Review: Sumiko Pearl Cartridge

Category: Analog

Have used other Sumiko phono cartridges before such as the Blue Point and Blue Point Special. Basically I have found all the Sumiko products offer extraordinary value for the money.

This is my first experience with their MM line. This one is the Pearl which has elliptical stylus and is their top of the line in the Moving Magnet range from Sumiko.

There are just a host of manufacturers in this arena putting out some really fine MM phono cartridges at the $100.00 mark. Such, as Shure,Audio Technica,Ortofon and so on. But the Sumiko Pearl is the sleeper of this bunch. Does not get the recognition that the others get. Sumiko appears not to promote this end,and concentrate on their high output Moving Coils.

In the area of $100.00 MM phono cartridges the Sumiko Pearl has in my opinion no peers and clearly is more musical than the other offerings in this price point category.

The Pearl has outstanding separation and frequency response,coupled with way above average trackability. Plus the ability to work with a wide variety of tone arms.

Recently found myself in need of a good MM phono cartridge and was ready to get the Shure 97XE or the Audio Technica 440ML for a vintage JVC table that I was resurrecting. the dealer was out of the above two cartridges and suggested I try the Sumiko Pearl. After some thought,okay why not I like their MC range of cartridges,plus a 20% percent off list did persuade me to try the Sumiko Pearl. Plus if I didn't like it,he would apply money spent to another cartridge.

The Sumiko Pearl comes in a white and blue box. Inside the box is the owners manual,mounting screws,screwdriver, and stylus brush. The Sumiko Pearl comes housed in a white jewelers box, that is lined in royal blue. Very nice overall presentation for a $100.00 cartridge.

Mounting is very straight forward,as it is standard half inch mounting. Screws supplied were just a millimeter or two short. So to my parts bin for some slightly longer screws. With that taken care of installed the Pearl and used a MFSL Geo-Disc to set over hang, fore going the JVC over hang gauge. Balanced the tone arm and set tracking force at 2 Grams and verified with Shure SFG-2 stylus force gauge. Set anti skate to 2 grams as well.

Listed below are some of the albums used for the listening tests of the Sumiko Pearl.

Bob James - Hands Down (Columbia FC 38067)
Hiroshima - Self Titled - (Arista MFSL1-525)
John Coltrane - Blue Train - (Blue Note BST 81577)
Wes Montgomery - Bumpin' - (Verve V6-8625)
Rickie Lee Jones - Self Titled - (Warner BSK 3296)
Wynton Marsalis - Live Blues Alley - (Columbia PC2-40675)
Eric Gale - Forecast - (KUDU Records KU 11)(CTI Records)
Kenny Burrell & Grover Washington Jr - (Blue Note BT 85106)
Earl Klugh - Finger Painting - (Blue Note MFSL 1-025)
Larry Carlton - Friends - (Warner 23834-1)
Sadao Watanabe - Autumn Blow - (Inner City IC 6064)
Doobie Brothers - Minute by Minute - (Warner BSK 3193)
Santana - Zebop - (Columbia FC37158)
Pat Metheny Group - American Garage - (ECM 1-1155)
Frederick Fennel - Cleveland Symphonic Winds - (Telarc 5038)

The Sumiko Pearl is just liquid in its presentation, not calling attention to itself. Just has a way of extracting the information from the LP in a seamless, musical way that far belies its price point. The layering in of the instruments is most impressive with a wide sound stage and great depth front to back. After owning several Shures and Audio Techinca cartridges, the Sumiko Pearl was a very pleasant surprise. It is absent of grain and glare and for once in this price range cymbal splashes sound correct and not thin. Surface noise is vanshingly low. Sounds very good straight out of the box and will improve it sonics in about 25 hours.

For once here is a budget phono cartridge that can compete well above its price range, plus the fact you certainly do not have to make excuses for the Sumiko Pearl. It is a solid performer for the most jaded of us, and for those beginning their analog journey, one can get spoiled quite nicely to the sonic signature of the Sumiko Pearl. If I had not been tempted by the local audio shop, I might have passed this gem by and would have missed a very musical phono cartridge. By any standard one would care to judge the Sumiko Pearl, I firmly believe one will come away most impressed by this entry level MM phono cartridge from Sumiko.

Specs Below:

Cartridge Type MM

Frequency Response (Hz) 12Hz-30kHz

Output Voltage/Channel (mV) 5mV

Channel Separation (dB) 30dB

Channel Balance (dB) 0,5dB

Compliance 15mm/N

Stylus size/shape (mil) Elp. 0,2x0,8mm

Load Impedance 47kOhm

Tracking Force Range (grams) 1.5 - 2.0

Moving magnet, alloy cantilever, bonded elliptical stylus, 4.0mV output.

It is not the point of this review to disparage the phono cartridges from Shure,Audio Technica,Goldring,Ortofon, and Grado. These companies produce outstanding phono cartridges in the $100.00 range and are worthy of anyones consideration.

