Over the years Yamamoto Sound Craft has garnered universal praise for their single-ended tube amplifiers. Their line of amplifiers, preamplifiers and DIY parts are exquisitely hand crafted and wholly unique. Being a single-ended triode (SET) audiophile and DIY'er myself, I have often been seen surfing the pages of the Yamamoto website lusting over the extremely cool creations of Shigeki Yamamoto. A number of years ago, one of my good friends who is also an SET fanatic started building a new system. Mark had already purchased a pair of Terry Cain's Abbeys in the dark red stain. His next purchase was the extremely nice sounding Opera Audio Droplet CD player, again in the deep red stain. Next thing I know, Mark shows up at my place holding this fantastic looking piece of kit, the Yamamoto A-08 300B amplifier. Since we are both DIYers, we immediately pulled the bottom cover of the bottom of the amp so we could marvel over the construction. Mark had already had a preview but this was my first look behind the curtain. I remember literally uttering oohs and aahs as we drooled at what another master craftsman had created.
Eventually Mark ended up getting the matching Yamamoto CA-04 preamp and the HA-02 headphone amplifier. The system synergy between all of these pieces is quite stunning. On one of the trips to experience Marks system, I made the suggestion to try the Yamamoto A-08 on the top panel of his Innersound Eros. Although I've heard several people state this shouldn't work, it did. In fact, the A-08 driving the Innersound panels sounds excellent. It restored the harmonics that were missing with the Innersound solid state amp. In turn Mark liked the sound so much he even tried a 2A3 SET on top. He said is sounded pretty cool but there just wasn't enough headroom with 3 watts.
This brings us to Mark's latest investment, the Yamamoto YC-03s low output moving coil cartridge and the HS-01s headshell. One day out of the blue I get this phone call from Mark where he says, "I got a new toy that you just have to hear, when can I come over?". So, about a week later Mark, me and another of the local audiophiles find ourselves setting up my Opera LP-5 turntable outfitted with the Dynavector 507 MkII tonearm with Mark's new YC-03s mounted to the HC-01s.
We first started listening to was the excellent sounding Music Maker III (HO) cartridge. After a side or two we decided to step up to my Van DenHul modified Spectral MCR Signature. Needless to say, everything changed when we moved to the VDH Spectral. After a few sides with the Spectral we popped in the Yamamoto YC-03s. This is one of the things I love about the Dynavector 507, when you decide you want to listen to a different cartridge (for whatever reason), within three minutes you can have the headshells swapped out, the tracking force reset, VTA readjusted and be spinning vinyl again. OK, I missed a setup step or two in there but once you have a cart setup on the DV-507 all you have to do is make note of the settings, establish a zero balance then reset to your previous settings. This arm is perfect for those who want or need this type of flexibility. As an example, those of us that own a number of different cartridges and want to enjoy each of them and their virtues on a regular basis.
Anyway, after mounting the YC-03s to the DV-507 we dropped the needle on the record we'd been listening to, Pure Audiophile's reissue of Art Blakey's Keystone 3. Within a half dozen notes I could hear that this little test was going to cost me some serious money. Forget about the fact that we all shouldn't follow our initial impressions of a new piece of gear, we need to spend as much time with something as we can before we make the big commitment but in this case, I could hear exactly what the other carts had been doing wrong almost immediately.
We continued to force our favorite musicians to get dizzy for the rest of the afternoon with a brief photographic interlude of this gorgeous looking combination. Within a few short days of hearing the YC-03s I had drafted an email to Shigeki Yamamoto requesting to purchase my own…yes that's right, purchase.
When it comes to the actual design of the inner workings of the cart, this is where things get a little hazy. If you've ever read the Yamamoto website, obviously English is their distant second language. This is absolutely fine as the only Japanese I know is what stuck with me from watching James Clavell's Shogun mini-series thirty years ago, so proper interpretation of design details may get sort of lost in translation.
After a conversation or two with Yamamoto-san, I was able to determine that he has chosen to use neodymium (neozium as listed on their website is a mistake) magnets as the motor for the YC-03s. He has also chosen to drill holes in the magnets and use screws for mounting the motor to the body in lieu of using adhesives as seen in other cartridges. The cantilever is constructed of solid boron and utilizes a line contact stylus profile, my personal favorite. As it is with every quality line contact stylus I've listened to, it is dead quiet as it sails through the grooves. As a damper for the boron cantilever, the YC-03s uses rubber. On the back side of the cartridge, Yamamoto has chosen to use Bakelite to mount the gold plated bronze cartridge pins in lieu of plastic or other resin.
According to Yamamoto, the typical MC cartridge utilizes a 0.06 to a 0.08mm piano wire which acts as a support for the internal workings of the cartridge. The YC-03s uses a 0.14mm wire which creates a more rigid support system. As a result, this raises compliance and creates a slight rise in the high frequencies of this cartridge. This rise can be compensated for in the loading of the cartridge. In a conversation with Yamamoto-san, he described the overall effect of this thicker support wire as making a "strong and energetic sound". If you skip ahead to the conclusion of this article, you'll see that I described the sound of this cartridge as being "exciting and full of jump". I find it interesting that I came to that same conclusion before our email exchange actually took place.
