Report on SoundSmith Clearaudio Rebuild

A while back I started a thread asking for advice about a bent canteliever on my Virtuoso. Some of you advised me to look into SoundSmith's rebuild and I heeded that advice. Here is a recap of my experience.

First of all, if my experience is typical, expect a LONG and frustrating wait! The website says 2-4 weeks; when that time was exceeded, I was told Peter was more like 5 weeks out. After 6 weeks, I was told it would be another 2-4 weeks. The cartridge was finished in 10 weeks, I sent my Paypal payment on a Friday, then they didn't ship it until the following Friday!! 11 weeks later, I received my rebuilt cart. Again, this may not be typical, and my repair may have just fallen through the cracks (let me know).

OK, so about the sound--that's what's really important anyway. The ruby canteliever is ever so thin and red, it looks like an Irish Setter hair! I tried setting VTF at 1.5g, but felt it lacked body, so I increased it until I was at about 1.75g. That seems to produce to deepest body/lowest noise ratio. VTA works best right about where it was before the rebuild: flat. My immediate impressions were of great detail--much more resolution than before. For example, early on I was breaking in the cart. (That's another thing. I asked Peter if the cartridge would need breaking in, and if I should continue to use Last stylus cleaner/treatment combo, but he never replied. Anybody have any feedback on that?). Anyway, I noticed piano and horn sounds on Parliament's Mothership Connection that I never heard before--those are real instruments! I'd always thought of the sound as electronic on that album, like some of the later George Clinton stuff, but it's closer to the Funkadelic sound. I heard this because of increased resolution of small details. On Simon and Garfunkle's Bookends album, the part where th old people are talking shocked me with its realism. The little bell during the chorus of Bill Withers Just The Two of Us, the creak of Bert Jansch's (or is it Rebourn's) chair in the beginning of The Pentangle's Sweet Child, Yusef Lateef's weird Chinese flute on the first track of Eastern Sounds, the distorted cymbals in the beginning of Alice Cooper's Go to Hell . . . I could go on. I know it's cliche, but that increased resulution made it like hearing a new record collection. The soundstage also opened up tremendously. On my Frampton Comes Alive album, when Bill Grahm does his intro, I could hear an echo . . . I've had that album since middle school (1978), and I'd always thought it was an open air concert, but the Soundsmith rebuild got me to look more closely at the liner notes, and I learned that the album was recorded in several venues, most of which were smallish halls . . . My first guess was The Fillmore, but it was Winterland and The Marin Civic. Frampton's voice was set back into the stage more and the balace betwen music and voice was more coherent. Another cliche': It was like being there! I listened to a lot of music in the last couple of weeks, from jazz to classical, folk to rock, and my bottom line comment is that the rebuilt Clearaudio Virtuoso is better than the original. It's better at detail, separation of instruments is more distinct, the accuracy of the bass mid and treble frequencies is greater, the backgrounds are quiter, the depth and breadth of the soundstage is increased. I'm very happy. If you can bear the wait and lackadasical customer service, I would definitely recommend this as a way to deal with a broken cart., or even as a way to improve an old working one. BTW, I got the $350 rebuild option. I welcome your comments.
I had service from Soundsmith on my two cartridge repairs that IMO was highly satisfactory. I too was warned that there would be a delay owing to a backlog of work. Emails were sparse and not every call got through, but speaking to Peter Ledermann when one did was a pleasure and he answered every concern. What counts most to me is the quality of the work and that was superb.
Thanks for taking the time to inform us of your experience. I have a Virtuoso Wood that I slightly bent the cantilever on at least a year ago. I contacted both Clearaudio and The Cartridgeman and they told me that replacement was the only option. I'll contact Soundsmith and see what he thinks.
Does anybody know the extent of the rebuild I got? In other words, is the support for the caneliver new as well? I just wonder if I should be expecting improvements as the cart. breaks in. Also, why the light tracking force? How light should I go? The website says 1.5, but what are some rules of thumb on VTF? Also, will Last stylus cleaner/treatment harm the new stylus/canteleiver? I'm asking you becasuse I've not heard back from the SoundSmith.
I've never been fond of anything "Lasting" on a stylus. Use a short bristle brush built for the deed, or a bit of Magic Eraser. (Just lower the arm on a small piece of the stuff and raise it a couple of times. Don't scrape it.)
Peter Ledermann always does a great job with the retips. Though it is typically a long wait for a valued cart return it is well worth it. I'm sure he would welcome a phone call to discuss your cart, the work performed and the tracking force he would recommend. I have found he is reachable later in the day 5pm est. Enjoy.
Realize that a great fellow like Peter is still ... only one guy. Cue up, cut him some slack on schedule, and be prepare yourself while waiting to be amazed.

Thom @ Galibier
Spoke with Peter this evening re. my questions about VTF, cleaning, and break-in time. He was patient, knowledgeable, and clear in his answers. VTF should be about 1.5-1.9: I have mine set at 1.75. He recommended cleaning with a dry brush for repeated cleanings, then using solvent occasionally to clear any buildup. As to break-in . . . I forgot to ask! I was sidetracked by his insistence on the importance of azmuth with this stylus. He walked me through the various adjustments and steps using a test record to get azmuth correct. In fact, he guided me through the whole process for aligning and adjusting the cartridge. He was very detailed and precise in his language--like a true engineer. But his love of vinyl and record playback was totally evident in his tone and his words. As I said in my original posting, the rebuild was well worth the wait. Having spoken to the man himself, I can now say he's a first class guy. BTW, when you call now the message says to get ready for a long wait, so I must not have been the only one.
Now that you've had a while to break in your re-tipped Virtuoso, how are you liking it?

I'm considering a re-tip on the same cartridge, but at the "stock" level repair.....not sure that I want to go the Ruby route.
I went for the ruby retip on my denon dl103 and dl103r and I can wholeheartedly reccomend it. As stated, I find myself rediscovering recordings time and again!