Hana SL Mono Moving Coil Cartridge Review
John Pickford takes this quirky but capable mono moving coil cartridge for a spin…
SL Mono MC Phono Cartridge
Dedicated monaural reproduction must seem like an extremely niche proposition to many listeners. However, those of us with sizeable collections of classic vinyl pressings from the nineteen fifties and sixties can benefit greatly from using a dedicated mono cartridge, like this moving coil model from Japanese manufacturer Hana.
Of course, you can play a mono record through a regular two-channel system on a turntable equipped with a stereo cartridge, but you get the very best out of mono records only with a proper mono cartridge. Preamps and phono stages equipped with a mono switch go a long way towards eliminating groove noise, but to fully mine all the musical information buried deep within the grooves of a mono pressing, a dedicated monaural cartridge is what you need. This is because mono records are cut differently to stereo ones – they have lateral cut grooves, containing the signal and no musical information in the vertical plane, so stereo cartridges simply reproduce this vertical movement as extraneous noise.
The SL Mono is a low-output design – hence the 'L' in the model name – and sports a Shibata stylus. This type of stylus is an unusual choice, as older types of mono cartridges generally used a stylus with either a conical or elliptical tip profile. It's attached to a high-rigidity aluminium cantilever and housed in a body weighing 5g that Hana says is manufactured from a composite low resonance plastic material.
Fitting proved relatively straightforward using the supplied nuts and bolts, and there are no threaded inserts here. The process was made easier as I, like many potential users, use a detachable headshell. You really need one of these unless you're happy to swap out your stereo cartridge from your tonearm whenever you fancy a mono listening session!
In my case, I tracked the SL Mono at 2g in my classic mid-sixties SME 3009 tonearm, partnered with my Garrard 401 turntable. For this review, I listened through a single Tannoy 15-inch dual concentric loudspeaker powered by an ancient Leak valve amplifier similar to those used at EMI's Abbey Road Studios during the sixties.
The SL Mono delights in the impact and rawness of classic recordings, and revels in the rhythm and swing of the music. It's surprisingly quiet and yet packs a big punch thanks to a solid, controlled bass response. It sounds fulsome and makes the most of oftentimes bass-shy recordings from the fifties and sixties.
The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band expresses this aspect of the Hana's performance firmly, the title track packing a punch and rocking harder than I've heard before. A little over two minutes later, I find myself transfixed by Paul McCartney's bass work on With A Little Help From My Friends, as the Hana vividly reveals the studio acoustic in which it was recorded, rounding out the fluid, melodic bass line in all its glory. It's as though the superior mono tracking ability of the Hana digs out more music from the grooves, giving a more complete account of what's actually in the recording.
The benefit of dedicated mono tracking is crystal clear playing Family's 1968 debut album Music In A Doll's House. I have both mono and stereo editions of this wonderful progressive psychedelic album, each with its own distinctive mix. The trouble is, the mono version has acquired a bad reputation for sounding murky and muffled, albeit a better-balanced recording.
My copy, in excellent condition, has always sounded flat and dull using my regular Benz Micro Ace stereo cartridge. Yet, the SL Mono revealed hitherto hidden depths while unearthing the treble information lost to the stereo Micro Ace. This proved something of a musical epiphany for me, one of those rare occasions when you hear a piece of equipment divulging a wealth of musical information previously unheard.
Another eye-opener – or should that be ear-opener – occurs when playing through an assortment of swinging-sixties 45RPM singles, which sound cleaner than I remember. Records I thought of as being in 'very good condition' (dealer shorthand for 'almost knackered') suddenly seem to have been upgraded to near-mint!
The Crystals' Da Doo Ron Ron romped along with more vigour than I'm used to, with 'Back to Mono' badge wearer Phil Spector's trademark 'wall of sound' appearing bigger and thicker with more layers and texture. When the floor tom struck in the chorus, it almost pinned me to the back of the sofa! Who knew that bass weight was lurking in the grooves all along? Switching to John Leyton's unworldly Johnny Remember Me, an echo-drenched production from Joe Meek, and again the verve, drive and excitement were ramped-up by the Hana as the track galloped along.
While this mono cartridge delights in the impact and rawness of those jukebox classics, it also revels in the rhythm and swing of cool post-bop jazz. John Coltrane's A Love Supreme had me captivated with the interplay between the leader's spiritual saxophone and his propulsive rhythm section. Here, the sound was far more focused and all-of-a-piece than when listening via my Micro Ace and again, the absence of spurious groove noise made for a smoother, more musically involving listen.
Hana's superb SL Mono cartridge is a must-hear for anyone serious about authentic, no-compromise monophonic audio. There will be no more mono records tracked by a stereo cartridge chez Pickford, that's for sure! Less is more, so there's only one way I'm going – Back to Mono.
For more information visit Hana
A professional recording engineer since 1985, John strives for the ultimate in sound quality both in the studio and at home. With a passion for vintage equipment, as well as cutting edge technology, he has written for various British hi-fi and pro-audio magazines over the years.
Posted in:Hi-Fi Applause Awards 2022 Turntables Phono Cartridges
Tags: hana hana cartridges air audio
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