Introduced at the show, was an entire series of new medium-output (~1.1mV) cartridges:
- Helios ($7,500): with a cactus-spine cantilever and OC-CL stylus, the Helios maps to the extremely well-regarded low-output Hyperion.
- Mezzo ($4,800): maps to the award-winning Sussuro.
- Nautilus ($3,800): maps to Paua, with the “natural seashell” details.
- Sotto Voce ($2,800): maps to The Voice
- Norma ($1,800): maps to Aida.
Peter explained that these new cartridges are most definitely not replacing the older models — these are additional, and intended to solve an odd problem he kept encountering. Namely, what to do for customers with “moderate gain” phono preamplifiers from, say, Conrad-Johnson or Audio Research. When the phono preamplifier’s “sweet spot” for gain is between 48dB and 54dB, then these new cartridges may be a fine choice — and would eliminate the need for cranking the knob over (and bringing unwanted noise with it), or choosing an unnecessarily high-output MM cartridge and overloading that preamp.
Flipping over to the other tonearm, the strain gauge system was expanded recently, and now includes three separate levels of function:
- SG-200 ($8,590): Strain Gauge Pre
- SG-210 ($9,590): Strain Gauge Pre with Volume Control (think: limited preamplifier)
- SG-230 ($12,900): Strain Gauge Pre with Volume Control, Remote Control, single-ended and balanced outs, four inputs (think: full preamplifier). This one is new, replacing the outgoing SG-220.
As for strain gauge cartridges (the other half of the strain gauge system), Soundsmith offers six levels of fitment:
- SGS-1 ($349.95): Bonded Shibata/Aluminum Cantilever
- SGS-2 ($349.95): Nude Elliptical, Aluminum cantilever
- SGS-3 ($549.95): Special 1 mil radius conical (for vintage 48-49 records)
- SGS-4 ($549.95): 78 RPM stylus – special Soundsmith EQ in line circuit must be used
- SGS-5 ($749.95): Nude Contact Line/Ruby Cantilever (Our “standard” that is supplied with the cartridge)
- SGS-6 ($949.95): Nude “Optimized Contour” Contact Line/Ruby Cantilever (used in this system at CAF)
The rest of the system was also sourced from Soundsmith, including a pair of HE-150M amplifiers and the wonderful Monarch 2 ($3,995/pair) and Dragonfly 2 ($2,995/pair) stand-mount loudspeakers. I’ve remarked on how sonically surprising the previous versions of these loudspeakers, but did not catch the upgrades until after the show.
So, a few notes about the sound I heard in this fine room.
One, the new Monarch loudspeakers are crazy-good. Warmth with detail is usually antithetical, but when combined, the sound is mesmerizing. Two, vinyl playback doesn’t get much better than what I heard with the VPI, Soundsmith, Schröder combination. I’m talking chills, here. Three, if you haven’t heard your LPs played back through a system like this, I highly recommend a trip to the next Soundsmith showing, and asking for a track or two. Be prepared to be appalled at how much you’ve been missing out on.
This is audio wizardry, folks. Just incredible.