Gonna have to ditch the Soundsmith Carmen II

I've given this cart the benefit of the doubt and then some, but it's going to have to go. 

the sibilance on s's is just to much. The sound isn't distorted, just way louder than the rest of the vocals. This happens to one degree or the other on all records with vocals. Sometimes it's barely noticeable sometimes it hard to bare. other than the sibilance I love the sound, I love the live nature of the music.  so I hate getting rid of it. 

So so the things I've done and made sure are dead on:

alighnment - that means SRA, VTA, TF, Azimuth, anti skate (per,SS), platter level, checked mounting hardware, checked tunntable . . .etc

my Denon 2x20L doesn't do this.

it may be there is a bad combo with some piece of equipment or loudspeaker and it just doesn't jive with the rest of the rig. 

My system:

VPI prime
Parasound JC3+ Phono pre
PAD phono cables
Decware integrated SET tube amp
Zu Omen Def MKII with Radian tweeter upgrade. 

So the question is what cart, around $1k will give that live dynamic sound, tracks well, but does emphasize the S's?

ones I'im interested in but have no way of hearing:

Ortofon Quintet Black
Audio Technica ART 9

There’s a thing on analog planet where a Quintet Black is compared to a Hana Lomc. It may be worth giving it a read. That being said, and without knowing it’s compatibility with your arm, my vote goes to Charisma (Denon) 103. I also think the DV 20X-2 L is a well balanced performer. Nice and even top to bottom, and no sibilance that I heard. When you said Dynamic sound, the Charisma is holding the goods.
I also own the Soundsmith Carmen II. I don't experience the same problem with vocals or sibilance, but I use Stevenson alignment which mitigates these issues IME. 

If you want a comparable cart in terms of presentation, I think the Shure M97xe with a Jico SAS stylus would fit the bill. 
This sounds like an alignment issue. What tools are you using to confirm the accuracy of your tangency, azimuth and VTA/SRA settings?
I think siblance is a result of many things.  Could be your diamond on the end of the cartridge.
What noromance said......give Peter a call at Soundsmith and see what he has to say about the issue.  Also, yogiboy makes a very good point, and perhaps you have already done so but lowering (or even raising) the VTA in my experience can really alter the presentation to the point that the sibilance may be tamed to within the parameters you seek.  Try it and let us know, really interested in what you find.....
Let me answer some of the questions:

I tried lowering VTA ended almost had no affect. I went all the way down just to be safe

I used a Mint protractor first, then I stepped up to a
SMARTractor to align my table. Tried different alignment types too.

I use a fozgometer for azimuth 

I also reached out to Peter as well early on in power and all his advice. He was very nice.
I tried lowering VTA ended almost had no affect ...
It still sounds like an alignment issue. Please explain how you used your alignment gauge to ensure proper tangency. Hint: If you aligned the cartridge body rather than the cantilever, the phono cartridge is probably misaligned. Please also tell us about the gauge you used to measure VTA. Simply raising or lowering the pickup arm at random is an unreliable way to set VTA.

Best MM cartridges right now are the 2M Black and VM760SLC.

If I was buying MC, it would be exactly one of the two you listed. I think those are fantastic choices. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the ART9

Go go for it!
Why not contact Peter? I think your issue is one that is easily fixed with the right info.
I align the cantilever not the body
Did you align while looking at the cantilever, or a reflection of the cantilever? Did you use a magnifier? What are you using to measure VTA?
@cleeds if you did some research on the SMARTractor you would be aware that is a system that includes a magnifier, a mirrored high precision gauge and a very accurate P2S system. In other words about as close to perfect alignment as possible

I don’t know this cart but it may simply be that it lacks synergy with the rest of the system. Personally my experience with sibilance is that it is often present in the recording (when I compare LP and digital) and is something I personally do not have a problem with. Others however are much more sensitive

To the OPs question given you are already partially invested in dertonearms work perhaps it’s worth checking out the Acoustical Systems Fideles. I own the Palladian which is about as close to live as you can get, if the Fideles has a fraction of the House sound it should suit you well
folkfreak@cleeds if you did some research on the SMARTractor you would be aware that is a system that includes a magnifier, a mirrored high precision gauge and a very accurate P2S system. In other words about as close to perfect alignment as possible ...
I'm familiar with the Smartractor but as with any tool, it can be improperly used. It still isn't clear to me that the OP has used it as intended, nor is it clear to me what he used to measure the VTA.
To answer some questions,

i look at the cantilever and it’s reflection. 

