Review: Soundsmith SG-410 Strain Gauge Cartridge Cartridge


Category: Analog

This is a review of the Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge and its dedicated SG-410 electronics. I ordered the cartridge with both the standard nude contact stylus (SGS-5) and an additional optimized contour contact stylus (SGS-6). The SG-410 electronics is the remote control version of the basic model with an alternate line input enabling it also to be used as a CD or other source input or even to accept the output from a separate preamplifier.

The workmanship of both the cartridge and the accompanying electronics is outstanding. The cartridge body is a precision-milled piece of aluminum, and the stylus is a delicate ruby cantilever mounted onto a milled piece of aluminum that can easily be attached to or detached from the cartridge body, which enables the stylus to be easily changed or replaced. The photos below show the cartridge mounted on my Triplanar Mk VII tonearm as well as the bottom of the cartridge body and each of the separate stylus assemblies; the SGS-5 is the black one; the SGS-6 is the orange one. This user-replaceable stylus feature is, I think, unique – it obviates the need for retipping cartridges, and makes it both easy and inexpensive to change the stylus.

The SG-410 is a relatively small, low-profile unit (15.5” wide x 15” deep x 3.5” high), which is built on a 0.25” thick aluminum chassis that is wrapped on the sides and front with a hardwood exterior. Soundsmith offers a number of options in terms of the wood that is used; I ordered the standard walnut, and had it finished with an ebony stain so that it appears black with some wood grain showing through the finish. There is a separate power supply in a small aluminum enclosure (6” wide x 8.75” deep x 3” high). I asked Soundsmith to install a DPDT (double-pole double-throw) switch on the power supply to accommodate my usage of 120 volt balanced power – 60 volts of potential between ground and each of the “hot” and “neutral” contacts.

Unlike traditional moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC) cartridges, the SG cartridge does not produce a voltage or current. Instead, it responds to mechanical movement in the grooves by changing resistance. As a result, it requires the use of a separate dedicated piece of electronics to generate a direct current against which the changes in resistance can then be converted into an analog signal. This is supposed to have several advantages. First, it should provide for a relatively flat frequency response over a wide range that exceeds the audible range. Second, the SG cartridge is a high compliance cartridge that has a much lower effective moving mass than MC cartridges (which generally have a lower effective moving mass than MM cartridges). The substantially lower effective moving mass should mean, at least theoretically, that there is a substantially lower level of stored energy which could be reflected back down the cantilever and stylus and give rise to mistracking and distortions. All of this should enable the SG cartridge to maintain a better contact with the groove walls and to extract more detail with greater accuracy than either MC or MM cartridges. These advantages were confirmed, as explained below.

One other advantage – which I noticed immediately – is that, even with the gain all the way open, the SG cartridge is dead quiet. I have never experienced any other cartridge that is this quiet. I believe this is due to two key facts. First, the signal flowing in the tonearm cable is derived from a non-inductive source. That is to say, unlike every MC or MM cartridge, there are no coils or other windings that are susceptible to picking up hum or RFI. And second, the SG 410 electronics are exceptionally quiet; this may be due, in part, to the fact there is a much smaller level of gain needed or to the fact that the design and execution are superb. The bottom line, for whatever reason, is that the SG cartridge is just dead quiet with no hum or background noise at all. Period.

I have used the SG for several months now along with the following equipment. The cartridge is mounted on a Triplanar Mk. VII tonearm on a TW Acustic Raven AC-1 turntable. This sits atop a Symposium Svelte Plus platform which lays on a 2” thick slab of Pennsylvania black slate. The slate rests on four Symposium Rollerblock Jrs., which are attached to the tops of 4 posts of a homemade turntable stand constructed out of 3.5” square Ipe wood and braced at two different levels through mortised and tenoned Ipe cross supports. The stand has four 2.5” aluminum cones that rest on a carpeted suspended wooden floor.

The associated electronics are a VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II preamplifier and a VAC Phi 300 amplifier, which drives Verity Audio Lohengrin speakers. Power is fed through a large 350 lb EI-style Topaz 10 kVA transformer that sits in my basement and is hard-wired to provide 60-0-60 volt balanced power with an isolated technical ground. This power is fed directly to the amplifier; all other components are fed this power through a Shunyata Hydra 6. Power cords are Stealth Dream, interconnects are Stealth Indra and M-21, and speaker cables are Stealth Ultimate Ribbon in a bi-wire configuration. All equipment, other than the turntable, the Hydra 6 and the SG-410 power supply, are mounted on Sistrum stands or racks. The SG-410 power supply is mounted on 2” thick Pennsylvania black slate that sits across the lower cross supports of the turntable stand. The dimensions of the room are 21.5 feet wide by 29 feet long; ceiling height is mostly 10 feet.

So, after all of this description, how does the SG cartridge sound? The SG cartridge performed exceptionally well right out of the box, and after about 25 to 30 hours of break-in, improved another 15% to 20% to its current level of outstanding performance. Let me just say that this cartridge far surpasses the best of cartridges I have heard in my system from Benz, Koetsu, Lyra, Miyabi and ZYX. It is the most revealing, three-dimensional and involving cartridge that I have ever heard anywhere. It is extraordinarily detailed, and yet, it marries exquisite detail with a wonderfully layered and lush sound. It provides the fastest transients I have ever heard – nothing else comes even remotely close in this area – and it has a delicacy and purity of decay, sustain and harmonic depth that I have heard only at a live performance in a setting with excellent acoustics. It effortlessly reproduces the lowest and highest frequencies (as well as everything in between) with a depth and clarity like no other cartridge I have ever heard. Precise imaging and a wide, deep and tall soundstage all add to the creation of an astounding and intimate three-dimensional image of an actual performance. To put it bluntly, the SG cartridge is in an entirely different league from every other cartridge I have ever heard.

I might add that you cannot appreciate what the SG cartridge is capable of doing if you have heard it only at audio shows. Quite aside from the usual limitations at shows, the SG cartridge, to my knowledge, has been demonstrated only with small monitor speakers. While very good as far as small monitors are concerned, they are no match for serious full-frequency reference-level speakers with an extended range on both the low end and the high end. Demonstrating the SG cartridge with those limitations is like driving a Ferrari F430 Scuderia on a small track built for go-karts.

The Verity Audio Lohengrin speakers are essentially flat from 15 Hz to 60 kHz, and they are very fast. I now realize that I had never heard the depth of bass and the clarity of higher frequencies that these speakers were really capable of producing until I used the SG cartridge. The SG extracts more bass detail, with lightning-fast speed and more natural decay, than any other any other front-end device I have ever heard. This was immediately apparent on Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, performed by the Chicago Symphony (Reiner), (Classic Reissue of RCA LSC-2446), which is a serious test of any system or component. It has extensive dynamics ranging from delicate ppp violin and harp solos to powerful fff full orchestral movements. The SG cartridge effortlessly handled those dynamic extremes with total ease. I heard details – from the vibrations of bows against bass, cello, viola and violin strings to delicate bells in the background – that I had never even known were there. This is one of my favorite classical pieces, and I know it like the back of my hand. So to hear many new details from the same LP that I have played many times over was just remarkable. But that was no less remarkable than the soundstage that this cartridge was able to produce – it is the most lifelike reproduction I have ever heard. This cartridge effortlessly reproduces the deepest rumbling and strikes of the timpani, the crash of cymbals and the most delicate notes from the violins simultaneously, just as you would expect in a live performance. The fourth movement is just an astounding experience.

