Kiseki PurpleHeart NS Moving-Coil Phono Cartridge

The Heart of the Music

Equipment report
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Cartridges
Kiseki PurpleHeart NS Moving-Coil  Phono Cartridge

Many years ago, when my original Kiseki PurpleHeart Saphhire moving-coil cartridge finally expired after several years of faithful service, a lot of the magic in my audio system disappeared. I purchased it several decades ago, based on the strong recommendation of my local dealer at the time, dB Audio, and a quite favorable mini-review in a moving-coil cartridge survey in TAS (Issue 34, Summer 1984). HP found it to be “a great cartridge” and remarked on its ability to produce a “very, very wide and deep soundstage,” as well as its excellence at reproducing low-level information in complex passages. He also praised its neutrality and transparency. 

I hadn’t planned on such a splurge, but I trusted the dealer, and after hearing it I had to have it. My Kiseki was set up expertly by John Hunter (who eventually moved on to Sumiko and later to REL). To say I was in heaven with its performance would be an understatement. Here was a moving-coil cartridge of moderately low output (0.4mV) that had a captivating harmonic richness without any sacrifice in overall transient speed and clarity, along with an ability to dig deep into the groves to extract fine details. It also produced a wide and focused soundstage and the most image depth and width—to the back and side walls of the stage—of any cartridge in my experience. The soundstage was holographic.

Like all moving-coil cartridges eventually do, my original Kiseki PHS spit the bit after several years of demanding use. Brian Hartzell of The Analog Room arranged to get the Kiseki “re-tipped” by AJ Van den Hul, and I was able to squeeze several more years out of it until it finally gave up the ghost. I moved on to a Koestu Black Goldline cartridge, a wonderfully musical performer, but some of the Kiseki’s most appealing attributes, notably its transient speed, transparency, and image depth, were missing. Over the years, I have tried and appreciated several other excellent mid-priced moving-coil performers from Clearaudio, Ortofon, and Benz, but I have never been able to recapture the magic offered by the Kiseki PurpleHeart Sapphire. 

While reviewing some of the initial PrimaLuna DiaLogue electronics, I came to learn from Upscale Audio’s Kevin Deal that PrimaLuna’s Herman van den Dungen was the driving design force behind the Kiseki, and I politely, but insistently, “begged” both of them to bring it back. In 2012, I snagged one of the first new Kiseki’s available and was a very happy camper until recently, when the cartridge’s suspension started to sag. Kevin offered to exchange my 2012 Kiseki PurpleHeart for a “new and improved” version of the reissue. 

Happily, this “new” and most recent Kiseki PurpleHeart ($3199) captures all the magic of the original—and then some. At the same time, the newest version is quite different from the original. While they both use boron cantilevers, the latest has a different mounting method for the diamond, and on the newest version (compared to my earlier 2012 one) the coils are wound from gold instead of oxygen-free copper. The latest Kiseki uses a new, innovative method of winding the coils that does two things according to Kevin Deal: It increases transient speed and frequency extension, while also eliminating any sense of harshness and sibilance. I concur with Kevin’s assessment, although I never detected any sense of harshness or sibilance in any version of the Kiseki PurpleHearts that I’ve owned. I might also add that in the latest iteration of the cartridge, I hear even better bass performance and power, and transparency is simply stunning.

Additionally, the newest version of the Kiseki PurpleHeart gets closer to the sound of the mastertape. There’s a harmonic naturalness and freedom from distortion that sucks one into the music. I found myself relaxing into the sound, as I do when listening to mastertapes on a great reel-to-reel deck, like the United Home Audio Phase 12.

The Kiseki PurpleHeart excels at reproducing all genres of music, from intimate solo and chamber works to big band jazz, heavy metal, and powerful orchestral pieces. I listen to a lot of solo piano recordings, and the Kiseki reproduces the dynamics, power, and percussive attacks of that instrument as well as or better than any cartridge in my experience. For example, on the live piano recital Sokolov: Salzburg Recital [Deutsche Grammophon], the piano had harmonic richness, amazing clarity, powerful and articulate bass, and sparkling (but not bright) highs. As the audience applauded, I felt like I was in the concert hall. Moreover, listening to the new Reference Recordings reissue of Nojima Plays Liszt, I could swear I was listening to the mastertape on my UHA Phase 12 tape deck. The surface noise was so low using the Kiseki—the lowest of any of the cartridges I have owned—that I was fooled.