The Best Cartridge You'll Ever Hear (From Someone You Never Heard Of): Well Tempered Labs Kauri Moving Coil Phono Cartridge

FTC Statement: Reviewers are frequently provided by the publisher/production company with a copy of the material being reviewed.The opinions published are solely those of the respective reviewers and may not reflect the opinions of CriticalBlast.com or its management.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. (This is a legal requirement, as apparently some sites advertise for Amazon for free. Yes, that's sarcasm.)

 
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
StumbleUpon icon
Del.icio.us icon
Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Kauri Phono Cartridge

One of the best cartridges you’ll ever hear that you never heard of and it comes from a land down under!

Over the past year, I’ve added to and upgraded my stereo system, and with each change and addition I’ve been able to make improvements that were easily sonically recognizable.

The last piece I changed, however, has made the biggest impact…more than I thought it would, given the piece I was replacing.

My system as it sat prior to the installation of my new phono cartridge was pretty straightforward. I have a Well Tempered Labs Amadeus Turntable with an Auditorium A23 record mat and a Well Tempered DPS power supply feeding into an Auditorium A23 Step Up into the Well Tempered TPP Phono stage feeding into, via all Auditorium A23 interconnects, my Line Magnetic IA219 Integrated Amp out to my DeVore 3XL speakers via Auditorium A23 speaker cable and various IsoTek Power cables throughout.

I have often thought that staying in a family oftentimes provides the best results; it's not always true, but it's often the case as each piece is designed for and made to compliment the other.

At the prompting of my resident Audio Guru Charlie Schnyder of Stereo Haven ( www.stereohaven.com ) I tried the Well Tempered Labs Kauri phono cartridge as a logical step up, and changed from my venerable and much loved Dynavector 20XL, based on where I am in my musical listening journey now.

If one does an internet search for the Kauri you will find that not much exists out there in the cyber universe other than what is on the Well Tempered and Dealer Websites.

Which I thought was very odd The other Well Tempered components have, in one place or another, been reviewed, but not so this cartridge. I wondered why?

Was it not exotic enough? No, it couldn't be that: the body of the cartridge is made from 45,000 year old Kauri wood (an indigenous tree, I’m told, of New Zealand).

Was it not made by a well-known cartridge manufacture? Hmm, possibly. But the thing is, no matter how hard you search, you can’t find who makes the cartridge for them--even if they make it all in-house, that information is nowhere to be found.

Is it not expensive enough? No, that’s surely not the case. While its roughly $2K price tag is not exactly in the mega-digit cost of some of the more expensive cartridges out there, many more cartridges costing less have been reviewed. 

So, as they say in the old school, it beats my two pair, so good or bad I am going to rectify this situation here today.

 

 

The cartridge itself is a stunner. The Kauri wood body is beautifully crafted, and because it is a natural product no two cartridges will look exactly alike.

And for you tree-huggers out there, the wood is a naturally obtained product so no live trees were harmed in the making of this cartridge.

It also breaks from the norm in another way. The cartridge body is round instead of the more tradition rectangle or square shape, with only a little notch on the front to show you where the cantilever lines up--which, if you’re like me with a cataract, it helps line the stylus up with the groove because it is very thin and tucked up into the body of the cartridge so that only the cantilever and stylus show out of the bottom.

 

 

Now, I am going to be the first to say that it took me a little while to set the cartridge up correctly--not because it is finicky in any way, it's just that I have not had that much experience setting up cartridges on my own on this table. But with a steady hand and wonderful guidance from Charlie and Mike Pranka (whose Toffco is the US distributor of the Kauri) I was able to get the Kauri set up properly in relatively short time.

I can’t stress how important it is to have a cartridge set up correctly. Too much or not enough of anything one way or another can have disastrous results both to your vinyl and to the music it produces. In the best case, improper installation will make it glaringly apparent that something is wrong; in the worst case, in my opinion, it will be subtle enough to not be outwardly apparent, but it will be enough to keep you from fully getting all the musical enjoyment the cartridge is capable of producing for you. So take my advice, if you are not sure, ask questions, or get help. This is about enjoying music, not about pride.

 

 

To put just how good the music from this cartridge is, here's a real world example:

My wonderful wife, whom I’ve been married to for over 28 amazing years, has, over that span of time, endured many, many changes to my stereo system--sometimes a piece at a time, others, whole systems at a time.

In each case she has always said that whatever changes I made the music sounded wonderful, and she loves to listen to music with me. But with every change it was almost always just an acknowledgement of a smile, a nod and a word or two of agreement when I asked what she thought.

When I had the Kauri set up correctly and before ever giving it any real break in time, I brought the missus upstairs to the listening room and put on some of her favorite, oft played albums and songs.

 

 

She was sitting down in her listening chair answering a text on her phone when the music started playing. Before the first song was done and she finished typing her text, she threw her head up and shouted out “Wow!” She put her phone down and spent the next 3 hours in wonderment and amazement (as did I) and, at one point, she looked over at me and said, “You have made a lot of changes in your system"--(see I told ya)--"and every one made it sound better than before. But this is the most dramatic improvement you have ever made at one time."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, for me, was the “Drop the mic” moment!

The Kauri took the wonderful music my Dynavector made and lofted it up to a whole other level! In terms of openness, spatial nuances, tonal textures, and definition, the Kauri had me hearing information I never knew existed in the grooves of records that I have played on excellent sounding systems for decades.

It is forgiving of the occasional pip or pop too, but on poorly produced recorded songs where the “S”’s are overly pronounced or on severely worn records, it will call them out; that is not a fault of the cartridge but a fault of the record. On most records there is no more sibilants heard than is normal when speaking in conversation with someone, or even more so being at a live performance, and does not detract in any way from the listening pleasure.

To say that it’s like a veil was lifted in listening with the Kauri would be very cliché in audio speak, but then it would never be used more correctly than when describing what the Kauri did over my DV (a superb cartridge in its own right).

The definition I now heard between vocals was astounding, You can hear every over dub, every supporting vocal in a song--and where I could make it out before, it was even more apparent now. Is it more analytical? Yes, but, and it's a big but here, it never lost a modicum of musicality in all of its portrayal of definition. I hear so much more of the vocal nuances and inflections that make live music, sound alive.

At no point was it ever harsh sounding; just musical and open, open like when you open a window in the spring and a breeze blows in sending the curtains billowing towards you; that kind of wonderful breath of fresh air after a long winter openness It makes you smile!

I’ve owned quite a few cartridges in my day, from Grado, Sumiko, Koestsu, Ortofon, and Dynavector to name a few, and listened to a good many more. Almost all sounded wonderful to my ears in their own way. But it’s that lifelike presentation the Kauri conveys that smack you upside your head and sits you up in your seat to listen--to the music, to the event, to the emotion--with a presentation that is just so wonderful to experience and a cut above what the others could convey.

I have never felt more in the presence of the performers and venue than I have with the Kauri and at the same time have I ever enjoyed my music more.

I have had the Kauri in my system for a couple of months now and have listened to many, many albums and songs from a myriad of genres for hours on end, it handled each with aplomb. It is an all-around performer that to my ears is so good that I would call it one of the best bargains available in the audiophile world that will make the biggest impact to your vinyl enjoyment…and I can say quite frankly this is the finest cartridge that I have ever heard, that I never heard of…give it a listen where you can, you just might feel the same way!

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0