Patricia Barber’s “Companion” (Premonition Records 1999) is one of my favorite Jazz LPs with its excellent material and high quality of recording and mastering. I never really appreciated how superb the bass was on “Use Me” until I played it with the SG cartridge: rich and detailed with lightning-fast transients and the most natural decay I have ever heard. At the same time, the cartridge’s ability to layer Barber’s voice with an intimacy, an honesty and realism against the deep and fast bass is just remarkable.

Hugh Masekela’s “Hope” (Analogue Productions APJ 82020) is my favorite LP purchase over the last 12 months. The SG cartridge reproduces “Stimela,” a particularly moving piece on side 4, with more detail, intimacy, dynamics and speed than I have ever heard. The brassiness of the flugelhorn is reproduced with a realism you won’t hear anywhere other than in a live performance. The combination of crisp cymbals with deep fast bass, crystal clear triangles, a lush and detailed midrange and the magnificently textured voice of Makela makes for a presentation of sheer beauty.

I much prefer the optimized line contact stylus (SGS-6) over the standard line contact stylus (SGS-5). The SGS-6 stylus extracts more detail than the SGS-5 stylus (which in turn extracts more detail than any other cartridge I have ever heard), but there are several caveats one must keep in mind in using that stylus. First, it must be aligned with painstaking accuracy, and VTF and VTA are highly critical in optimizing performance from this stylus. Second, the SGS-6 works extraordinarily well on high-quality recordings which are in pristine shape. In the case of a lower-quality recording or a high-quality recording which is not in excellent shape, the SGS-5 stylus will produce a better result because it will integrate out some of the noise or other adverse elements in such a recording that would otherwise be retrieved in all its inglorious detail by the SGS-6 stylus. The good news is that these styli are easily changed, and the SGS-5 is much less demanding from an alignment perspective than the SGS-6. So, in my experience, once you have optimized your setup for the SGS-6, changing to the SGS-5 for a particular recording does not require any other adjustments.

I was particularly interested in how the SG-410 would sound directly into my VAC Phi 300 amplifier as opposed to going in as a line-level input into my VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II preamplifier. After a great deal of comparison, I concluded that it sounds better going directly into the amplifier. There is marginally more detail, without any sacrifice of that legendary VAC holographic sound. This is admittedly a close call.

The excellence of the SG-410 electronics when listening to vinyl made me curious as to how it would sound as a preamplifier when using a non-vinyl source such as my digital front-end (Zanden 2000P transport and 5000S DAC) through the alternate line input. In this case, though, I preferred the sound of my Zanden separates being fed through the VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II preamp over being fed through the alternative line input on the SG-410. This preference, though, was only a marginal preference tilting slightly in favor of the VAC preamp just as the preference for the SG-410 over the VAC preamp was only marginal in the case of vinyl. Perhaps the difference is that, with vinyl, using the VAC preamp with the SG-410 means that there is an additional component placed in the signal path whereas with the CD input there is no additional component placed in the signal path. The bottom line is that the SG-410, even as a stand-alone preamp, is an exceedingly good performer that will give even the highest reference-level preamps a run for the money.

In summary, the SG cartridge is the most revealing, musical and realistic cartridge I have ever heard. Anywhere. It effortlessly extracts the full range of frequencies with superb detail and extraordinary speed, decay, neutral richness and three-dimensional realism that places it in a class by itself. When matched with a high quality amplifier and speakers, the SG cartridge and SG 410 will reproduce music in a manner that is just jaw-dropping staggeringly good.

Associated gear
TW Acustic Raven AC-1 turntable
Triplanar Mk VII tonearm
VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II preamplifier
VAC Phi 300 Amplifier
Verity Audio Lohengrin Speakers
Stealth Dream power cords
Stealth Indra and M-21 interconnects
Stealth Ultimate Ribbon speaker cables
Images
Convert?fit=crop&h=192&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mdg3mdewndasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&signature=28b96738cee703b388ac4adc96a995e23abe68f43a9cc1707d5fbe7bcfa452ef&w=256
Convert?fit=crop&h=192&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mdg3mdewndasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&signature=28b96738cee703b388ac4adc96a995e23abe68f43a9cc1707d5fbe7bcfa452ef&w=256
Convert?fit=crop&h=192&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mdg3mdewndasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&signature=28b96738cee703b388ac4adc96a995e23abe68f43a9cc1707d5fbe7bcfa452ef&w=256
Convert?fit=crop&h=192&policy=eyjlehbpcnkioje1mdg3mdewndasimnhbgwiolsicmvhzcisimnvbnzlcnqixx0%3d&signature=28b96738cee703b388ac4adc96a995e23abe68f43a9cc1707d5fbe7bcfa452ef&w=256
vac_man
Nice report Vac_man. I took a baby step and bought Soundsmith's The Voice moving iron cartridge after hearing it and the SG at RMAF. It's an incredibly revealing cartridge with digital-like strong (not bloated) bass. I DO get some mistracking on strong sibalants.

How's the SG's tracking?

Dave
Very nice setup and thanks for the pics ! Also, super review and I appreciate you taking the time. You mentioned you had these cartridge brands in your system "I have heard in my system from Benz, Koetsu, Lyra, Miyabi and ZYX."

Do you mind listing the models?

Thanks!
Nice write up Al. Very descriptive. My experience with the Strain Gauge mirrors yours.

Your description should give a very accurate picture to someone considering the purchase of a Strain Gauge.
Excellent, descriptive review. The Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge really does take vinyl replay to a new level.

When audiophiles talk about the characteristic warmth of analogue, they are in fact describing the limitations of the magnetic motor circuit in most moving coil cartridges, which softens the presentation. Once you hear a Soundsmith SG there's no going back.

Btw, visitors to audio shows in England have had the chance to hear the SG through the importer's full range horns.
Apologies for not mentioning the models of cartridges previously used in my system and the tracking ability of the SG cartridge. Prior cartridges include Benz Ruby 2, Koetsu Urushi, Lyra Helikon, Miyabi 47 and ZYX UniVerse. All excellent cartridges but not even in the same class as the SG cartridge. I also appreciate that matching a cartridge with a particular tonearm is extremely important. For example, I used to have a Kuzma Stabi Reference and Stogi Reference setup. With that setup, I used the Shelter 901, which sounded awesome. When I changed over to the Triplanar tonearm, the Shelter 901 was disappointing, not because it's an inferior cartridge -- it's not -- but because it did not match up as well with the Triplanar as other cartridges. My favorites in my system before the SG were the ZYX UniVerse and the Miyabi. The UniVerse is an excellent match for the Triplanar.

It would be interesting to hear from others who have other tonearms and have had experience with the SG cartridge versus other cartridges. I have a feeling that due to the unique design of the SG cartridge, it will probably match well with a number of different tonearms, but that's speculation on my part.

I should have mentioned in my review that the tracking of this cartridge is superb. It tracks better than any cartridge I have ever heard in my system or elsewhere, and that includes cartridges that retail for more than the cost of the SG cartridge.
Dear vac man: Very nice audio system you own and very nice review you made, congratulations for both!!!!, you are very good writer/reviewer.

I always try to put things on the " right " perspective ( for me and IMHO ) to understand it and to take benefit of/on it.

I own/owned and heard all the cartridges named here including your beloved SG and my experiences about were a little different from yours.

First I have to tell that as important is the matching in tonearm/MC-MM cartridge as important is the Phonolinepreamp ( maybe more critical that what we think ) where the cartridge signal must pass through.

I don't know which were/are the Phono stages-line ones that you use to heard your MC cartridges but I can see due to your comments about that no one made/make the right " honors " to those MC cartridges.