When it comes to the Yamamoto HS-01A headshell, as you can see it is a finely crafted thing of beauty that matches the YC-03s cartridge. Again, it is precision machined from a piece of African Ebony. The lead wires that come with the headshell are OFC wrapped in Teflon dielectric with gold plated cartridge clips. The pins of the headshell are also gold plated. In my case, I chose to use the Yamamoto BT-1 titanium cartridge screws (sold separately) because of their properties of high strength and lower comparative weight than the gold plated brass screws.
After getting the YC-03s cartridge loosely mounted to the headshell I pulled out my Dynavector headshell overhang template and dialed that in. Next I grabbed my Dr. Feickert Analogue protractor for tonearm setup (watch for the review soon). On this nifty little device you can not only properly set up your arm but it also has null points for both Baerwald and Lofgren "B" cartridge alignment geometries. This is one handy (and darned accurate) gizmo that won't cost you much money. I debated a bit on which geometry to use but opted for the Baerwald. Maybe as part of the Dr. Feickert article I'll play with both and write a bit about them.
Together the YC-03s cart and the HS1 weighs 20 grams. In my case with the Dynavector I could choose from the A or C sub-arm counterweight. Again, not knowing the compliance of the YC-03s, I needed to do some easy testing to see which counterweight would work the best keeping to the optimal 8Hz to 15Hz resonant arm frequency. So out comes the ever-so-handy Hi-Fi News and Record Review Test Record. I started with the lighter of the two counterweights, the A. With the Yamamoto YC-03s and Yamamoto HS-1As headshell, the A counterweight sits towards the end of the DV 507 sub-arm assembly giving me an (overall) lower effective mass. I measured the lateral and vertical resonant frequencies with this counterweight. Then I popped on the considerably heavier C counterweight which raised the effective mass of the arm and measured again. This time the counterweight was snugged up tight to the sub-arm vertical pivot point rather than out at the end. What I found was this:
Counterweight Lateral Resonance Vertical Resonance
A 8Hz 9Hz
C 7Hz 8Hz
As you can see, the C counterweight comes up just a smidge too low on the lateral resonance test. I'm not completely convinced that 1Hz would kill the sound or cause issues on most music, I decided to take the safe route with the A counterweight as it falls within the accepted ‘norms' of conventional tonearm to headshell matching. Let us start with concept most simply stated within the text of the HFNRR liner notes that "with a given mass the resonant frequency goes down as cartridge compliance is increased, or with a given compliance if goes down as mass is increased". Based upon with I've measured and considering the arm/cart relationship, I think is it safe to deduce that the Yamamoto YC-03s is a fairly high compliant cartridge. Unfortunately, I don't have the means to tell you exactly cartridge compliance is but with both measurements being on the low end of acceptability using both sets of counterweights, the compliance is likely quite high.
Since the YC-03s is a whopping .25mV output, you obviously will need a step up transformer or head amp of some sort. I've got an old Signet MK12T (Audio Technica) that I use on occasion. It sounds fairly decent and is supposed to have some cool iron in it. In this case after flipping back and forth between it and my Graham Slee Elevator, the choice was more than obvious. The Slee it was. If you decide to go with a transformer, Yamamoto suggests a 3 ohm cartridge loading.
As I moved on to other venerable music, I couldn't help but have my attention drawn to the exact same things, the little details that have been missing from my vinyl reproduction. On Miles Davis' "So What", again, the gentle taps on the cymbals by James Cobb sound more lifelike and real than on any other cartridge I have ever heard. It is things like the leading edges of notes, those almost minute transient aberrations that you only hear in a live acoustical setting that the Yamamoto YC-03s is reproducing with amazing accuracy.
As I begin to spin tons of other music that span the genres, I am completely taken with the way the YC-03s translates the music contained within the grooves. As I focused on the bass reproduction I found the YC-03s to do a tremendous job. Just as it was with the highs and digging out tons of details, I found when I played organ music by E. Power Biggs or the rather obscure audiophile recording Water Lily Acoustics Trumpet and Organ, Music of the Baroque, the Yamamoto and its line contact stylus profile not only dig into the depths but the bass it produces is extremely clean and accurate. With interpretations of pieces like E. Power Biggs playing Hayden Concerto No.1 in C Major, I Moderato, when EPB steps on the pedal stop and pushes the big bass note out of the 16-foot Sub-bass or Posaune pipe, my room literally shakes.
My friend and recording engineer, the late John Blaine treated a number of us to a recording session where another friend and Organ Master Dennis Bergin performed a couple of organ concerts at some older Cathedrals here in St Louis. When you hear a big pipe organ in a large chapel in person, that sound never leaves you. The shear force and impact of the lower stops, the sound of the box opening and closing muffling the sound, the faint chuffs on the leading edges of notes from the stops, none of these things are easy to forget regardless of what people say about auditory memory. Then again, I've got the recording to remind me. These are the types of details that the Yamamoto YC-03s excelled at.
