Miyajima Saboten L Stereo Cartridge
Miyajima’s Saboten L stereo cartridge, distinguished by a beautiful Cameroon ebony body and a cantilever partly crafted from Japanese cactus spine (the Japanese word for cactus is ‘Saboten’), with a nude line contact stylus tip. The Saboten L is based on the Shilabe but it has a much more extended high frequency range and this results in quite a ‘modern’ sounding thing, but which remains very much a Miyajima. The Saboten L is without question the finest stereo cartridge that we have ever heard, at any price. It is difficult to express in words quite how beautifully this thing play music, whether your taste is classical, blues, rock or jazz. It is a lovely, lovely thing
What Makes Miyajima Cartridges Special?
There is nothing unique about using hardwoods for cartridge bodies, but Miyajima cartridges have a unique, patented design that really is different to any other moving coil cartridge available. Miyajima understood that traditional moving coil cartridges suffer from resonances and distortion, firstly due to the tie-wire that typically holds the cantilever and coil assembly against the magnet pole piece with a compliant insert between to allow some movement. The tie wire has to be very precisely tightened so that the coil assembly is correctly aligned, but its disadvantage is that it resonates, introducing distortion. The second source of distortion is the typical iron coil former of a moving coil cartridge, which actually distorts the lines of magnetic flux between the pole pieces, as it moves through those lines. Miyajima have a patented cross ring coil structure that has a non-magnetic core, neatly side-stepping this problem. The next innovation was to eliminate the tie-wire altogether. Instead, Miyajima use a pointed slide bar that locates the coil assembly very precisely from behind at its pivot point, which is also the centre point of the magnet, while gently pushing the coil assembly against a compliant insert. This means that the coil assembly can pivot unimpeded by a tensioning wire. Here is a helpful animation showing how Miyajima cartridges work:
What’s The End Result?
Miyajima cartridges really do have dramatically lower distortion, compared to other MC cartridges, and these can sound like CD in comparison. The sound is smooth, but don’t think that they are ‘rolled off’ or lacking in ‘bite’ – the smoothness is a reflection of the low distortion. Miyajima cartridges are effortlessly musical too.
The Saboten is effectively derived from the Shilabe, which is a truly lovely thing, but the Saboten L is in quite a different performance league. The cactus spine cantilever is its most obvious distinguishing design feature, but notable is the special nude line contact stylus, which is something of a departure for Miyajima who have until now only used Shibata tips in their top range cartridges. Mr Miyajima has lavished obsessive attention on the cantilever that is not so obvious at a first glance, but he has made it so that the stylus tip actually sits in the true centre line of the cantilever, and therefore of the coils too. Here is a diagram to show how this design compares to a typical cantilever and tip:
The Saboten L takes the strengths of the Shilabe and builds on them with greater top end extension, detail and dynamics. It is a wonderful, astonishing thing; a ‘modern’ sounding Miyajima cartridge that retails the core brand characteristics of low distortion, great purity of sound, and peerless musical expression, whatever genre of music you care to throw at it. The Saboten L is by far the finest stereo cartridge that we have ever used and heard, and we cannot begin to imagine how much more money anyone would have to spend to get something that is truly better at playing music.
I have to stress the tonearm mass requirement. All Miyajima cartridges have low compliance and need mass to work against. I am fortunate to have a Glanz MH-94S tonearm and an old Fidelity Research FR64S, both of which are 30g effective mass and a match truly made in heaven for any Miyajima cartridge and particularly the lowest compliance Shilabe and Sabtoten L models. Don’t even think about putting one of these cartridges in a tonearm having less than 20g effective mass!
Stereophile: Read Art Dudley’s review of the Saboten L here. He sums up the review by stating: “in a nutshell, this beautiful-sounding product embodies everything that’s special about this brand. When it comes to the performance characteristics that matter most to me, I don’t believe I’ve heard another standard-mount cartridge as effective as Miyajima Laboratory’s Saboten L.”
Saboten L Specifications
Body type : Cameroon Ebony
Frequency response : 20Hz to 32kHz
Output level : 0.23mV
Impedance : 16 ohms
Recommended load : 100-250 ohms
Tracking force : 3.0g
Stylus type : Nude Line Contact
Compliance 100Hz : 8×10-6cm/dyne
Weight : 9.5g
Miyajima cartridges are just as likely as any other cartridge to wear out over time, or to suffer accidental damage, so buyers need to be assured that the manufacturer offers an efficient and good value repair and servicing service. This is most important in the case of Miyajima stereo cartridges because the unique way that the generator system is designed and built means that only Miyajima themselves are able to undertake proper servicing, adjustment and repairs. While a third part cartridge re-tipper may be able to fit a new tip to a Miyajima stereo cartridge, they cannot adjust the coils and suspension to suit the new tip, so you as the customer will most likely not get a satisfactory result. We therefore recommend that all Miyajima servicing is done by Miyajima in Japan.
All new Miyajima cartridges supplied in the UK are warranted for 2 years from the date of purchase, against manufacturing defects, and that UK warranty is transferable so not restricted to the original buyer. Miyajima only honour the warranty in the country that a cartridge was originally supplied in, in our case the UK, so any ‘grey imports’ are not covered by any warranty at all and Miyajima do keep records of serial numbers to enforce this policy.
Miyajima’s 2 year warranty does not cover wear and tear, nor accidental damage, so Miyajima UK have come up with what we believe is a very fair offer for customers requiring cartridge servicing, as follows:
- Examination, testing and simple adjustment – just a nominal charge to cover actual postage costs between Miyajima UK and Miyajima in Japan and return. We will confirm that cost in each instance and if the cartridge return coincides with a regular shipment from Japan, then we won’t charge for that postal leg.
- Full service/repair – where a cartridge is worn out or damaged (outside the terms of the warranty) and cannot simply be adjusted back to the manufacturer’s specifications, Miyajima UK will offer a new replacement cartridge at 50% of the current UK retail price. This offer is available only to the original purchaser and not to any subsequent owners.
- In all cases, we send cartridges back to Miyajima in Japan for examination and testing.
If any of that is not clear, or if you have any questions, please get in touch using the contact details at the top of this page.