I can see too that you speak about tracking and refer to MC and MM cartridges as well the SG but I don't read anything about your MM cartridges that you own or owned. In reference to tracking I'm with some of the best MM cartridges over any other one ( unfortunately not today models. ) and you can read something about here: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?eanlg&1200430667

I heard the SG ( I have to say that with oly 30 hours on use. ) in a very very nice top quality home audio system and my first impression was: WOW!!! but after hearing for some time and after comeback from the initial and nice " surprise " I just don't like what I'm hearing specially on the high frequencies and a little in the un-natural tonal balance of its performance, I'm a little sensitive on both frequency extremes and after a time my ears were " tired " of that SG sound ( maybe because that SG was almost new . ) that was not analog like or music live one it was more like a digital source: a good one digital source ( DVDA ).

Fortunately ( for me ) I asking to change to a normal MC cartridge ( in this case was the Lyra Olympos-Essential phonlinpreamp. ) and even than the Olympos was not perfectly matched to that Phonolinepreamp and that I don't know for sure if the Schroder tonearm was the best tonearm match for it suddenly the " lights " goes ON again: overall no contest.
Next day after heard the Olympos switched very brief to the SG and IMHO was a truly deception.

I always said that the RIAA eq deviation makes a great differences in a MC or MM quality performance and only when you hear cartridges in a phono stage with a RIAA eq deviation lower than 0.1db can you understand how important is that subject.

You have to take in count here that the RIAA eq. is a curve where any frequency deviation build colorations on almost three music octaves and this is IMHO what you was hearing in your MC cartridges through your past phono stages: high RIAA eq deviations, not the cartridge design.

IMHO the SG performance in its today status it can't even the very best MC/MM cartridges when these cartridges are in the right tonearm and with the right Phonolinepreamp, this means in even condition/circumstance than the SG matching set-up.

The SG sounds different? absolutely but IMHO and with all my respect to you and the designer: not better.

Anyway, a very learning and interesting review.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear friends: Now I can understand, between other things, why the SG sound quality performance is different, please read the page 13 on this Italian review where you can see that the SG frequency response does not mimic the RIAA eq., there are frequency deviations that " build " those differences that I heard.

We have to remember that what is in the recording follow the RIAA eq. standard and on playback and to be near to the recording the cartridge/phono stage: MC/MM or SG must mimic it, this is not happening with the SG and that's why the differences that we can hear.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Sorry, here it is the link:
http://www.sound-smith.com/cartridges/article.pdf

I understand that the deviation is over 1db but I'm not totally sure about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
I think he's saying it's under 1dB Raul.

Elsewhere in the article he says:

"We can now state, with an excellent accuracy level, that the natural
frequency response curve of the SOUNDSMITH cartridge is equal to the RIAA curve, this is so
much true that it is not necessary to equalize the output as normally happens with the standard
magnetic cartridges."

That's a slightly fractured translation from Italian to English, but he's seems to me to be casting the response vs. RIAA to be very favorable. (His graphs do little to clarify).

When you listened to the SG did you use a Soundsmith phono preamp designed for it? I would assume so, but if not, that's critical. I have no idea how the SG responds to break in.

I'm using Soundsmiths "The Voice" ebony moving iron cartridge. I sounded great right out of the box, but it's particularly sensitive to azimuth and capcitive loading, needing 400-600pF to sound its best.

Dave
Dear Dave: According with what we can see in fig.4 the SG frequency response it is not only not following the RIAA curve ( with small deviations like other MC/MM cartridges ) but IMHO it takes a totally different " path ": it is an equalization over the RIAA eq that from my point of view is unacceptable with the today RIAA standards in the recordings that is the way how almost all the LPS that you, me and anyone else have were recorded.

IMHO the SG response needs a different recording standards!!!!!!!! and nothing is wrong with that if the RIAA accept to make the changes that the SG needs: of course that this is out of question/order.

Now I really understand why sounds to me so un-natural.

IMHO it is useless to make comparisons between the SG and MC/MM cartridges: both are totally different from the point of view of what information give us each one: the MC/MM according with the RIAA eq which with the recording was recorded and the SG an equalized information out of the RIAA standards, no I have to pass on the SG in his today status.
Now if the designer decide to go with the RIAA standard and not with his own ones then things could change for the better but again in its today status the SG IMHO is a device for other circumstances ot for play LPs.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.

Dave, yes I heard it with its own preamp I think is the only way to hear it.
Dave: +++++ " ( with small deviations like other MC/MM cartridges ) " +++++

sorry: like other phono stages.

regards and enjoy the music.
raul.
Raul, I don't think that we can place much reliance on a review that was so poorly translated. It seems to be very positive, yet there's a bunch of confusing stuff about the frequency response.

Also, what is the frequency response after the phono preamp designed for the SG? Part of the deal is that you have to use the SG with the specially designed phono-pre, so the output at that is the best measure of the response, not at the cartridge's output.

You heard what you heard, but I still ask what phono preamp you used? When I heard it, briefly, through Soundsmith's system, it sounded very good.

Dave
It may be time for me to jump in here. While I apprecaite all the comments, and empathize with those who love audio and the attempt to explain what they hear though technical terms, there comes a point where it makes sense for the designer to make a stab at clearing the air. I will address two issues: 1) Relevant factual information that might shed some light, and 2) Technical information intended to both enlighten and confound, strictky due to the real world complexity of why things sound as they do.

1) The Italian article did a very good job of explaining to a general audience the difference between "velocity" devices and "displacement" devices, and how RIAA is handled. That was, in part, their objective - it was to inform.

2) Comments that attempt to quantize one's experience by referring to amplitude pertubations are equivalent to four blind men each describing what an elephant is by touching varied parts - and invariably giving an incomplete view of the animal. Sound is complex - yes - if there is a terrible amplitude anomoly, it makes for bad or unlistenable products. But audio has a long litany of products that are quite wonderful that are not "flat".

The human ear lives in the time domain - if this fact is not understood by enthusiasts approaching the field, it is part of audio 101. There are those who insist on .1dB flatness without undertanding that a full sytem tuned and maximized for flatness often introduces phase or time error that are a cure worse than the disease. The small pertubation bumps one sees on a speaker reponse are just that - phase interractions. They give, in part, the tonal flavor of a product.

Although we have made some recent changes on our preamp design to realize a very small change in amplitude and phase flatness, the original product was well received by most listeners and owners. If the frequency response were very bad, that would not have been the case.

What is important to gather (which is hard to do)is what time errors occur in any product, how many, where do they exists in the freq domain, how far do they spread, and how serious are they? This describes only one part of the problem when trying to use technical terms to exlain what we hear. We listen to speakers that are far from flat, in environments that are far from perfect, and often get very good results. Why is that??

The answer in part is that. What is the rise time of the product (how fast is it). Does it ring (resonate) if it is a transducer. How much time shift is there, and how much. THEN, what is the overall response.

If a products design criteria are in accord with certain critical parameters that physics say are good things, it may in fact work well. From then on, your ears are the judge. But do get the laws straight. Amplitude flatness can easily be done at the sacrifice of other MORE IMPORTANT parameters.

Peter Ledermann/President/Soundsmith
Thanks very much for your extremely fine review. I look forward to receiving my Strain Gauge 410 and SGS-6 stylus shortly. I will be using the cartridge and Phono preamp with a Teres Certus 450 and a Beta Test Teres Tonearm which are being prepared for me by Chris Brady of Teres Audio.

Rich
Rich, that should be a fine sounding analog front end. Please give us your report when you get it together.

