RMAF12: Soundsmith is not just another pretty face

Friends Kirsten and Mal offered up this about the Soundsmith room:

Why does nobody realize these guys make electronics and speakers? Best sounding small room. Easy.

I think this is an excellent place to start, because I have an answer to this question and it’s this:

I have no freakin’ clue.

Head Smith, Peter Ledermann, makes loudspeakers, amplifiers, preamplifiers/phono pre’s, and could probably assemble an entire loudspeaker system out of pipe cleaners if we left him alone long enough to do it. The guy is the MacGuyver of audio. And that’s in addition to his work helping children in extreme poverty with his label, Direct Grace Records.

Yet what we in audiophiliadom know about this master craftsman is his facility with cartridges, specifically, the cantilevers on those cartridges. Peter is the only one I’d trust my beat up old carts to. In fact, Peter is the only one most audiophiles trust with their carts. And about those cantilevers ….

You’ve heard, by now, about Peter’s discovery about cactus needles. Turns out, the cactus needle is perhaps the most perfect cantilever ever designed. The Hyperion cartridge, which Soundsmith has been selling for about a year now for $7,500 with a 10 year warranty & free re-tipping, has been tweaked. Call it “Mark 2”, but the reworked Hyperion maintains it’s $7,500 price tag and it’s industry-leading warranty. Peter managed to improve the damping in the brand-new suspension, and with other refinements, he claims that he’s seen up to 46dB of channel separation in the new approach. Quoth he: more “shit doesn’t hit the fan.” My understanding is that the new Mark 2 is available now.

In addition to the traditional phono pre/cart design, Soundsmith has long been a champion of the Strain Gauge approach for years, with several all-inclusive packages you can pick up. Get it? Pick up? Never mind. Anyway, at RMAF, Peter launched a suite of more affordable strain gauge systems:

  • SG-200 ($6,500): Entry level system!
  • SG-210 ($7,500): Variable outs for amp-direct in addition to fixed-level outputs for either recording or using with an external preamplifier. Available with a 50 ohm output to drive long cables.
  • SG-220 ($8,500): Adds input line-switching, remote control (volume, mute and input selection). Available with a 50 ohm output to drive long cables.

These compact systems represent a significant reduction in overall investment should a listener want to explore the strain gauge approach, which some say results in a dramatically improved sound quality over traditional RIAA approaches. In full disclosure, I’ve never heard the Sound-Smith Strain Gauge system anywhere other than an audio show, so I can’t really speak from experience here. Color me curious, however — and the idea of getting a reference-class “stylus” and phono preamp for the price of either a cartridge or a phono pre is most definitely interesting. It’s on the to-do list, for sure.

The room here at RMAF had the usual cast of characters for a Soundsmith demo, including the tiny Dragonfly ($2,000) and Monarch ($3,000) stand-mount loudspeakers, and a pair of Sound-Smith HE-150M amplifiers and a SG-810 multi-function preamp (also a strain gauge phono pre). The usual Soundsmith-reference, a (probably now vintage, given the sheer number of years Peter has been showing with this monster) reference-class VPI HRX turntable with SDS controller, was joined by an SA-1 turntable from Artemis Labs to spin the big black discs.

The sound quality? Outstanding. Easily in my Top 5 for Best in Show. Well done. Again. The sound coming out of those tiny stand-mounts is almost bizarrely full and rich with unexpected extension. “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.” I’m at a loss as to how to explain exactly why these guys are so special, but please, don’t take my word for it — or in this case, words, because in case you’ve missed it, this is becoming quite the theme with these guys. Seriously — you owe it to your ears to go check them out. I think you’ll be impressed.

Oh, and next time you’re at a show, ask Peter for a demo on the many important and appropriate uses for CDs in an audio playback system. Tell him I sent you.

Ask me about sponsorship!