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Medieval Japan was a place of wonders. It was a time when traditions of calligraphy, art, ceramics, metalworking, spirituality, and martial prowess intersected. Few people represent this flowering of creativity better than Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558-1637); an artist, craftsman, calligrapher, ceramicist, and master of the tea ceremony, Kōetsu founded the Rinpa school of painting and his paintings and ceramics are priceless. He is considered a national treasure in Japan.
Hon’ami Kōetsu was a direct ancestor of Yoshiaki Sugano (1907-2002) who, like his forefather, was a man of many disciplines. As a young man, Sugano- san practiced boxing (it’s said he never lost a fight) and studied the tradition of sword-crafting. He worked for many years as an executive in the auto industry, but always uppermost was his fascination with music reproduction in the home, and in particular his personal passion; the phono cartridge. Sugano-san founded Koetsu in the 1970s – the cartridge legend that bears his ancestor’s name to this day – and quickly became the Master Craftsman who created the genre of true high-end phono cartridges.
Sugano-san passed on his skills and the Koetsu company to his son Fumihiko Sugano, who apprenticed under his father to become a master cartridge maker in his own right. Koetsu cartridges continue to be made by hand in Japan: Sugano- San’s legacy continues to this day.
Koetsu is an example of Japanese precision engineering at its finest, but there is more to a Koetsu cartridge than mere engineering. The company adopted from the outset a uniquely Japanese philosophy of artisan hand-built craftsmanship known as ‘monozuriki’. It is about pride in every aspect of the design, manufacture and build of a product, paying attention to the smallest details, and imparting something of the spirit of the maker in their product. This ‘monozuriki’ mindset is perfectly exemplified in every Koetsu moving coil cartridge.
For more than forty years, Koetsu has masterfully blended the highest purity technical materials – with cantilevers built from a custom-made ‘special’ iron, and delicate materials of natural beauty – to create the most sought-after cartridges in the world. Koetsu cartridges stand out not only for their transparent sound and exotic materials but for their elegant appearance, lifting the status of a phono cartridge to that of the finest musical instruments, like a Steinway grand piano or a Stradivarius violin.
No other cartridge, and few other brands in audio or beyond, has the same sense of being a part of a tradition like Koetsu. This is perhaps why when you own a model from one of the other brands of phono cartridge making, you own a ‘cartridge’, but when you own a model from this brand, you own a ‘Koetsu’.
The Koetsu cartridge stands alone at the zenith of analogue sound. These reverential musical instruments are all about musical transcendence and transformation. Once you listen, you’ll hear and understand everything: questions and doubts immediately melt away. All that’s left behind is music distinguished with utmost ease, liquidity, vibrancy, clarity, responsiveness, and focus. The ‘Koetsu Effect’ leaves you wondering just how much detail, information, and texture you’ve missed on records you’ve heard hundreds of times.
All audiophiles can relate to – and crave – the idea of the reference-setting imaging, three-dimensionality, supple harmonic richness, and tonal elegance that Koetsu cartridges produce effortlessly. The difference is that such sought-after characteristics aren’t just starry-eyed ideas or goals with Koetsu: they’re reality.
Welcome to analogue nirvana.