Dave
Dear Dcstep: The response was not at the cartridge but at the preamp.

Dave, Soundsmith knows and design a device that not conforms according to the RIAA standard:it is an EQUALIZER over the RIAA eq..

For anyone can/could hear what really is on the recording that recording must be/been recorded with the inverse SG " curve ", IMHO it is the only way to hear the SG in a decent and trusty way.

In the SG today status IMHO what any one is hearing throught it is a wide/heavy make up ( fake ) on the recording signal: far from the true recording signal and certainly totally out of the RIAA standards that is the norm/rule.

Btw, I heard the SG through Vetterone great system in its own Soundsmith preamp, it is the only way to do it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Peter: I don't want that you can/could think that my posts on your SG device are because I'm against you or against your device,no I'm not and I'm not questioning the SG device by it self design and has nothing to do with 0.1db figures elsewhere.

You fix at least two of my cartridges where you made an excellent work and I support you about here an elsewhere on your re-tipping very high quality " performance ", no doubt about.

The SG subject is really simple: I'm not saying that it is a bad device ( I don't like what I heard in the same manner that are people that like it, it is only a priorities subject. ) or that your design work is bad too: NO, what I'm saying is that IMHO and from what I heard and read your SG does not conforms according to the RIAA eq standard and there is nothing wrong with that because you or any one else can/could design anything you want.

Subject is that almost all the people ( including some of the SG owners. ) have questions about and these questions needs answers and the best source about is you.

Maybe you don't want to give us ( or to me ) a precise answer but IMHO it will be healthy to do it: there is nothing to hide about, or is it?, why to leave to the controversy your very well made SG design? don't you think that your today and future customers deserve to know what is happening " around "?

Again, thank you in advance.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul said:

"Maybe you don't want to give us ( or to me ) a precise answer but IMHO it will be healthy to do it: there is nothing to hide about, or is it?, why to leave to the controversy your very well made SG design? don't you think that your today and future customers deserve to know what is happening " around "?"

He answered your question clearly, in case you didn't notice. You may not agree, but he says you're measuring the wrong thing. He made that clear to you and his current and future customers, yet you're implying that he's hiding the ball and not participating in healthy discourse. I think he owes us nothing more and I, for one, really appreciate his clarification here.

Dave
I will be glad to respond; please forgive the slowness of it, or if I do not respond further as I am only now back from the hospital yesterday, after 5 weeks of serious pneumonia, and am very weak and shaky. I simply do not have the strength or time to read/respond blogs, but so many have called me to bring my attention to this one. I have healing, and some reading work to do and to get back to real work hopefully soon.

Firstly let me say that I am in full agreement with the comments in this blog of not identifying yourself as a manufacturer. That should calibrate anything you have to say, period. Most manufacturers who have been in this industry for any length of time, as I have for 38 years, know the rules: never say anything publicly, or privately, about anyone else’s product. It is called etiquette, and not shooting yourself in the foot, or a bit higher. One must realize how small this industry is. Attacking products is not only counter-productive as it causes of loss of credibility, but it can misinform those who are trying to learn as well as damage what is left of a tiny industry. You may want to check this with some notables in the industry and not just take my word for it.

To your question. Is the Strain Gauge designed to conform with RIAA – of course it is. Please review my credentials in the industry as engineer at RAM audio, Director of Engineering at Bozak, Senior research engineer at the IBM T.J. Watson research labs, and owners/design of Soundsmith for over 38 years where I have taught and produced many speaker, amplifier, preamplifier, and cartridge products, including now over 40 magnetic cartridge designs.

I am aware that I have “stupid” tattooed on my forehead, an event that happened many years ago in a Galaxy far, far away that I do not care to be reminded about. But why would I go to all the trouble to produce a cartridge and preamp system that doesn’t conform to RIAA? Suicidal maybe???

RIAA conformation. I own and use two Neumann Lathes for a charity project called DirectGrace records. It is intended to rescue children from forms of slavery, including child prostitution, something that occurs as I sure you are aware in large numbers in Mexico City. The Neumann lathes have “adjustments” for RIAA to keep the system tweaked to “conform” as it can and does drift. So do the lacquer masters on which we cut, which change the response. So does the plating and stepped processes to make a stamper, as do the vinyl and pressing parameters used make a record. You may want to speak to real folks like my friend Lincoln Mayorga, who well understands how this arduous process can lead far off RIAA. But I deviate more than .1 dB –

Tone arm interactions can vary RIAA performance quite a bit. So what do you have when you are done?? If you are tweaking for RIAA for .1dB, try tightening the headshell screws and re-measuring. Or maybe mass load the headshell and try again. Or adjust the azimuth, VTF or SRA. You are aiming at a moving target. Are you moving your preamp gun constantly??? It seems it is aimed at me right now.

I have measured the SG in many arms, and recently in my Schroder Reference SQ, the new SG design (which you did not hear) it was +/- 1dB from 50 Hz to 12K in conformation with RIAA. And you know what?? I cried when the record was over.

The rest is magic.

Peter Ledermann./President/Soundsmith
Dear Slowlearner: +++++ " Attacking products is not only counter-productive.... " +++++

first than all I'm not attaking the SG, what I'm saying and confirm here is that IMHO it does not conform according the RIAA eq standard: I respect your opinion that it do it but everything you have in your web site and what you posted here tell nothing precise about.

All the " history/facts " that you posted on the RIAA response deviations with changes in VTF or VTA or with a different tonearm is our " bread of everyday " and this is not the subject because what you are saying is that why take care on the RIAA eq. deviation when there are so many deviations all over the audio chain, well that is a point of view that I respect but certainly I don't agree because I think that we must care the audio signal at any single link in the audio chain trying to loose the less and adding the less too.

I know that your trade-offs and music sound reproduction priorities are unique and different from the ones I support but things are that I heard the SG in a very good audio system ( with low system distorions ) and I heard there against a MC cartridge with the same LPs and from that very first moment, and way before I knew that the SG does not conforms with the RIAA standard eq ( I know/understand this in the last 48 hours ), I don't like the overall SG performance against other MC/MM cartridges that I heard and I told this to the SG owner inclusive I remember that we play with a LP that are one of my reference LPs ( Janis Ian/P. Barber ) trying to hear something that the SG was loosing in the HF, even Steve modified a little the VTA and things improve a little but never with the definition that I'm accustom on it but this is not the whole history about, only an example. Today I undertand why the SG has not that HF definiton I'm talking about and why its performance is so un-natural.

I don't take care why its sound is so different till two days ago when I made some research about.

+++++ " it was +/- 1dB from 50 Hz to 12K in conformation with RIAA " +++++

Peter, you made an " assault " to my intelligence, common sense and knowledge with that statement.

first the RIAA eq standard frequency range figure is : 20hz to 20khz not the range you measure.

second are you saying that a very high ( IMHO always ) 2 ( two ) db deviation goes in conformation with RIAA when almost all the phono stages out there that conforms according to the RIAAA standard are in no more than 0.5 db?,
from your point of view I have to assume that if in the future any other different " cartridge " device with say: 5-10 db on RIAA deviation can/could conforms with it?, my God!

Peter IMHO if exist an audio link where every tyni frequency deviation is showing it is on the phono stage through its curve RIAA eq. deviation where any single frequency deviation affects almost three octaves!!!!!, you can hear deviation on the 0.1db range ( at least ) and you are telling me that 2db is the way to go but more important that this is that you say that comforms with the RIAA eq. standard !! ??????????????