But should the need arise and you find yourself looking to replace a phono cartridge, I recommend the Sumiko Pearl as a solid alternative, and feel you will come to the same conclusion as I have.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Shure M97XE,Audio Technica 440ML,Ortofon OM 10,Goldring Elektra,Grado Red
It's nice to see a review of the Pearl. The Sumiko MM line is unfairly ignored. Whether it's due to the line's ungainly looks or low perceived value, the Pearl does stand out -- a good value even when compared against tough competitors like those mentioned. While the lower model Sumikos equipped with spherical styli (the Oysters) may indeed leave a lot to be desired, the Pearl seems to get the price/value proposition right. It also skirts the middle ground between bright (like the AT440ML) and warm (M97xE). I'm with Ferrari on this one -- the Pearl is worth a listen.
...and was wondering how the cart mounted aside from the supplied screws being too short as per your review. Does the Pearl's body have self-threads or are nuts required also? Thanks anyway for turning me on to this little wonder...I'll have to give it a whirl soon!...Peter
No the Pearl is not self threaded, it requires fastening nuts. Sumiko may have supplied longer screws by now. If not its not a problem most hardware stores that sell bulk screws will have a supply of these longer screws. The ACE hardware store in my area has a large supply of assorted small screws. If not contact Small Parts in Miami Lakes,Fl and your search is over.
I would give the nod to the Denon DL 110,better transient response,with detail and transparency that the Sumiko Pearl somewhat lacks.
Since your system lists a Denon DL-160 how does it compare to this more expensive MC cart?

Thanks for the nice writeup!
To be totally candid I cannot tell a sonic difference between the DL 110 0r the DL 160. The DL 160 does have a tapered cantilever, which aids in trackability, but other than that sonically I can't tell the difference. Can't go wrong with either the DL 110 or DL 160. At their price points there is no comparison.
I recently picked up a Sumiko Pearl cart, and am having MASSIVE problems getting the anti-skate right !
Using the HiFi news test record, I can only eliminate buzz on the +12db track (and only if I track at 2g). Remaining tracks buzz like mad.

Has anyone else had problems getting their Pearl going well ? I've got it attached to an RB300, sitting on a planar 3 :)
My best results have been tracking the Pearl at the full range of 2 grams. For me the anti skating was set near the 1.5 gram mark on a Rega RB 250 arm. I am not sure what is causing the buzzing. Re-check all your connections and make sure the interconnect leads from the tone arm are not touching any other interconnects, power cords, or near the amplifier.
He's talking about the frequency intermodulation distortion on test tracks. Personally I'd never trust any cart review that didn't test this aspect of a cartridge. Glad Lordvader checked it out. I'll have to pass on this cart.
Anti Skate issues are a function of cart compliance,effective mass, and the arm shape. 'S' shape arms produce a force, and hence an acceleration that is not common to 'J' or straight tonearms. I have a strong suspicion that many, many users are setting bias ( anti-skate ) way too low for good performance. The test record is the way to go, but believe in your results.
I commented on bias in my mini review of the Pearl on Needle doctor. For the record, I have almost 3 grams bias on my DV20X2L in a Jelco 750D, tracking at 1.9g, and all other parameters sweet.
I personally like the Pearl,and I agree it deserves greater recognition.I own one and had no tracking issues myself.
I would like however to say to owners og the Pearl and Black Pearl to consider this Jico stylus
for their cartridge.It will take both sound and tracking to such high levels,that many will never consider to pay for a more "high-tech" MC or MM.
The JICO stylus very special nude tip is fitted on a boron cantilever and the price is ridiculously low compared to any other stylus of its kind.I'm sure anyone who tries it will agree it is also better.
I got the Sumiko Pearl three weeks ago so I think it's safe to say that it's broken in. My turntable is a cheap but decent Goldring GR-1 from 2006 (a rebranded Rega Planar 1) and my Phono preamp is an Ear 834 CLONE (aka:copy) which get around 90% of the quality of the real thing for 1/4 of the price. The tubes I've put in it are a NOS RCA 5751 from1962 as a V1, a NOS Hit Ray (Hitachi-Raytheon) 12AX7A from the 60's as a V2 and as V3 a NOS 12AU7 Hit Ray from the 70's.
I find the Sumiko Pearl a bit on the soft side, shy on treble for my taste making it sound a bit dull for my taste with Classic Rock like Van Halen or Boston. But for orchestral movie soundtracks it sounds terrific for the price.
The forum member who posted before me posted a website to get better needles for this cart, something I'd like to do, but I'm afraid the link doesn't work. Any help please or suggestions?
Thanks in advance.
Hello, I'm relatively confident it was for the Jico SAS, which they have discontinued.

For the price that those would have cost, though (around $200), you should be able to buy a completely new cartridge and stylus that improves significantly on the Sumiko Pearl.  One example would be the AT 440MLb the

Good convo here you might find useful, since your table apparently uses a variation of the Rega RB-250 tonearm: