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IKEDA Flaghship cartridge 魁 (KAI)

It is designed to rank amongst the very best out there together with Lyra Atlas and Goldfinger Statement at the +USD10,000 price range. It represents Ikeda san's over 4 decades of experiences in cartridge design. The KAI represents his finest masterpiece ever made in his entire analog career.


  • The Ikeda 9TT is already something very special under the USD4K threshold. How will the KAI perform? We shall know soon enough. We plan to mount it on the latest Golden Ear Award winner - the Da Vinci VIRTU arm.
  • Where can I auditon the KAI?
  • Raymond, where are you located? If in the U.S. Beauty Of Sound in northeastern New York is the U.S. Distributor.
  • I am long time client of JLAM in HK.
  • Had anyone set up the Ikeda KAI?
  • Evaluation of cartridge is a complicated task. It is because the process involves too many variables. Even the impedance loading into the phono stage matters to the overall balance tremendously. As a result, the following is by no means an evaluation against some sort of benchmark on the same analog system. The comparisons are purely subjective with my mind referencing to different cartridges on the same or another turntable over different period of time.

    At AE1, we have the luxury of comparing the best of the best on fine electronics with a treated room. At the moment, we mounted the Lyra Atlas on the Durand Telos arm. Turntable is NVS by Wave Kinetics (NVS). Phono stage is Zanden 1200 MK3. This is the system once Mr. Zanden had complimented based on his own LP recordings. Danny who visited this system two weeks ago also endorsed the supreme performance when he commented the feelings of listening are similar to a mini concert hall. Then we have Durand Talea 2 mating with Ortofon A90 on the same turntable. On the Da Vinci Gabriel side, the VIRTU arm was working together with Ikeda 9TT previously. We also had momentarily mounted Goldfinger Statement V2 on the Virtu arm for a few days. Other cartridges in service included Kansui/Shilabe by Miyajima Lab and Van Den Hul Colibri Platinum on Da Vinci/Durand arms. Last but not least is the extreme poisonous Grandezza Reference cartridge by Da Vinci, which is sadly no longer in production.

    Our reference phono stages include: Tidal Prescenio, Trinity, and Zanden 1200MK3. We care very much about the polarity of the recordings. Tests of different cartridges are conducted with the right polarity “most of the time”.

    JLam has been wondering why a legendary analog name such as IKEDA does not manufacture a transducer that can challenge the champion. Why Japanese made cartridge can never be compared with the unrestrained dynamics of those produced by the German? Why is it always the case Japanese cartridge is always associated with either very clean treble like ZYX or lust mid range ala Koetsu? Different cartridges satisfy different listening preferences. We understand it very well. But sorry, we may be too picky. Good is just not good enough.

    After living with Lyra Atlas in close range for 2 months, we felt comfortable to inform Ikeda san about the strength of Lyra resides primarily in transient resolution – and that is really outstanding. We like it very much. It is absolutely gorgeous! The compliance and weight of the cartridge technically marry well with the Durand Telos. Impedance loading on the Zanden phono is carefully planned beforehand as well. Everything is all set and engineered to perform right at the beginning.

    Then, the unrestrained macro-dynamic capability of the Goldfinger Statement V2 is something as an audiophile must be at least experience once in their life time. We were impressed too though many vinyl-philes prefer tonal resolution to dynamic resolution most of the time. We also informed Ikeda san about the ultimate dynamic capability of this cartridge.

    Jlam requested Ikeda san to pay more attention to the strength of other top flight cartridge generally have a few attributes in common: very wide range, very open sound field, transients are fast. As far as tonal resolution is concerned, we don’t want any lopsided emphasis on vocal. We want true resolution in the mid-range. We don’t want any boost at 80-100db range to create the artificial warmth.

    We may be just too demanding to Ikeda san. But we never underestimate the determination of any spirited soul. And KAI – represents the soul of Ikeda san. We are enchanted by this man of his age is willing to accept new ideas and listen to constructive criticisms. What is a real masterpiece? Words cannot describe. One can only experience.
  • Are you not going to describe the sonic merits of KAI? Your writings are suggestive of blending the strength of other top cartridge into one. Isn't it a tall order? But I have to say you guys constantly surprise me.

    When is my Agoria due?
  • It is extremely rare based on my humble experiences that Japanese made cartridge can produce the feeling of un-restrained macro dynamics. The tonal resolution of "horn" instruments alongside the progressive energy increment of them under the interpretation of KAI is breathtaking. The progressive increment of energy renders an atmosphere captivating your senses. It even made me sweat a bit. Fans of Wagner will be shocked and know what I really meant. Spatial resolution is quite a "sight" to be seen probably due to immense tracking ability of the KAI.

    But that is not the key merit because Goldfinger statement V2 could do the same. The real deal is the poly-chromatic delivery of finesse and tonal delicacy of string instruments in chamber music. Strings are not restricted to violin but also to viola, cello and double bass. The communication between the music and myself is free of fatigue. In all cases of my own experiences, you need two cartridge of contrasting character to do different jobs.

    I am yet to try recordings to stringently test the department of transient resolution, which is the strength of Lyra Atlas.

    Master CHIK and myself were silent when we firstly set up the KAI 3 days ago. He dose not recognize the Cello recordings by Navvar as he never expects it can be reproduced with such realism. Yes, we knew well that it was a brand new cartridge. But it is also true that what we wrote here represents truly what we listened.

    To be continued.... Danny and Raymond will soon set up the KAI. We shall wait for their comments.

    The KAI under the Da Vinci Virtu on the AAS Gabriel with TRINITY PHONO (impedance loading of 25 ohm) under a gain of 70db delivers something that I have never experienced in analog until now.
  • Danny,

    Had you already set up KAI on your Virtu/Gabriel system? Can you share your impression?