Here it is a link where another person that I respect ( like you ) and that I think is very " responsible " and with a high knowledege about and he was asking ( in different words ) and questioning almost the same I'm and from my point of view it does not matters to ask because if we don't ask how we can learn or be sure on anything?:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?aamps&1201835625&openflup&13&4#13

Peter I don't have any single/simple/minute attitude to attack you in anyway so don't put on " defense ", I'm only trying to have things in the right perpective ( Dan: believe it or not ) because at this moment my " common sense " still tell me that the SG is an additional source device but not an alternative to other MC/MM cartridges, I will consider it an alternative to MC/MM cartridges when your design conforms correctly in a precise way with the RIAA eq. standard.. Peter why don't try it, seems to me that that could be great and a very good alternative.

Peter, one way or the other almost all of us are in the same " boat/ship " and we are looking for almost the same main quality audio music sound reproduction performance targets.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Any company reknowned for keeping classic old Tandberg gear in good working order is OK by me.

I see they also sell modified versions of the Denon DL103 cartridge, one of the better values in audio even straight out of the can. My 103R will need re-tipping or upgrade someday....

Vacman, your system looks gorgeous and must sound fantastic! Congrats!
With all of the technical talk about RIAA, I think there is a very simple point that is missed by a blogger quien tiene que disputar sin razon (who has to generate mindless controversy). It is simply this: perfection does not exist either in the recording or in the reproduction of music. Both the recording and the reproduction processes all involve compromises. To pretend otherwise is simply to ignore reality.

Having said that, I would put the SG cartridge completely in a class by itself. I am unaware of any other cartridge that comes even remotely close to matching it in terms of frequency response, speed, dynamics, decay, sustain, soundstaging, imaging and just general overall musicality. I have had the privilege of using some very fine cartridges in my system, and I have had the privilege of hearing even more expensive cartridges in other systems. Suffice it so say that the SG cartridge smoked all of them.

Of course, everyone has his or her own particular likes and dislikes. That one person out of 1000 people would prefer Spam over Chateaubriand does not make Spam a better product.
Vac,

I suspect the system you describe may truly be the state of the art in phono playback.

I would love to hear it!
Vac_man,

Thanks for the great review. You've given a great insight into the SG and certainly tweaked my interest. I enjoyed my brief experience with the SG at RMAF and Peter seems like a great guy. The sound really captured my attention; it's clearly different that what you're used to hearing from MM/MC approach.

Enjoy your great system.
Dear friends: There is something " curious " and very interesting, whereas al the audio industry are working on better audio items: better amplifiers/preamps/CDP/SACD/DVDA/phono stages/MM-MC cartridges/speakers/room treatment/cables/racks/footers/recording manufacturers/electronic parts(passive and active ones )etc/etc with lowering distortions/flat frequency/lower colorations to improve the quality sound music reproduction and to be near/true of what is is the recording the SG Soundsmith device is the only audio item that in porpose alter/corrupt the frequency response that comes in the recording " telling " to the whole audio industry chain that all of them are wrong!!!!! including you.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Vac_man, I'm with you baby! I have the first production SG and have heard it in at least half a dozen systems. In all but one we ran through a group of the finest MC cartridges. No contest: the SG is king!

BTW: excellent review.
Well if it costs as much as it does at least there is something significantly different about it to help make the case rather than just another minor tweak to the same basic technology.
I'd like to weigh in on what strikes me as truly being a gentlemen's misunderstanding.

I believe that Raul's main point is that when there is a presumed, widely-adopted technical standard such as the RIAA equalisation curve (or 75uS FM de-emphasis, or the 200nW/M cassette Dolby level) that any deviation from that standard, makes for an inherently inaccurate reproduction. I in general agree with him, including as it pertains to a "statement"-level phono preamplifier intended for magnetic/dynamic cartridges . . . most errors here are the result of cost-cutting, poor engineering, and poor manufacturing tolerances. Raul's specification of +/- 0.1 dB error for this particular part of the reproduction chain is definately attainable, and quite arguably expectable given the high prices of many commercial units.

I also think that when a manufacturer claims something like "don't worry about that [common-practice technical standard] . . . it's not necessary with my [new, better, revolutionary] design" -- this is the grounds for the deepest skepticism. But in the PARTICULAR case of the Strain Gauge cartridge . . . there may be some technical/historical validity to this claim . . . and unfortuneately, Mr. Ledermann doesn't do a very good job explaining the subject in his literature, or in his posting . . . so I'm going to be presumptious and give it a try:

Historically, the technical standards for the RIAA curve (318uS, 3180uS, and 75uS) come from an amagalm of industry practices from the major record manufacturers, as recorded music (and high-fidelity sound) became more and more popular after World War II. At the time, the methods of cutting records were carried over from the earilest days of electronic recording before the War. In these early days, most electrical phono cartridges were crystal types, there was NO EQUALISATION used on playback. Thus, the engineers developed electrical pre-equalisation practices for cutting records, that were designed to give the best sounding/most accurate reproduction they could, with the types of pickups (both electrical and acoustical) that most people were using.

Enter the 1950s . . . and "magnetic" phono cartridges (moving-magnet and moving-coil) became the dominant high-performance type available, as a result of refinement of manufacturing techniques, and improved magnetic materials developed during the War (i.e. Alnico). The only caveat was that these magnetic cartridges respond to the VELOCITY of the stylus movement, rather than the AMPLITUDE of the stylus movement, as crystal types had. Because of thus, magnetic cartridges REQUIRED EQUALISATION in the preamplifier. (Crystal cartridges were replaced by "ceramic" types that still didn't require equalisation - and continued as the common type for cheaper equipment until the Digital Revolution [sic] of the 1980s.)

This change in standards between phono cartridges and preamps wasn't a big deal at the time (late-1940s/early-1950s), because most of the public was buying integrated phono/tuner/preamp/amp/loudspeaker console sets. Audio dorks were buying units like the McIntosh C8 and Marantz Model 1, with highly-customizable equalisation options. It wasn't until the late-1950s/early-1960s, with magnetic cartridges being the universal choice for high-quality systems, and this new "stereo" thing on the horizon, that there was a need for true standardisation of recording/reproducing equalisation. So the RIAA set a standard that was a pretty close "midpoint" to the current equalisation practices of the major record manufacturers . . . and these practices were refinements of the techniques developed for crystal cartridges.

So the hi-fi world went completely to magnetic (velocity-sensitive) cartridges with standard equalisation for recording and playback, and ceramic (amplitude-sensitive) stayed around, with no playback EQ. This worked well, because the average frequency response of a CARTRIDGE was, in general, MUCH less accurate than the electronic equalisation found in an average stereo . . . and ceramic cartriges were "close enough" for the cheap systems in which they were found.

But today, we're all trying to get that absolute last "n-th degree" of performance from our turntables and record collections, and we have more high-quality cartridges (both new and old) to choose from than ever . . . so you have guys like Raul that feel the only way to truly hear what a cartridge and tonearm have to offer, is to get the electronics so precise that they're completely out of the picture. I agree with him, and applaud him for his efforts.

BUT we also have a guy like Peter Ledermann, who has developed a strain-gauge cartridge system . . . and this system is AMPLITUDE-sensitive, NOT velocity-sensitive. And this puts the strain-gauge system in a unique position, because it may actually be the first time in over fifty years that there has been serious development in ANY ultra-high-performance, amplitude-sensitive phonograph pickup. And of course, the concept of "absolutely correct RIAA equalisation" is completely non-sequitur to an amplitude-sensitive cartridge . . . and this has ALWAYS been the case . . . we've just all forgotten.

