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Proceeding from Denon to Miyajima we do not merely jump across price categories. We enter a whole different universe. The Denon remains a splendid cartridge which really works well with the Scheu Classic Mk2 tone arm - but it does not fully allow the turntable to show what it can really do. For one the Shilabe really digs out the low bass. While it seems that the Denon and similar cartridges fare quite well, changing to the Miyajima shows that we are talking about a similar but very different thing.
When a small child starts talking by mumbling ‘mama’ or ‘papa’ we are enchanted and call it brilliant. This repeats when the child stands on the school's stage reciting a poem. We clap our hands hard as hell utterly certain that a new master of recitation is born (and that we had something to do with it).
That’s also the case for the DL-103. By comparison the Miyajima is a fully finished project, a true master orator, a mighty promise fulfilled. Without waxing lyrical the sound of this cartridge supports all manner of moods by stretching into many dimensions. One of those relates to the sonic character which is slightly warm and very vivid. I said the same thing about the Waza but there the warmth imprinted itself on every record and the character of the cartridge overlaid the uniqueness of the different black matter to homogenize it a bit. The Shilabe does something similar—everything is very pleasant—but it allows for a wider margin of freedom. It calls less attention by receding discreetly into the background. We feel that it is somewhere around but cannot pinpoint exactly where.
Let’s talk bass. The low pulse from Kraftwerk’s Tour de France Soundtracks was gorgeous. It had such physical energetic attacks that even my reference Air Tight PC-1 Supreme couldn’t do better. And this bass was very well controlled, perhaps not as tight as with the Air Tight but the differences were small and the price twice as high. I was aware that the designer here is completely immersed in the analog world. His vision of sound is clearly about vividness and energy. It is important of course that the bass flow smoothly into the midrange. Mel Tormé from the Japanese Swings Shubert Alley pressing sounded great but what else would you expect?
Different than with the Waza or the aforementioned Ortofon SPU Synergy A his voice wasn’t pushed to the front of the lineup. With them he’d been super smooth but a bit sugar coated and caramel sounding. Here he was cleaner and his presence was not built around boosting a part of the sound spectrum but on very good resolution and dynamics.
Differentiation with the Shilabe also is above average regardless of price but does not stand out in any way. The Air Tight has even superior resolution and microdynamics but I suspect that with some discs it actually goes a step too far by highlighting flaws of the pressing and errors of the recording. The Shilabe diamond shows these elements sufficiently and nicely differentiates between various pressings but it does so discreetly - subcutaneous if you will. For this we pay with a slight rounding of the attack and a less deep soundstage than the PC-1 Supreme. Certain tradeoffs we have to take into account.