Sumiko Songbird

The Songbird is the more affordable of two designs and sits between the long-running Blue Point Evo III (HFC 461) and Blackbird, which continue as before.

The Songbird shares a common design with the more expensive Starling in the form of an open, ‘skeletal’-type cartridge with a thick upper section of CNC machined aluminium that serves as the mounting for both the generator and stylus below, and the fixing point for the tonearm above via threaded inserts. The generator coils and wiring are copper and the cantilever is made from aluminium.

Sumiko has deliberately chosen a longer cantilever as it helps with tracking towards the inside of a record. Due to the relatively shallow angle it works at, its overall height is much the same as the competition. This terminates in a nude elliptical stylus, which might be seen to be a little less sophisticated than some options available for similar money, but seems to work well enough.

The Songbird is available in both conventional low-output form with an output of 0.5mV or as a high-output model (as tested here) with a 2.5mV output that can be used directly into a conventional moving-magnet input.

The skeletal design means the Songbird is naturally going to be more stressful to fit than rivals that have a full body. Sumiko has been clever enough to add a plastic guard to cover the whole assembly, though, so fitting it isn’t as bad as it could be. The overall levels of build and finish are entirely competitive with others at the price and nothing about the weight or dimensions should prove a challenge for most tonearms.

Sound quality
The Songbird gets its name from its claimed ability to excel with vocals and emphasise the mids of music like rock where it can be recessed. Connected to a Rega Planar 10 (HFC 456) and Cyrus Phono Signature (HFC 408), no aspect of Calexico’s Algiers feels overblown or unnaturally emphasised. Sinner In The Sea has a wonderful level of space and order to it and the Songbird does a fine job of delivering it in a manner that engages without diluting the perceived realism of the recording as a whole.

It also demonstrates a usefully forgiving nature with less than perfect recordings. The dynamic but unquestionably hot pressing of Last Night All My Dreams Came True by Wild Beasts is something that the Songbird does a fine job with. The monumental live version of He The Colossos is presented with the bombast and fury intact, but avoiding the feeling of overload that can sometimes accompany it. This isn’t the most ballistic cartridge going; compared with the similarly priced Goldring Ethos (HFC 449), the Sumiko doesn’t have the same intensity but this never goes so far as it sounding languid or sluggish.

If you give it something with a wonderfully recorded vocal turn, like Lisa Gerrard’s live rendition of Persian Love Song on Dead Can Dance’s Toward The Within, the Sumiko rises to the occasion. This is not a micro detail-style cartridge, something that is possibly a function of its relatively conventional stylus, but it presents a rich and incredibly vivid portrayal of the live performance that draws you in and compels you to keep listening to it. Most importantly, this is something that can be achieved into a normal 40dB moving-magnet input.

Sound quality
Provided that you are not seriously short of gain to begin with, the Songbird should be able to do what it offers without having to employ the services of a moving-coil phono stage. I would council against skimping on the phono stage, however, as it is revealing enough to show up limitations in the chain and the less noise the better. What this is, though, is a cartridge that goes toe to toe with the best low-output designs at the price while making use of a simpler phono stage. Sumiko might not have rushed to introduce its new cartridges, but the results have certainly been well worth the wait. ES    

Product: Sumiko Songbird
Type: Moving-coil/high-output cartridge

●  Elliptical stylus
●  Aluminium alloy cantilever
●  Aluminium top plate with exposed generator

Read the full review in  Issue 465