So to the question of, "does the Strain Gauge system feature extremely accurate RIAA compenstion?", the answer is "of course not - that's for magnetic cartridges!". And to the question of "how accurate is the frequency response of the Strain Gauge cartridge/preamplifier combination for RIAA-standard records?", Mr. Ledermann's response is something like "very accurate, when compared to other [conventional] cartridge/preamplifier combinations."

And his specs are a resonable indication of this . . . because no CARTRIDGE in the world as anything near the +/- 0.1dB response accuracy that Raul is (justifiably) proud of in his preamplifier design.
Kirkus- thank you so much for shedding some light onto this quagmire. Maybe you should consider posting a link to this on the other thread aka pi$$ing match about the SG cart.
Dear Kirkus: I'm absolutely in agree with you and I applaud too the Soundsmith effort ( this is what the audio industry needs to grow up ) but unfortunately that is not my subject, let me explain in a time.

Vac_man, I'm not questioning you about your preference on the SG device and I'm not questioning too your lovely review about.

Vac_man/Kirkus: what I'm questioning is that is not fair for the MC/MM cartridges to be compared with the SG device where the frequency response in any/same recording is totally different and this fact comes ( according with my research that including the Peter words/web-site ) because the SG device IMHO does not follow the RIAA rules about: that's all.

Vac_man, it is curios that you mentioned the Chateaubriand that is our favorite french saucer/food and I'm sure that you like it because its Bearnese sauce ( following the " rules " ) and along a Chateau Lafite. Vac_man, I don't want to imagine the chateaubriand with dutch sauce instead that unique bearnase one.

Btw, all the recordings that you name it are some of my references too.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul, why don't you make a killer pre-amp for the SG and prove Soundsmith wrong? We could then compare based on musicality and, if you're right, SG owners will beat a path to your door. If not, ...

Dave
And of course, the concept of "absolutely correct RIAA equalisation" is completely non-sequitur to an amplitude-sensitive cartridge . . . and this has ALWAYS been the case . . . we've just all forgotten.

So to the question of, "does the Strain Gauge system feature extremely accurate RIAA compenstion?", the answer is "of course not - that's for magnetic cartridges!".
Kirkus, thanks for explaining this, seemingly complex, issue in layman's terms(and historical context) so the rest of of us can see it more clearly.
Vac_man/Kirkus: what I'm questioning is that is not fair for the MC/MM cartridges to be compared with the SG device where the frequency response in any/same recording is totally different and this fact comes ( according with my research that including the Peter words/web-site ) because the SG device IMHO does not follow the RIAA rules about: that's all.
Maybe it's not fair to compare MM/MC with SC when it comes to arguing strict adherence to standards or specifications, but it absolutely fair to compare them when consumers are simply interested in pure musical satisfaction. Afterall, that is what this hobby is about.

We compare planars with dynamic and compression horns. single drivers w/ multi-way. Linear tracking tonearms with unipivot using several different null-point methodoligies. single-ended triode amps with Class D, push-pull, and OTL. Hell, we even compare vinyl with digital.

So why can't consumers compare MM/MC with Strain Gauge?

Religious fervency about staying within +/- 0.5dB to the RIAA standard may be the best way to reproduce what's on the vinyl disc, but I be willing to bet that there are far, far, greater individual and sum total FR deviances in the cutting system chain(including master tapes) up to the cutting head and after the phono preamp, for instance speakers and room acoustics.

In fact, unless someone has a listening room that is perfectly flat in frequency response and absolutely devoid of any and all bass nulls/boosts, it might be impossible to accurately detect +/- 1-2dB RIAA deviations from room interactions in real world listening.
Dear Darkmoebius: Yes, I agree: overall/whole of course that we can compare, why not?

Maybe I go to in deep in the subject and I could miss something in the middle.

regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Dcstep: I'm thinking seriously about not for say the SG is wrong but to hear a SG design along/according the RIAA standard.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
12-08-08: Rauliruegas said:
"Dear Dcstep: I'm thinking seriously about not for say the SG is wrong but to hear a SG design along/according the RIAA standard."

I applaud your thoughts and would be very interested in hearing the results.

Dave
Dear Vac_man: If you really like the french " cousine " look for " Almorricane prawns " along a Mersault: " audio heaven ".

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
KIRKUS,

Many thanks for your response that addresses the history of the RIAA equalisation curve and emergence some 50+ years ago of magnetic cartridges which, due to their velocity-driven sensitivity, require equalisation. I have also read an interesting article by Gary Galo at http://www.smartdev.com/RIAA.html on the RIAA equalisation curve history and the various compromises that it incorporates, and I have read interesting comments by Jim Hagerman at http://www.hagtech.com/pdf/riaa.pdf on some of the shortcomings of the RIAA equalisation curve, but I'm not sufficiently knowledgeable in this highly technical area to render any kind of meaningful opinion or view.

The only conclusion I can come to is that, as you pointed out, the RIAA equalisation curve represents an amalgam of different practices by different people in the industry and is simply a compromise effort -- and a good one, to be sure -- at trying to maximize performance in light of many different considerations that all have their pluses and minuses.

It just seems really odd to me that anyone who purports to be knowledgeable in this area would point to the RIAA equalisation curve as the embodiment of perfection since it actually is based on a number of compromises. I think your following observation is particularly insightful:

"And this puts the strain-gauge system in a unique position, because it may actually be the first time in over fifty years that there has been serious development in ANY ultra-high-performance, amplitude-sensitive phonograph pickup. And of course, the concept of "absolutely correct RIAA equalisation" is completely non-sequitur to an amplitude-sensitive cartridge . . . and this has ALWAYS been the case . . . we've just all forgotten."

I don't really care about the technical discussion; I care much more about the end result, and that's why I wrote the review above on the SG cartridge because what it does is simply astounding and beautiful.

An earlier poster, FLYINGRED, had remarked on 22 November that:

"When audiophiles talk about the characteristic warmth of analogue, they are in fact describing the limitations of the magnetic motor circuit in most moving coil cartridges, which softens the presentation. Once you hear a Soundsmith SG there's no going back."

I completely agree with that observation, and I think that almost everyone who has heard the SG cartridge in a high-end system with an excellent amplifier and excellent full-range speakers has been blown away by the clarity, the frequency response, the speed, the delicacy, the decay, the soundstaging, the imaging and the overall musicality and realism of this cartridge. It makes every other cartridge sound constrained and muted in comparison.

Of course, the great thing about high-end audio is that different sounds appeal to different people. Whenever I demonstrate to my non-audiophile friends the same music on both vinyl and CD formats, almost all prefer the sound of vinyl hands down; there's always the outlier lone ranger, though, who prefers the sound from the CD over vinyl. I have no doubt that, for a few people who are accustomed to the sound of a high quality MM or MC cartridge, it's probably very unnerving to listen to something new and different that takes the veil off the music and produces startling clarity and transients and decay and both extended lows and extended highs.
Dear Vac_man: Taking the Flyingred posts o the SG subject IMHO are not so much " precise/conclusive ". That post on 22 November: " the limitations of the magnetic motor circuit in most moving coil cartridges, which softens the presentation. "++++

IMHO is not exactly what is happening, the limitations comes not from the MC cartridge ( like he point out ) but from his phono stage performance.

You agree with that Flyingred statement and IMHO too your phono stage is the main culprit about not the MC/MM cartridges.

This is another Flyingred post: " What the Strain Gauge cartridge does uniquely is track better......I believe this is due to the very low effective moving mass " +++++

here too the statement is imprecise ( for say the least ), the moving mas is only one of the parameters for a good cartridge tracking others very important and critical are: compliance, tonearm/cartridge match, suspension type, et, ec., so the SG device is not unique on that regard, there are a lot of cartridges that are better trackers than the SG.

