Analogue Planet

Hana SL

Reviewed by for Analogue Planet, October 2017

The Hana SL was installed on the Graham Phantom III—a $7000 tone arm mounted on the $29,500 Air Force III turntable connected to the CH Precision P1 phono preamplifier augmented with the outboard X1 power supply, the combination of which costs more than $45,000. In other words this budget cartridge got to ride in the First Class section!

While the Japanese character silk screened on the front of the body means “brilliant and gorgeous” I’d say the Hana’s sonic personality is more “gorgeous” than it is “brilliant”—and I think that’s what most buyers like about it, especially if they are using it in a system featuring less costly electronics that might impart their own “brilliance”.

Moving coil cartridges have a reputation for somewhat bright and even aggressive but that’s hardly the Hana SL’s personality. Instead it’s smooth, somewhat laid back and sweet, yet very well detailed thanks in part to the shibata stylus profile, which when viewed from the side (with a very powerful microscope!) presents a tall, very narrow ridge that can reach into the most severely and tightly cut horizontal groove modulations while tracing with equal accuracy the vertically inscribed modulations.

The relatively high internal impedance for a .5mV output cartridge is usually the result of many turns of wire on the cross-shaped armature, which may be required because of the use of less than the most powerful magnets, probably to keep the cost down so such a high performance cartridge can be sold for such a reasonable price.

The good channel separation and channel balance, not surprisingly, produces a generously wide soundstage, with excellent image solidity, stability and three-dimensionality. The added coil mass counters somewhat the shibata’s detail retrieval by slowing down the system, so that while the Hana SL’s retrieval of detail is good, when you spend more to get more powerful magnets and fewer wire turns (and lower mass), there’s more detail to be had.

However given the Hana SL’s price and its outstanding build quality, the cartridge sets a very high performance bar! The Hana SL is sufficiently fast and precise to produce very fine transient performance without “etch” or “grain”, on cymbals for instance, yet its generally warm and slightly mellow personality make it great for female vocals and massed strings.

Dynamic performance was very good, especially for the money but not the last word in terms of “slam”, which shouldn’t be surprising given the plastic body and the cost.

In other words, the Hana SL is a “cartridge for all seasons” that combines good retrieval of detail with a pleasing overall warmth that works well with all musical genres. No wonder it’s become such a popular “crowd pleaser” over the past few years.


Spending a few weeks listening (on and off) to both of these moderately priced cartridges (“moderate” in terms of what the top of the market looks like price-wise) proves a few things: first of all, that it’s possible to provide high build quality at reasonable prices (I’ve gotten some poorly built very expensive cartridges over the years), secondly that without breaking the bank or dissolving a marriage you can get sonic performance that handily beats CD in all respects other than measured dynamic range. I’d rather listen long term to either of these cartridges than any digital system. You may draw other conclusions.

For long term listenability with the widest varieties of music and especially with recordings that vary from truly shitty and bright to the best in your collection, the Hana SL would be a great choice.

It also may be the one to get if your system is sounding a bit edgy, bright and harsh with your current cartridge and you want to mellow it out a bit without losing detail resolution (in fact depending upon what you’re now using the shibata stylus might give you more resolution and a somewhat mellower sound.


View product on Air Audio Distribution here.