Sumiko Wellfleet Moving Magnet Phono Cartridge Review
Jay Garrett takes this impressive mid-price moving magnet cartridge for a spin…
Wellfleet Moving Magnet Cartridge
Sumiko's Oyster series of phono cartridges is pitched below the company's Reference cartridge range – and features models named after different salt-water molluscs, no less. The moving magnet range includes the Rainier, Olympia, Moonstone and RS 78 – although the latter is not an oyster I am familiar with!
Joining these is the Wellfleet we have here to review. Interestingly, the only difference between these models is the stylus, which is upgradeable through a simple stylus swap, as they all share the same Excel generator. This cartridge slips in above the Moonstone and betters it via an elliptical 0.3 mil × 0.7 mil stylus, which is nude-mounted on a 0.5mm aluminium pipe rather than the diamond being bonded to a metal shank and then attached to the cantilever.
Sumiko describes it thus: “With the new assembly, excessive mass in the shank is cut away to reduce tip mass further, resulting in a faster, more direct, and more accurate response of the stylus movement by the cantilever and magnet.” The upshot, in theory, is a better central focus and increased processing speed resulting in a heightened sense of detail. But, unfortunately, mounting the diamond directly onto a cantilever is more challenging than the alternative, explaining the bump in price.
Like its Oyster kin, the mounting screw threads built into the cartridge body make for faff-free headshell installation. Also making life easier for the new owner is the manual, which you are directed to via a QR code on the packaging – or you can head to the Sumiko website by punching in the URL. As well as the two mounting bolts, there is a small Allen key in the box and a neat little brush.
Sumiko states the Wellfleet has a 12Hz to 33kHz frequency response, which is decent enough, as is its claimed 30dB (@1kHz) channel separation and channel balance within 0.5dB (@1kHz). However, its 3mV stated output is a little low in the grand scheme of moving magnet cartridges, which tend to be closer to the 5mV ballpark these days.
This cartridge tips the scales at 6.5 grams, so it is no featherweight, but it should still work well with most modern medium-effective mass tonearms. The company gives a vertical tracking force range of 1.8 to 2.2 grams, with a recommended force of 2 grams. In fitting it into the arm of my VPI Prime, it replaced the Sumiko Songbird l/o moving coil cart and joined my Nagaoka MP-500 moving magnet in record-playing duties…
At first listen, I was immediately impressed by the high level of detail retrieval that the Wellfleet is able to muster, considering it replaced a moving coil cartridge in my reference system. I am not saying that the Wellfleet and Songbird are like-for-like in this respect, but I didn't feel I was suddenly missing half of what I was used to hearing from my favourite tracks.
Although not as insightful as the Songbird, the Wellfleet's midband produced satisfying results from The Cure's extended version of Fascination Street from their Mixed Up album. It seemed a little more relaxed than the Songbird in how it conducted business, but the soundstage was nicely set with clear demarkation of the instruments, with the Songbird offering a little more air around the players and a tad more depth. That said, there was nothing particularly stingy to the Wellfleet's acoustic canvas.
Dropping the needle on Cool It Down – the latest from Yeah Yeah Yeahs – and the bass from the Wellfleet was pleasing and articulate. However, as highlighted from the breakdown in Wolf, it could not match the MP-500 for weight and punch. The Wellfleet seemed a little softer and rounder regarding the lowest of registers. Still, tracks such as Kraftwerk's Techno Pop bounced along wonderfully.
The upper frequencies through the Wellfleet are less silky smooth than the Nagaoka, and the leading edges are more instant with the Songbird, but equally, those cartridges demand a deeper delve into your savings. What the Wellfleet does well is the seamless transition from the upper mids to the highs without any break-up or shrillness, meaning that the likes of orchestral strings retain their energy and vitality. This was deftly demonstrated through Max Richter's Recomposed take of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Additionally, at no point did I feel that the Wellfleet was running out of headroom, no matter the demands put upon it.
If you are already equipped with a Sumiko Moonstone that's coming to the end of its life, or indeed any of the Oyster range, the Wellfleet stylus upgrade (£291.63) will bring you even more of the things you have enjoyed; I have no doubt. Even when compared with more expensive cartridges, its wide bandwidth, diligent detail retrieval, and ease of operation make it well worth an audition.
StereoNET’s resident rock star, bass player, and gadget junkie. His passion for gadgets and Hi-Fi is second only to being a touring musician.
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