Legend tells of a legendary designer whose skills were the stuff of legend. That designer is Peter Ledermann … but you can call him Gandalf. For the past 40 years, his company Soundsmith, has been manufacturing some of the most interesting, inventive, and just plain awesome-sounding audio gear you can buy. Peter’s pedigree includes tours at RAM Audio, a period as the Director of Engineering at Bozak, and more. It’s more than a little intimidating, but a more humble man you’re unlikely to meet.
There are two things that stand out in my memories from visiting Peter at audio shows. Okay, three. One, barring Stereophile’s Michael Fremer, no one has held the faith or worked harder to preserve the legacy of high-end vinyl playback. Two, Peter is a walking encyclopedia … of the worst jokes that have ever been told. He’s shameless. Three, his rooms are routinely the best-sounding at any audio show.
As is his wont, Peter was showing with a VPI HRX turntable, here fitted out with a pair of tonearms, one of which was (I think) a Schröder SG Reference, mounted with a Soundsmith strain gauge cartridge. The other ‘arm was a JMW Memorial mounted with one of Peter’s finest carts, the $7,500 Hyperion II.
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.