KoetsuBorn in Japan in 1907, Yoshiaki Sugano enjoyed a career as a professional boxer, a valve amplifier builder and an automotive executive. He also studied metallurgy in order to repair broken traditional Japanese swords. After he retired in 1967, his love of western classical music led him on a journey to improve the musicality of common phono cartridges. Through his experimentation he pioneered the use of high purity materials such as 6N copper and rare platinum iron magnets.

The name ‘Koetsu’ was chosen for Sugano’s range of cartridges in honour of his hero Honami Koetsu, a renaissance Japanese sword maker and artist. For more than thirty-years, Koetsu has masterfully blended the highest purity technical materials with ones of natural beauty to create the most sought-after cartridges in the world. Sugano-San’s legacy is carried on by his son Fumihiko who apprenticed under his father to become a master cartridge maker. Every Koetsu cartridge is hand made in Japan and voiced by Fumihiko, who listens to each piece then tweaks it to his satisfaction before he considers it finished & ready to be delivered to the customer. Koetsu cartridges are inherently limited in nature.

Koetsu Urushi Sky Blue


A journey through the world of Koetsu

For over 50 years, Sugano and now his son Fumihiko have been building phono cartridges. Their legacy has been built around the unique sound quality of their products as well as their rarity and beauty. After so many years of experience, Koetsu have developed a philosophy based around the quality of the materials in the cartridge motor and how the motor interacts with the material of the body. They have selected high purity materials such as 6N copper and rare platinum iron magnets to use in their motor mechanisms. To compliment these, they have created bodies made of materials chosen for their specific sonic qualities. Koetsu do not publish information or disclose technical details about the technology used in their cartridges however the following information has been gathered over the years and may be helpful with navigating through the range.

The first cartridge in the Koetsu range is the Black, also known as the ‘Black Goldline’. Although it is the entry level for Koetsu, it is definitely not an entry level cartridge when compared to other brands. In fact, it is a highly accomplished performer that has been refined over many years and is considered great value among the global audiophile community. In recent years, Fumihiko has engineered wider bandwidth performance for the Black, resulting in a balanced and coherent tonal presentation. It has an anodized Aluminium body, Copper coil wiring, a Samarium Cobalt magnet mechanism and the traditional Koetsu Boron cantilever.

Koetsu Black Goldline CartridgeKoetsu Rosewood Signature Cartridge

The next cartridge in the range is the Rosewood, also known as the ‘Rosewood Standard’. It uses the same wiring and magnet structure with some improvements and has a natural Rosewood body. The Rosewood body has a different effect on the sound, giving it a slightly warmer, richer tonal palette. The Rosewood Signature incorporates some further changes including the ‘Permendur’ version of the Samarium Cobalt magnet mechanism and the use of clear lacquer on the wooden body. The sonic improvements include increased tonal textures, greater extension and an even more natural presentation of voices and instruments. When listening to music with string instruments like classical guitar for example, the timbral qualities of the vibrating strings and the sound of the guitar’s wooden body become more discernable.

The sap of Urushi tree contains a resin that polymerizes and becomes a very hard, durable, plastic-like substance when it is exposed to moisture and air. Sugano discovered that Urushi lacquer, when applied to a Rosewood body has superb sonic characteristics. The Urushi cartridges feature upgraded silver-plated copper coil wiring and each model has a different lacquer, resulting in slight differences in their presentation. Benefits include improved resolution, dynamics and soundstage depth however the real pleasure of listening to an Urushi cartridge cannot be described easily with words. Urushi cartridges have gathered a worldwide reputation for that ‘midrange magic’ that listeners find so captivating. There is a complete absence of mechanical character to the sound and the music flows with this natural liquidity that feels so ‘right’. The Urushi Vermillion features double coil silver plated copper wiring, which results in even greater resolution and bandwidth.

Koetsu Blue Lace PlatinumKoetsu Onyx Platinum

The Platinum range incorporate a rare platinum magnet system which takes the performance of the cartridge across all parameters to another level. They are widely considered to exhibit reference quality neutrality, dynamics, resolution and musicality. The internal motor mechanism is exactly the same in all models however there are sonic differences between the models which is due to the specific gravity/density of the particular stone body. Sugano once explained that he created each stone body to be voiced differently to cater for different listener’s tastes. As our perception of music is totally subjective and there is no definable ‘absolute truth’, the Koetsu Platinum range of cartridges are designed to provide ultimate performance with slightly different flavours to cater for individual preferences.

The Rosewood Signature Platinum is widely considered to be great value and one of the best sounding cartridges available at any price. Commonly found in reference systems around the world, it has a naturalness, ease and beauty which is immensely engaging. The Onyx Platinum and Jade Platinum also have a sophistication that has made them perennial favourites in reference analogue systems and then as you move up the range, the sound develops a rarified tone and effortlessness. The ability of the Platinum cartridges to portray realism, nuance and inner detail has to be heard to be believed. The refinement and maturity of their sound is a testament to the 50+ years that these cartridges have been personally crafted, improved and evolved. The fact that they look like timeless pieces of art makes them a true destination product for many audiophiles around the world.

