Clavis Soundsmith retip

I had this old broken Clavis cartridge stored away for over ten years and decided to send it off to SS for the ruby cantilever/stylis replacement.

I was told that the turn-around time was 12 weeks from the time of delivery. I took into consideration that SS had to deal with the Rocky Mountain show and the CES, and called at the end of 13 weeks. I was informed that the cartridge was ready. Got it in 3 days, UPS ground.

I have an original Well Tempered table and arm which is a real B**** to set up properly, but once its dialed in, its wonderful, one of the best out there. With the help of a friend, the cartridge was set up in about an hour and we were ready to go with the first listen.

On first impression, the midrange was very good right out of the box. The highs were tizzy and uncomfortable to listen to. The bass was lean. Now, this is a direct parallel to how the Clavis was when it was new. The original Clavis took 50 hours to break in. I didn't expect the re-tip to be any different.

The SS retip is VERY sensitive to tracking force. If you've read this forum, you know that SS suggests a tracking force between 1.2 and 1.8 ... Well, if you get the SS retip, invest in a digital tracking force guage. My gauge measures in tenths of a gram. The cartrige is so sensitive to tracking force that I wish I had a guage that measured in hundredths of a gram.

I started out at 1.8 grams and got a lot of distortion as if the cartridge was dirty or mistracking. I gradually reduced the force until the mistracking stopped, finally settling on 1.3 for best results.

The presentation remained tizzy in the highs and weak in the bass ... until ten hours time was reached. At that point, everything came into focus, and I can say ... the SS ruby cantiliver and retip is simply amazing.

The Clavis is basically an early version of a Lyra Skala, so stock, the Clavis is no slouch in transparency and musicality. The re-tip takes it to a new level. Quite honestly, I have never heard such clarity of voice, or separation of instruments in my system.

I'm a tonality freak. If an instrument doesn't sound tonally correct, then I don't want any part of it. I can happly say, with the re-tip, a cello sounds like a cello and a trumpet sounds like a trumpet. Piano is to die for! The highs are extended and sweet and bass has depth and punch. Bowed basses are amazing as are the lower registers of the cellos.

Just for reference,I'm using an ARC REF-3 and an ARC-PH7.

Bottom line: If you have a broken cartridge, why buy a new one? Just send it in and buy the re-tip with the ruby cantilever with confidence.

Thank you Sound Smith for bringing my beloved Clavis back to life at a VERY reasonable price.
I am happy to hear that your Clavis is playing well again, and that you are happy with it. Congratulations!

Now, if you would have sent the Clavis back to us, it would have been completely rebuilt, and incorporated any of our newer advancements that are compatible with the Clavis design (improved coil windings, choice between single vs. double layer coils, core material, suspension, dampers, stylus, cantilever etc.). Still, I understand that cost may be an important issue (especially during these times).

Since you are now tracking at 1.3g, unless Soundsmith replaced the dampers and suspension, the VTA/SRA may be too high with the tonearm parallel to the LP surface. I'd suggest trying to lower the back-end of the cartridge more than normal, and seeing how that sounds.

One correction - if your Clavis is an original one (the version that still used polepieces/yokes) and not the later Clavis DC (that replaced the polepieces/yokes with direct magnets), technically it shares practically nothing in common with the Skala, other than that the same people were responsible for both designs. The Clavis DC is closer to the Skala (in that both utilize yokeless magnetic circuits), but there are still fundamental and major differences between the two.

regards, jonathan carr (designer of Clavis, Clavis DC and Skala)

