As I write this, it’s back-to-school time at the Thorpe household. Little Toni is starting third grade, and Marcia the special-needs teacher is heading back to her class. The house gets a little crazy the day before school starts. Tensions run a touch high.
Yesterday, Marcia decided that she needs to set up the ironing board so she can iron her clothes each morning before school. The location she chose for her ironing station was right behind my listening couch, blocking access to the record rack. Marcia asked if I was okay with this arrangement. Negotiation ensued.
Like my father’s before me, my brain has abnormally large patience lobes, but I was really not happy about having a grotty, stained ironing board plonked down in the room I try hard to keep clean -- even, dare I say it, keep elegant. In an attempt to mollify me, Marcia said she’d take the ironing board down whenever we had company. I stood my ground. Our negotiation became a battle.
“Look at this room!” She gestured at my stereo, my wall of records, my array of motorcycle helmets perfectly aligned above my whiskey collection. “Is it too much to ask for this small space?” It had come to this. I stormed off, grumbling.
Later, I thought about it a bit more. Why did she need to iron daily? How could I fix this? I walked back into the house and found Marcia in the kitchen. “Look. How about I do your week’s ironing for you, all in one go? That way, we can set the ironing board up once a week, then take it down right after.”
“Oh, that would be lovely! Thanks for finding a solution that works for both of us.” She kissed me on the cheek and went back to what she was doing.
I don’t mind ironing -- I’m good at it, and find a sort of Zen peace in the process. Plus, while ironing I can listen to records. That said, as I was ironing a particularly fussy woman’s blouse, all frills and pleats, I began to wonder. Was this her plan all along?
I think I’ve been flim-flammed
While the European Audio Team’s Jo N°8 moving-coil cartridge ($2495 USD) has been in my system only about three weeks -- usually, I take longer to get to know and digest a audio component’s attributes before reporting on them -- I feel that I just have to tell you right now about the excitement the Jo N°8 is generating.
I’ve never met Jozefína Lichtenegger, president of European Audio Team, but she has a formidable résumé and clearly makes beautiful components that sound great. I’ve been following her company’s goings-on with great interest, and the Jo N°8 is my third EAT component. My first exposure to EAT came via their C-Major turntable, a reasonably priced but exceedingly elegant symphony of piano-black lacquer and carbon fiber. Not too long afterward I received the E-Glo S, a strikingly handsome tubed phono stage that sounded as good as it looked.
EAT is an analog company -- turntables, tonearms, phono stages -- so it makes sense that they’d launch their own cartridge, which they did with the Jo N°5, a reasonably priced and visually distinctive MC. The Jo N°5 came and went without a review sample being sent my way, but I was intrigued. When EAT announced the higher-end Jo N°8, I launched an e-mail and landed a sample.
The Jo N°8 is a high-quality MC cartridge with a nude Shibata stylus riding a boron cantilever. It’s a fairly heavy critter at 12.5gm, so make sure your counterweight is up to the balancing act. According to EAT, the Jo N°8’s coils are wound with 99.999999% pure copper wire, and its suspension is made of TPE polymer. In North America, the Jo N°8 retails for $2495 in the plain cardboard box my review sample arrived in; for another C-note, you can have a deluxe walnut display case. Outside North America, all buyers get the walnut case. As for retips, EAT offers 25% credit on a new cartridge when you return a tired Jo N°8.
What a chunky little nugget is the Jo N°8! Bigger than most cartridges, its body is made of stabilized chestnut wood on an aluminum core. When I say bigger than most cartridges, I mean it. Mounted to an Origin Live Silver tonearm, mounted in turn on a Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare turntable, the Jo N°8 extended about 3mm past the headshell on both sides. In fact, so wide is the Jo N°8 that I was unable to use my HRS Analog Disc record weight -- the edge of the cartridge’s body would bump up against the weight as the stylus neared the end of the lead-out groove. But that’s okay-- I still have Furutech’s most excellent Monaco record clamp, which is significantly smaller in diameter than the HRS. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Jo N°8 was exceptionally easy to mount in the Origin’s headshell, given that EAT has nicely threaded the mounting holes. They’ve also thoughtfully included a nifty snap-on stylus protector, the inclusion of which always makes me breathe a little easier around a pricey cartridge.
Although the Jo N°8’s front and sides taper significantly inward toward the cartridge’s business end, its ultrawide body means that keeping the stylus within line of sight is a sketchy affair. But the Jo N°8 rides fairly high off the record -- with a flashlight and double-magnifier glasses, alignment is achievable. EAT specifies that the Jo N°8 outputs a lowish 0.3mV, which my Constellation Andromeda phono stage easily accommodated.
As is my wont, I gave the Jo N°8 an I-suppose-that’ll-do hail-Mary setup, dialing in 2gm of vertical tracking force (VTF), and adjusting the Origin Live Silver’s bitch of a vertical-tracking-angle (VTA) pivot point to get the top of the cartridge body parallel to the record surface. I didn’t spend too much time on this initial alignment -- I assumed that the Jo N°8’s Shibata stylus would need significant puttering to sufficiently dial it in.
But maybe I got lucky. I sat down and began listening. This brand-new cartridge with zero hours on it made me look up, put down my book (Neal Stephenson’s Fall), and take active notice. Three weeks later, my bookmark still marks the same page.
