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Cartridge | MM

Top Wing

Price (when reviewed): 36 500 PLN

Contact: 1-10-2-1102 Sakae-cho Higashimurayama
Tokyo | Japan 189-0013


Provided for test by: RCM

t seems that almost every month the audio world learns about a new, usually high-end, brand. This is an illusion, but strengthened by the strong presence of these brands in the specialist press and at the sellers. As it happens, many of these products are real high-end products, offering interesting solutions to old problems, or a completely new approach to old solutions that seemed unchangeable.

It's hard to call the Japanese company TOP WING CORPORATION new because it has been present on the market for years. Its Top Wing Cybersound Group distributes in Japan digital products of such brands as: M2Tech, iFi Audio and others. Cartridges are a relatively new addition to their portfolio. Which I find particularly interesting, because it opens its second "wing", this time with analog products.

At the moment, it offers two models, almost equally expensive: SEIRYU, meaning Blue Dragon, and SUZAKU - Red Sparrow – for the test we received the latter. Both Japanese and English names appear in the company literature in parallel. They were designed by an engineer contracted specifically for this purpose - which was a similar approach as hiring Hideaki Nishikawa by Stella Inc., a distributor of Constellation, Devialet, Einstein, Brinkmann, Vivid Audio, Tidal, Wilson Benesch, HRS, Argento. Hideaki-san is designing TechDAS turntables, Stella Inc.'s own brand (see more HERE).

Mr. Hideaki Nishikawa is inseparably associated with both TechDAS and the brand he previously led, i.e. Micro-Seiki. The same applies to Top Wing cartridges - their creator is another legend of the audio world, Mr. Hiromu Megura. His résumé is extremely interesting, as he was the assistant of the main designer of the F-8 cartridge for Grace brand (Shinagawa Musen Co.) and the main designer of the F-9. Maybe another name will tell you more: Nakamichi Corp. Meguro-san developed the Center-Tech system of the Nakamichi Dragon CT turntable, he was also one of the designers of the Nakamichi TX-1000 cassette recorder. For the record, let's say that the Dragon CT turntable featured a movable platter and its movements compensated the eccentricity of the record.

| Coreless Straight Flux

Both aforementioned Grace cartridges were MM type designs, i.e. Moving Magnet, in which the moving element are magnets and the coils are stationary. In the MC type cartridges, i.e. Moving Coil, it's the opposite – it's the coils that are moving. The Dragon CT's designer, who is known for his unconventional approach to problems, asked himself a simple question: why MM cartridges are inexpensive and MC are expensive. As I imagine, the question was really: are MC cartridges more expensive because they offer better sound? And if they do, is it so because nobody tried hard enough to make MMs sound equally good, or maybe Moving Magnet design had its intrinsic limitations?

In retrospect, with the Blue Dragon Red Sparrow in front of me, I believe that it was about designers giving up, surrendering to the supremacy of MC cartridges, having lighter moving parts, and thus able to read more fine details from the grooves. And this translates, for example, into resolution. A change in the thinking about MM cartridges could be noticed a few years ago, but only Clearaudio with their Maestro V2 (USD 1,200) and now the Top Wing cartridges prove that MMs are a real alternative to the MC designs.

Especially for these two models, Mr. Hiromu Megura has developed a new MM system called Coreless Straight Flux. In MM type cartridges, changes in the magnetic flux are transmitted to the core, and from there to the coils, using one of the laws of physics: when the conductor intersects the lines of the magnetic field, a current is generated in it. The advantage of this solution is a high level output signal - the coils can be wound with a thicker wire and have more coil turns because they are stationary. The problem of this arrangement is that the core generates long lines of the magnetic field, resulting in losses caused by hysteresis.