As for vta, I don’t have a tool. It I do have my ears. If it would have changed for the better reardless of the actual angle I would be happy. 
Send it back to Peter and have him check it out. If you like the Carmen except for the issue, try out the latest version soundsmith zephyr. I have had the zephyr II for a few years and like it better than the Ortofon MC cart that I had prior.
The Carmen is known for NOT having Sibilant performance. You either have a damaged stylus, bad alignment, damaged cantilever or defective cartridge. The tone arm may also be having bearing issues (see if it has any play). Sometimes the uni-pivot bearings are damaged and this will create problems. We REBUILD all our products to new condition for 20% or LESS.  How old is this unit?? I wish you would have called me  - we are here to help with any issues - whether it is the cartridge or not.

Peter Ledermann/Soundsmith
Hello Peter,

I did call you about a week or two after I purchased it. That was about 4-6 months ago. I don’t listen every day, usually on weekends so it’s taken me a while to go through all my the different variables.  You did indeed try to help and I went through all the different suggestions. I thank you for that. I honestly don’t think it’s the cart, but as someone said earlier it may not be working in good synergy with the system.  And my room certainly isn’t helping due to its small size.  It’s not sibilance with distortion, but the S’s seem more pronounced than they should be. 

I did did call VPI and talked with them as well, and I even bought a new pivot and cup to make sure that wasn’t the issue as there were some minor small scatches
that looked suspicious. As far as the alignment is concerned I’ve got the table zero’d in using the SMARTractor, Fogometer and a digital scale and I have followed all the best practices as described by people on the know such as yourself. 

The thing is I love the presentation of the music through the cart!
Consider the torque on the mounting screws. Sounds like hokum, but IME it can have a significant effect. I use a German torque screwdriver.

I have a Carmen mkII and do not experience any real  sibilance (yes on a occasional record) but it seems to be the press more than the cartridge as it happens very very infrequently. VTA is the first thing I think of but that has been mentioned here so ummm bad tip?
One other obvious explanation that could give rise to sibilance is build up of dirt on the stylus. Have you examined it under a loupe or scope and do you have a regular cleaning program in place? Sure you’ve addressed this but for others with similar problems it can definitely be a source of issues. I find my stylus needs cleaning after each side or two, and this is with ultrasonicly cleaned discs
I clean before each side is played and check the condition of the cantilever and diamond often. 
Maybe you just don't like the way the cartridge sounds. Try a different cartridge. 
Please call me again - we can discuss the age of the cartridge and how to send it to me for immediate testing and repair if required. 

Peter Ledermann/Soundsmith
The can’t imagine NOT using a Sound Smith cartridge.  Amazing performance AND an amazing rebuild policy / price. $350 to rebuild my Aida to like-new status? Yes, please. I’d send your Carmen back to Peter for evaluation / rebuild. Best case, it’s an inexpensive way to make your cartridge like-new. Worst case, you can sell it as being recently serviced by the Sound Smith himself. 
I have the Carmen II also. I use it with a Sota Saphire iv and Jelco arm. Along with a Manley Steehead phono Stage, there are none of the issues you have.
I have two Soundsmith cartridges-- The Hyperion and Paua and neither exhibit the slightest sibilance (other than the occasional bad LP-- and that's hardly the cartridge's fault). I use one on a SOTA belt drive table and the other on a Pioneer direct drive unit. I would also recommend calling Peter and letting him try to help you. Soundsmith offers excellent support. At least that's been my experience. 
I am also using a Soundsmith Sotto Voce cartridge and while I have some sibilance I think it is more the LP than the cartridge. In fact I am testing that theory this week with some known LP's to have sibilance..
Mr. Peter Ledermann is a gracious man, as I found out after purchasing an Aida Soundsmith Cartridge a few years ago. The preciseness of the diamond on these fine line cartridges do require precise alignment and a bit of tinkering to get tonearm and cartridge working together as a unit. Even with the majority of recordings sounding very musical, there seems that even with direct to disc master recordings, the sibilance is sometimes hot and these revealing cartridges are going to show up imperfections and also the recording techniques of the manufacturer, which is not the fault of the cartridge. Such detail and musicality are what we buy these cartridges for in the first place. 

