Hardware Reviews

Hana Umami Blue for the spice of vinyl life

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge review https://the-ear.net

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge

Hana is a relatively new name, but parent company Excel Sound Corp. has been making phono cartridges for reputable companies for over 50 years, (including their own Urushi brand) accumulating vast experience in design and manufacture along the way. Hana, which draws on that expertise, is the brainchild of Hana’s master designer Maseo Okada-san.

Hana’s initial cartridges, the E, S land M low and high-output moving coils, are positioned at the more affordable end of the quality moving-coil market and have made many friends. Then came the more up-market Umami Red, which has garnered high praise. Hana has followed this up with the Umami Blue, which is claimed to benefit from work on the Red, but at a more affordable price, sitting between the M range and the Umami Red.

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge review https://the-ear.net

There are many similarities between the Red and Blue, which both feature duralumin bodies– duralumin being a very tough A7075 ‘aircraft’ grade of aluminium. This is cleverly shaped body protects the delicate cantilever, while providing an open volume of free air in which it can vibrate, which is claimed to help to reduce coloration. It’s a neat compromise between the totally (but scarily) naked, and safer more conventionally enclosed coils and cantilevers.The stylus is well protected by a spacious and all – encompassing guard. I just wish more were as effective, and easy to remove and replace safely as this one.

Red and Blue

In the Umami Red the body is coated in multi-layered Urushi lacquer, with an ebony inlay, whereas in the Blue it’s coated in thermoset melamine with a POM inlay. The melamine is not just cosmetic, although it does look gorgeous: it’s vapour deposited, baked for 30 minutes at 120 C and is claimed to add damping to improve sound quality.

Both Red and Blue have an identical solid boron cantilever and microline nude natural diamond. Likewise, both employ pure copper windings on a permalloy former, but in the Red, its square and in the Blue it’s cross-shaped. The magnetic yoke of both is pure iron. Coil impedance of the Blue is slightly higher but the output voltages are identical. The generator systems in both, including the armature, yoke, coils and gold-plated pins are all cryogenically treated to alter them at a molecular level. Like all Hana cartridges the Blue is hand assembled.

Both Umami cartridges are therefore very similar, but the magnet types are different: with samarium cobalt in the Red and alnico in the Blue, which is claimed to offer a ‘classic sonic quality’, with ‘greater linearity, with reduced saturation, creating a rich musical quality’. The specifications of the Red and Blue are mostly identical, but as we know specs are not the only guide to sound quality.

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge review https://the-ear.net

The fifth sound

The declared aim of the Blue is to deliver sonic qualities similar to the Red but at a lower price point. But what are those qualities? According to Hana, the answer is encapsulated in the umami appellation – a culinary term to coined describe a fifth taste after salty, sour, sweet and bitter, meaning a delicious blend of culinary flavours. In other words – a synergistic effect resulting in higher taste intensity. More specifically, Hana’s publicity refers to richness, clarity, imaging, bass definition synergy and harmonious blending, claiming that the Blue establishes ‘a new standard for musical performance and value’. That’s quite a claim. I haven’t heard the Red, but I do have the Blue, so my aim in this review was to see if it really does deliver an intense, ‘delicious’ sound as claimed.

The Umami Blue arrived packed in a neat little wood box, with the usual accessories (three lengths of fixing bolts, stylus brush, spec. sheet). Once mounted and aligned on my Origin Live Conqueror tone arm (on an Avid Sequel SP turntable) I set the tracking weight to the recommended two grams and adjusted the bias compensation, etc. Instead of listening straight away, I let it play a few sides over a few days, just to run in the suspension, before even attempting to listen.

Sound quality

I intended to leave it longer, but could not resist the temptation, so I set my Cyrus Signature phono preamp (with Cyrus PSX-R2 power supply) to 100 Ohms (the spec is 80 Ohms plus) and 2nF input impedance. Initial reactions after playing only a couple of records were very good, but lowering the pillar to bring the arm slightly below parallel, increasing the resistance to 150 ohms, and reducing the capacitance to 1nF opened the sound up a little and sweetened treble a touch. Mindful that running in had not been completed, I left it playing silently for a couple more days. So, after a week’s running in and initial tweaking, I settled down to some proper listening on a wide range of vinyl, via my Creek Destiny amp and Kudos speakers.

Having been run in and tweaked, the sound of the Umami Blue had opened out and the top end was extended and detailed yet smooth. Bass was firm, deep and nicely paced, while the level of detail and transparency over the whole audio range was impressive, yet not over-blown or in your face. Paradoxically, given the level of detail, surface noise was really low. The whole sound had a surprising degree of stability and there was a quietness to the background out of which the music emerged. Maybe as a consequence stereo imagery was also very stable, creating a believable space for the music to inhabit.