  • Already set up the Kai last week, since my Virtu arm is also new I let them run for a few days before making any judgment. The Kai surpasses the best merits, density and musicality, of Grandezza with better macro dynamic and bass contour than the 9TT. It has the best tracking capability and can squeeze every tiny detail out of the record thus a freaking live music presentation. You can find one top notch cartridge to match one of its merit but difficult to find one to match two or three.
    Speaking of delivering true music not some special effects to stimulate your ear, Gabriel/Virtu Arm/Kai is the best analog source I have ever heard. For Gabriel/Virtu Arm users, Kai can really transform your analog source to something you cannot imagine and please don’t miss it.
  • I am not yet a vinyl-phile. I have no experiences and time to handle delicate mechanical instruments. From time to time, I dropped into AE showroom to have a short taste of vinyl music. PT told me it was the best time to pay his LP a visit because 植師父 had spent several hours adjusting the speaker positions to accommodate the new energy balance as a result of the new interaction between Da Vinci Virtu Mono preamp and the Artemis amplifiers.

    I am not a technical guy. But I can now understand why WCHOW in Beijing was so touched by the bow of Milstein. The TNT50 was not there yesterday. But I speculate I was moved by the same reason as what WCHOW had described. I am sure the TNT50 contributed to the eventual beauty in a different way. And I have listened to the Tidal and Da Vinci many many times in the past two years. And I also know Analog Domain very well. Thus the magic must come either from the Da Vinci and the KAI cartridge/Trinity phono. I subjectively attribute higher score to the KAI cartridge as it is the the point of origin.

    The softness of the tone is presented with layers of shading. I am not referring to layers of the soundstage which AE excels long time ago. I am referring to the layer of tonal shades. And these harmonic color "floats" out to the ear after the fundamental tone is formed. When it comes to attack, the transient snap is preserved. That says the gain of the phono matches quite well with the KAI according to PT.

    I listened everything what WCHOW had spinned two weeks ago. The piano recording by Kabi is another highlight of my audition. The "stillness" of the music is conveyed artiscally. I somehow can feel and project what is the next finger movement to develop the rest of the lyrical line. Yes, I can say it is fairly true that the system allows me to follow the soul of the musician. This is scary!

    People who had never visited AE before or don't know PT good enough may find us "exaggerating" things here. Anyway, I don't care what others' opinion but it was such a mersmerizing audition experience that I would like to share.

    Even though I am not a electronic fan, the replay of MUSE' latest 24/96 hi rez file through the Wadax thrilled up my spine. The layering of electronics music is something that I have no capacity to appreciate until yesterday.

    And last but not least is that PT for the first time showed me the secret of extreme fidelity through the Tripoint THOR system.

    I couldn't sleep well last night.
  • It is clearly to my ear the KAI by Ikeda betters the Lyra Atlas by a signficiant degree. Rarely a cartridge can deliver the glamorous of brass instruments AND the softness/elasticity of string together. Quality of imaging and localization of instrument within an acoustic space is well defined without the clinical feelings. I am very well surprised the KAI matches with the Trinity phono so well. Personally I dislike step-up solution. I suspect the Trinity has at least 70db in the gain stage. The dynamic of the KAI is wild like a war-horse. Yet, the dexterity of any violinist/cellist is so vividly presented.

    I plan to procure it when I save enough money before Chinese New Year in 2013.
  • edited November 2012
    English Teacher,

    Taking an anology, people are always carried away by the freshness of a steamfish by attributing to the quality of the fish itself, but in essence, the secret sometimes lies in the soy sauce. In AE showroom, the Thor ground wiring system, Troy and Spartan all sit quietly without much visibility but who knows how much they collectively contribute to the quality of the music that we are hearing. PT seldoms reveals such secret because by revealing it, it sets you to think deeply how much you are hearing from your system today without all these 'dark knights' thus your sleepless night, isn't it? I surely cannot afford the Thor so I can sleep well....
  • By the way, English Teacher,

    You should join the vinyl camp, there are many options which do not require too much of a setting, the Thales turntable plus their tonearm is a typical example of a 'plug and play' solution. By say 'plug and play', it may be a bit exaggerated, still the setup and on-going tuning are much simpler...
  • Marvel,

    You can afford Analog Domain amplifier and Da Vinci Gabriel turntable but not the THOR ground wire? Think twice before putting your thoughts on words. It dose not make sense and sometime annoying to those who has been following your path well. Got me? No hard feelings please.

    PT/JLam are smart asses. They determine whom to be introduced to the most exotic stuff. The THOR ground wire, to the best of my knowledge, I heard him even discouraging someone from buying it on the phone. He picked those who share the same value proposition from the perspective of ultimate performance. It is not related to reselling value. They understand extremely well that people are willing to spend big bucks on power cable, interconnect and speaker cables but never on ground wires.

    In Jlam's private email to me, he said not many of his customers' system is able to discern the dramatic improvement, and so why bothered???? PT not even wanted to do any demo so that they will always be ahead. There is no way you can compete with these guys on the battle against noises in the absence of the THOR grounding system.

    I am not surprised reading English teacher's description of "following the soul of the musician". If he never ever shows the demo with and without the THOR, you will never understand. You will say a bunch of idiots here talking nonsenses, role playing drama or whatever... If English teacher had not brought this up with Marvel's subsequent response, I don't bother to blow the whistle.

    I have one THOR ground wire. Who else? Uncle Ray and Jeff, maybe, that's it. Did you spot how many THOR ground wires at AE1? Let me tell you - PT IS USING a total of 8 THOR GROUND wires at AE1. And you guys think he is an stupid ass?

    Maybe, people think we are all assholes. But at least I know well I am not a dumb ass.
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