Review: Soundsmith SG-200 Cartridge

Category: Analog

The Perfect cartridge?

Having now lived with the Soundsmith SG-200 cartridge for approx 30 listening hours I have to say that this cartridge is in a category all by itself. Having listened to top offerings from Kondo, Allearts, Van Den Hul, and ZYX over the past 10 yrs (with phono stages from Kondo, ZYX, Aesthetix and Canary) I can easily say that the SG-200 bests all of them in every aspect that is important to me. It is more transparent, faster, delicate, 3-dimensional and dynamic than all of them. It is a stunning performer.The only cartridge that even comes close is the Kondo and that is because the Kondo has that wonderful Kondo midrange glow. It is not at all as life-like as the SG-200 but it is still has a very seductive coloration. Kondo has done well with this coloration!
The SG-200 is very sensitive to setup. It has taken me about 10 hrs of tweaking to get it reasonably dialed in (using MINT Tractor to set alignment and scope to set azimuth). The good news is that the SG-200 is very revealing of changes in setup parameters and tells you when you are close by giving you one of the most ‘present’ and ‘live’ sounds I’ve ever heard. Yet the cartridge is nearly devoid of colorations as far as I can tell. It is remarkably smooth. It has both a quick and powerful low end as well as a smooth high end that goes well beyond 20k hz. There is no grain, nor grittiness. Midrange is closer to having someone in the room than I’ve ever heard outside of mastertapes.
Having briefly had a Studer A80 in my system recently and a handful of mastertape studio dubs (15 IPS) I can say that the analog sound coming off the Soundsmith (currently setup in vintage Kenwood L-07D TT and going thru Placette passive GC) is a close approximation of the sound on the mastertape in most cases. In some cases I preferred the master tape but in others I actually preferred the vinyl. I think part of this has to do with the difference in electronic playback circuits employed by the Studer versus those of the Soundsmith. The Soundsmith needs no phono stage and has a relatively simple gain circuit. Thus there is very little circuitry between you and vinyl. This plus the incredible sensitivity of the strain gauge design is what makes this cartridge so unique and so revealing, and life-like. The fact that it needs no phono stage also makes it a very good value. My Kondo front end cost at least 5 times the SG-200 and yet I find the SG-200 to be the better front end.
So is it perfect? Well its a lot closer than anything else I’ve experienced except the master tapes.It is sensative to dirt building up on the stylus like any good line contact. It revealed that my Lart Du Son record cleaner leaves a film of some sort of lubricant that builds up on the stylus and caused HF mistracking. It is a very revealing cartridge yet without sonic edge or grain. Very nice.
I am looking forward to setting this cartridge up in a linear tracking arm to see if I can extract even more information out of those little grooves.

Associated gear
Beveridge 2 ESL, Apogee Duetta Sig, NAT SE3, DIYHIFi Tram2 line staqe, Kendwood L-07D, Zanden Digital.

Similar products
Kondo IO-m, Allearts MC2 F1, ZYX UNIverse, VDH Colibri
Thanks for the nice review.
What kind of price tag does the Soundsmith SG-200 Cartridge have?
Thank you for the wonderful review of your Soundsmith Strain Gauge SG-200 system; It provides me great satisfaction to know that each one I hand make is appreciated. I do agree with you that a line contact stylus, and especially our SG-6 Optimized Contour design, which does contact about 70-90% of the groove walls, is more likely to accumulate residue and debris left in the grooves than an elliptical or concical, expecially due to the force-per-unit-area which is greater for these other types of styli shapes. It may well be that due to such, they "push" debris, or even self clean the contact area to a greater degree than more esoteric shapes do....however, due the radiius of curvature problen, they of course, may not trace as well....

Peter Ledermann/Soundsmith
I am also using a Soundsmith SG-200 and agree setup especially azimuth adjustment make a big difference. On my Brinkmann Balance TT with Air Tangent parallel tracking air bearing arm, I found informaton retreval much improved when tracking weight was reduced to below 1.3g the actual force not being critical. I am sure this takes advantage of the low moving mass of the cartridge.
Dear 90493m: There is no doubt that a strain-gauge analog source generator is really atractive and shows differences against MC/MM/MI cartridges.

In the past I heard the one by Sao Win and other by Panasonic and lately I heard the SS. But not all stain-gauge devices are designed in the same way when in the Sao Win and Panasonic both confor/performs according the inverse RIAA eq. standard the SS does not conforms according.

We have to remember here that all LPs were and are recorded with the RIAA emphasis curve ( a complex equalization. ) and that's why ( between other things. ) any cartridge needs a phono stage with the inverse RIAA eq. curve to retrieve the frequency response of the original recorded music signal: the SS even that need to pass through an inverse RIAA eq. to be neutral/accurate to the recording signal they choosed not to do it.
Your statement:
+++++ " The fact that it needs no phono stage " +++++++

is IMHO a misunderstood because it needs but as I said SS choosed not to do it.

So, IMHO we can't compare any cartridge against the straingauge by SS because this one performs a different equalization curve than the RIAA one that all other cartridges did. IMHO we can't compare oranges against bananas.

In the other side with the SS what we are hearing it is not only that way different equalization curve but different electronics that is dedicated to the SS cartridge.

That we can like what we heard through the SS straingauge device does not means that we are hearing what is in the recording because through the SS device we are hearing what it is not in the recording due to that different equalization curve. In all other cartridges the performance we are hearing is what is in the recording. Do you think this makes a difference?, certainly and it is each one privilege to choose about.

Regards and enjoy the music,