November 30, 2016 1:35 pm

Of Idlers and Koetsus

Let’s take Koetsus: Koetsus are admired for their coherence above all, and yet they are almost universally criticized for their overblown and ill-defined bass.  But, as we have seen, Sugano used a Garrard 401 idler-wheel drive to voice his cartridges.  So why are his otherwise superb transducers loose and overblown in the bass?  Because they were designed on idler-wheel drives, on which the Koetsu bass will be seen to firm up and become much more controlled and detailed, dependent on the success of the rebuild of said idler-wheel drive.  On belt-drives, what was good on an idler-wheel drive becomes loose and overblown and ill-defined, which is a characteristic of all belt-drives in comparison with idler-wheel drives regardless of cartridges, but moreso with the Koetsu, which was designed on a Garrard 401.

Well, over the holiday season (end of December 2010) I found a used Koetsu Black Goldline and so was able to test my theory.  Now, not only did I discover that indeed the Koetsu bass was extremely powerful, deep, and well-defined, easily the most talented in this way I’ve yet had in my system (and I’m a Benz fan, which themselves have very deep “analogue” bass), but I also discovered they had many other talents I had not expected.

So, now the Koetsu is once again happily seated on an idler, the bass in indeed the deepest and most powerful I’ve yet heard from an MC, and this in the context of upper Benzes which have amazingly powerful and deep bass compared with pretty well everything else.  It’s tight in the sense of REAL, not undernourished digital bass, and hits like a wrecking ball.  I’m using Coincident Milleniums with separate bass enclosures on which sit the midrange/tweeter enclosures, and they go down to 20 Hz.  In addition, the bass modules are sitting on the floor with no spikes, so loose bass should be a big problem, but no, it’s so good I feel no need for spikes.

Add to all this that in my experience, the Koetsu is one of the most magical and musical cartridges I’ve ever experienced.  It’s timing and coherence is up there with the best (which so far has meant the Grado Woodys to me), something I had not expected at all given its reputation which emphasizes beauty of tone over excitement and PRaT.  This evidently is an unexpected strength which was masked by the belt-drive systems on which it is pretty well always tested and evaluated (excepting for Sugano himself).  It’s also much more detailed that I had expected, which also is likely due to its being at last on an idler, which apart from the Reference Lenco’s excellence in this area – after all I am comparing it to other MCs in this same ‘table – was also a surprise given the normally so-so reviews of the Black in this sense.  In fact, the Black is sounding so good overall that my interest in an Urushi, which is what started my decision to buy this one, is evaporating, at least for the moment.

It is evident that the Koetsus, designed on an idler-wheel drive, have been, if not  completely misunderstood (after all their inherent beauty and musicality was recognized), then mostly misunderstood.  The bass is far tighter, detailed and more powerful than suspected, the detail far greater than expected, and perhaps most surprisingly, it is far more tonally accurate and even than I expected it to be.  And yet, it preserves that transcendent coherence and musicality for which it is famed.  Those who are fans of the Koetsus are especially encouraged to hear them on a Reference Lenco, and those who are Lenco/idler fans are encouraged to seek out Koetsus.

Getting back to the larger question of bass in general raises other questions, because if idler-wheel bass is indeed superior in terms of impact, reach and detail, as it is, what does this mean for the rest of the audio range?  As Salvatore’s review, and the customer reviews indicate, the bass, rhythm, dynamics and transient speed was only the tip of the iceberg, as my experience with the Koetsu also indicates.