SoundSmith cartridges how good?


And how do they compare to others. Forget about cost just thoughts on sonics? Obviously if matched with correct tonearm.
rsf507
I have an SME tonearm.  I jumped into the expensive end of phono cartridges in the late 90s.  I wore a Koetsu Black down to a nub.  I loved the sound.  Then I tried a Benz.  I loved the sound of it too and wore it down to a nub as well.  I still have their carcasses planning to have them rebuilt someday.  I have the Soundsmith Zephyr Star ES now.  Absolutely love it best of all.  The tracking is perfect from beginning to end.  Sound is great and gives me the best from my vinyl.  
I have a brand new Voice but I won't be able to hear it until my turntable shows up. I'll get back after I have had a chance to hear it. I can say that it is beautifully made and all the parameters are right on. I will compare it to Clearaudio and Ortofon cartridges.
My Hyperion is my favorite among several highend cartridges.  It is currently installed in a VPI HW 40, a sublime combination.
Soundsmith is like all the reputable brands discussed here.

I've heard the top of the food chain Straingauge which plays with all the other VERY expensive carts(for le$$), along with several throughout the line. As long as you have a competent supporting cast-table/phonostage, your own ears determine if it's "right" for you.

Added plus is they are rebuildable at a reasonable fee.

I've been using the $400,entry level Otello for awhile. Been  taking a break from $1K+ LOMC's. Does all the things we expect of nice carts, just at a lower level, which is expected. So good, it's been able to temper my urge to get a "proper" cart.
It depends how many decent cartridges you can audition, you can always find a better cartridge. 
And there's the problem. Very difficult these days to hear many different cartridges let alone on same arm into same phono stage. 
Appreciate the above responses so far.
I like Peter and his business model and have owned the MIMC Star (original version). It is a good cartridge but I feel that the Soundsmith line is now overpriced and there are other cartridges that represent a better value for money. For example, the ART 9 which I ran before the MIMC Star was half the money and at least as good (better actually in most ways). However, IF you plan to buy, hold, and retip then the value of the SS carts is hard to beat.
I love my Zephyr. Very neutral and natural to my ears, definitely not in the least ‘bright, as mentioned, tracks very well, (I can play a fairly warped LP and my SoundSmith Zephyr is practically unphased compared to others), and refined and detailed. Also, compared to my others, the Zephyr never seems to get ‘overloaded’ or ‘overwhelmed’ with the information in the grooves even at higher volume. Just incredibly solid and not the least bit ‘wobbly’ in its presentation. In addition, I find the Zephyr incredibly quiet, and easy to set-up. It doesn’t seem overly finicky about ‘perfect’ adjustments, and gives great sound with little effort other than the basics.

I bought a Goldring 1042 not so long ago as a back-up. Has a very similar sound signature to the Zephyr, and am incredibly pleased with it (at a third of the cost of the Zephy). I was actually quite amazed after first listening to it, and it did cross my mind, ‘why not sell the Zephyr and use the Goldring instead’? I became a huge fan almost immediately, and actually left it on my arm for a week or so. Then, I put the Zephyr back on, and quickly realized just how much more quiet and sophisticated it was in comparison, and provided overall performance the 1042 cannot really equal. That said, a great back-up cart, and can not recommend it enough at its price-point. I’ll be able to live with it quite easily when the Zephyr needs retipped.

Peronally, I don’t think you can go wrong with a SoundSmith, but as everything, it’s all subjective.
How good are Soundsmith cartridges? Good enough to be next in line, and end of the line, for me. When ready to replace/upgrade my Koetsu Black Goldline it will be to a SG1. Which also makes it the upgrade for the Herron.

Why? Because, if you do the research you will find what tablejockey said, SG1 is up there with all the very best and VERY costly SOTA carts, but at a fraction of the price. Considering you are getting both a surpassingly fine cart and phono stage in one, for less than the cart alone, or the phono stage alone, would cost with the others, a very small fraction indeed.

But if not a SG1 then one of his more normal MI carts. But seriously, it will be the SG1. So yeah, Soundsmith is pretty good.
I have the Carmen model I got from Amazon for $799.95. Seem to me to sound fairly neutral; similar to my Benz Micro nude linear contact cartridge. 
I have the Aida II. I would characterize it as very quiet, neutral, with great channel separation, and excellent imaging.

I also own a Kiseki Blue NS, Van Den Hul MC Two Special, Hana SL, Zu Denon DL-103, and a couple of nice MM carts, the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood and Nagaoka MP-500 and a few others.

The Aida II is second only to the Kiseki in terms of my personal preference, however, to date I've only listened to it on my Technics SL-1200 MK2.

The Kiseki has just a bit more "color". I'm not sure how better to describe it. That might be less desirable to some.

I have a feeling the Aida would give the Kiseki a run for its money on my main table. 
I have the lowest-priced (Otello) and would buy it again.

