Sumiko Celebration 40 MC Cartridge Review
James Michael Hughes tries out this sweet-sounding, anniversary edition moving coil phono cartridge…
Celebration 40 Phono Cartridge
AUD $5,299 RRP
Released to mark Sumiko's fortieth anniversary, the Celebration 40 is a low-output moving coil cartridge that sits near the top of the company's five-strong series of Reference Line pickups, just below the Palo Santos flagship model. It's an open-generator design in a Plumwood housing. A 2.5um x 75um diamond stylus is fitted to a boron cantilever; compliance is said to be 12cu, and the cartridge weight is 7g.
Quoted output is 0.5mV, but compared to my regular Pro-Ject Pick It DS2 moving coil, which has the same number, the Celebration 40 seemed noticeably quieter. Optimum impedance is around 100 ohms. Stylus downforce is suggested between 1.9g to 2.2g, with 2g recommended. Having a fairly long and exposed cantilever and a swept-back housing, the body of the cartridge sits about 3mm clear of LP surfaces – so cartridge and vinyl are unlikely to touch on warped or dished records. Also, being fairly low-mass relative to other MC pickups helps it to negotiate warps.
The Celebration 40 comes in a nice wooden box, but there was no stylus protection cover. Thinking it might have got lost or mislaid, I contacted the importer, but they confirmed Sumiko doesn't supply one. I'm surprised by this, as with many turntables having no lid these days, protection for the stylus is vital. For safety, I always fit the stylus guard after playing LPs. While the absence of a stylus guard wouldn't prevent me from wanting to own this cartridge, I'd feel much happier if one were supplied.
Fitted to a Pro-Ject Xtension 10 turntable with a 10-inch carbon fibre arm, the Sumiko worked very well and delivered a satisfyingly open sound. Bass response was well extended, and the bottom end remained firm and controlled. Further up, the cartridge was clean, lucid and immediate, with superb transient attack and excellent rendition of micro-dynamics. At the same time, surface noise was very low – both in terms of ticks and pops and general background hiss and roar.
At its recommended VTF setting, tracking is exceptional. This cartridge successfully played a Japanese Audiophile LP of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez with Angel Romero and Andre Previn that had previously caused all other pickups I've reviewed to have severe problems with breakup. Having had this disc for about forty years, I'd begun to think the end of side one was unplayable due to the high-level cut. But the Celebration 40 cleanly reproduced Rodrigo's bright, peaky scoring with relaxed ease, making what was impossible for other pickups seem effortless. Most cartridges playing this LP also exhibit a slight unease due to the high-level cut, but the Sumiko proved completely unfazed.
Unsurprisingly, the Celebration 40 was superior to my regular Pick It DS2 cartridge in nearly all aspects. But you could buy five DS2s for the price of one of these cartridges and still have change left over for fish and chips and your bus fare home. Of course, the Sumiko isn't five times better than the DS2, but clear improvements are apparent in just about every area. The Celebration 40 is very transparent – effortlessly translucent, solid, and focused, like an open window on the music. At its best, you could be listening to master tapes.
Using Lehmann's Black Cube SE II Sven Väth phono stage, the Celebration 40's crisp dynamics really came to the fore. Cartridge and phono stage seemed a good match for one another; the Sumiko showcased the Lehmann's positive attributes to a greater degree than the Pick It DS2 had.
For example, the Rolling Stones' double album Exile on Main Street is hardly the last word in high-fidelity sound. All the same, it's quite a test. This rough and grungy recording can easily sound congested and muddy, but via the Celebration 40, it was impressively clean and detailed. My UK first pressing is half a century old but sounds fine, having been ultrasonically cleaned on a Degritter. Alas, when first released in 1972, Exile sounded abominable on most hi-fi systems of the day, but played on good modern gear with a superlative cartridge and phono stage, it is fine.
I loved almost everything about the Sumiko Celebration 40, which is a superbly natural moving coil cartridge that sounds effortlessly vivid and detailed. It's also the best tracker that I have encountered in a long time. Sure, it's quite a lot of money, but it offers superior results that are tangible and worthwhile.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
JOIN IN THE DISCUSSION
Want to share your opinion or get advice from other enthusiasts? Then head into the Message Forums where thousands of other enthusiasts are communicating on a daily basis.
CLICK HERE FOR FREE MEMBERSHIP
Each time StereoNET reviews a product, it is considered for an Applause Award. Winning one marks it out as a design of great quality and distinction – a special product in its class, on the grounds of either performance, value for money, or usually both.
Applause Awards are personally issued by StereoNET’s global Editor-in-Chief, David Price – who has over three decades of experience reviewing hi-fi products at the highest level – after consulting with our senior editorial team. They are not automatically given with all reviews, nor can manufacturers purchase them.
The StereoNET editorial team includes some of the world’s most experienced and respected hi-fi journalists with a vast wealth of knowledge. Some have edited popular English language hi-fi magazines, and others have been senior contributors to famous audio journals stretching back to the late 1970s. And we also employ professional IT and home theatre specialists who work at the cutting edge of today’s technology.
We believe that no other online hi-fi and home cinema resource offers such expert knowledge, so when StereoNET gives an Applause Award, it is a trustworthy hallmark of quality. Receiving such an award is the prerequisite to becoming eligible for our annual Product of the Year awards, awarded only to the finest designs in their respective categories. Buyers of hi-fi, home cinema, and headphones can be sure that a StereoNET Applause Award winner is worthy of your most serious attention.