+++++ " has an inherent roll off of 6 dB/octave. Mr Ledermann has made an engineering decision that the cartridge's frequency response is sufficiently close to the RIAA curve that it does not require equalisation within the preamplifier. " +++++

this is the main subject/problem on what we are argueing: " sufficiently close... that does not require equalisation within the preamplifier " +++++

this statement is un-true/false because the SG frequency response it is not only close but far from the RIAA curve.

+++++ " On many LPs, The Voice runs the Strain Gauge very close.... " +++++

and that fact happen with a non top flight phono stage, IMHO with a top flight phono stage things could be the reverse easy.

So, IMHO your assumptions on MC/MM cartridge quality performance like the ones from Flyingred and other SG owners are not " conclusive " ( for say the least ) due that some of you never heard MM/MC cartridges in the right phono stage:
+++++ " and I think that almost everyone who has heard the SG cartridge in a high-end system with an excellent amplifier and excellent full-range speakers has been blown away by the clarity, the frequency response, the speed, the delicacy, the decay...... " ++++++

this is what you posted on the SG and I can tell you that if you do the same with a MC/MM cartridge ( including " excellent phono stage " ) you be blow away on its quality performance that IMHO beats the one from the SG device.

Vac_man, IMHO we have to put " things " in the right overall perspective ( not necessary my perspective but we need one. ) to be fair and compare orange VS orange.

I'm not against the SG device ( I never write here or on other thread about that the SG device is a bad one, a bad design or that comes from a bad manufacturer: NO, because these are not the main subject. ) but I don't agree to compare oranges VS cars.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Vac_man: +++++ " It just seems really odd to me that anyone who purports to be knowledgeable in this area would point to the RIAA equalisation curve as the embodiment of perfection ... " +++++

odd or not, with compromises or not the RIAA standard is the rule/law ( like it or not ), to say something against it is like if you say that is " odd " the law against: rob/kill/rape/etc, etc,. Vac_man the law is the law: like it or not: it does not matters what you, me or any one else think about , period.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul,

You sound like a broken record, not only on this thread but also on another current Strain Gauge thread initiated by SLOWHAND and entitled "Would Like To Hear From Strain Gauge Owners" where a number of respected Audiogoners have politely requested that you just stop.

The phono stage in the VAC Renaissance Signature Mk II preamplifier and other top flight phono stages I have heard in other systems are not "soft," but instead are highly revealing.

I agree with you that matching cartridge to tonearm and other factors are all important. I find it most bizarre that you make such a valid point and then proceed to disregard it when you assume that the one limited time you listened to the SG cartridge in a system with which you were unfamiliar that everything was matched and aligned and connected and set just perfectly.

No other cartridge in the world has as small an effective moving mass as the SG cartridge. That is a fact, not an opinion. As to its tracking ability, everyone I know who owns a SG cartridge -- and this includes people who are among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the world when it comes to analog -- agrees that no other cartridge comes even close in tracking (and also in other areas, such as speed, frequency response, detail and overall musicality). Of course, you don't own a SG cartridge, but you purport to be an expert because you listened to one for a short time in a system you had never heard before. You conveniently fail to disclose the fact that you are involved in the production of a preamplifier that would be rendered obsolete by the SG cartridge. That is dishonest and deceitful.

Why the moderators at Audiogon permit someone like you to continue posting when you: (1) don't disclose your conflict of interests, (2) make numerous posts slamming a product that you don't own and have experienced on a most limited basis, and (3) ignore repeated requests from outstanding and respectful Audiogoners to stop your behaviour is beyond my comprehension.

Your dislike of the SG cartridge, which is perfectly your right, is apparent from your first posting. You don't need to make 15 (15!!!) postings on this one thread and more than 25 (25!!!) postings on the other thread. I think everyone in the world now understands how you feel about it. So let's just leave it at that. There's absolutely no need for you to make any further postings.
One important question:

Who cares?

For the asking price, those who might afford it will listen (if they can) and decide if the sound of the novel approach warrants the asking price.

This tech talk about RIAA standards is interesting but in the end only those who like the way the thing sounds will fork out the money.

Or they will live with a lower price model in the same line that comes close perhaps.

If I could afford it, the only thing I would care about is what will it cost me to audition it and what happens if I buy it and decide it's not worth it? I would probably expect some sort of satidfaction guarantee or money back deal from the vendor, especially since they seem well equipped to keep their products in like new operating condition as needed.
Dear vac_man: I posted because I receive questions or references for what I post and have to answer.

+++++ " in the production of a preamplifier that would be rendered obsolete by the SG cartridge. " +++++

no one phono stage ( including yours ) can be obsolete till the RIAA association support the today RIAA standard curve, so that statement has no foundation and it is not the issue, the main subject is more " deep " and maybe I don't or can't explain in the right way and that's why so many posts about: because I read what the people posted and their answers are different from what I'm trying to explain, I'm talking on one subject and everyone ( including you ) talk on others topics but almost no one posted on the main subject: where is the misunderstood/non-understanding?

+++++ " No other cartridge in the world has as small an effective moving mass as the SG cartridge. That is a fact, not an opinion. As to its tracking ability, everyone I know who owns a SG cartridge -- and this includes people who are among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the world when it comes to analog -- agrees that no other cartridge comes even close in tracking " +++++

IMHO maybe some of that people does not hard enough cartridge samples ( specially MM ones ) that are top trackers.
Vac_man, in one of my reference LP I try the G device and I was surprised that can't resolve ( high frquencies) in a precise manner the sound of cymbal, this was in an almost perfectly SG set-up, even the owner made a VTA change to see if could be better, things improve a little but not at the right " level ", this could be a tracking issue or that the SG is not resolving/precise on that frequency range when other cartridges ( MM/MC ) in the same track are really good.

I'm sorry to disturb you with my posts but you can be sure that all of them are in good shape and not trying to slam any one: this is not the subject., why is so difficult to understand the main point and its critical whole importance?

Btw, IMHO I'm train to " understand " almost any audio system ( listening with one-two of the LPs that I use like reference. ) in no more than 20-30 minutes at 90-95%, specially a good audio system. Like anything in audio each one of us have different grade/position in the learning curve for different subjects.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Dear Darkmoebious: ++++ " it might be impossible to accurately detect +/- 1-2dB RIAA deviations from room interactions in real world listening... " +++++

I agree with you when that frequency deviation is at one and only discrete frequency but you have to remember that the RIAA standard is a curve and when exist a frequency deviation at any point in the curve that frequency deviation it is not any more a discrete frequency but a deviation that affects other adjacent frequencies ( between two-three octaves and their harmonics. ) and this fact is the whole problem and certainly you can hear it.

If like you say you have a high resolution system/room, IMHO you can hear RIAA deviations as small like 0.2-0.1 db, you can hear the coloration due to that small frequency deviation. I know that many people does not cares about but I know too that are other people ( like me ) that cares about.

I think that each one of us have differences in what each one is looking for, you say: +++++ " Maybe it's not fair to compare MM/MC with SC when it comes to arguing strict adherence to standards or specifications, but it absolutely fair to compare them when consumers are simply interested in pure musical satisfaction. " +++++

well this is true and I agree for the people that accept that part of the statement: " pure musical satisfaction ", well the difference with me is that I'm looking too that " musical satisfaction " from what is in the recording with almost no alterations and that's why I always say that we have/must to preserve the cartridge signal adding the less and loosing the less.
Yes, I know that my targets are not only specials ( like each one of you ) but very strict when other people are more " easy " about, certainly I'm not " easy " and my quest for the " audio/music heaven " is a very hard one but I can tell you a very fun and learning one.

