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RMAF 2018: New Soundsmith ES

KEF R Series

When I was young, I remember having to recite a poem that had a couple of lines that went something like this:

I wish that I could be

A man like he,

The only man in the world who could do what he does.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Peter Ledermann, head of Soundsmith. He certainly makes great cartridges—I’ve used his Hyperion at a show, the one with the cactus needle for a cantilever, and I spent almost a year using a Rega RP6, the first version of the Soundsmith Carmen and one of Peter’s MM phono preamps as a back-up rig. I found it to be a surprisingly fine combo with few shortcomings. As I consider adding to my cartridge collection, the very short list does include the $1995 Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star, which seems to be in the wheelhouse of my current analog rig.

The Analog King of Peekskill, New York

When I’ve seen Peter at shows, however, I’m always most impressed with his line of small two-way monitors. They always sound so big and open, like he has a subwoofer hidden somewhere. They used to be very inexpensive, “practically free” as Colleen says, so maybe people didn’t take them serious enough to compare them to the best. Yet they are serious designs, and it seems unfair that they live in the shadows of those spectacular cartridges.

Soundsmith has just released the ES series of phono cartridges, Mk. II updates of models in their current line which feature a number of cosmetic changes to reduce mass, and a more effective way to control vibrations from the cartridge as they travel into the tonearm. It makes perfect sense–less vibrations mean that the stylus can maintain better contact in the groove! From the press release:

The ES line features not only a dramatic new look, but is a significant evolution of the DEMS system design (Dynamic Energy Management System). The new Soundsmith ES cartridge designs are a significant advancement in cartridge performance due to their ability to direct internal vibrational forces without reflection and disperse them properly to the tone arm. The absence of reflections enables the stylus to stay in far greater statistical contact with the groove walls — a critically important technical refinement. Increased liquidity and reduced “grain,” without loss of detail are some of the immediately discernible advantages of Soundsmith’s new ES models. The new line also features Azimuth adjustment built-in to each cartridge. Every cartridge will now feature a sleek aluminum body which also allows azimuth adjustment when used in tonearms that do not permit it. The upgrade is far more than cosmetic; the new shape is a departure from the reflective and “boxy” design of many cartridges whose internal construction contribute to uncontrolled vibrational issues adversely effecting performance. Peter says, “Think of how singing in an open field compares with singing in a shower.” Soundsmith has always challenged conventions, looking deeper into nuances of cartridge design that dramatically affect immediate and long term performance. These have included extreme reductions of moving mass and the use of novel materials and designs. The new ES lineup is a continuation of that research and development.

At the 2018 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Peter featured another of his almost-all-Soundsmith systems. His vinyl rig this time consisted of a Dr. Feickert Analogue Firebird ($12,995), a Kuzma 4-point arm and the same Zephyr MIMC Star that has struck my fancy, now in ES form. The amplification, with its beautiful wooden faceplates and knobs that contain light blue LEDs that dance with the music, consisted of his famous SG-810 Strain Gauge preamp (prices vary according to features selected) and his hand-built HE150 MOSFET Signature amplifiers, bridged for mono ($43,000/pair).

Did You Hear? Soundsmith Makes Speakers!

My attention was drawn to his Monarch 2-way monitors ($7995), however, which are the culmination of everything he learned while serving as Director of Engineering at Bozak many years ago. I may have a soft spot for Peter, but I have an even bigger soft spot for little 2-way speakers that completely catch you off guard with their ability to fill a room with a big, natural sound. I can rattle off my ten favorite monitors fairly easily, but now I have to consider whether the Monarch is something I need to put near the top of the list.

I’ve bugged Peter on the telephone sporadically over the years, but his latest generation of products are so suited to my current tastes in hi-fi that it’s time to…well, keep bugging him. I even live in the same state now, so there’s no excuse. If you haven’t heard what one of his Soundsmith systems can do, you’re seriously missing out.

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