Next up on my foray into bass I decided to grab Massive Attack's Collected. Playing side 3, "Inertia Creeps" reveals the bass on heavier music is rock solid, well defined and has truckloads of grunt, just as it is on the digital version of this release. Talk about shaking the crap out of the house, this is one of those recordings that will do it. Moving from Massive Attack to another of my favorite newer groups that has a great bass groove, Zero7's When it falls is a simply superb offering if you are into Chill Out music. On this release the Yamamoto treats me to something reminiscent to the first tracks title, Warm Sound. The Yamamoto is detailed, extended yet harmonically rich the YC-03s sails through these bass heavy grooves with precision.
Next up is another phenomenal release from Mark Knopfler, Shangri-la. Good grief is this album stunning. The opening track 5:15am with Mark simply strumming his electric guitar, the amount of detail the Yamamoto digs out of the grooves almost lets you tell what driver tubes he is using in his guitar amp. All of this wonderful sound was reproduced, yet without sounding hard, etched or bright. The Yamamoto also has a tremendous ability to convey a grand sense of scale while not covering up any of the details. As I listen intently to the YC-03s I couldn't help but pay attention to. Like any good audiophile, I've always listened to performer's placement within our virtual soundstage as part of any review. But as I listened to Mahler, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and hosts of other Classical recordings done with (typically) a single pair of stereo microphones, I began to be drawn to how exacting the placements of the different sections of the orchestras are. I'm not just talking about simple left, right and an approximate depth, with the Yamamoto in my system and on well recorded Classical music I'm talking about exacting placement of the sections from the woodwinds to the brass to the percussion. I've truly got proper placement of parts the percussion section coming from well behind and left of my left speaker. I've got the brass sitting a row behind woodwinds. I've got the basses sitting behind and to the right of the violas; I've got everybody exactly where they should be. Pretty impressive. Now of course I went back and checked this against a few other carts like my Van den Hul and the Music Maker and sure enough the YC-03s did a better job of conveying placement within the soundstage.
Even with all of the high end energy this cart puts out, the strings never once sounded strident. Violins and viola retained a warm, lush inviting sound. Listening to Mozart's 4 Horn Concertos performed by Barry Tuckwell backed by the LSO under the direction of Peter Maag [London Jubilee JL 41015, Netherlands pressing], Horn Concerto No. 1 showcases Tuckwell's talents on the French Horn. The Yamamoto does a tremendous job at reproducing that wonderful, distant buttery sound of the French Horn.
Anyone who has listened to or has read reviews of some of the high end, low output carts that have very low output impedance knows that you tend to get some pretty serious rise in the upper frequencies. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Remember, every piece of gear manufactured is system dependant. The reason I say it is system dependant is if you've got a laid back system, a forward sounding piece of gear will likely restore the proper balance to your system. On the other hand, if your system is forward sounding, adding a forward sounding piece of gear may not be the best option. It can be done though but it is totally up to the rest of the supporting electronics.
Now, this cart does absolutely no favors to poorly recorded music. If you've got a piece of vinyl that was recorded hot, you'd better duck and cover because its going to be in your face like nobodies business. On the other hand, if your piece of vinyl is a little rolled off like many are, this cart will help give balance back to those discs. On well mastered vinyl, you are in for quite a treat as the Yamamoto YC-03s can be absolutely breathtaking.
If you are one who enjoys a ‘laid back' approach to music, this cartridge likely is not going to be a good match. On the other hand if you want a cartridge that is truly exciting and is filled with jump, the Yamamoto YC-03s could be your ticket. This cartridge literally reaches out and grabs your attention. When it comes to music reproduction, the last thing I want out of a cartridge (much less any piece of gear) is for it to gloss over details. Those are sins of omission. At that point you may as well be listening to low bit rate MP3s, just take the bits and give them a toss, you don't need them. Sorry but that's not for me at all. I want my music served up clean, accurate, and detailed yet I want it to reach out and wraps its arms around me. Some don't care for this level of exacting reproduction. They go for a warmer, less defined approach to music which is absolutely fine too. It's all personal preference. Personally, though I find that warmer approach nice to listen to but to my ears it doesn't sound like a live acoustic event which is what I'm shooting for and get from my reference system whether is on the digital or analog side. Be forewarned though, as it is with any exacting piece of gear, the Yamamoto will show every wart and flaw in either your recordings or its downstream supporting electronics.
As you can see below, the cost of entry for the Yamamoto YC-03s is on the lowest end of the scale for low output moving coil cartridges. Sitting right at $1000, I feel that makes this cartridge a downright steal. For another $100 or so you can get the beautifully crafted HS-01A headshell. Personally, I can't image any other cartridge anywhere near this price range outperforming the YC-03s when it comes to overall balance and detail retrieval. If your system is up to the challenge, the Yamamoto YC-03s will absolutely pull every last detail out the those dusty grooves sitting on your shelves.