Fortunately, my local dealer, Pearl Audio, set up the Kiseki in combination with the latest Tri-Planar U-2 tonearm and upgraded Merrill-Williams REAL101.3 turntable. John Loranger and his team at Pearl did a masterful job! The cartridge tracking force was set at 2.4 grams. I tried loading the Kiseki at the recommended 400 ohms, but I preferred it at 525 ohms on the brilliant Conrad-Johnson TEA1-S3B phonostage.
On the Telarc Omnidisc, the Kiseki performed at the highest levels on a series of tracking torture tests using musical examples. It easily navigated the five canon shots on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the massed chorus singing in Orf’s Carmina Burana, the initial attacks of the piano on Chopin’s Tarantelle in A-flat major, and the timpani/bass drum/double bass passages on Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. There was also no breakup as the trumpets entered on Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. (Undoubtedly, the Kiseki’s outstanding performance was also owed to the precision Tri-Planar U-2 tonearm.)
Female vocals can be utterly mesmerizing via the Kiseki. With The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals [Analogue Productions] as a reference, there was no hint of added sibilance and the voices floated on a cushion of air, with richness, body, and clarity. Previously unheard fine details emerged that helped create the illusion of the performers being in my listening room. On another recording of female voice featuring the recently departed Mirella Freni, French and Italian Opera Arias [EMI], there was no hint of sibilance even on her soaring and dynamic high notes. Her vocal timbre was gorgeous with stunning transparency and explosive dynamics. Fine details emerged effortlessly—like her delicate breath, the saliva in her mouth, the leading edges of consonants, etc. Massed strings and horns were also beautifully rendered. I was swept away into the heart of the music.
On Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring [Reference Recordings], instruments were arrayed across a wide and deep stage and the effect was thrilling. Tympani strikes made me shudder, and there was no audible distortion or mistracking. Massed strings were naturally rich yet detailed, and the bass power was visceral but articulate. There was not only a lot of air around the performers but also emanating from them. If you attend live concerts, you know what I mean. The air hits your breastbone on loud passages, and you feel it. This cartridge excels at both micro and macro dynamics without losing its composure. I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a more thrilling experience listening to this piece, except in a concert hall. I was glued to my seat.
Did I mention that the Kiseki can also rock? Listening to Mobile Fidelity’s remarkable new Ultradisc One-Step pressing of Fragile by Yes, I thought I was at a live concert, except the sound was less distorted and more articulate than what one typically hears through a speaker system at a rock concert. It had all the fine detail you might want, yet there was no stridency in the vocals. Admittedly, Rick Wakeman’s Hammond organ got a little close to the hairy edge, but it was recorded that way.
It’s difficult for me to find any sonic fault with the Kiseki PurpleHeart. Unfortunately, my only experience with expensive, reference-quality phono cartridges has been at industry tradeshows. A few of these high-end cartridges arguably may outperform the Kiseki on certain attributes, like tracking ability or top-end extension, but most do not. However, they all come at a significant price premium. I must defer to my esteemed colleague and friend Jonathan Valin on the best of the reference cartridges, but the Kiseki is a definite contender.
Some commentators think that image depth is an artifact of the recording process, but I don’t care. I love having the 3-D effect this cartridge produces, and it’s what I hear in live concerts in good halls. I don’t mind bathing in the third dimension.