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Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

Skyanalog Reference MC Cartridge

Well planned!

There are always some analog gems that we are delighted to report on. Insiders have known about Skyanalog – from the Middle Kingdom – for some time now. Actually for even longer, because Skyanalog has been supplying various manufacturers worldwide as an OEM manufacturer for quite a while. Unfortunately, they don’t tell us which ones … Anyway, after an impressive market entry at very affordable price ranges, we now have the company’s own MC Reference pickup system. An equally sensible and logical step.

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

Can you write with a clear conscience about a product in the three thousand euro range (and one that wears itself out over time)? You can! Firstly, because it is in the spirit of journalism, secondly, because you want to write about it, and thirdly, because you have to free yourself (as a hi-fi fan who is uninhibitedly addicted to this hobby) from such trivial thoughts. Let’s just take a sober look at it: cartridges are nothing more than consumables. I can already see the faces of the odd reader twitch, and I’m going to double down: just as the toner in a printer has to be refilled when it’s used up, a cartridge is also due for an overhaul from time to time. Well, let’s leave all this painting black-and-white and give in to the emotions …

For the sake of good order, let’s first turn to the technical features of the Skyanalog Reference. As soon as you unpack it, the finely crafted oak box reveals the manufacturer’s attention to detail. The golden piece of metal, weighing a solid twelve grams, is quickly placed between my fingers. Curious, I twist and turn the body, which is made from a hardened aluminum alloy. Two parts (screwed together at four points) ensure a rigid construction. Incidentally, this design is said to be significantly less resonant than all the competitors, which consist of just one housing part. The words “Made in China” are confidently displayed on top.

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

On the opposite side is the sapphire stylus carrier with a micro-ridge diamond, which – as a magnifying glass reveals – is accurately attached and has an extremely long service life of around 3,000 hours (with this cut, a narrow ridge with a radius of just 2 µm is cut out on each side of the diamond). Hi-fi connoisseurs will immediately nod in acknowledgement, as sapphire stylus carriers boast a very high-tier Mohs hardness of nine (diamonds come in at ten) and therefore automatically ensure distortion-free signal transmission to the moving coils. At 12 μm/mN, the stylus compliance is in a range that many tonearms can cope with, and the recommended 1.7 to 2.0 grams of tracking force are also not an issue. The manufacturer recommends 30 hours for the break-in period. For this purpose, I use the tried and tested Break In LP from Clearaudio. Six endless grooves with pink noise enable the full sonic experience within a few hours. The Skyanalog Reference is easy to install. The threads embedded in the system body and the enclosed Allen screws are quickly fitted. The top of the system is perfectly flat. I quickly place a headshell mat from Dereneville between the cartridge and tonearm – it has proved its worth!

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

As is usual with many manufacturers, designer Jack Leung from Skyanalog also resorts to tried and tested means and builds his current top system from the most rigorously selected parts and assembles the ingredients in a rigid housing. To put it soberly, this approach is nothing new per se, but the result is audible. This ensures a channel balance of 0.5 decibels with a channel separation of less than 30 decibels (at 1 kHz). The frequency response is 20 hertz to 30 kilohertz (± 1 dB). With an output voltage of 0.35 millivolts, it is potent enough to avoid tuning problems with phono amplifiers. It’s worth playing with the impedances from 100 to 330 ohms – the operating instructions specify this range. I found that 200 ohms was ideal. The slightly higher internal resistance of 8 ohms testifies to the love of “more metal” inside – this kind of thing has never done any harm. The solid connection pins are typically marked MC-style and their diameter is of the solid variety. In my opinion, all of this fits in perfectly with the overall appearance. Quite honestly – I like details like this, because all too often the marketing jargon can be heard from afar, and on closer inspection the hi-fi writer is reminded of the all-too-familiar editorial phrase “How do I tell the readers …?”

With the Skyanalog Reference, I don’t feel anything of the sort – quite the opposite! The technical specs have  already convinced me in theory, and if the cartridge then also “sounds” really good …

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

I quickly found what I was looking for when selecting the test tracks. The first thing I hear are acoustic guitars and a female voice from the Common Linnets II from 2015 – a band from the Netherlands who have dedicated themselves to US country folk. Tonally towards the vocal harmonies of the 1970s West Coast sound like Fleetwood Mac or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but “II” is clearly in the alt-country lineage. No wonder, considering the tracks were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, with guest contributions from dobro player Jerry Douglas and pedal steel specialist Paul Franklin, two of the biggest names on the scene. The standout feature when listening? Tapping your feet from the very first notes!

