In my relatively modest, sub-$2.5K analog front end (that still reaches for the stars!), the Hana EL is undeniably that cartridge. At its asking price of $475, it's an exceptional value. As I began to play the same records that I'd been playing throughout the previous month via the Blue Point No. 2, I couldn't help but notice that the Hana EL did so very many things so very well that essentially left the Sumiko cartridge sounding, if anything, very plain vanilla.
The EL's elliptical stylus tip does a remarkable job of tracing the record grooves; I'm a long-time fan of Denon cartridges, whose elliptically tipped lower-priced cartridges are noted for their tracking abilities and musicality. I'd easily give the Hana EL the nod over the Denon DL110 that's currently in the arm of my Rega P2 table; in terms of musicality and retrieval of detail, the Hana wins in spades.
The really great thing about the Hana EL is that it seems to draw you further into the music; instead of simply listening to a great record with the Blue Point No. 2, listening through the Hana makes you feel as though you're part of the experience. There's a much greater degree of delicacy and transparency involved; whereas before, you were just thinking how great the record sounded, with the Hana, you tend to forget you're listening to a record. Even with older or recently purchased used records, the Hana traverses the record groove and maximizes the music while minimizing any flaws or groove noise. The Hana literally transports you to the recording venue; it's like way, way back in the day, when my buddies and I would use certain herbal substances to enhance our listening sessions. My mind had been freed, allowing me to hear much more deeply into the music, while having the music seemingly affecting all my senses simultaneously. With the Hana EL, no herbal supplements are necessary to get the same effect.
I grabbed another trouble record, Richard Strauss' Burleske(Classic Records LSC 2127)... the Strauss is my real reason for having this disc; the performance by all involved is thrilling, to say the least. But this record is also marred by a literal pop-scratch-of-death that starts a couple of minutes in and runs for about five minutes early on in the performance.
I will be damned! The offending scratch is still there, but as with the Stacey Kent disc, it's reduced to an almost unnoticeable level, and seems to have moved from directly in the center of the action to far off left, only occasionally rearing its ugly head. It's as if the very small profile of the stylus is reaching so deeply into the groove that the offending groove wall information is virtually no longer an issue. The difference wrought by the Hana EL is totally unbelievable in turning this virtually unlistenable disc into a very pleasant listening experience, indeed!!
For someone like me who occupies the middle area of the audio spectrum, the magnificence of a great cartridge like the Hana EL simply has to be heard to fully comprehend just what I've been missing.
The Hana EL is truly a remarkable cartridge, and makes for a compelling and world-class analog playback system. And even though the price is probably double what I'm typically used to paying for the cartridge that's usually mounted in the arm of my table, the almost unbelievable increase in trackability, musicality, and overall performance makes it worth every penny. And I've totally changed my mind about the higher cost of the Hana SL; as remarkable as the EL has been in my system, the SL would probably have me reaching for a new set of superlatives. Very highly recommended!!
Read the full review here.