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Phono cartridge
Accuphase AC-5

Price: 15 900 zł

Manufacturer: Accuphase Laboratory, Inc.

2-14-10 Shin-ishikawa, Aoba-ku,Yokohama,
225-8508 Japan
tel.: +81-45-901-2771 | fax: +81-45-901-8959

Polish manufacturer's website: ACCUPHASE

Polish distributor: Eter Audio
Country of origin: Japan

Text: Marek Dyba
Photographs: Marcin Olszewski, Accuphase

I wonder how many of our Readers realize that Accuphase offers a phono cartridges? All right, by of exaggeration – just one cartridge at the moment. Amplifiers, preamplifiers, digital players – that's what everybody associates with this Japanese brand. No more than 2-3 months ago I saw on Polish Distributor's webpage an information about AC-5 cartridge, so it wasn't a real surprise for me when I received this cartridge for a review. I have to admit I was damn happy about it. First of all, unfortunately for a vinyl fan like myself, it happens very seldom that distributors deliver some cartridge for a review. Secondly – Accuphase brand name is some kind of warranty that whatever carries it delivers great performance. And last but not least it is a direct competitor to my favorite AirTight PC-3. AirTight is my favorite but I couldn't really compare it to other competitors from same price level. At least so far.

Let's go back to cartridges in Accuphase's portfolio. The first one was introduced to the market in 1979 and it was called AC-1. Then there were two more – AC-2 (1980) and AC-3 (1983). None of them is produced anymore. All of them were designed by Hisayoshi Nakatsuka – yes, the owner of ZYX, and the guy responsible for some Monster Cable products.
The AC1 and AC2 looked identical, but there were slight technical specification differences. The AC3 did not possess the elegant gold body, but instead had a smaller black one. The two earlier versions of the cartridge used an aluminum/magnesium cantilever that was reinforced with a beryllium rod. The AC3 had a boron cantilever with the same type of beryllium rod treatment. However the cantilever was smaller, and had a lower moving mass.
AC-5 is the latest incarnation of those cartridges – pewter housing with manual mirror finish is gold plated again, and this time cantilever is made of solid amorphous boron. Obviously it's a mixture of tradition and some modern technology. It's hard to tell why Accuphase decided to launch a new cartridge after 25 years from the last one – maybe because they also added to their range an independent phonostage C-27 (before phonostages were always integrated inside preamplifiers), or maybe they managed to create something special and simply had to share it with their customers. I haven't found any information concerning its designer – is it again Hisayoshi Nakatsuka, or somebody else this time? It is the only one cartridge in present range of Accuphase – the top achievement, no compromise, budget versions – just the very best they know how to make.


Records used in the test (a selection):

  • Patricia Barber, Companion , Premonition/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 2-45003, 180 g LP.
  • The Ray Brown Trio, Soular energy, Pure Audiophile, PA-002 (2), LP.
  • Lou Donaldson, LD+3, Blue Note Stereo, MMBST-84012, LP.
  • Dire Straits, Communique, Vertigo, 800 052-2, LP.
  • Muddy Waters, Folk Singer, Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-201, LP.
  • Albeniz, Suite Espanola, The Super Analogue Disc London, KIJC 9144, 180 g LP.
  • Vibaldi, Le Quatro Stagioni, Divox/Cisco, CLP7057, LP.
  • Holst, The Planets, Decca, SXL 6529, LP.
  • Dead Can Dance, Spiritchaser, 4AD/Mobile Fidelity, MFSL, MOFI 2-002, LP

During the test I used two turntables – Transrotor Super Seven La Roccia with SME arm and my own Michell Gyro SE with fabulous TransFi Terminator air bearing arm (exactly same rig that created such a wonderful synergy with AirTight's PC-3). I also used three different phonostages – my own ESELabs Nibiru, but also VTL TP-2.5, and during last couple of days also Array Audio Obsydian PH-2. So this time I dare to say that test was truly versatile. The only doubt I still have is if the cartridge was fully broken in as I received a brand new piece and according to Distributor it requires at least 100 hours to show its full potential (I most likely played around 100 records but it doesn't make 100 hours).

I started to listen with Transrotor and Nibiru. This setup, regardless of cartridge used (the one delivered with turntable, Koetsu Black, or AC-5) always presented similar sonic signature implied by German mass-loader. I call this kind of sound „massive”, in the most positive meaning of this word. Sound is huge, powerful, with strong bass foundation, that makes pipe organ sound real, and allows a symphonic orchestra to overwhelm listener with its dynamics. There is a great resolution and bass tones differentiation, also micro-dynamics is outstanding. I will not really comment on the cartridge delivered with Transrotor table as it is of a good quality but it's not the same level of performance as the La Roccia. Differences between Accuphase and Koetsu were quite significant, which was to be expected considering price difference. Comparing those two I must say that Koetsu offers bit warmer sound, with rich, smooth midrange and slight but audible roll-off at both frequency extremes. To be honest I never doubted that there was this warmth in the midrange but only direct comparison with AC-5 (and also with PC-3) proved clearly that bass could be more tight, and the top more open and vibrant. Accuphase offers some warmth in its midrange too which becomes even more obvious when you compare it to AirTight, which happens to be the most neutral sounding cartridge of them all.

