Soundsmith cartridges

the thin end of the wedge
Mr Pig
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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Mr Pig » 15 Aug 2019 23:23

iLikeItBlue wrote:
15 Aug 2019 21:59
I'd be happy to go into more detail about my system, my preferences, and how it fits in, if you'd like.
Absolutely, please do?

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by iLikeItBlue » 16 Aug 2019 15:20

Okay, so...I've only been back into vinyl for a year or so, after a few decades in CD land. I like CDs, but I always missed my vinyl, all of it given away at a low point of depression almost two decades ago. Last year I decided to jump back in, purchasing a Rega P3, the new version, with the RB330 arm. The dealer sold it to me with a Denon DL-110 installed.

I connected it to my system, which I'm VERY happy with. I've got lots of good, hard-fought-for synergy with this current system, and hoped the new turntable would fit right in, in an 'entry-level' kind of way, thinking I'll upgrade the turntable at some point in the future. My other components are: Luxman L-507uX integrated amp, Dynaudio Special 40 speakers, and the AudioKinesis Swarm subwoofer system. I'm using the Schiit Audio Gungnir Multibit for digital, with a Marantz SACD player as transport.

So yes, the Rega/Denon fit in nicely. The Denon cartridge, though, after about 6 or 9 months of listening, struck me as a bit dry, not as richly 'analog' as I craved. Lots of research (just reading, no listening) led me to believe the Grado sound might be more what I'm after, so I bought a Grado Green2 ($95) to get a taste of it. The bass range is much more to my liking than the Denon, richer and meatier. The Grado's midrange is very nice, as is the Denon's, but the Grado Green2's treble sounded a bit odd to me, as compared to the Denon's nice way with the treble range. I got used to it with further listening, months worth, and I grew to really like that humble Grado cartridge. I planned on moving up the Grado line to try the lower end of their wood-bodied offerings, but Soundsmith was an ever-present 'what if' in my head. I'd read numerous articles and reviews of Soundsmith stuff, going back years before I even had the turntable. Everything about Soundsmith's philosophy seemed good and right to me, but they always seemed exotic and maybe just a smidge too far outside the mainstream.

I'm a fan of components that make ALL my music sound wonderful, not just audiophile approved recordings (which I don't have many of). Smooth, grain-free liquidity is my thing, with a flat frequency response down low and a not-too-hot treble. I don't like it hot, but I do like the treble to be realistic, making cymbals sound like real metal. Triangles and other tinkly things should have a realistic decay. The Dynaudio Special 40 tweeter is capable of downright awesome sound, and I love to hear it.

So, to make this long story a bit shorter, I bought a Soundsmith Otello ES. I have about 50 hours on it. I also recently bought a Simaudio Moon 110LPv2 Phono stage, to see if it bettered the built-in one in the Luxman. It does, or for whatever reason it has great synergy with the Otello. The Otello has a really beautiful bottom end, not unlike the Grado. The Otello also has a wonderfully liquid midrange, and you know I like my liquid. The treble is detailed by not hyper. It's smooth and long-term listenable, no matter what the record. The thing that surprised me most, though is the dynamics, easily beating the Grado and the Denon. Drum thwacks and kick drums are thrilling, and music overall just sounds more alive. I'm loving this little Otello. The Soundsmith sound has stolen my heart, and I'll definitely move up the line to the Carmen mk II ES if I ever decide on a change. For now though, I feel no reason to change ANYTHING. I'm just buying lots and lots of records.

Another thing of relevance is the nice way the Otello de-emphasizes 'used record noise', more-so than the Grado or the Denon. 99% of the records I buy are used, so that aspect is important to me. And yes, I do clean my records, with a Squeaky Clean record cleaning machine that I learned about on this forum.

I should also mention that the Otello is a heavy cartridge. With my RB330 arm, the stock counterweight is all the way out at the very end of it's travel, barely hanging on. That might bother some people, but all I care about is how everything sounds, and it sounds fantastic.
Also, because of the relationship between the stylus position and the cartridge's mounting holes, on the Rega arm I was only just barely able to get a good alignment, with the cartridge at the very forward end of the arm-head's slots. Luckily, it was just enough.