If the sibilance is consistent on all recordings, I would say there is a problem in faulty alignment or a defect as mentioned in aforementioned posts. Regardless of the cartridge and associated equipment . . . this is still the reproduction of the real thing; however, some other specifications in other cartridges may be better suited to your sensitivities of sibilance and a compromise may have to be met. To another person, it may be another issue . . . hence, the reason there are so many products on the market with so many opposing points of view and always healthy discussions trying to prove that one person's opinion is much more valuable than another. But the bottom line is what you like and can live with as opposed to what the “experts” tell you that you SHOULD be listening to and what you should be hearing -- it doesn't work that way. Critiques and opinions are only guidelines as to what you personally can tolerate and what you actually enjoy. After all, you are the one paying for it -- you might as well be satisfied with what you live with despite how may “experts” you tick off. The hobby is a progression and a never-ending conquest to achieve, which is for some, more satisfying than the music they sit and sometimes listen to rather than the equipment.

This hobby should not be a war game nor a stress producer . . . rather, it should be fun, relaxing, enjoyable, and socially bonding -- not alienating. Have differences of opinion, of course . . . this is part of the human psyche, but do so in a respectful and good nature of learning, teaching, and sharing the music and the fun.
Well now after some critical listening today I learned as I suspected, the sibilance I was hearing was for sure the records in question. After making sure of all the parameters were spot on I changed the records and no more sibilance. I am very happy and satisfied with this cartridge and will probably never own anything but a Soundsmith cartridge after owning this one...
 I have left a message for Mr. Ledermann on their voicemail, they were out I do believe or offer the day. I am awaiting his call I will keep you posted . . .
I can tell you from personal experience that Soundsmith stands behind their products. Peter will get to the bottom of this problem for you if you just give him a chance. How many owners of high-end audio companies actually reach out in forums like this to proactively try and help one of their customers? 
So last night I took the dynavector 20x2L off and put the Carmen II back on. The Dynavector doesn’t sound as “real”. Period. That’s what I love about the Carmen, things just sound real. I set up the cart again, and yes, I set it up correctly, and did a sampling of albums: old 70’s up to current releases. There wasn’t  a specific pattern,  but 2 out of 3 albums had emphasized “S’s”. The other 1/3 seemed fine.

i have Zu Omen Def MK ii’s with the tweeter upgrade. I know people have a love’em or hate’um view. I love them. My other speakers are Thiel cs2.4’s. The Zu’s sound more like real music. The Thiels are very accurate, but a accurate doesn’t always sound good. On great recordings Thiels sound great. On anything less than great recordings not so much. The Zu’s have a great midrange and midbass. One thing I remember reading on a review of the Carmen II is that the midrange was noticed to be a bit pronounced. I didn’t think much of it at the time seeing how every system in every room is different. I think what is happening is due to the more pronounced midrange of the Zu’s plus possibly the slight emphasis of the Carmen II may just be pushing the dB in that frequency range to be more noticeable.  It this is just a theory. 

I tried swapping tubes on the Decware integrated amp I use and while I found a set that deemphasized the problem frequency range a bit it also took some of the liveness away as well. 
If you do send your Carmen back to Peter, and I think you should, please do let us know how things turn out. Your considerable commitment to get the best out of the cartridge are a testament to the sound quality on the whole. This makes me want very much to hear a Soundsmith cartridge for myself.
I had the same sibilance problem. I was not the SS Sussurro cart. (Peter's prototype).  Improvements to my electronics solved the problem.
Could it be your speakers?  Especially with the "upgraded" tweeter, this could be part of the problem... in your small room.

last, I recently watched Peter's video from the RMAF 2017.  One comment explained why the Fozgometer is not appropriate for azimuth adjustments with his styli.  That seems more related to balance and separation than sibilance but it is one reason your careful set up may not be optimal.

