Positive Feedback ISSUE 72
Axia MC Cartridge
as reviewed by Peter Davey
Vinyl… Where do I start?
It's been quite a journey for me. The most fun, so far, has been the hunt for good copies of out of print material, which, if you're into anything that came out between 1990-2008, can really start to heat up the wallet.
As you may or may not know—I have been a huge proponent of digital, mainly in the higher resolution scene, usually PCM. Before it was the thing to do, I was recording friends' vinyl and tape to 32bit 192kHz resolutions. Well, then it became popular to do such recordings. Shortly after this, DSD seemingly came out of nowhere… but more on that later. I digress, it was a lot of fun (and still is, when I have the time) to visit some of my friends' places and record their most treasured analog releases to digital. After the arduous process of recording, playing the digital versions back for my friends is quite rewarding.
A few of my friends, with my help, now own DSD recording devices, or high resolution capable external ADC / DAC sound devices. Allowing archiving of their analog into digital. This allows the enjoyment of the music in any format. I was happy as a clam, being able to distribute the virtues of digital to my analog-only friends. It made me feel as though I was doing something right.
While this was all happening, I grew obsessed with analog playback, vinyl specifically. During this journey from digital to vinyl, I heard some of the most amazing setups, and couldn't believe what sound emitted from those wax grooves. My early exposures to music was during the time of the transition of Vinyl / Cassette to CD. Well, if you were a kid like I was, anything that had to do with lasers HAD to be exponentially cooler and better. Sure I owned a few hand-me-down LP's from my parents, but holy hell, who wanted to listen to that nasty popping / scratching / etc when a crystal clear, easily repeating playback was available.
Because of that early experience, my view of vinyl was tainted and I didn't feel compelled to disprove it. To me, vinyl sounded like crap and the media itself was too fragile. So, because of those reasons, my music journey started with collecting CDs. At one point, I was up to a few thousand CDs. The downside to CDs was portability. I used one of those large, zip up CD binders that held 500 CDs at a time. I had also invested in a nice car stereo so I could listen to the CDs while on the go. Then, reality set in when my car window was smashed. All of the CDs were gone in the blink of an eye. All that money, time spent browsing in the music store, time spent categorizing, and all of that was taken away while I had my head rested on a pillow, a hundred feet away. In hindsight, my false sense of security and naively putting my entire collection in an easy to grab binder was a stupid idea, but I had hated the idea of not having my music ready and available whenever. Where were you back then iPod?!?
Again, I digress. This little back-story can help you, as my reader, understand my journey in transforming from digital only to a hybrid position. I could go on and on but this is supposed to be about a cartridge!
About a decade ago my wife, then girlfriend, was a vinyl lover. She gave me her cheap Sony turntable. While it played fine for her old gospel and blues records on her little Sony stereo, on my setup, it loudly hummed. It was driving me mad. I tried a few phonostages, cables, you name it, and I tried swapping it out to get rid of that hum. It bothered me enough to put my vinyl journey on hold. Then entered the ProJect Debut Carbon. Not a bad cartridge for the money! I wrote a review of it a while ago so I won't spend too much time on that. But, after hearing so many world-class turntable setups, I had to have more!
A review opportunity fell into my lap from Tom Vu of KT Audio Imports. I ended up with the massive Triangle Signature turntable (seriously, massive… a review about that is coming soon) and the 12" Osiris Ebony tone arm. WOW, right? What a major jump from the ProJect. Not even close or in the same league, but I thought, what the hell? Problem was, I didn't think the 2m was worthy of this table, I mean, the table alone retails for $15,000, not including the tone arm (that's another $5000). So, I reached out to my friend, Bob Clarke of Profundo Audio, and he happened to have a Transfiguration Axia that needed some words, and I thought…. Kismet! Only because another good audio friend of mine (with a really bitchen' Micro Seiki 5000 table) had started out with a Transfiguration cart on his earlier Basis table and what I heard there was nothing short of beautiful. Dynamics, clarity, precision, etc… it had it all.
So in went the table, the tonearm, the cartridge, and a NAT signature phonostage. Popped on my first LP of choice, Trust by Low, and since then I've still had trouble rolling my tongue back into my mouth. I just couldn't believe it, the detail this cart was able to pull out of those wax grooves has been nothing sort of mind-blowing.
So then you know how it goes, pull out this LP, that LP.... Soon enough you've gone through 10 and the sun is down, your phone has several missed calls, your wife is knocking on your audio room door, you get the picture. We've all been there (if not, well maybe you need to invest into this cartridge).
I mean, this cartridge does everything. It's very well-rounded, for even my myriad of music. Industrial, rock, punk, ambient, country, shoegaze / indie, you name it and I have it in on vinyl. It takes what it's been given and gives it right back to you ten-fold. In my mind, this is what a cartridge is supposed to do. Pianos, cellos, synthesizers, and even drum machines have a pulse with this cartridge.
I'm not one to go on and on with 10 pages of writing about any piece of audio gear, well, that's because we all have better things to do than to read and like, you know, listen to music? If you want tech specs on this cartridge, Google is your friend. It's Moving Coil and plays nicely with just about every phonostage I've thrown at it.
So, if you want a life changing experience, and want to step up your vinyl game, you won't go wrong with this cartridge or any cartridge from Transfiguration, that is, of course, in my humble opinion.
Viva la vinyl!