The first and most obvious thing that struck me was a very low level of surface noise, even on some of my poorest vinyl. In these days where the best vinyl is often used and abused rather than some dodgy re-issue this is important. The fancy stylus profile is a factor in this sort of thing, but all all the cartridges I use have similar line-contacts it doesn't explain the effect fully.
The next striking thing was the the 'ease' of everything. I'm not talking about slugged or rolled off sound, but the ability to sound effortless right across the disc – including the end of side where the vibrations cut in the groove are at their smallest and most tricky (lowest sampling frequency would be the digital equivalent). Now with many cartridges there comes a point where the sound becomes a little bandwidth-limited, shut-in or even fuzzy as the stylus fails to negotiate the tightest corners, but here the fidelity remained across the disc in a manner that only the best cartridges manage.
It also sounded very nice;-) And it was from then on that I started to get a little excited with what was going on. My main listening uses the Dynavector DRT-1t – ranked by some people as the best cartridge in the World. You can imagine that for a poor reviewer the temptation is always to listen to the review cartridge then after a side go back to the real pleasure of the DRT-1t sitting on the SME v12/Blackbird combination – but I have to confess that much to my surprise my listening 'pleasure' for the month-long period was almost exclusively provided by the Hana and Audiomods arm on the Acoustic Solid turntable. If you're counting beans the main front end would cost 7 times the Hana system and a big chunk of that would be the cartridge. The bottom line here is that for my ear's the cheaper system was good enough...
But in the review period I also compared the Hana to the Dynavector 20x2 and D17, and the Music Maker 'Classic' – all considerably more expensive. In all cases these more expensive cartridges shone brighter in certain areas, but overall it was the Hana that I preferred.
So I guess it's time to drag out my listening notes and for once I'm going to produce my listening notes verbatim as I think they give an accurate feel for what the cartridge is doing.“Great sibilants – smooth, natural, no spit or edge” “Warm, rich, perhaps slight upper-bass lift” “Image large and slightly diffuse – natural rather than hi-fi” “Tuneful bass a little lacking lowest octave” “Fabulous tracking” “No 'bloat' (on Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Come on, come on' which is notorious for exposing this)” “Linn 'Karma'?” “Does Nancy Griffith without nails-down-a-black-board” “Good image depth but lacking a little air” “Great end-of-side performance” “Brilliant suppression of surface noise” “Fast midband giving good bass leading-edges” “Lovely to listen to”
And that last comment should be in bold, because although the Hana does have character – and along with speakers cartridges are the most characterful part of most systems – it is absolutely charming to listen to. Over the month I used it I didn't come across a record it didn't seem to be happy with – right down to some of my most worn and tired pressings.
Yes sure, some records showed far more fidelity than others, but that's a given, but the Hana made is possible to ignore most of this and allow you to listen to music. Not only this, but it was better at it than any cartridge I've ever heard regardless of price.
That's a big statement and I'm talking from experience of maybe only 10 or so very expensive cartridges – all costing multiples of the Hana, but where the Dynavector DRT-1t might leave you frustrated with a compressed recording, or where someone has overdriven mics and the like the Hana doesn't so much smooth over it, but make it less important, almost to the point of “so it's a crap recording, but just listen to that music!”
Don't get me wrong, cheap cartridges that blur over faults and miss half the music are deeply frustrating – the editing they inevitably do being inconsistent and coupled with a lack of grip.
The Hana on the other hand makes you forget the nature of the reproduction chain – its handling of the most tricky elements of vinyl recordings – sibilants, surface noise, end-of-side wear inevitably help here, but it's more than that.
On some recordings I found myself preferring it to all other cartridges regardless of price, and given that the Hana is right at the bottom of the Moving Coil pile price-wise this is nothing short of astonishing.