IMHO I think that trying to share my experiences on it is something that can help some audio people and I understand too that other people dislikes about and attack it, such is life.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
"If like you say you have a high resolution system/room, IMHO you can hear RIAA deviations as small like 0.2-0.1 db, you can hear the coloration due to that small frequency deviation."

How is this measured? Is it really significant?

Even if measurable some may hear it and some not. Some of those who hear it will probably like it, some not.

Doesn't every piece have some small tonal coloration to some extent? If it were perfectly flat, does that alone determine the value? It seems insignificant to me.

If it is more musical, cleaner, faster, more dynamic, these are the things that together might add up enough to justify paying a premium for a particular piece.
Dear Mapman: +++++ " Some of those who hear it will probably like it, some not.

Doesn't every piece have some small tonal coloration to some extent? If it were perfectly flat, does that alone determine the value? It seems insignificant to me. " +++++

that's why you have what you have and deserve ( audio system quality performance ) and I have what I have and deserve.

Any one choose its own " road ": good, wrong, bad, regular, etc, etc.
Obviously your " road "/targets are different from mines and nothing wrong with that.

I think that overall you and me like many other people are looking for musical satisfaction through our each one home audio system but " musical satisfaction " have differences for you, me and other people.
Like I posted I'm looking for that " musical satisfaction " at near perfect performance and I try very hard about.

Mapman, do you think that we design/build the Phonolinepreamp that I use just for fun?, no we made/make it because we understand the critical job and importance in the analog quality performance of that audio item and what I already try it ( SS, Tube and hybrid. ) don't permit to grow-up and achieve one of my mains targets: to be truer to the recording.
Right now we are finishing our design/build tonearm, just for fun?: no but because I need a better tonearm to achieve my goals.

We start in the phono cartridge design and we have several options ( more than 50, including strain gauge one. ), just for fun? certainly not but because we want to grow-up and improve what we have right now.

In all these " item intents " we are right on focus: truer to the recording, and with this in mind we design trying to achieve that target loosing/adding the less on the whole audio chain.

The SG device on subject that I heard and that does not like me, maybe the " like " word is not the more precise, or sounds " different " give me the opportunity to made a little of research about to find why are people that like and why are people that does not like it and at the same time to know a little more on the strain gauge design that is one of our cartridge alternatives in our self cartridge design and what I find was so easy: its frequency response does not conforms with the RIAA standard curve.
Well, our cartridge design ( any ) will conform with the RIAA standard curve, no doubt about. I like to grow-up in the right way.

Btw, we already have a self TT mat design that we are testing and that works wonderful!.

Like the Vac_man example about food: there are people that likes lobster along Mersault and other people that likes along tap water.
I love mersault, do you?

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Raul,

Points well taken.

Mersault is a wine? I don't think I've ever tried it. Then again I would not consider myself to be a wine Connoisseur by any stretch, but I do tend to like variety as opposed to seeking perceived absolute perfections.

Same applies to audio, I like many systems I hear despite each sounding different.

The wine/audio analogy is a very useful one I think.
Dear Mapman: Yes, Mersault is a French white wine: something very special, " refined ", delicious and very expensive too.

You posted: +++ " It seems insignificant to me. " ++++

like in other life areas sometimes the " insignificant "/small things could makes the difference, specially in audio.

Take a look: one and only one " insignificant " distortion/deviation certainly could not makes almost any difference in our home audio system but our HAS is more complex than that and it exist at least 100 of " opportunities " ( all over the audio system chain ) where the signal have that " insignificant " distotion/deviations and if you add one " insignificant " here, one " insignificant " there, other " insignificant " over-there, one " insignificant "..., and one other more and more....!, then what do you have at the end?: a SIGNIFICANT ( audible for any one but a deaf one. ) distortions/deviations/colorations in your home audio system performance.

So my common sense say to me that I have to avoid ( try to leave at minimum. ) all those " insignificant " distortions/deviations everywhere/anywhere in the audio chain.

I know that it is a hard effort but I can tell you and can tell to everyone that the reward is always worth to do it.

IMHO this is a way to be better, this is a way to grow-up in the right direction and this is the way: to have fun to learn and to really enjoy the music recording performances in a way different manner.

You don't have to agree it will be better to try it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
Rauliruegas,

By insignficant, I merely meant it may be insignificant (ie not a big deal or determining factor) to some and not to others. Clearly it has been measured and clearly it is significant to you in listening. It might be to me also but I don't know...I'd have to hear it. Those specs alone though would not necessarily scare me off in advance though.

Same true with Mersault I am sure. Does everyone who drinks it like it best or consider it to be closest to perfection? I'm sure it is quite exquisite, but I have yet to find anything that floats everyone's boat similarly to the nth degree even if of the utmost quality.
Dear Mapman: +++++ " Same true with Mersault I am sure. Does everyone who drinks it like it best or consider it to be closest to perfection? I'm sure it is quite exquisite, but I have yet to find anything that floats everyone's boat similarly to the nth degree even if of the utmost quality. " +++++

like almost anything in life we have to " learn " how we can appreciate " things " ( like wine ), how we can taste it and what " to taste " and IMHO I can tell you that in the very first moment that you finally " appreciate" the Mersault quality then: there is NO RETURN and at that very first moment you will enjoy it and I'm sure that you will be looking to find/hunt something better ( not different but better. ) and if you try " hard " maybe you could " catch-up ".

We have <( all of us ) to learn to appreciate the different range performance quality levels in audio and like the Mersault when you " taste " it there is NO RETURN.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
I really have tried to avoid posting on thread, but like the proverbial bloody wreck on the highway, I can't seem to turn my eyes away. So I guess I'll throw in my 2 cents.

Thanks Vac man for the thorough and informative review. I would love to listen to the great system you've put together.

I heard the SG at this year's RMAF.It certainly sounds DIFFERENT than the usual MM/MC designs. I'm not sure it sounds BETTER TO ME, but the sound was intriguing enough that I returned for multiple listening sessions. I remain interested enough that I'd like to audition in a system similar to mine before making a purchase decision.

I applaud the folks at Soundsmith for thinking outside of the box and coming up with a product that challenges the conventional assumptions of cartridge design. By all accounts, Soundsmith has a great reputation for product support and Peter is one of the good guys in our hobby. (I hope that he continues to post on this forum.) I also have a lot of faith in Ralph Bagge of Artisan Audio who has a great ear and is an enthusiastic supporter of the product.

Thank you Kirkus for your great post. I think everyone would concede the point that has been made regarding the importance of adherance to the RIAA standard. I think some of us find it difficult to believe that adherence to the RIAA standard is the ONLY parameter important to cartridge performance. I can't help but think that attention to phase and timing issues addressed by the SG system are also important. To paraphrase an old audio adage "If it sounds good and doesn't measure well, you're not measuring the right thing!"

Like others, I own many records that were made prior to and shortly after the acceptance of this standard. I attended Roy Gregory's analog demo, which in part covered the heterogenous implementation of the RIAA standard. (Apparently there was variable implementation of the RIAA standard due to the cost of replacing pre-existing, i.e. paid for, equipment. Of course, subsequent recordings conform to the RIAA standard.) The importance of being able to optimize the playback curve for many mono and early stereo recordings was easily apparent in this meticulously set-up demonstration.

It's a great hobby isn't it?

Regards,