A budget-level cartridge sporting an elliptical stylus tip, Paul Rigby reviews this new moving magnet design
This new budget release sits in the company’s own Oyster Series and serves as a gap-filling exercise, in price terms, in its growing range.
The Rainier is a little prosaic in aesthetic terms. There’s none of the blue dash exhibited by the Songbird or even the slightly steampunk effect produced by the Blue Point Special EVO III.
With its internally-threaded holes, installation is straight forward.
It arrives compete with an elliptical stylus, hanging off an aluminium cantilever plus copper wiring. Recommending a 2g tracking force, the cartridge weighs in at 6.5g.
One point of particular note for this model is that the stylus is removable which will be of interest to those on a budget because the stylus replacement will be rather lower cost than a brand new cartridge.
Secondly, the Rainier, Olympia and Moonstone replacement styluses are interchangeable, so Rainier owners can upgrade up to the Moonstone without replacing the cartridge body.
I began with Peggy Lee’s Raindrops album and the track Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head. Here, Lee was backed by a full orchestra.
Sumiko definitely has a house sound. I hear it on the much more expensive Songbird cartridge and I hear it here too.
The upper frequencies were rather diffuse which meant that they sounded more in your face, at least they did compared to the immediate competition out there.
Hence, the ear sounded like it was closer to the action, in amongst the artists, you might say, who were doing their thing. So Lee’s vocal delivery was positioned almost right next to you. I didn’t ‘see’ her whole vocal, only the middle of it.
It was the same with the flute, acoustic guitar and cymbals. These instruments were full of detail and there was plenty of emotion in and around them but there was also a lack of precision. The more expensive Songbird could get away with this presentation because it’s higher quality components added finesse and air but the Rainier, tooled up with lower-cost technologies, did tend to suffer a tad with it because the entire upper frequency focus was blurred.
Now I repeat, detail was still plentiful, cymbal hits were infused with space and reverberation, the flute was overflowing with human effort and emotion while the acoustic guitar was distinct, it never hid within the mix which can sometimes happen with less effective cartridges.
Even so, you felt like you wanted to pull back the head so that you could hear the edges of each instrument, gaining more detail, encompassing more of the image, more of the picture.
Bass was there but the lack of focus did muddy the lower frequency waters a bit. The low frequencies didn’t hide or shirk but the slightly fuzzy nature of their response could lean toward a cloudy tone.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I dislike the Rainier. That’s not the case. There is plenty to like here and the core emotion of the music was one major plus point from the Rainier.
Turning to The Cure’s Pornography and Figurehead, the Rainier showed how relaxed it was with high-energy vibes. When it didn’t have to try, when the demanding accuracy of jazz-related music was not exacting, when it wasn’t looking over its shoulder, the Rainier kicked off its shoes and shook a hip.
The big beat nature of this rock track, the fractious guitar, the rumbling and constant bass and the percussion that lazily struck a beat across the entire song was not only tracked and presented easily by the Rainier but the cartridge positively enjoyed the experience.
For the first time, I felt the urge to increase the volume on my amplifier, for the first time I didn’t squint at my hi-fi with a “hmmm…” but instead immediately began an Open University course in advanced head nodding. The Rainier provided a naturalistic and confident performance.
This cartridge can connect to the soul of the music very easily. The Rainier shuns the analytical, it warms to passion and sensation. This means that rock, synth and associated music is more sympathetic to its presentation than the accuracy demanded from jazz and classical. If emotion is what you seek in music, if that’s your priority, then the Rainier should definitely be on your demo list.
SUMIKO RAINIER CARTRIDGE
Phone: 01235 511 166
GOOD: easy to install, intimate mids, detail, rock centric
BAD: muddy bass, midrange focus, jazz-centric music
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