I want to repeat one more time that when I test high-end devices, each time I use descriptions like „more”, „less” or any other gradations you have to remember that you need to take it more lightly than same description used for hi-fi devices. When it comes to high-end products differences are much, much smaller but I have to use same word as in any review. So my „more neutral sound of AirTight” means only that there was no this subtle warmth I heard when Accuphase played music.

One of my „obligatory” records for all tests of turntables, cartridges and phonostages is Ray Brown's „Soular energy”. Ray's bass as presented by AC-5 mounted on Transrotor was one of the best I ever heard – well extended, amazingly differentiated, colorful, with a lot of „wood” in the sound, and with fingers sliding along strings. Although I couldn't make head-to-head comparison with AirTight nor have I heard it on the same deck I'm still going to try to point out some differences. Basically it's the same top level performance, but with some small differences. Accu offered well extended, full-bodied bass whereas AirTight, while well extended, preferred speed and tightness. Midrange of the latter sounded bit more neutral comparing to Accuphase's, which was clearest when listening to vocal recordings. Accu delivered voice of Patricia Barber with bit more warmth, which made it sound bit darker. It went along with real character of Patricia's voice – low-pitched, bit rough – generally it sounded bit more real. AC-5 presented vocalist also bit closer to the listener than PC-3 did, and the whole soundstage followed. It felt like Patricia took one step forward from her „standard” location whereas with AirTight on board she delivered her performance from behind speakers line. Since I already started with soundstage – AC-5 delivers very wide and (I thought) also deep soundstage. “I thought” as everything is relative – it was deep comparing to what Transrotor’s cartridge delivered, even to what Koetsu delivered, but comparing to AirTight's performance in this aspect it didn't seem so deep anymore.

Resolution delivered by any of these Japanese cartridges was exceptional – that resulted in precise phantom images and fine layering. Nothing could prove that better than recordings of symphonic orchestra. AC-¬5 ensures very full, palpable performance that allows eye-to-eye encounter with the power of orchestra (as real as it is only possible in a room that is so much smaller than a concert hall). The macro-dynamics can be as overwhelming as in real life, and the outstanding micro-dynamics allows one to enjoy each and every smallest details, subtlety. It's no problem to follow a single instrument or some group of instruments while still perceiving the big picture. Listening via stereo set forces you to use ears only – you can't just look at what you want to hear, but the presentation is so palpable and delivered in proper scale that ears can easily do the job of eyes and pick any instrument you want to follow. There were some differences between presentation of the two Japanese cartridges although not so obvious ones. With Accuphase I felt like sitting in one of the first rows having the orchestra almost within a grasp. When listening with AirTight installed I felt more like „looking” at the stage from a wider, more distant perspective but at the same time it gave me as good insight as AC-5 delivered. So if you are a classical music fan the choice between those two amazing cartridges might come down to realizing where do you prefer to sit during live concerts – in the front or maybe in a 10th or 15th row.

Let me now focus for a moment on Accu's performance in a solid-state system As stated many times before I prefer sound of tube devices. Let's not go to deep into why – I simply need a bit of warmth in the midrange – that's what makes sound natural to me (especially when it comes to vocal and acoustic recordings). During this review I had a chance to install AC-5 in couple of different systems and from my point of view it would be the best choice to Array Audio system (amp + pre+ phonostage – review next month). It's a Dutch solid-state system offering amazingly transparent, precise sound, „non-solid-state” midrange – combination of its advantages with AC-5's sounded great and very natural. When I replaced only the phonostage with VTL (tubes on board of course) I lost my confidence – couldn't really tell which choice would be better – Accuphase or AirTight. VTL add some of its own tube's warmth and suddenly other factors became crucial. When I used silver cables from Audiomica I preferred AC-5, but with copper cables I would have probably chosen PC-3. In a system with my 300B ArtAudio Symphony II and my ESELabs Nibiru phono I'd rather preferred AirTight, same system but with VTL phono – definitely AirTight (in both cases I didn't need any more warmth in the sound), but with Array's phono I might have chosen Accuphase, to avoid „over-transparency”. It is always the whole system that delivers the performance in the end so there must be a synergy between all elements, and the outcome should fit owners preferences. The biggest problem of all vinyl-lovers is that it's almost impossible to get cartridges for a test in their own systems. So maybe it would be reasonable to start building an analogue system with a … cartridge? Crazy? Sure, but nobody said that life of vinyl fans was easy.

