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.