|Over the past six weeks I have had the chance to finish a SUT "shootout". I thought I would post my impressions. |
My system config for the shoot-out consisted of the following:
TT: Nottingham 294
Tonearm: SME 312S
Cartridge: Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum & Benz Ebony
Preamp: Shindo Masetto
Amp: Atma-sphere S30 and Tube Audio Lab 300B
Speaker: Hawthorne Trio (Biamped Open Baffle Speaker)
Music listened to covered multiple genres (rock, jazz, classical) in both 33 and 45 rpm formats. Because of the different turn ratios of the products I used a SPL meter and tried to listen with volume at roughly 80-85db.
My subjective ranking is as follows:
1. Hashimoto HM-7
2. Auditorium 23 "Hommage"
3. Hashimoto HM-3
4. Modified EAR-834P (Upgraded parts and tubes)
6. MC from Shindo Masetto (Lundahl based transformer)
8. Altec (DIY)
The good news is that all of the above are extremely musical. There were no poor performers. I think most people would be happy with any of these products on their own. It was only in direct comparison where some of the differences became apparent.
The top three (Auditorium Hommage and both Hashimoto's) were a notch above the rest because they had both huge soundstages and the ability to dig deep into the music in regards to detail. The Hashmito HM-7 and Auditorium further distinquished themselves from the HM-3 by being more nuanced and textured. The Koetsu's warm tone came across better with these top 2. The tone using the HM-3 was more neutral in character. In comparing the HM-7 to the Hommage, I felt the HM-7 had a slightly better ability to separate instruments in complex musical arrangements and had a slightly lower noise floor.
The EAR and Sowter were very good at showcasing detail and texture but the soundstage was smaller than the top 3.
The internal SUT from the Shindo preamp had the most unique sound of the group and was the toughest to grade. It had the lowest noise floor and really shined in certain types of music (intimate vocals or small scale jazz/chamber music). However, the soundstage of the Masetto (Lundahl) was the smallest of all the products and when it came to larger scale music (symphonies especially) it had a harder time separating instruments.
The Cinemag and Altec were, not suprisingly, extremely similar considering their common heritage. The soundstage was larger than the Shindo, Sowter and EAR but smaller than the Hashimoto's and Hommage. Where I felt they came up a little short was in the area of musical detail. Of these two products, I placed the Cinemag higher because I thought it was slightly quieter.
It is interesting to note that the pricing of the products ranged from a low of approximately $350 (Cinemag based SUT) to a high of roughly $5000 (Hommage). My "winner" (HM-7) is priced at approx $1600 for a finished product.
Finally, I am aware that the performance of the products in question may differ substantially with other cartridges and systems so my ranking is a subjective opinion within the paramaters of my system, room and musical tastes. None-the-less, I had a fun time doing it.