Shortly after his father’s passing in a rare interview, Mr. Sugano Jr (Fumihiko) once said “My father was ‘deductive’. He was not a scientist or a scholar. He released Koetsu pieces only when he was personally satisfied with their sonics after a long process of trial and error. About 40 years ago, he wanted to adopt new housing cases other than wood, and tested a lot of materials, such as elephant ivory, but very few met his high standard. Finally Onyx came. The combination of Onyx and the Samarium-Cobalt magnet played such beautiful sounds that it satisfied not only Mr. Sugano Sr. but also Mark Levinson. This was the first stone model, and the second one was the Jade.”

Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum Cartridge

The essence of Koetsu

Koetsu are one of the few truly iconic names in the high-end audio global community. Many people who enjoy playing vinyl records, from the ‘hard-core’ audiophile to the more casual listener, aspire to own a Koetsu cartridge in their lifetime. One of the reasons for this is the sound quality of these cartridges. There’s a certain maturity and sophistication to the sound. You get a feeling when you hear a Koetsu that the person who created it has been doing it for a very long time. Koetsu cartridges are not engineered to highlight one aspect of the musical performance over another or separate the music into individual parts and therefore they are not an analytical tool for the ‘detail-freak’ type of listener. They are designed to present the musical performance as you would hear it live in a way that connects you to the emotional message of the artist or composer.

For example, when you hear a beautiful piece of music being played by two different professional pianists, you can often hear distinct differences in the performance, despite the fact that the piece of music is identical. What makes one pianist different to another? The answer lies in their personal interpretation of the notes on a page and their unique skill in communicating that message through the medium of the piano. Some of the best pianists in the world have a way of striking the piano keys with the relevant energy or subtlety, or slight differences in timing, or an innate ability to infuse their performance with emotion that separates them from others. In the same way, different cartridges deal with the information in the grooves of a record in different ways. Koetsu cartridges have this intangible way of bringing out the emotion in a performance which separates them from other brands.

Koetsu Blue Lace Platinum Cartridge Box

So how do they do it?

The answer to this question shines a light on another reason for the Koetsu legacy. When you buy a Koetsu cartridge, you are not buying from a company that also makes other products. You are not buying from a company that has a corporate structure with sales and marketing budgets, or a company that follows the latest buyer behaviour trends. You are buying from an artisan’s workshop where one man devoted his life to making the best sounding cartridges possible. Before he passed away in 2002, a couple of months away from his 95th birthday, Sugano had been training his son to continue the tradition for many years, passing down all the accumulated knowledge and insights he had gained in his lifetime. You are buying from a craftsman who makes every cartridge by hand and listens to each one until he is satisfied before shipping it to a customer. You are buying from a someone who does not have a marketing budget and does not occupy himself with anything other than a single minded pursuit of making the best cartridges possible, just like his father did before him.

In the past, we have heard some comments (usually started by competing brands) that the sound of some Koetsu cartridges may be a described as ‘romantic’, meaning that they are a bit coloured towards a softer presentation and have an emphasis on the midrange. This may be the experience of some people who are using old cartridges that have not been serviced for many years however our experience is that these comments have no foundation, as evidenced by published reviews around the world. Ensure that your Koetsu is genuine and well maintained and you will find that the sonic presentation will be world class and enjoyable. Koetsu cartridges are defined by passion, beauty, refinement and single-minded dedication. They are hand-built works of art and will continue to be an iconic name and listening experience.

Beware of forgeries, scams and the ‘grey imports’

Koetsu cartridges have been well-known, well reputed and highly desired for almost 50 years. However, their unique sonic attributes, cost and rarity have made them a target for scammers and producers of fakes & forgeries. It is tempting for people looking for this level of sound quality to try to save costs if possible and from time to time, cheaper products are offered online that claim to be genuine new Koetsu cartridges. As is true for most things in life, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is! Unfortunately, many people pay substantial sums of money for what is later revealed to be a Koetsu forgery.

To avoid this possibility from happening to you, we recommend that you purchase from an official Koetsu dealer. All of the Koetsu cartridges sold through Nirvana Sound and its dealers come with a Certificate of Authenticity and an individual serial number that provides you with a factory-backed warranty as well as the security and comfort of knowing that your cartridge is genuine. The serial number is recorded on Nirvana Sound’s Koetsu database so that if you want to check the authenticity of your cartridge, it can be confirmed by Nirvana Sound. In the event that you decide to sell it one day, the prospective buyer can also contact Nirvana Sound and check the authenticity of the cartridge, thus providing ownership security and promoting high re-sale values.

There’s a reason why Koetsu’s are copied and forged… because they are so desirable! They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery… However, ensure that your investment in a Koetsu cartridge is secure and free from these concerns by simply buying from an official factory approved dealer.

Koetsu Cartridge Rebuild #1Koetsu Cartridge Rebuild #2

Rebuild your cartridge

Koetsu cartridges are meticulously created using very specific materials and craftmanship. If your cartridge should require service, your authorized Koetsu dealer will arrange for your cartridge to be shipped to Japan for a factory rebuild. All of the parts except for magnets and the body will be replaced to ensure long enjoyment from your investment in a Koetsu. Repairs and re-builds of genuine Koetsu cartridges will also come with a Certificate of Authenticity. Enjoy!

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