Mr Pig
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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Mr Pig » 16 Aug 2019 18:51

Excellent and very helpful summary, thank you.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by ray_parkhurst » 17 Aug 2019 03:36

Does SoundSmith make a P-mount cartridge?

Collux
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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Collux » 17 Aug 2019 05:00

ray_parkhurst wrote:
17 Aug 2019 03:36
Does SoundSmith make a P-mount cartridge?
I think No. (see selector)
https://www.sound-smith.com/cartridges
https://www.sound-smith.com/products/fixed-coil

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Mr Pig » 17 Aug 2019 08:56

iLikeItBlue wrote:
16 Aug 2019 15:20
I also recently bought a Simaudio Moon 110LPv2 Phono stage...
Just thought I'd give you my experience with that stage.

I actually bought a used example of its predecessor, the 110LP. The sound didn't impress me at all. It sounded dull and undynamic. I took it back to the shop and suggested it was faulty, they later told me they tested it and it was fine.

To replace it I bought a new 110LPV2. The difference was very big. The 110V2 sounded a LOT better. More open, dynamic and detailed. I was very close to keeping it but it annoyed me. One record it sounded great, the next record it was too slow and uninvolving or tonally not quite right. It was good but it just wasn't right so I returned it to the shop.

I was reading good things about Graham Slee phono stages so I decided to try one of those. The weapon of choice in my price range seemed to be the Era Gold which got ridiculously good revues. I looked for a used one, so that I could avoid loosing money if I didn't like it and sold it again, but they were thin on the ground. What I did find was a Jazz Club. The Jazz Club is an Era Gold with extra equalization options. It also comes with the uprated power supply as standard where it is an option on the Era Gold.

This is a fantastic phono stage. I'm not saying it's the best out there, I've not heard them all, but it really is good. The balance is perfect. It sounds fast and involving but never sounds harsh. It's smooth and natural yet dynamic. It's happy with any record and never sounds off colour. Detail levels are probably similar to the 110LPV2 but it puts it all together in a more lifelike way.

The Graham Slee is MM only of course but if you're sticking with Soundsmith that's not a problem. I am considering trying other stages but only because I'd like a stage that can take any cartridge, not because I'm unhappy with the Graham Slee. I still don't know what to do. I was starting to dismiss the Otello but thanks to you it's back on the table! ;0) Especially as you're using it on a Rega table.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by iLikeItBlue » 19 Aug 2019 18:04

Thanks for your thoughts on the Moon phono stage. I haven't noticed any inconstancy record to record with mine. Everything sounds equally good, and I'm glad I bought it. Seems to be a really nice match with the Otello ES, in my system at least. The Graham Slee products are definitely on my radar. I feel like if I went for one I'd want to stretch all the way to the Accession MM, but like you say, he makes many less expensive products that are very highly thought of. One of these days I'm going to get in line for the "in home trial" that Slee does, and find out once and for all if I "need" an Accession. With the dollar's value so strong against the British Pound right now, they are kind of a bargain, when purchased directly from Slee's website. Very tempting.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Mr Pig » 19 Aug 2019 18:18

I think the best way to try stuff is to buy it used. As long as you don't pay over the adds, you can sell it again if you don't like it and it gives you as long as you want to listen to it. I still want to hear the Rega Aria so I'm looking for a used one just now.

Roberto C2H3
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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Roberto C2H3 » 19 Aug 2019 19:52

Roberto C2H3 wrote:
15 Aug 2019 15:16
I too was highly intrigued at the implications of the low mass moving iron / fixed coil design, and was looking forward to investing in an Otello to test it out and compare with my AT-150 MLX.

I contacted Soundsmith three times over the last month to two separate e-mail addresses quoted on their website. I asked if the standard compliance Otello was compatible with my Technics 1400 MK2 or if I should special order the high compliance Otello. I supplied all the data of the Technics tonearm as per the manual. This should have been enough for an instant response, specially given a USD 400 investment.

