Excel Sound Corporation Hana E and S Series Moving-Coil Cartridges

Three Very Good Values and One Overachiever

Equipment report
Excel Sound Corporation EH,
Excel Sound Corporation EL,
Excel Sound Corporation SH,
Excel Sound Corporation SL
Excel Sound Corporation Hana E and S Series Moving-Coil Cartridges

The only ’tables I had in-house for use during the Hana cartridge evaluation were my reference Basis Audio 2800 Vacuum and Basis Audio Debut Vacuum models (both hosting Basis Audio Vector IV tonearms). My colleague, Neil Gader, and I agreed that using a high-quality ’table and ’arm of known properties and low colorations to evaluate a cartridge is a good approach, which is what the Basis combination provides. (This is something I usually do as a matter of course when evaluating cartridges and getting at the essence of the component’s performance characteristics.) However, the distributor later supplied a lower-cost ’table/’arm, the Clearaudio Performance DC Wood with Satisfy Carbon Fiber tonearm, to include in cartridge evaluations. In addition to another turntable installation this resulted in a doubling of the workload to over 16-plus cartridge installations.

After all of the installation/setups, ’table/’arm combinations, and phonostage cycling, the Hana cartridges demonstrated excellent value (EH and EL), excellent performance (SH), and exceptional all-around performance (SL) in their price categories. All of the Hana cartridges have a musically engaging presentation. There are no bothersome sharp edges on musical transients that can detract from enjoyment. There is a slight polishing (or rounding) of large bass transients that make them inviting without sounding soft or rounded to the point of being ill-defined. A contrabass still sounds correct whether plucked or bowed. “So Far Away” from the excellent Mobile Fidelity reissue of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms LP still packs a strong low-end punch that creates a visceral reaction. Dynamic linearity, while not at the level of some of the much more expensive cartridges I’ve heard, is very even across the frequency spectrum. Overall, the cartridges are pretty solid performers. These are the kind of cartridges that you can use without wondering if you’re getting good value and performance for the money.

When adjusted for output levels, the low-output versions (EL and SL) present a deep and wide soundstage that is coherent, believable, and fundamentally solid. On “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance” from Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New LP, the layering is there for the orchestra, band, and singer, as expected. The ebb and flow of the orchestral strings come as a wave of motion within the recesses of the soundstage. By contrast, the high-output versions of the cartridge (EH and SH) bring much of the presentation forward, moving the listener closer to the performance. The soundstage layering is now a little more compact and diffuse but no less coherent, believable, and fundamentally sound. That ebb and flow of the orchestra are now slightly more gelatinous and forward in the mix. There is also a slight bit of blurring of the soundstage possibly due to the increased coil impedance of the high-output models. Overall, the performance is still very good.

The elliptical pair (EL and EH) have similar traits of slightly reduced high-frequency extension where bells and cymbals, while listenable, are less present and less detailed. Ronstadt’s vocals take on a hint of rawness compared to the Shibata duo, which is often typical for elliptical-stylus-equipped cartridges. The Shibata Hana’s (SH and SL) are models of sonic purity with very low perceived distortion. The SH and SL both make Ronstadt’s vocals polished and pure even during her most dynamic passages. There is an additional level of delicate clarity with cymbals, bells, and strings that would make some high-dollar competition take notice. The level of transparency generated by these Shibata cartridges at this price point is something to admire.

The Hana (EL and EH) get a solid recommendation for their $475 price point. The Hana-SH gets an easy recommendation for the sub-$999 category and quite possibly beyond. The Hana-SL is the gem of the lineup and can easily fit in any ’table/’arm combination that will accommodate a 0.5mV output. With the Hana-SL, the user can rest assured the cartridge will support the next ’table/’arm “upgrade” and will provide a clear baseline from which to judge if any future cartridge “upgrade” is warranted. The Hana-SL is strongly being considered as an addition to my choices of moving-coil cartridges to use for ’table/’arm evaluations and—more importantly—musical enjoyment. Yes, it’s that good.

Specs & Pricing

Type: Moving-coil
Output level at 1kHz: 0.5mV (SL and EL), 2.0mV (SH and EH)
Channel balance at 1kHz: <1.5dB (SH and SL), <2.0dB (EH and EL)
Channel separation at 1kHz: >28dB (SH and SL), >25dB (EH and EL)
Frequency response: 15Hz–32kHz (SH and SL), 15Hz–25kHz (EH and EL)
Tracking ability at 2 grams: 70µm
Compliance: 10
Stylus type: Nude diamond Shibata (SH and SL), synthetic elliptical (EH and EL)
Cantilever material: Aluminum
Recommended tracking force: 2.0 grams
Internal impedance at 1kHz: 30 ohms (SL and EL), 130 ohms (SH and EH)
Recommended load impedance: >400 ohms (SL and EL), 47k ohms (SH and EH)
Cartridge weight: 5 grams
Price: EH and EL, $475; SH and SL, $750

Excel Sound Corporation
3-7-37, Shin-yoshida-Higashi, Kohoku-ku
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan 223-0058

Musical Surroundings (U.S. Distributor)
5662 Shattuck Ave.
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 547-5006

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