PS. FWIW, I've evaluated ruby and sapphire cantilevers on multiple occasions during cartridge development, but never liked the sound enough to consider using them in production.
Wow Jcarr. Your response makes me glad I bought a ZYX instead of a Lyra. You really should've responded by private email. I'll never buy a Lyra.
Independent from manufacturers, what makes me wonder is the huge difference in performance after a simple retip/repair.
Is a different Diamond (when chosen) such a different world?
I have no experience with this, but I guess, a Designer has access to different diamonds to choose and what is the reason to go for an inferior one? Price?
Or is it more the fun to get something new for a few $$?
In a way i have problems with making a proper decision, when one of mine is going to die? Let's say a Lyra (whatever), I have a Lyra, listened to a Lyra for years (because I hate the sound :-) and wait until I can change it), and when it is ready for the next life, I can have a Lyra with the sound of - let's say - a Zyx?
I can understand when someone don't want to go to a Dealer to send it back to factory, and when he gets it, he has to pay some money to the Importer and Dealer and they did nothing for it except sending it with others to save costs.
What is the secret of these diamonds?
Well Jcarr, I must say that I've taken your post with mixed feelings. On the one hand,I appreciate the pride you take in your cartridge designs ... that much is apparent. On the other hand, you come across like the inexperienced audio salesman who asks the customer what he/she is using now, then proceeds to insult the potential customer's intelligence by running down the product the customer already has. After all, it was the potential customer's decison to buy what he/she presently owns, correct? I think if you read Mt10425's reaction to your post, you can get an idea of what the result of that demeaner is.

The Soundsmith retip/cantilever service costs $350.00. What, may I ask, is the cost of the total rebuild if placed into your hands and what is the turn-around time?

Thanks for the tip on lowering VTA, I appreciate that and will try it on my next listening session ... and will report back in this thread.

By the way, as the cartridge is further breaking in, the sound is improving even more. Still a little (very slight) spitty sibilents on some female vocals, but these are problamatic recordings anyway. On the best recordings, the sound is as amazing as the original Clavis and a tribute to your design.

There is a Skala in my audio future as I think its a wonderful cartridge. Your distributer, Alan Perkins, a personal accquaintance of mine, has always been an upstanding gentelman in all ways, personal and business wise. Kindness and courtesy are Alan's trademark, not to mention his keen ear for the ultimate quest of this crazy hobby of ours ... and that is the pursuit of emotional involvement in the music before anything else.

I'm looking forward to doing business with you in the future, Jcarr. Take care ...
Are we really that thin-skinned around here? Is it wrong to have an opinion? Must our selection of words and tone be of greater importance than the content?

It's no wonder a number of knowledgeable contributors have moved on. Why bother?
Dear Nrenter. There's nothing about being thin-sinned regarding the post/responses. Everyone is encouraged to have an opinion and present it to the masses. It simply doesn't need to be presented in a manner which sounds like a know-it-all, holier-than-thou jackass. Inevitably, the message gets lost to the tone. It's called the art of communication.

Nrenter ... I thought I was being very kind to Jcarr. Go figure.

I appreciated his input and said so. I think he designs great cartridges and said that as well. But, sometimes techies, nerds, engineers and other socially backward folks need to have a mirror held up in front of them.

I guess this just points out that salesmanship is an aquired art. Know what I mean?

And by the way Mt10425, thanks for your input, its much appreciated.
I myself didn't find Mr J. Carr's response offensive, but more informative. he mentioned what one's options are, and made us aware that it seems regardless of age, you don't have a paperweight, that there are options.

I believe it would be nice if more manufacturers were visible in this forum, but I can probably concur with others that this forum could then turn more into a seller's forum, with much hash, and bias, with many hawking their wares.

What has been already touched on, is the concern of what a distributor, and manufacturer will do to an end customer for repair-re-tipping service. I as well have such concerns. Most of these quality Cartridges come from Japan, and there appears to be too much middlemen to wade through, and all apparently holding their hands out to get greased.

No up front publicly known fees from virtually all of these manufacturers of what anything costs makes one quite wary-apprehensive. Dealing with Japan is sort of like dealing in the stock market. Mark
Syntax, there are various components other than a stylus in a cartridge that change over time. The suspension wire gradually develops a "set" (the same reason why some cartridges ride lower and lower to the LP, or need less VTF as they grow older), the resilience of the dampers change, coil wires develop flex-induced stiffening and eventually fatigue, the plating on the output pins tarnishes or rubs off, and so on.

