in the Air Tight, but the differences were small, and the price of the competition twice as high. It can be heard, that the constructor is completely immersed in the analog, and that he has his vision of the sound, where vividness and energy are important. It is important, that the bass flows over into the midrange smoothly. Mel Tormé from the Japanese pressing of Swings Shubert Alley sounded great – but what else could be expected. Different than in the Waza, or in – as we mentioned it – the SPU Synergy A from Ortofon there was not any pushing out the voice before the lineup. There he was super-smooth, but a bit sugar coated and caramel sounding. Here it was cleaner, and the presence of the musician was not built around boosting a certain part of the sound spectrum, but by very good resolution and dynamics. Differentiation is also not above average, regardless the price, but it does not stand out in any way. The Air Tight has the resolution and microdynamics on a higher level, but I have the impression, that with some discs it goes a step too far, we start to notice the flaws of the pressing and recording errors. The Shilabe shows those elements well, it differentiates pressings very nicely, but it does it discreetly, subcutaneous so to say. For this we have to pay with a slight rounding of the attack, and a not so deep sound stage as in the PC-1 Supreme. We have to take it for granted.

The treble is slightly warmed, but there is exactly as much of it as needed for the recordings to sound beautiful. Yes, beautiful – this is the best word that comes to mind. The Waza and SPU Synergy A were sweet. It sounded great, but resulted in worse differentiation of this part of the sound spectrum. The most expensive Miyajima cartridge is far better here. Using it we can hear, that the re-edition of the disc All for You Diana Krall made by Original Recordings Group, splendid, a really splendid one, has one birthmark – the vocal is slightly too flat, too light. It was audible perfectly, that the sibilants are a bit underlined in that recording. The new pressing handled that well, nothing strikes us, but coming over from the Tormé disc to Krall is very didactic. Diana’s vocal is just recorded much worse. It is not as bad as I am writing here, the disc sounds very well, but Mel swings, sings with a full, beautiful voice, which is not there with Krall.
With the mentioned cartridges (Waza and SPU Synergy A), but also with most other cartridges for the money, the differences are not as unanimous. Yes, we can hear more treble with Krall, but why – that is not clear. Even more, if it turns out, that a cartridge can show well changes in timbre, I mean in appropriate proportions, then usually it is too bright, and it has not even a trace of the saturation of the midrange Shilabe has.
Listening to discs with this Japanese cartridge, we are not “directed” to any part of the sound spectrum, most of all, not at the treble. It is the extension of the midrange, and has a similar character and timbre temperature. It is very “analog”, in the sense of being continuous, saturated and very natural. But – I want to repeat this – differentiating. It shows changes in timbre better than expensive CD players. For example – vinyl cut from a digital master tape 24 bits, 44.1 kHz (Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds) sounded brilliant. The cymbals from the piece DDINC 02 were great in presence, fullness and power. But it could be heard, that they are not as resolved as from discs recorded on analog master tapes. It was interesting, that this was not audible due to a change in timbre, dynamics, etc, but as a slight fogging. With the CD, and from 24/44.1 files it was not as audible, as if slight compression and limited frequency response would not pose such a problem for them.

Shilabe is a remarkable cartridge. It seems warm, but is at the same time resolved. There is beautiful, deep bas and a strong, slightly warm midrange. Noting else to add or to subtract. Unless... Did I tell you, that Shilabe is – beside the Air Tight PC-1 Supreme (but this is another story) the best cartridge I ever heard? That I like it extremely much? That when we equip a turntable with it, we will forget about the technology and concentrate on music? That it will become a part of my reference system? No? Then I am telling you now.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Model: Shilabe
Type: stereo
Impedance: about 16Ω
Output voltage: about 0.23mV
Frequency response: 20Hz-32kHz  
Tracking force: 2.5g-3.2g (recommended 3g)
Cut: Shibata  
Compliance: about 10×10-6 cm/dyne  
Weight: about 10.4g
Body: African Blackwood

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air (previous it was Prime, tested HERE)
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD