Hana Umami Red Cartridge

hfncommendedFrom Japan comes an exquisitely finished flagship MC cartridge that's cooking on gas when it comes to serving up full-flavoured sound. Is value for money on the menu too?

By naming the flagship MC in its Hana pick-up range the Umami Red, Japanese cartridge maker Excel Sound has played a clever stroke. Glance at the £3399 cartridge's exquisitely lacquered body and there are no prizes for guessing why the name includes the word 'Red'. But 'Umami'? In Japanese, 'umami' is one of five tastes, along with sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness. It has been variously translated as 'delicious' and 'savoury', but umami is said to be quite difficult to detect on its own. Rather, it combines with other flavours to give a result that's far greater than the sum of all parts.

Chef's Special
The recipe behind the Umami Red is as complex as an exotic chef's special. A semi-open design, it has at its heart an elegant-looking open generator, carefully clothed in an external body, but not fully encapsulated by it. The cartridge is manufactured in Excel Sound's Japanese factory, the assembly process a combination of automation and handcrafting. Automation is used where repeatability and speed are necessary, but the more intricate operations are still carried out manually by trained craftsmen.

As for the generator, this is based around a samarium-cobalt magnet and a square Permalloy armature. The generator's pole piece is cryogenically treated, as are the front and rear yokes along with the 24-carat gold-plated output pins. The company claims this process alters the crystal structure of the various alloys advantageously, continuing the culinary analogies by likening it to 'molecular gastronomy'.


Powder 'N' Polish
High-purity copper wire is used for the generator coils and the number of turns is reflected in a coil impedance of 6ohm. Using the general 'rule of ten' multiplication factor for phono stage matching suggests an ideal cartridge load of 60ohm or greater. This, along with the relatively generous output of 0.4mV, means the Umami Red should work happily into the vast majority of MC phono inputs.

The business end of the Umami Red comprises a solid boron cantilever tipped with a nude 'microline' diamond. Hana says this is cut and polished to mimic the shape of the stylus on the head of a vinyl cutting lathe. The idea is to offer the best fit into the record groove, extracting all the detail, with minimum noise and record wear.

The elegant and stylish body that clothes the Umami Red is no less a work of art. The body itself is made from A7075 aluminium alloy – a modern version of the material originally known as duralumin, which was developed for use in the aircraft industry. Alloys in this category are easily moulded into the shape required while retaining good strength, despite their light weight. In this instance, the gentle curve of the outer body edges is referred to as an Auricle body design by Hana, suggesting the outer shape of the human ear.


The body itself is then coated with an Urushi lacquer finish – a Japanese traditional art that stretches back many centuries. In the case of the Umami Red, the work begins with a black Urushi-painted undercoat, followed by another layer that adds the red colour in a process that makes use of fine silver powder. To top this off, the Hana name is printed using a fine gold powder and completed with a final protective lacquer coat. This is then comprehensively buffed for a perfect finish and shine. The overall effect is nothing short of stunning, so much so that my installation of the cartridge was delayed as I spent far too long simply admiring the flawless craftsmanship...

Fitment is aided immensely by two captive screw threads built into the top of the cartridge body. This will come as a relief to an audiophile nervous about damaging the body finish with the slip of a bolt and sharp, hexagonal nut. Do be aware, though, that these threaded holes are not especially deep, so short screws are a must. The cartridge is presented in a simple but elegant wooden box that also includes an instruction leaflet and stylus cleaning brush.

The Umami Red tips the scales at 10.5g and has a recommended tracking force of precisely 2g, with no range given. I experimented with different forces only to find that 2g was indeed its sweet spot. Furthermore, the Umami Red also seems very sensitive to azimuth adjustment, so do take the time to set it up correctly – if it doesn't have a big, enveloping soundstage then something's not quite right.

sqnote Love At First Bite
With the Umami Red fitted to an SME 309 arm [HFN Sep '19] on my Michell Gyro SE turntable, my mouth almost watered as I anticipated the sonic delights to come. Would I end the evening leaning back with a contented sigh or be searching for the number of a late-night food delivery service due to lack of fulfilment? I needn't have worried as the Umami Red is a compelling companion and, just like the first bite of a fine meal, had me wanting more.

Excel Sound Co., Ltd
Yokohama, Japan
Supplied by: Air Audio Services Ltd,
01491 629 629