HYSTERESIS - delay in response to an external factor. The most known cases of hysteresis occur in magnetic materials, mainly in ferromagnetic materials, where the magnetization takes place only after some increase of the external magnetic field. source:, accessed on Apr. 16th 2018

The system used in the Top Wing cartridges has no core at all, and the 'V' shaped coils are located directly above the magnet. Shortening of the "magnetic field path" should result - as the company's materials claim - in an improvement of detail, higher resolution (compared to MM cartridges) and in reducing distortions typical of MCs. And for dessert, but a tasty one, we are treated with good news: the price of replacing the stylus in both Top Wing cartridges is only 15% of the price of the new cartridge, while for MC systems it varies between 70 and even 90% of its price!

| Red Sparrow

The Red Sparrow is a variation of the MM design and the most expensive cartridge of this type I have heard of. Its loading is typical for MM, i.e. 47 kΩ, although its internal impedance is only 12.3 Ω (@ 1 kHz). Its special feature is the low output level, typical for MC cartridges - 0.2 mV (5 cm/s). Therefore, it has to be used with a phono preamplifier for MC cartridges.

Its body is made of several materials, including titanium, and a self-developed material, ji-tech resin. It allowed to reduce its total mass to just 9 g, compared to 12 g of the Blue Dragon model, that features a body made of duralumin. The body is finished in a precise process, and carbon fiber braid is used for additional vibration damping. Despite these treatments, the insert is quite heavy, which could "condemn" it to be used with tonearms with a low effective mass. Mr. Hiromu-san says, however, that thanks to the combination of several materials, they have been able to reduce vibrations and move their mods up the band, so that the cartridge should fit well also to classic arms. The recommended VTF is 1.75 g-2 g. The "line contact" stylus was glued onto the aluminum cantilever.

For comparison to the Top Wing Red Sparrow I used my reference, Miyajima Lab. Madake. This is a MC type cartridge, but with a drive system different than classic cartridges. Its body is made of wood and has quite a high VTF - around 2.5 g. With the help of Wojtek and Marek from RCM I could use both of them on two identical arms - Schröder CB, and those on the TechDAS Air Force III turntable which allowed me to perform a direct comparison. I used the RCM Audio Prelude IC phono preamplifier - unfortunately featuring only one input which force 5 second breaks between listening to both pickups.

Records used for the test (a sele- ction)

  • Bill Evans Trio, Waltz for Debby, Riverside Records/Analogue Productions APJ009, „Top 25 Jazz", Limited Edition #0773, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1961/2008)
  • Chico Hamilton Quintet, Chico Hamilton Quintet, Pacific Jazz PJ-1209, LP (1955)
  • Depeche Mode, Delta Machine, Columbia, 460631, 180 g, 2 x LP (2013).
  • Dominic Miller, 5th House, Q-rious Music/Rutis Music QRM 122-2, 180 g LP (2012)
  • Duda, Kanaan, RudĽ, 3C, Audio Anatomy, 2 x 180 g LP (2017)
  • Klaus Schulze, Picture Music, Brain 1067, LP (
  • Nat ‘King’ Cole and his Trio, After Midnight – Complete Session, Capitol/Analogue Productions APP 782-45, 3 x 180 g 45 rpm LP (1957/2010)
  • Thelonious Monk, The Riverside Tenor Sessions, Riverside/Analogue Productions APJ 037, “Limited Edition Box | #1543/2500”, 7 x 180 g (1998)
  • Wes Montgomery & Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ At The Half Note, Verve/Universal Music K.K. [Japan] UCJU-9083, 200 g LP (1965/2007)

Japanese issues available at

How the classic, almost iconic MM type cartridge, say, Shure V sounds like? It's simple: tonal balance is set low, it offers a great, powerful bass and a fleshy, tangible presentation. Its high tones are somewhat simplified and not particularly resolving, but the sound is also very satisfying thanks to fantastic rhythm. Once we know that, let's put side by side Madake and Red Sparrow cartridges, and then tell someone that one of them is a MM-type, and with almost 100% certainty they will point to Madake.

And this is because Red Sparrow does not resemble the sound of other MM cartridges at all. It is a cartridge that delivers a very “fresh”, open sound. In comparison, Miyajima Labs., but also Denon DL-103, another iconic pickup, although a MC one, sound lower and heavier. Listen to Waltz for Debby by Bill Evans Trio on the Analogue Production 45 RPM reissue, and then another club concert, this time performed by Wynton Kelly Trio starring Wes Mongomery, in the Japanese reissue, titled Smokin 'At The Half Note on 200 g vinyl, and you'll capture it in the blink of an eye.