Back up. A week or two in, as the Jo N°8’s suspension loosened up a bit, the sound improved just a little, but enough to make me even happier. I took another look at the alignment. Yup, I indeed had got lucky the first time. The stylus was right in the bullseye notch of my Pro-Ject Align it, and the cantilever was aligned right where it should be, or near as dammit. But EAT recommends 2.3gm of downforce, so I bumped the VTF up to that -- it took a couple of tries to find the correct position for the Origin Live’s ungraduated counterweight. I sat back.
What a massive sound! The Jo N°8 laid out a huge soundscape -- which is different from a punk-ass soundstage, I’ll have you know. A soundscape -- a term I’m using just for the Jo N°8 -- is an all-enveloping environment into which the listener is immersed. Over the last two weeks I’ve repeatedly returned to side 2 of Peter Gabriel’s Passion: Music for “The Last Temptation of Christ” (LP, Geffen/Classic PG-8). “A Different Drum” is almost terrifyingly huge in its portrayal of the sound of drums played in a big space. The Jo N°8 put me in the middle of a huge cave, angry men pounding on massive drums right in front of me. When Gabriel comes groaning in, the Jo N°8 spread his voice from left to right -- a gigantic, totally unrealistic head, like the animation of God in Time Bandits.
So, yeah, a massive sound. Aiding the Jo N°8 in this portrayal of size was a very slightly rich midrange -- not too chocolatey, not too jammy. Rather, there was a hint of extremely endearing warmth that provided just enough emphasis to add to aural images a roundness, a feeling of solidity.
On a whim, I pulled my 1995 vinyl edition of Sonny Rollins’s East Broadway Run Down (LP, Impulse! IMP-161) from its never-listen tomb in my rack. The Jo N°8 threw me into engineer Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, as Rollins and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard dueled for my attention. But what I was taken by was Elvin Jones’s crisp, rapid-fire ride cymbal off to the right. The Jo N°8 presented it with a silkiness that was immediately endearing. Oh, there was plenty of extension at the top end, but the Jo N°8 tempered that top with the creamy refinement that only a high-quality moving-coil cartridge can muster.
East Broadway Run Down is much more intimate music than Passion, but the Jo N°8 still had its way with the scale of this acoustic jazz quartet. A huge enveloping acoustic spread across the front of my room, with rock-solid images of instruments that just plain locked in the room. About halfway through the 12-minute “Blessing in Disguise,” when Rollins blows a sad, plaintive couple of solo bars, the Jo N°8 blossomed a huge, rich, juicy ambience around the brass-and-reed sound of his tenor sax. What a delicious moment!
The Jo N°8 also had a whomping bottom end -- a bit looser in the basement than some might like, but I found it totally enjoyable. As the 1980s segued into the ’90s, Cocteau Twins released Heaven or Las Vegas, one of the most ethereal albums I’ve ever heard. My wafer-thin original pressing is far from audiophile quality, but I still want to hug it as if I’m a 16-year-old schoolgirl. In “Fifty-Fifty Clown” (don’t you just love their precious titles?), as in every track on this album, it’s hard to make out the lyrics, though I can catch one or two words here and there -- for me, it just adds to the mystery of the music. “Fifty-Fifty Clown” has a ton of richness down in the basement, and through the Jo N°8 I heard more extension than I’m used to, the sounds of the bass and kick drum blending with perhaps a bit too much homogeneity. But I’m picking nits -- overall, the Jo N°8’s low end was rich, tuneful, and tight.
About a year ago, when I reviewed the Sumiko Starling MC cartridge ($1899), I was extremely enthusiastic about its clear, open sound and excellent retrieval of detail. The Jo N°8 costs $596 more, but its sound is far more dramatic and evocative. In fact, the two carts couldn’t sound more different. Although I immensely enjoyed the Starling, my heart belongs to the Jo N°8’s expansive, rich, ginormous sound. This is a situation in which a bunch more money buys a bunch more sound quality -- a rarity in high-end audio. EAT’s Jo N°8 is a great cartridge and a very good value.
A bit more about the Jo N°8 being a very good value: I’ve been running a Roksan Shiraz MC cartridge on a bunch of different turntables since the world almost ended at midnight on December 31, 1999 (this COBOL programmer made a packet off the Y2K scare). I’m more than familiar with the Shiraz’s sound. The Roksan retails for about twice the price of the Jo N°8. Does it sound twice as good?
Good question. The Shiraz essentially combines the benefits of the Starling and the Jo N°8 -- it’s got the EAT’s scale and dynamics, and the Sumiko’s neutrality and clarity. But the improvement delivered by the Shiraz over the Jo N°8 is relatively quite small; the Jo N°8 is an overtly noticeable improvement over the Starling. I’m comfortable in stating that the Jo N°8 is near the top of the knee of the price/performance curve. You’ve got to spend a heck of a lot more than $2495 to get a better-sounding cartridge.
I close with a few facts: 1) Coming up very soon will be my review of Dr. Feickert Analogue’s Volare turntable. 2) It’s impossible to describe a turntable in isolation. 3) The EAT Jo N°8 has become an integral part of my record-playing system. Therefore, 4) In the new few months you’ll be hearing more about the European Audio Team’s Jo N°8.
. . . Jason Thorpe
European Audio Team Jo N°8 Moving-Coil Cartridge
Price: $2495 USD.
Warranty: Two years parts and labor.
European Audio Team
Wirtschaftspark A5, Analogweg 1
Mistelbach / Wilfersdorf
Phone: +43 2574-285-57
2845 Middle Country Road
Lake Grove, NY 11755
Phone: (631) 246-4412