I have only received silence from Soundsmith. From a sales perspective, this company leaves a lot to be desired IMO. I will send another e-mail or two and if silence continues I will take my business elsewhere.

Best from the Pampas,
roberto
Update: Peter Green from Soundsmith responded to my follow up e-mail and suggested that the regular compliance Otello would be more compatible to my stock Technics SL 1400 MK2 tone arm. Although he warned it would be at the low end of the resonance compatibility register, for which he used our VE's resonance calculator 8) He suggested I ideally opt for a low compliance cartridge such as their Zephyr MKIII which is USD 2,000 :shock:

Once again I am considering investing in the Otello cartridge to experience the difference with a low mass moving iron / fixed coil design.

Best from the Pampas,
roberto

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by ChrisfromRI » 20 Aug 2019 05:08

I have one of the lower end SoundSmith B&O replacement cartridges on my B&O TX2, which is a sleek little attractive looking linear tracker. It's a great bedroom system turntable because it's semi-automatic and picks up the stylus and turns off at the end of the record. This is a Moving Iron cartridge designed initially by B&O, and now carried on by SoundSmith who are the exclusive suppliers of replacement cartridges that uniquely fit B&O tonearms (B&O used a unique miniature P-Mountish sort of plug-in mounting arrangement). It's pretty much the same cartridge that's inside the bigger Otello body with its standard half-inch mounting bolts.

Played through a typical lower priced solid state phono stage from Musical Fidelity the sound was a bit thin but detailed and musical. Played over a more expensive tube phone stage the sound became a lot better and fuller.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by raphaelmabo » 20 Aug 2019 09:05

I like the designs of the previous generation of Soundsmith cartridges, but the new ES generation is said to have a design that lowers resonances more than the older design. So the new generation may be ugly, but may also sound better. As for compliance, what Soundsmith calls "medium compliance" is "high compliance" to other makers. :) So Soundsmith cartridges likes low to low-medium mass tonearms. It's a fixed coil design, a "moving micro cross" which is a variant of moving iron. Nagaoka MP-cartridges (Moving Permalloy) could be an alternative, or Goldring 2x00-serie (Moving Iron) or Grado (Moving Iron) if one has a tonearm that is not really working with Soundsmith.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by raphaelmabo » 20 Aug 2019 10:20

The problem with most cartridges is that it's often not possible to hear them before buying. But here's a review of the previous version of Otello, this may be helpful. From Hifi Choice. I don't know the effects on the sound the new design has had.
https://www.eliteaudiouk.com/single-pos ... iFi-Choice

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Roberto C2H3 » 21 Aug 2019 15:07

In the specifications for the Otello, the following is quoted as the compliance figures in the Soundsmith web site:

Compliance: • 22 µm/mN (Medium Compliance Otello version), • 28 µm/mN (High Compliance Otello version)

I’m assuming these are compliance figures at 10 Hz, and they refer to dynamic, as opposed to static, compliance.

Could someone please confirm my supposition, or please correct me if I’m mistaken?

Best from the Pampas,
roberto

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by Mr Pig » 21 Aug 2019 17:34

I don't even know what the compliance of the RB2000 is. I'm guessing 'medium' but Rega aren't great at publishing numbers.

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Re: Soundsmith cartridges

Post by DeepEnd » 21 Aug 2019 22:11

Most Rega arms have an effective mass between 11.5g and 13g (with the standard 100g counterweight) depending on how far out from pivots the counterweight is to balance the arm.

With a cartridge weighing about 6g then use the 11.5g figure with heavier cartridges say 10g the counterweight has to be further out to balance and the higher figure should be used.

With the heavier Tungsten (120g) the effective mass range is very slightly lower 11.0g to slightly higher if you have very heavy cartridge i.e. 14.5g.

Using 6.8g for the Othello and 1.2g for fasteners and 22 for compliance gives a rather low but useable 7.68 Hz. This is close to the 8Hz I get with my P77Mg (compliance 20) in a RB300 and the combination works very well. My P78 (compliance 30) does not quite as well and I would not suggest using something this high a compliance in a Rega arm.