Sitting near the pinnacle of the Transfiguration range, the Phoenix is a relatively low output moving coil phono cartridge with a current retail price around £1800. That pitches it into an area with a lot of serious top-end competition, but it is still usefully cheaper (a relative term, I admit) than some other similar products.
In terms of figures, the Phoenix weighs just under 8gm, making it suited to a relatively wide range of tone arms. The output is quoted as 0.4mV, so it will need a sensible step-up transformer (ideally) or a high-gain phono stage. For test and listening here, it was run through a Hashimoto transformer and an Art Audio Vinyl One phono stage.
Assessing a cartridge is always a difficult task, and never made any easier by the potential influence of the record deck and tone arm it is attached to, and the vinyl stage it feeds. For listening, I use a Well Tempered deck and arm. Difficult to set up and requiring constant fiddling, the Well Tempered is, however, one of those turntable and arm combinations that has a vanishingly low effect on cartridges. It’s a setup that allows, for better or worse, a cartridge to show what it is capable of and how it behaves and sounds with almost zero external influences. In equal measures, I love it and hate it, but it is as neutral as anything can be.
The Phoenix runs at a sensible recommended tracking force of 2gm, enough to dig deep enough into the groove to pull out all the information without being destructive. It seems to have exceptional tracking ability and was not fazed by test tracks that can cause some carts to fall over and give up. In particular, it managed sine-wave tracks with negligible channel differences and with negligible distortion, even at stupidly high frequencies.
With quite lengthy listening, the one phrase that kept coming to mind was ‘even handed’. The Phoenix does not stand out because of anything. It excels at nothing, which sounds initially like criticism. However, it fails at nothing either. What is in the groove is what it reproduces. Faithfully, and with seemingly nothing taken away or added. No emphasis on any aspect, no uneven response. No false added warmth or sharpness. Instead, a perfectly balanced presentation that remains enjoyable, even over many hours of music. It also seems reasonably immune to surface noise and whilst it can’t ignore the worst, it certainly doesn’t emphasise scratches clicks and pops the way some do.
I have run numerous tracks through it and it never fails to impress in the long term. Some cartridges impress in the short term. They have a ‘wow’ factor that makes you sit up and listen, but over time they show their true colours as false gods. What starts off as being ‘wow’, ends up as being ‘ouch’. The Phoenix never does that. Its abilities are even and thorough. The detail is stunning, but it’s never produced in a way that makes it overly obvious. Instead, the detail is part of the overall ‘picture’. Here is a cartridge you could listen to for hours without ever faulting its performance, and without ever doubting its ability to portray everything in a recording. It simply blends all its abilities together, to produce as near perfect reproduction from a vinyl groove as you will ever get.
It managed ‘Comfortably Numb’ from David Gilmour Live in Gdansk and slammed out the power of the track with energy galore. It equally took a Louis Armstrong track in its stride and pulled all the wamth out of the playing without sacrificing any accuracy. It pulled every bit of emotion from the Elgar violin concerto with momentous ease. Rock, blues, jazz, vocals, orchestral? Nothing seems to worry it at all.
The best cartridge ever? Of course not. However, recommended at the price? Yes. And how.
Discuss the review here