What Makes Miyajima Cartridges Special?
There is nothing unique about using African Blackwood 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