The next vinyl record has a really big sound. The double LP Symphonized by Lars Danielsson covers a wide spectrum of sounds. As the title suggests, this time the Swedish multi-talent (double bass and cello) plays together with some musicians from the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Before I start philosophizing myself, I’ll quickly quote from the press release: “Lars Danielsson sees it as a challenge to use the orchestra in such a way that there remains an organic space for solo instruments. Melody, flow and emotion are central elements of his art.” This describes all the musical material that captivates the listener. I openly admit that I am biased towards this musician. I appreciate this artist and his previous albums too much. But now for the double LP in question. It is not only on the second LP of the double album that the cor anglais features wonderfully prominently in the overall sound. Beautifully framed by the fullness of the orchestra, but always independent, I would like to mention the wonderfully creaking double bass as an example. There is little point in presenting the individual passages here – the work reveals much more in its entirety if you let it run through and immerse yourself in the expressive musical journey.

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

The Skyanalog Reference accompanies this highly accurately and shows me even the smallest sound events and individual notes without becoming a “dot on the i”. Rather, it is its remarkable ability to hold everything together without underplaying anything that makes it so convincing. This equally applies to the next recording: Rick Wakeman with his 1973 LP The Six Wives Of Henry VIII is on the turntable. The downright wild sound passages on the track “Anne Of Cleves” make me laugh from the heart – “Really great, this system”, my cerebral unit reports. Dire Straits with Brothers In Arms has basically been a legend for a long time, the half-speed version of Abbey Road Studios is playing here – really good (“really cool” would be the correct term at this point, but we are a serious magazine after all …).

Let’s stay with the music of Mark Knopfler & Co. This time with the LP Going Home, reinterpreted with incredible sensitivity by Arne Jansen on guitar and Stephan Braun on 5-string cello and double bass. A musical delicacy that Skyanalog Reference performs with great ease. With such instrumentally reduced music, it is also particularly noticeable how little groove noise the pickup transmits. Finally, the LP Slow Train by Hans Theessink catches my eye, and just like that, the disk is already spinning on the turntable – the recording qualities of this musician are always (!) outstandingly good. It’s not just the particularly thought-provoking “Old Man Trouble” that completely captivates me, it’s the whole LP, which impresses with its many small musical details. Do you notice anything? I’m writing about the musical impressions, but the review is supposed to be about the Skyanalog Reference … Exactly, and this is where we come full circle to this report. This pickup system is an outstandingly good purveyor of music. The craftsmanship and the resulting sound quality are the essential points for a long analog life, and it is precisely such details that I greatly appreciate. I consider this cartridge to be one of the analog discoveries of the year! So, is it still just marketing gobbledygook after all? Not at all, because as already mentioned – I’m warning the curious!

As I mentioned at the beginning, Skyanalog also builds cartridges for other cartridge manufacturers worldwide. So, if you happen to have a defective pickup system, simply ask the sales department what a repair would cost – you’ll be amazed …!

Skyanalog Reference Moving Coil Pickup

Accompanying Equipment

CD player: Restek Epos | DAC: Wadia 27i | Turntable: Clearaudio Innovation with tonearm Universal and power supply Clearaudio Smart Power 24V | Cartridges: Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua, Clearaudio Charisma V2 | Tube preamplifier: Octave HP 300 SE, Rike Natalija MM/MC 2 | Tube stereo power amplifier: MFE TA 845 with Elrog 284 | Speakers: Blumenhofer Acoustics Genuin FS1 Mk 3 | LF and LS cables: AudioQuest, HMS | Mains leads: GigaWatt G-C20A circuit breaker, shielded mains cable in the wall, HMS double socket, MFE DF1+ mains filter in front of in-akustik AC 3500p | Mains cable: AudioQuest, Fisch, MFE | Room: acoustically treated, floor area 40 sqm, reverberation time 0.4 ms

Cartridge Skyanalog Reference

Concept: MC cartridge with sapphire stylus carrier | Stylus carrier: sapphire | Stylus: diamond with micro-ridge cut | Mass: 12 g | Output voltage: 0.35 mV | Frequency response: 20 Hz to 30 kHz | Channel separation (at 1 kHz): > 30 dB | Channel imbalance: < 0.5 dB | Recommended termination impedance: 200 to 470 Ω | Recommended tracking weight: 1.6 to 1.9 g (optimum 1.7 g) | Recommended tonearm mass: medium | Finish: gold-colored | Warranty period: 2 years | Price: around 2950 €

TCG Handels GmbH

Döppers Esch 7
48531 Nordhorn
Phone +49 5921 78849-27


The stated retail price of the reviewed device is valid as of the time of the review and is subject to change.