Review: Soundsmith SG-200 Straingauge 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.

Postsript: I substitued the Transfi Terminator linear arm for the stock L07_M tonearm and the improvements were significant. While i continue to fine tune the alignment (a nearly endless task..maybe Soundmsith CartRight will finish this once and for all) I must say that the sound is now highly reminiscent of what i hear when i listen to mastertapes on my friends Studer. The sound is remarkably open, transparent and 'round' while still being smooth and fast. Obviously this is still highly dependent on the recrds themselves but the best now sound surprisinglyh close to tape. I must emphasis that cartridge alignment is a very strong requirement for the best sound and is NOT, IMHO, a set it and forget it propositin. It takes many hours to dial in as the cartridge is so sensative to alignment.

Associated gear
Kenwood L07-M
Apogee Duetta Signatures
TransFi Terminator arm
DIYSUPPLY Tram II preamp
Krell KRS 200 amps

Similar products
Van Den Hul
Thanks for sharing, I have friends who use strain gauge cartridges and they do indeed sound very good.

Could you share your technique for setting azimuth with a scope, or point me to a link?


You didn't state what stylus you have in the system. Is it the SGS-6 or 5? The 6 will give even more information that the 5, but is more critical of set up. It's nice to be able to pop in the 5 if an LP is not recorded so well, or has groove damage.

The cart is also very phase accurate, and on a speaker like the TAD CR1 (which I'm also a dealer for here in NYC) you can hear all the slight phase information (like a singer moving around a mic capsule) that is hidden by other transducers.

I hope you get many years of enjoyment from this amazing sounding (and relatively economical) cart system. I have probably 3000 hours on my SGS-6, and when sending back to Sound-smith for a checkup, it turns out the stylus was in perfect shape. This may however have something to do with the accuracy of my set up, but still I think this is pretty remarkable for a stylus to be perfect after 3000 hours.
Hi 90493m, just started running the Trans Fi Salvation tt with Terminator linear arm, currently with a Zu modded Denon 103 cart. This cart is v. much a giant killer, but I'm v. tempted by the Straingauge.
Just concerned that such a neutral, fast cartridge may produce an uncompromising sound when combined with a tt/arm that majors on the same attributes.
Your thoughts as a Terminator/Straingauge user.