From a high-end cartridge one might expect ability to fit in any (good enough) system, helping with some weaknesses, strengthening its advantages. That's what AC-5 does. When coupled with German mass-loader offering massive, transparent, detailed sound, it deliver well extended, full-bodied, nicely differentiated bass, sparkling treble and added some richness to the whole range, and this slight touch of warmth in the midrange that made the sound more natural in my ears. This addition to turntable's character was mostly obvious when I used these very transparent, precise sounding phonostages (ESELabs and Array). With VTL that acted like a tube device (that it is of course) and already contributed to the sound with marvelous midrange, AC-5 became an element that brought strong sides of all system elements together and made it sound smooth and liquid. When installed on Michell with fantastic Trans-Fi's linear-tracking air bearing tonearm (system that I love particularly for its amazingly musical, smooth, enjoyable performance), Japanese cartridge added precision, transparency and hefty, tight bass (although it wasn't as full-bodied as on Transrotor).

I have no doubts it's a top performance cartridge – I was able to point out some advantages of PC-3 over AC-5 and the other way around – but all these were just subtleties. Without quite a some time I spent testing AirTight before I would simply declare Accuphase the best cartridge I knew. Now I can state it is one of two best cartridges I ever heard and the choice between them would be implicated by the other elements of the analogue setup. I think that if you listen to AC-5 without over-analyzing its sound you won't find any weaknesses – you will simply enjoy your favorite music presented to you in a very special way. Accuphase will extract from a groove every smallest piece of information and will deliver it in a very coherent, smooth, colorful way. All you will think about would be: what record do I listen to next, and next, and next, and next… .


This new cartridge was given a Pewter (an alloy of tin - Sn, 91% - with small amounts of antimony - Sb, 7% - and copper -Cu, 2%) housing with manual mirror finish and rhodium and gold plating to minimize vibrations and induction of noise. The AC-5 uses a cantilever with 0.3 mm diameter made of solid amorphous boron. This material achieves a propagation speed of 16,200 m/s, far surpassing beryllium (12,870 m/s) and approaching that of a diamond (18,350 m/s). Since solid amorphous boron has a non-crystalline structure, it is 3 to 4 times stronger than crystal boron which consists of large crystals. Microridge stylus with diamond on its tip, has a shape that closely resembles record cutter to ensure wide playback frequency range. Manufacturer declares impressive longevity of this stylus – it should go as far as 2000 hours if used with recommended VTF of 2,0 g. The AC-5 employs a symmetrical coil arrangement along the horizontal axis. This prevents a difference in sonic balance between the signal current for the left and right channels generated by the coils. .The coils use highly pure oxygen-free 6N-LCOFC wiring with a diameter of 0.03 mm. Despite the low impedance of only 4.5 ohms, a high output rating of 0.24 mV is achieved. For the best possible performance manufacturer decided to use a Samarium cobalt type 30 magnet with excellent thermal characteristics. AC-5 is delivered in an elegant box made of cypress wood. It is designed in a smart way so that you can store inside cartridge installed in a removable headshell (like the ones used in SME, Ikeda or Jelco tonearms).

Technical data (according to manufacturer):
Cartridge type: Moving Coil
Rated output voltage: 0,24 mV (1 kHz, 5 cm/s)
Impedance: 4,5 Ω (1 kHz)
Frequency response: 20 Hz-20 kHz (+/- 1 dB)
Channel separation: 30 dB (1 kHz)
Channel balance: 0,5 dB (1 kHz)
Trackability: 80 µm/2 g (300 Hz)
Coils: made of 0,03 mm dia. 6N-LCOFC wire
Magnet: Samarium Cobalt, type 30
Cantilever: 0,3 mm dia., solid amorphous boron
Tracking force: recommended – 2 g (range – 1,7-2,5 g)
Stylus: material: Microridge needle diamond 0.1 mm sq; Curvature: 3 μm x 60 μm; Service life: up to 2,000 hours
Compliance: horizontal: 15 x 10 –6 cm/dyne; vertical: 12 x 10 –6 cm/dyne
Output terminals: 1.25 mm dia. (gold-plated brass)
Recommended load impedance: Amplifier: 100 ohms or higher; Step-up transformer: 10 ohms or higher
Weight: 11,5 g

Distribution in Poland:

Eter Audio
Kraków, ul. Malborska 24
tel. 12 655 75 43
mobile: + 48 507 011 858

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