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Transfiguration Proteus cartridge (again)

Transfiguration Proteus cartridge (again)

I’m not saying that Transfiguration cartridges are like buses, but no sooner have you reviewed one than another comes along, often with the same name! Clearly, Seiji Yoshioka who designs the Transfiguration cartridges can’t stop messing around with his creations. Or, put more diplomatically, he continues to refine them in an attempt to increase their capabilities. The Proteus is top dog in the range, however, and thus incorporates all the latest ideas that Yoshioka has about making a better rock to drag through a little plastic valley.

On paper at least, this year’s Proteus is not very different to its predecessor. It has the same aluminium body, solid boron cantilever and PA diamond stylus. The magnets are still neodymium at both ends and the internal impedance remains an uncannily low one Ohm. What has changed are the silver coils; these have increased in purity by, wait for it, 0.0004% to 99.9997%. And while we know that everything matters in audio reproduction, it’s surprising that this sort of change should be audible even to a master of the art. One likes to imagine a guy like the one who makes eyes for the replicants in Blade Runner, and as neither Transfiguration nor its parent company Immutable Music appear to have a website and there are no pictures whatsoever of Yoshioka-san online, that’s the way he will stay… in my mind at least.

What probably makes a bigger difference is that there are also fewer turns in each coil, which reduces moving mass and makes it easier for the stylus to track the smallest nuances in the groove. As with the original Proteus, the latest version has double dampers in a push-pull arrangement. However, the compound that these are made from has been changed. Yoshioka-san won’t divulge what material he used in the past and definitely won’t divulge what is used now, but he will say that he has combined layers of different elastomers to increase tracking precision. The goal was apparently to deliver, “increased depth and more natural tone but most importantly an even more musically involving presentation.” Which is heartening to hear, as it is all too easy for engineers to get lost down a detail resolution rabbit hole and come up with a musically challenged product. Yoshioka-san is clearly of a more sensitive disposition.

The Proteus retains its yokeless, double ring magnet design with the coils placed at the focal point of the flux produced by the magnetic field. While the internal impedance has not changed, the recommended loading for it has. Previously this was set at greater than 10 Ohms, but with the new model Transfiguration is being even less precise, noting that anything over one Ohm should be tried with step-up transformers, and that loads between 10 and 180 Ohms should be tried with active gain stages. But it does say that “100 Ohms may be the best compromise”, which will be a relief to all of us whose phono stages are fixed at that impedance.

 

I tried the new Proteus on a Vertere MG-1 with SG-1 tonearm and got first class immediacy, excellent speed, and bass power. This resulted in very real sounding percussion on Bugge Wesseltoft’s Trialogue album [Jassland]. Double bass produced a gorgeous low throb and underpinned a full-scale image that was totally separate from the loudspeakers, the sound being remarkably clean and controlled, yet as pacey and dynamic as the turntable allowed.

On a Rega RP10 with its RB2000 arm, the Proteus delivered more bass power on Jeff Beck’s Live At Ronnie Scotts [Shock] and while it couldn’t open up this frustratingly compressed slab of vinyl, it does render the guitar more effectively than usual, pulling it out of the deluge of drumming in ‘Beck’s Bolero’. On a far older recording of Marty Paich’s Big Band [The New York Scene on Discovery and featuring Art Pepper, Victor Feldman, and Jimmy Giuffre – he knew how to pick ‘em], the cartridge let me appreciate just what great musicians these guys were at their peak. It brought out the nimbleness of the playing and the tone that they managed to produce. In truth, this album has rarely sounded so good and the cartridge is a large part of that result.

With a decent contemporary release such as Modern Cool by Patricia Barber [Premonition], you get a more visceral presence thanks to the bass extension and dynamics on this remarkable recording. The Proteus extols all its virtues with relish, revealing the fine cymbal work that often gets lost in the mix, as well as the cryptic attack on music reviewers in the lyrics that I had not noticed before, so low level detail is clearly very well served. As is the way that the acoustic varies so much between Jaco’s bass and Joni Mitchell’s guitar on Mingus [Asylum]; there is so much space between them because the bass is placed well back in the soundstage with its own distinct acoustic, all of which significantly increases the realism and presence of the performance.

Moving over to the SME 20/3 turntable and arm playing Chasing the Dragon’s remarkable recording of the Four Seasons, I was struck by the quality of timbre that the Proteus managed to reveal. The original instruments have rarely sounded so distinctive and, well, woody. This, combined with beautiful musical flow and the tremendous vivacity of the performance, is unveiled with ease and no apparent character on the cartridge’s part. The way that it can deliver fluency with inner detail alongside the full weight of larger instruments is particularly beguiling.

Back on the Rega RP10, the result was even greater realism and musical engagement in the context of remarkable image depth and scale. The groove was presented in totally effortless fashion and backed up by layers of fine detail, the sound expanding out into the room. I love the way that the Proteus can present such rich detail without any tendency to sound analytical, and it reminds you that digital still has a long way to go before it can claim the crown of highest fidelity. A good digital system will give you a more polished and weighty sound, but it won’t produce a living, breathing musical performance in the way that a great turntable with a fabulous cartridge like this can. I can’t tell you exactly what the new Proteus is doing that its predecessor didn’t, but I can say that it improves upon those both neutral and musically engaging qualities of the original, at a level that few cartridges can match.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Low output moving coil phono cartridge

Stylus/Cantilever: PA (3×30µm) diamond stylus with 0.3mm boron cantilever

Tracking Force: 1.7g – 2.2g optimum 2.0g

Load: step-up >1 Ohms, active gain 10–180 Ohms

Compliance: 13 x 10–6cm/dyne

Output (at 1 kHz @ 3.45cm/s): 0.2 mv

Weight: 7.8g (without stylus cover)

Price: £3,995

Manufacturer: Immutable Music Inc

Distributor: Decent Audio

Tel: 056 0205 4669

URL: transfigurationcartridges.co.uk 

Tags: FEATURED

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