As the manufacturer of the Clavis, we have access to all of the original replacement parts, which no one else can claim (and the work and voicing is done by the same person who built the cartridge in the first place, which also has a major influence on the sound). As one example, the Clavis used a ceramic whisker-reinforced alloy for the cantilever that had a very particular sonic signature (you could see this on the measurements, if you knew what to look for), and because of the need to compensate for the effects of that specific cantilever material, we designed a matching (and unique) tubular triple-damper system and a copper-based suspension wire. When we subsequently changed cantilever materials, the compensation requirements from the damper and suspension changed, and therefore we revised the damper system (to a non-tubular system) to match, likewise the suspension wire metallurgy. For these reasons, I certainly wouldn't recommend changing the cantilever material on a Clavis without a commensurate change to the dampers and suspension.

OTOH, I believe that a stylus replacement (if it can be done with no other change to the cantilever structure) could be worthwhile, since the Clavis used a 3x30um Ogura PA stylus, which in later years we changed to a different stylus with a profile of 3x70um (variable radius). If the stylus that Soundsmith retains a small minor radius (2.5 or 3um) and uses a major radius with something like 70um or 80um, I could see that as being beneficial and still remain friendly for set-up. You may want to ask Soundsmith for the dimensions of the stylus that they used.

Oregonpapa, I take pride in my designs, yes, but I take more pride in the design progress that I have continued to make over the years. It was certainly not my intent to be critical of your desire for a lower retip price, and I believe that I said so in my first post. However, I did bristle at your characterization "the Clavis is basically an early version of a Lyra Skala", when there is literally nothing in common between the two. In my mind, the Skala is a far more advanced design, and it should be, having been launched in 2006, while the Clavis was launched around 1990. If I was so inept a designer that, after 16 years, I wasn't able to come up with a substantially different and improved design than the Clavis, I should give my job to someone more capable.

So if I came across as being snide in my original reply, it was most likely because I felt offended by your mis-characterization. I probably shouldn't have felt offended, because I doubt if you meant it or understood what you were implying, but that's how I felt.

That said, if you feel that I was being snide, then you have my profound apologies. When I lose my temper (which isn't often, mind you), I may say or write things that I shouldn't. And in my opinion, your subsequent replies have been quite even-tempered and fair. Thank you for that.

In response to your query about what we charge for a rebuild, first please understand that we don't do partial retips. We only do complete rebuilds, where every wearable or cosmetically noticeable part is replaced (or at least refurbished and refinished). Judging from the number that you mentioned for a Soundsmith retip, the amount of money that we take for ourselves is not so different from Soundsmith (for a cartridge retailing for US$1500-2000 - for our more complex cartridges that we spend more time and effort on, we ask for more renumeration). However, unlike Soundsmith, our contracts with our individual distributors (in each country or sales region) stipulate that we conduct our business through first the national distributor and then a dealer (and sometimes there will be intermediate distribution layers as well). The additional layers of distribution go a long way to explaining the difference in price that you pay for a Soundsmith retip vs. a Lyra rebuild (again, for cartridges retailing for US$1500-2000). FWIW, I believe that in most countries, the price that you will pay to a dealer for a Lyra rebuild (for effectively a brand-new cartridge, and the work is done by the original builder) is about 60-66% of retail price.

Although the Skala is an excellent, fun-sounding cartridge that I like a lot, in my mind, the spiritual (not technological - smile) successor to the Clavis is the lower-priced Helikon. Now, I expect that we will be able to make an interesting announcement pertaining to that price-point within a month or two, so please keep your ears open. I know that times are tough for all of us, and spending is important to keep under control (hopefully while simultaneously increasing the enjoyment that we get from our audio systems). This is the single biggest reason why I chose to introduce my latest pre-biased damper technology from the Delos, rather than unveiling it in something like a Titan or Skala-class cartridge.