Red Sparrow sounds incredibly spacious. Miyajima builds stronger, more solid phantom images, but it brings them closer to the listener and sets them in a closer perspective. The Top Wings cartridge does not really distance the instruments, but rather surrounds them with more air. Concert recordings and classical music gain from that, because it opens a large window giving us better view into a given event. It's a sound without something like dynamics “brakes” - as it is excellent in this respect - without coloring the lower midrange, which, on one hand creates larger size instruments, but on the other it causes the effect that tells listeners immediately that they listen to a reproduction/recording, not to live music.

It is a versatile cartridge and there was never a record I didn't like with it, or one that sounded worse than with other pickups. With time, I realized that I leaned more and more towards albums with older material, mainly acoustic one - though not exclusively – that was recorded and also mastered in analogue domain. It seems that openness, unbelievable amount of information that this cartridge conveys in the mid-high frequencies skillfully reveals the truth about digital recordings - they are simply less realistic/convincing than analog ones.

And I do not even mean that they sounded bad, because everything was in the right place and I enjoyed a lot the digital remasters of Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode albums. But a quick transition to a well-recorded analogue album and "click", there was more of everything. This transition was not discriminating though, I mean that after a short time of listening to “digital” records, whenever it was "my" music, everything went back to normal and I could simply enjoy the music - maybe except for Dig It by Klaus Schulze, an album from 1980 recorded on a digital synthesizer which after a while caused me a headache. But it's a record's problem, not cartridge's – the latter did its job and showed exactly what was recorded.

The Red Sparrow has a big heart, but an even greater desire for freedom, openness, so to speak. Miyajima - in contrast - shows stronger, more clearly defined instruments with a lower “center of gravity”. But it's still the same type of sound, both cartridges are more similar to each other than to any MM pickup. The Red Sparrow nicely illuminates the top of the band, without making it too bright, so one have to take into consideration a slightly higher travelling noise and bit louder clicks and pops. I use terms such as "a bit" and "slightly" because the differences are not crucial - though they are there.

The dynamics of the tested pickup is impressive, compared to it a large part of the top MC type cartridges may seems slower and more closed. Which, combined with what I just said about the travelling noise, points me straight to London (Decca) products. The stylus in them is mounted directly on a magnetic metal foil, only a few microns thick, which passes through the center of the electric coil placed just one millimeter above the stylus. Do you see the similarities? - It is also a direct coupling of two elements, as it is in the case of the Coreless Straight Flux system.

In the case of Red Sparrow, however, there was no emphasis in treble, and digital recordings did not have a closed high tones, on the contrary - analog recordings sounded in a more open way. Because it is a very elegant sound. Open, but natural, dynamic, but in check and under control. Very direct.


Red Sparrow is a rare and beautiful "bird" (sorry, I couldn't help myself and had to use this cheesy comparison, but it fits like a glove here :)). Its sound is extremely sophisticated and simply put perfect. It does not offer everything that I love Madake for, i.e. rocksteady lower end, clearly defined instruments' bodies and it is also not so "quiet" when it comes to the imperfections of the vinyl. However, it offers a larger, striking soundstage than any other cartridge I had at home. It presents the recordings at their natural speed, being "here and now", without coloration of the lower midrange. A truly unique creature!

Technical specifications (according to manufacturer)

Type of power generation: Coreless straight-flux
Stylus: Line contact
Cantilever material: Aluminum
Output at 5 cm/s: 0.2 mV
Internal impedance: 12.3Ω at 1 kHz
Inductance : Secret (but non sensitive to capacitive load)
Recommended tracking weight: 1.75 g–2.0 g
Weight: < 9 g



- Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
- Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
- Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

- Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE

- Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
- Power amplifier: Soulution 710
- Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

- Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
- Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
- Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
- Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
- Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
- Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
- Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

- Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
- USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
- LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
- Router: Liksys WAG320N
- NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
System I
- Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
- Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
System II
- Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
- Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

System I
- Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
- Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
- Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
System II
- Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
- Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
- Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
- Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
- Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
- Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
- Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

- FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One