I said that line to two, three dozen industry big wigs at the New York show. They all laughed. Some even got the Kung Fu Panda reference. They all shook their heads at me.
When I followed up and said that the legendary designer in question was Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith, they stopped laughing. “Yeah, that’s about right. Respect to Peter.”
Peter Ledermann. Audio Kung Fu warrior. Of legend.
His career is a bit of a textbook, so I highly encourage any and all to check out his bio. You can take it on faith that he’s smarter than all of us, but the best part of it is, he’s also almost absurdly modest. Legend! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.
Anyway, here at New York, he was showing the same basic setup from CAF that I found so appealing and touting the new “medium output” cartridges that he’s recently released. The new carts are variations on designs currently in production, but the difference (obviously) is in the output. “A lot of people have those old phono preamps that need a higher-output moving coil,” said Peter. And for them, there are now options — options that don’t include giving up beloved (and perfect good) phono preamps.
Here’s the 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.
This room was my pic for Best in Show for several reasons. One, there’s a consistency in a Soundsmith demo which is alluring and subtle. Coming into the room, nothing may particularly strike you as exaggerated (a good thing) or even as particularly noteworthy (the subtle thing) — until you leave and go to the next demo room and wonder where all the life, the fun, and the magic went. In a Soundsmith demo, there is so much going on around you in the tone, flow and timbre of the music, that it’s easy to take it for granted. “Of course it sounds like this. Music sounds like this. Why would I have expected different?” you say to yourself, and then wander into the next room only to have icy reality shock your senses. Okay, maybe that was just me.
What I heard was the Schröder tonearm with the Strain Gauge cartridge, on a “vintage” VPI HRX table, played through the Soundsmith Strain Gauge system, including a pair of HE-150M amplifiers and out a pair of wonderful Monarch 2 ($3,995/pair) stand mount loudspeakers. With that playback chain, Peter treated us to a lacquer of Blood, Sweat and Tears — yes, he played “Spinning Wheel” — and it was the best thing I heard all weekend. Bam. Done. Close the book. Time to pack it in. It’s all down hill from here. The clarity, silence and immediacy of this disc was breathtaking — in fact, Peter admonished the group, reminding us to not blow on, cough on, or even breathe on our records if we can help it. All that eventually hits the stylus resulting in yuck (a technical term). Dynamics were thunderous. Vocals were visceral and tactile. I started grinning from the first note and by the last, I was approximating an in-chair squirm that I tend to think of as “dancing”.
I loved it.
Peter Ledermann is legendary. Hats off, folks. Respect to the Master.