Mt10425, things are pretty much as I explained to Syntax and Oregonpapa. I may have overreacted to Oregonpapa's unintended mis-characterization of the Clavis Skala, and for that I apologize. Was there anything else that you think I deserve to be raked over the coals for? (said tongue-in-cheek - grin)

On a slightly different issue, if an engineer cannot be a know-it-all about nearly every aspect of his designs; if he is not able to justify or defend every engineering decision that he's made, he's not putting enough thought into his work IMHO. Perhaps he should try to avoid behaving like said know-it-all (Mt10425, your point is well-taken), but I would expect that level of conviction (at least) from most good engineers, and demand it from any engineer who I subcontracted for work.

Nrenter, Markd51, thanks for the words of support.

cheers, all
jonathan carr
Mr Carr, thank you for your response. I believe most of us here (and on other sites) really just want to help each other. Often, because we've spent an excessive amount of time or money developing specific audio items or systems in our homes, we feel we know the best path for inquiring audio minds. The more married we are to an idea or philosophy, the easier it is to come across as arrogant. After reading your most recent post, I don't believe you to be an arrogant person. I believe your intent was (and is) to help. Thanks for hanging in there with us. Communication is everything. I put my rake away and am saving any leftover coals for someone more deserving :-).
Jcarr ...

Thank you kindly for your excellent response to my post. You are a gentleman, and I would like to say that if it weren't for folks like you, folks like me wouldn't be enjoying the blessings of great reproduced music in our homes.

Sorry that I misrepresented the relationship between the Clavis and Skala. I was going by what I was told by a friend. My ignorance on display, I'm afraid.

With spending only $350 for the Soundsmith retip, I'm left with the option getting good sound from a usable Clavis for the time being, and also one of buying the Skala in the near future, which I will do. I've heard the Skala in several systems and for my tastes, it fits the bill for sure.

As you mentioned, these are tough times for most of us these days and I was getting tired of listening to my spare, worn out, AT109. (Ugg!)

Take care ...
Jcarr, thank you very much for giving us some insight into cartridges. Most of the time we get opinions and misinformation. Please continue with your contributions.
Very gratified to read your post as I just sent my Clavis to Soundsmith for new cantilever. I always thought my Clavis was stunning and if the rebuild is even as good as the original I will be thrilled. Even if I must wait 12 weeks (LOL).
Just a word in support of Jcarr. He's been involved on this and other audio forums for longer than I can remember and his contributions are invariably worthwhile. I've never owned a Lyra, yet he's occasionally taken time to correct misunderstandings in my posts and educate me. Never once did I find that offensive.

Jcarr's correction of one post of mine had a fundamental influence on how I maintain cartridges. As my practices (the Magic Eraser) have been widely adopted by hundreds if not thousands of vinylphiles, it's fair to say that Jcarr deserves some credit for improving the performance of thousands of catridges, most of which are not Lyras. For that and virtually everything else he posts he receives precisely nothing but some well-deserved goodwill.

I learned something from his post on this topic, regarding why some cartridges need less VTF over time. That was fascinating. Thank you Jonathon, not for the first time.
Dear VPI:

As mentioned in an earlier post (2010-01-10), we designed the Clavis' triple-damper architecture and elastomer formulations specifically to counteract a resonance / energy storage issue that was a low-level characteristic of the Clavis' cantilever material. If the cantilever is replaced with a different material, the third damper will become superfluous. The third damper will impart an excessive degree of damping, and its extra mass will be a hindrance rather than a benefit.

FWIW, the cantilever material in question was a fiber-reinforced metal in which the metal matrix was duralumin, and the fibers were silicon carbide whiskers. The Clavis' stylus profile was an Ogura PA (minor radius 3um, major radius 30um) carved from a nude diamond shank measuring 0.06mm wide x 0.06mm deep by 0.5mm high, with a moving mass of around 0.08mg.

I recommend that you ask Soundsmith to match the above spec as closely as possible.

hth, jonathan carr

PS. The kind words are much appreciated, Doug!
I can understand JCarr being a little irked at
SS "updating" his design with these
somewhat off the shelf parts. All very