At his point it seems the best answer would be to return your cartridge to Soundsmith to have them test it.
Dear Carmen MKII Owner;

I do not have you phone number, and did not get a recent message that you called.

When we initially spoke, I spent quite a bit of time going over the alignment procedure with you. There are alignment videos on my website, some (azimuth) explaining why the Fozgometer will often not work with our cartridges. I did tell you that when we spoke. You simply cannot use it.

I also asked you if you tested the skating force via our method on our website, but got no response. I use VPI tables in our showroom, and have used them at shows for 12 years. I am very familiar with them and I can promise you if you have not dealt with the skating forces on your unipivot VPI arm, you are not tracking properly. I can almost guarantee that.

It can be easily rectified with their anti-skating device and our method specifically for VPI arms - on our website.

Bear in mind, that if you do our test, (placing the stylus on a non-pressed region at the end of the record, BETWEEN the run out grooves), and you observe the arm FLYING in at great speed, that means you have likely about 80% of the VTF on the left groove wall, and 20% on the right. Even tracking the Carmen MKII heavily at 1.6 grams, that means you have .3 grams on the right stylus edge, absolutely NOT enough to track well, especially at high velocities (high frequency) and it WILL absolutely cause sibilant performance !!! Not to mention use of the Fozgometer on Soundsmith designs.

Again, I never heard back from you after our lengthy conversation where I tried to assist you, as to whether you had followed my advice. I also offered to inspect the Carmen for you to rule out a problem.

Surprisingly so, I do run into some customers who don’t accept my advice. When they call back, I find they have not done as I suggested. Please reach out to us again, and WE WILL HELP YOU. 914 739 2885

Many thanks -

Peter Ledermann / president / Soundsmith


Thank you for taking my call.

I also just wanted to let everyone know that Peter is on the case!  He and I went over all my information and I will be sending my cart in and he will give it the 'going over'.  I suspect it is not the cart, but should it be then I know it is in the right hands.

I'm glad there are companies out there that stand behind their product and their customers.

Just received my Carmen cartridge back from Mr. Ledermann.  In short the sibalence has been eliminated!

According to Peter he checked my cart against his reference cart and reference albums and while he could not detect any aborrant behavier he indicated he made some minor tweaks, which I feel was not because of any issue with the cart, but more for my sake and my system synergy. He also suggests I adjust my tracking force to accommodate his tweak.  I'm not sure what specifically was done to the cart but it worked. 

So so in short I'm very satisfied, and I would like to personally thank Peter for taking personal interest in a customer and making sure his customer was happy. 

This is is how you keep customers for life. 
If your problem reappears at some point in future, I would next consider the new tweeter, as per John Tracy's post.  It could be a little "hot" by nature or poorly matched to the midrange/woofer for efficiency.  (Meaning if the tweeter efficiency is greater than that of the midrange driver, the result can be a "tipped up" tonal balance.)
What tracking force are you using now? I’m curious because I own this cart and regardless of setup, I haven’t succeeded in getting it to sound quite as good as I expected for the price.
You must remember he did a minor tweak to mine, I’m not sure what he did but he asked me that I track at 1.8g to 1.9g. However after doing that I found it still sounded best at 1.6g,  so that is where I am tracking right now.  

 What are you not getting out of it what you think you should?
^Mostly tonal balance. It seems that bass is weak when the treble is correct and vice versa. I can't find the VTA sweet spot. I don't have this problem with other carts. Maybe I just need to look into capacitance loading.

If you track at 2.0 you might find things dull out a bit.  It's hard to give good advice not being able to hear a person's system.  There are just too many variables at play.

Can you compare against a CD of the same album to see the net difference?

It seems odd that the VTA swings to one end or the other without there being some middle ground the setting must pass through.

Capacitance does seem like a logical place to look.  Does your phono pre allow adjustment?