Ok i've made more listening tests with the EPC-451CII cartridge.
Now i can safely say it is -by far- the best cartridge i have. I've made listening tests comparing them to the following carts:
- Shure V15-IV with original Shure VN45HE stylus (my previous favorite)
- ADC XLM II Improved (also excellent sounding, another classic)
These two cartridges are classics and -according to some people- as best as a MM cartridge can get. But the Panasonic is even better
Transients are clearly defined, and the sound has a sense of immediacy/realism that is not on the other cartridges.
The sound is CD-like (in the good sense of the word!!)
Vocals, cymbals, everything with a high frequency content is more clearly defined than the carts above mentioned. The sound has a significatively greater "punch", too.
I think the increased realism might probably be thanks to the absence of the need for a RIAA equalization network, which introduces undesirable phase shifts. I have some quotes from a Soundsmith expert on strain-gauge cartridges, will paste them in a few minutes.
The downsides are that this cartridge can't track the Telarc 1812 overture "torture" disc, while the Shure V15-IV can do it with no problems. The ADC is distinctively softer, smoother sounding, which can be a benefit when you don't want to rock the house.
I also haven't tested for groove noise yet. The ADC a champ in this respects.
But ALL comments i've read on the internet about semiconductor cartridges are praise, praise, and more praise. Now i know why.
These comments are from Peter Ledermann, Chief engineer for Soundsmith corp, responsible for the audiophile Soundsmith strain-gauge cartridges that get rave reviews.
User name "retipper" on this and other forums. This is about what i (and him) believe it's one of the major sonic advantage of this kind of cartridges: The absence of the need for a RIAA compensation network, and thus the absence of additional phase shifts.
Displacement devices have an INHERENT 6dB/octave curve, very similar to the RIAA (not an accident, BYW)....they DO deviate slightly from the RIAA at two points, BUT, we do NOT correct for this, for doing so would ruin the beauty and simplicity of the device; the one super clean gain stage between you and the music we designed is almost one too many. More than one (to "fix" small anomalies) would be death to the magic. We do compensate passively for the low end roll, as required.
The subject of human response to amplitude and phase is an interesting one; the standpoint often determines the course of design choices for those of us in the audio design and manufacturing field. I, for one, strongly believe that the human ear is much more forgiving in the amplitude domain than it is in the time domain. After all, many amplitude deviations are the direct result of phase interaction due to resonance, both summation and cancellation, making "amplitude" perturbations audible and potentially objectionable in speaker drivers and cartridge/tone arm systems.
(...) The phase shifts introduced by the RIAA recording curve are further modified by the varied individual characteristics of the equipment used to cut the master. So, where does that leave us? The Strain Gauge is without much phase shift at all.
My experience is that severe phase perturbations over a narrow region are very audible, while those that are spread out are much less objectionable. It may well be that this is one of the positive differences one experiences when listening to the Strain Gauge. That, in combination with the general standpoint of multiple stages being inferior to a single stage, makes one think that possibly that too, is a motive for using a "simplified" strain gauge system. (...)
This one is very interesting, on the lifespan of the Panasonic/Technics/Matsushita Semiconductor cartridges.
What I can say is that the Matsushita carts I own from the time when I was a design engineer at RAM audio 35 years ago, and produced a SG preamp sold with the Matsushita SG, have not changed at all
(...)Reliability?? I will wager that an SG cart will last far longer than most MC's due to HOW the SG are built, how stable they actually are compared to MC's, and the fact that my many SG carts are more than 30 years old and still perform flawlessly.