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Sumiko Blue Point.

Manufacturer: Sumiko, 2431 Fifth St., Berkeley, CA 94710; 510/843-4500

Price: $195

Source: Manufacturer loan

Reviewer: James T. Frane

A few years ago Sumiko introduced the high output moving coil Blue Point cartridge. It did well in the market and had a number of favorable reviews. Sumiko's stated goal was to combine the sound of a moving coil cartridge with the higher output of a moving magnet cartridge. This combination permitted using the cartridge with any phono preamp, without the need for special signal-boosting electronics. Sumiko has now put the original Blue Point's successor on the market. This new version is reported to have a modified body structure to further enhance its sound characteristics, although details were not provided.

The cartridge body is -- not surprisingly -- a medium-blue color. One-quarter-inch-thick side projections have slots for mounting the cartridge to the head shell using bolts and nuts.

The Blue Point's output is 2.5 mV, which should be adequate to drive most phono preamps. My reference cartridges, the Grado Prestige Red and the Shure V15-V MRLE, are both slightly higher than the Blue Point at 4.0 mV and 3.2 mV, respectively. The Blue Point weighs in at 6 grams, the same as the Grado, and 0.6 g lighter than the Shure.

The Blue Point comes with stylus cleaning brush and the usual tiny bolts and nuts for mounting. My head shell wire slip-on connectors were too large in diameter to fit the pins on the back of the Blue Point, having been connected to the pins of a Shure V-15, type IV. I decreased the connector diameters by inserting a map pin in each sleeve and squeezing gently with pliers. The downside of this fix will be when I install a cartridge with larger pins. I'll then have to carefully enlarge the sleeves. Other than this fix, installation was easy. A clear plastic stylus guard slips on the bottom of the cartridge and provides excellent protection while the cartridge is being installed or is not in use. The unusually shaped instruction booklet is 12 pages long and addresses multiple cartridges in the Sumiko line. The booklet has an unusual horizontal rectangular shape that is 2.5" by 6.25". A summary table on the back page provides performance and tracking force information about each cartridge. Installation instructions were minimal, cautioning only about being careful to prevent stylus and cantilever damage plus making sure of proper side-to-side alignment.

I used the Mobile Fidelity Geo-Disc cartridge alignment tool to check alignment on all three cartridges. Each was mounted in its own Dual head shell both to minimize the time required to swap cartridges, and reduce the chance of stylus damage during handling.

The rated frequency response in the literature of the Blue Point is 15 Hz to 35 kHz (no variance is given), with a listed channel separation of 32 dB and channel balance within 0.5 dB. The elliptical stylus is 0.003" x 0.007", and the tracking force range is 1.5 g to 1.8 g (1.7 g is recommended).

Associated Equipment: The power amplifier was a Parasound HCA-1000A controlled by a Carver CT-17 tuner/pre-amplifier. Speakers were Mach One model M-Two 2-way acoustic suspension satellites and two NHT model SW3 subwoofers run in dual mono, driven by an NHT SA-3 amplifier. Interconnect cables were by Gotham and Monster Cable, and speaker cables were Kimber 4PR, with Original Monster Cable to the subwoofers. The turntable was a Dual CS5000. Other cartridges were a Grado Prestige Red and a Shure V15-V MRLE (Micro Ridge [stylus], Limited Edition).

Tests: I compared the Blue Point to the Shure V15 Type V MRLE and to the Grado Prestige Red. I used the Shure Era IV TTR 115 test record (Shure 29A1158 (QK)), which has a number of tracks of single instruments and instrumental combinations playing a portion of "Greensleeves" at increasingly higher levels.

Level 2 is 6 dB louder than Level 1, and Levels 3, 4, and 5 are each 2 dB louder than the preceding level. Using the Shure-suggested symbols as follows, the table below compares the results of the cartridges on each of the levels. Where the results appeared to be between performance designations, I showed both symbols, such as 0-S, to mean a slight mistracking. All three cartridges were set to their respective recommended tracking forces, which were 1.7 g for the Blue Point, and 1.5 g for both the Shure and Grado. The effective force of the Shure stylus is decreased by 0.5 grams by the stabilizer/brush. This stabilizer/brush has a damping effect on the stylus, assisting in keeping the stylus in the groove under difficult conditions. Anti-skate was set at 1.4 for the Blue Point, and 1.2 for the Grado and the Shure.
0 = tracks well

S = mistracks slightly

X = mistracks

XX = gross distortion or skips grooves

Note: After each cartridge, for each level (1-5),
the first column reflects bells, the second,
flute; the third, harp; the fourth, harp and
flute; the fifth, flute and bells.

Blue Point:
Level 1 0 0 0 0 0
Level 2 0 0-S 0 0-S 0-S
Level 3 0-S S 0-S S S
Level 4 S S-X 0-S X S-X
Level 5 S-X X S XX X

Shure:
Level 1 0 0 0 0 0
Level 2 0 0 0 0-S 0-S
Level 3 0 0-S 0 S 0-S
Level 4 0-S S-X 0 X S
Level 5 S X S X X

Grado:
Level 1 0 0 0 0 0
Level 2 0 0-S 0 0-S 0-S
Level 3 0-S S 0-S S S
Level 4 S S-X 0-S X S-X
Level 5 S-X X S XX X


I used the white noise cut of the Realistic HiFi/Stereo Review Model 211 Test Record (Catalog No. 50-1001) to compare frequency response of the cartridges. I placed the calibrated microphone of my ADC SS-525X analyzer/equalizer 1 foot in front of the left speaker, on the tweeter centerline of the Mach Ones. Both left and right speakers were on. I then reran the tests using the Soundcraftsman test record (ITR-3292) with a Radio Shack sound level meter in the same position in front of the left speaker. This time, I turned the balance control so that only the left speaker was running. This was because a simultaneous 1000 Hz reference tone is in the other channel with this test record, and it would interfere with the measurements. Frequency responses were very similar between the cartridges, with the Shure and Grado both having slightly better bass and midbass output. Outputs over the remainder of the range were very close.

Listening: I used a variety of records and types of music to audition the Blue Point and compare its output to the Shure and the Grado. On the Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Bluette" from Time Out (Columbia CS 8192), the Blue Point had a slightly deeper soundstage with a bit more ambiance than the Shure, but the Shure's bass was more solid and deeper. The Grado combined the air of the Blue Point with the bass of the Shure. "Far More Drums" from Time Further Out (Columbia CS8490) was portrayed by the Blue Point with very good highs, soundstage width and depth, ambiance, and detail. The Shure had slightly less ambiance, but more solid bass. The Grado had more bass impact and body than the Blue Point with similar stage width and depth.

On "Greensleeves" from the LP Paul Desmond and the Modern Jazz Quartet (Finesse FW 37487), the Blue Point cast a somewhat shallow soundstage in comparison to the Grado. The front-to-back separation of performers with the Blue Point was not as great, but percussion was clear, and imaging was focused. Instrument tonality, while good with the Blue Point, did not quite measure up to the Grado. The Shure fell in between the Blue Point and the Grado.

The Blue Point's rendition of Julie London sounded very good on "You Do Something to Me" from All Through the Night (Liberty LST-74324). The soundstage extended beyond the outside edges of the speakers with good depth, ambiance, and detail. On "So In Love" from the same record, there was great bass, ambiance, and super detail of percussive attacks, highs were clear and extended. The image was very three-dimensional, and Julie's voice was very warm and realistic. The Shure and the Grado had a bit fuller bass, and the Grado had a deeper stage.

Little Richard, performing "Lucille" from Little Richard's 17 Original Hits (Specialty 2113), sounded leaner on the Blue Point than on the other two cartridges. The Shure had a slightly wider and more layered soundstage than the Blue Point, and the Grado was wider, yet. Both of the latter had fuller bass.

On Aretha Franklin's "You'll Lose a Good Thing" from Runnin' Out of Fools (Columbia CS9081), the Blue point reproduced a credible soundstage, although slightly narrower than with the other cartridges. Aretha was centered, but a bit forward of the stage. Her voice sounded natural, and details were good. The Shure had more detail, and both the Shure and the Grado reproduced greater ambiance, with the Grado having the most. Aretha was nearly three-dimensional with the Grado. The music had a bit more body and bass with these two cartridges.

The Blue Point's reproduction of the soft background detail on Johnny Mathis' "Until the 12th of Never" from Johnny's Greatest Hits (Columbia PC 34667) was softer and less distinct than on either the Grado or the Shure. This was particularly noticeable on the soft harp. There was good orchestral spread and depth with all three transducers.

The CBS Masterworks recording (IM39345) of Yo Yo Ma playing Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major had a little more ambiance on the Blue Point than on the Shure. The Grado had the most realistic instrument tone and the most focused image. It also had deeper and more solid bass. Having heard this work live in my listening room provides me with the best standard of comparison. While my system isn't as good as live, it came closest with the Grado.

Richard Stoltzman's playing of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto with the English Chamber Orchestra (RCA Red Seal ARL1-3934) had a rich tone on the Blue Point, with a bit more ambiance, particularly around the clarinet, than did the Shure. Clarinet tone on the Shure had a bit of a hard edge to it. Both cartridges cast the same width stage. The Grado extended the stage width a bit beyond the outside edges of the speakers. Clarinet detail and tone were more realistic, and the overall performance was more three-dimensional with increased stage depth.

Summary: The Sumiko Blue Point cartridge was a good performer, and can be considered a reasonable value. I compared it with the more expensive and several years older Shure V-15 Type V MRLE and the less expensive, contemporary Grado Prestige Red cartridges. There were performance areas where one cartridge or another was sometimes slightly better. In most areas both the Shure and the Grado were equal to or slightly better than the Blue Point in my system.

The Shure and Grado both had slightly, but consistently deeper and more solid bass, as established both by subjective listening and sound pressure level measurement. Both exhibited slightly better tracking of high level signals; signal levels which are not likely to be encountered often. The Shure's dynamic stabilizer has a damping effect that enables it to track warped records better than the other two cartridges. The Blue Point reproduced ambiance and highs quite well, sometimes better than the Shure, but never quite as well as the Grado. The Blue Point's soundstage and reproduction of background detail was not quite as good as that of the other two cartridges. The Blue Point may have had a very slight edge in dynamics over the Shure, and the Grado had even more edge over the Blue Point. With instrument tonality and realism, the Grado had a slight edge over the other two. Male and female voices were good on all three.

Bear in mind that the phono cartridge has to act in synergy with the head shell, tonearm, and turntable. Each cartridge/tonearm/turntable combination may yield a slightly different listening experience. The relative performance of these three cartridges that I experienced might vary with other combinations of the record-playing system components. These are all good cartridges. The differences that I have described are readily and consistently identifiable, but are not huge. Any of these cartridges might be found on sale or otherwise slightly discounted. In this three-way comparison, the Grado was the clear price v. performance winner in my system. The Blue Point, while pleasant to listen to, suffered a bit by direct comparison in many areas in my system. But it appears to be of good quality, has many redeeming features, and is definitely worthy of an audition. -- JTF
COPYRIGHT 1999 Sensible Sound
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Author:Frane, James T.
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 1999
Words:2163
Previous Article:Sumiko Blue Point Special.
Next Article:The $ensible Choice List: Phonograph Cartridges.
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