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge review https://the-ear.net

This set up really does combine natural warmth and detail in delicately balanced proportions. So, much so that more and more LPs found their way onto the Avid’s platter and under the Umami Blue’s diamond. What’s mentioned here is only a small sample by way of illustration.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony played by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Bernard Haitink (Philips disc set 6747307) was one of the first after the initial run-in. Strings were sweet and the whole orchestra clear and focussed. This is not the most vivid recording, but the various instruments were portrayed with a good sense of clarity and their placements were very clear, solid and stable. The sense of drive and rhythm was also strong which carried the music along dynamically, and the background was surprisingly quiet.

The woodwind sounded lovely – rich and full, as with the double basses and cellos. Horns calling from the rear had real presence. Kettle drum also at the rear, had distinctive tonality and impact within the acoustics. The overall balance had both warmth and presence, but was but lacking any sense of exaggerated clarity. It is a welcome change from some highly detailed but over-lively sounding cartridges which, while impressive, can sometimes become fatiguing.

The Umami Blue handled the music very cleanly from diminuendo to fortissimo – including the male and female vocals and massed choir, with no sense of strain, distortion or harshness, which is a major achievement. Tracking ability is clearly very good. It was a naturalistic portrayal of the orchestra and I listened to the whole symphony, so it was an auspicious start, and a sign of things to come.

Hana Umami Blue moving coil cartridge review https://the-ear.net

I also played a live recording by Bavarian Radio of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, from 1967. This is Rafael Kubelik conducting the Bavarian Symphony Orchestra, and issued on Audite 80403. It’s an amazing transfer, and the sound with the Umami Blue was astonishingly vivid and expansive, producing a wide and deep sound stage, with convincing acoustics, clarity and separation. The tiniest details in the quietest moments, to the loudest were handled deftly and background noise was again very quiet. While some recordings may give the impression that the Blue is slightly laid back, others such as this, show it is more like a neutral window revealing the true nature of the recording and its transfer to disc – something that is not always so well done.

Swapping styles dramatically, we have Kraftwerk’s album Man Machine. Played from We are the Robots through to Metropolis , these tracks were delivered with clarity and precision, deep firm bass, processed vocals and synths with rich complexities of harmonics seemingly extending way up through the treble regions and above – again delivered without harshness and with very quiet backgrounds.

George Benson’s Quincy Jones-produced album Give Me The Night is always a good test of bass drive and definition, and it did not disappoint. Playing On Broadway and Give me the Night, the Umami Blue delivered really well-defined and driving drum with bass slap – no weakness, flab or overhang. Not only that, Quincy’s vocals were smooth as caramel and all instruments in this skilful mix were portrayed clearly but without blare or harshness.


That just about sums it up. The Umami Blue really does deliver what Hana promises – a delicate optimisation of characteristics resting in a lovely sound. Tonal balance can’t be totally separated from the tone arm and turntable, or of course the recording itself, but I reckon the Umami Blue is essentially neutral to maybe oh-so-slightly warm through from deep, powerful, well-controlled bass to its deliciously liquid and transparent midrange and treble. There did not seem to be any audible peak to lift highs, and yet treble seemed nicely extended, with no lack of sparkle. In cases where certain records had inherent traces of hardness, the Umami Blue minimised (while not eliminating) its impact, so more vinyl found its way on to the platter.

Overall, the Umami Blue enabled the qualities of different recordings to shine though. Swap the term umami for musical and organic and there you have it. By that, I mean rich in harmonics and insightful in details of musicianship, recording technique, mixing, production and so on.

Whatever the tonal or technical qualities of the Umami Blue, it came back each time to a high enjoyability factor. Although unconventional as an audio term, maybe Hana’s use of umami is appropriate to describe a synergistic balance of characteristics and that undefinable thing which encourages musical enjoyment, or makes a delicious meal.


Type: moving coil cartridge
Body: Duralumin (A7075) + POM
Cantilever: boron
Stylus: microline nude diamond
Tracking Pressure: 2g
Input load impedance: >80 Ohms
Coil impedance: 8 Ohms/1kHz
Nominal output voltage: 0.4mV/1kHz
Channel Balance: 0.5dB/1kHz
Channel separation: >30dB/1kHz
Mass: 10.8g
Warranty: 2 years

Price when tested:
Manufacturer Details:

Excel Sound Corporation


moving coil cartridge


Dave Berriman

Distributor Details:

Air Audio Distribution
T +44 (0)1491 629629

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