I assume that more expensive ones would be incrementally better so, if in the market for it, I would not hesitate to pick any in my price range and, hopefully, call it  a day. I have no experience with them, though.
I understand the OP is asking about the sonics of SoundSmith's cartridges. To this I can not answer because I was unable to get past the absolute worse customer service I have ever experienced. As a short explanation, I was on the phone with them for less than three mins asking a question when I was told I was wasting his time and just send the $1250. With a bedside manner like that, it doesn't matter what they sound like.
Waaaa. 😭😭😭 But if on the other hand you call up and the guy talks to you for three minutes there will be whiners opining the guy has too much time. Or you are unnecessarily needy. Or something. There is ALWAYS something some audiophile somewhere will find to complain about. My peeve is noobs with zero cred who come on bashing a man doing business without giving us even the slightest reason to take the criticism seriously. Like some gang banger driving through the hood just letting the shots fly no concern for the reality they are in fact bullets, no care who might get hit.

Drive on. Find another neighborhood. Please.
lol MC, you are the last person on earth to judge someone for whining. From your posts I've fought through, I'm not surprised that you only own 7 albums, only due to the exorbitant cost of tampons you must go through. I work for a living, I don't art with hard earned cash on a product that if some problem occurs I won't get service. This may not be something you experience in the real world. Maybe your allowance allows you to expend $1250 and receive no reward. Part of my expenditures on equipment is the expectation of it actually working, or at least having it taken care of. There are people here on this forum that were not born with a silver spoon in their......
I own the SS Paua mkii  - it came with my linear tracking Turntable. I love the combo so much that I ordered the latest SS Hyperion cart for linear tracking tables.  It doesn’t hurt that Soundsmith is under an hour drive from my house.  For that matter, Symposium is under 20 minutes away. It’s good to be an audiophile. 
@road

To say Peter, Soundsmith, his ‘shop’, employees, etc. are eccentric would be an understatement. Looking at his shop, it’s hard to believe some of the best cartridges are built and repaired there, but indeed they are. But also understand, Peter, from what I understand is not a great businessman, in that he does not charge enough for his cartridges given their quality, let alone their retipping and repair charges, particularly their own products. But also understand that he is more an ‘engineering artist’ who truly cares about the quality of everything he does, whether it is his own products, or repairing someone else’s. He is also very knowledgeable about cartridges in general, and how to build some of the best carts for the money, bar none. Is Soundsmith a bit quirky to deal with? Probably, compared to a much larger manufacturer with divisions of various staff members that fit into a nice little box. That isn’t SoundSmith. So, if that is what you desire, deal with a larger company with slick tongues but lesser quality products as they have to pay for that overhead.

If you had a bad experience, call and talk to Peter himself, and express your disappointment. But it may have been an employee juggling many different responsibilities at the time, under a lot of pressure to get all of them done, and truly didn’t have the time to give you ‘an hour’ to chat. Peter does not have ‘customer service’ representitive. If it was actually Peter you talked to, perhaps the same depending on what you were asking.
I have the lowest-priced (Otello) and would buy it again

When designing a cartridge, the moving coil (MC) principle has a greater ultimate potential than moving magnet (MM) does.

But as moving coils are difficult to manufacture and very sensitive to imperfections, all the good ones are expensive. Cheap moving coils sound terrible, so in the budget territory moving magnets rule.

When building the best possible turntable from parts, there is a strict hierarchy to observe. The most important parts are the turntable mechanics and the motor, then follows the arm and finally the cartridge. It can easily be demonstrated that a modest MM cartridge mounted on a high quality arm outperforms the most expensive MC cartridge mounted on a lower quality arm. This is because the arm is more important than the cartridge.

Observing this hierarchy, it is wise to always optimise your turntable mechanics, motor, arm and even the furniture on which the turntable stands before considering replacing your high quality MM cartridge with an MC.

Another reason to use a high quality MM cartridge is that it allows quick and inexpensive stylus replacements and therefore has a dramatically lower cost per hour of music played. Unlike most MC owners, you don’t need to worry about the condition of your stylus. And if a stylus should happen to be damaged, the party can continue within a minute.


@billstevenson 

Hello Bill. To which other cartridges are you comparing the Hyperion, please? I ask because I'm considering one.
For whatever it is worth, Soundsmith Otello is Moving Iron. I have no idea how much that influences the sound.

Soundsmith offers stylus change at one third of the price of the cartridge so it may be easier to replace than Moving Coil?
I got a smmc2 from SS a few years back.
The stylus guard was not attached quite straight, making the stylus appear to be at an angle (although it was not) I emailed them and Peter was all over it, issuing a pickup for it and returning a perfect cartridge promptly.
He was professional, logical and showed a sense of urgency in making it right.
Dealing with him was a great experience, and that was on what most on this forum would consider to be a cheap, $700 cartridge.
People should be careful reading posts like ducati1098rr above. The more authoritative someone tries to sound the worse it is when it turns out their lack of actual experience has led them to a lot of flat out false conclusions.

I actually built a turntable https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367 and in the process tried out and experienced first hand every tiny little bit of what goes into one. Just to take one small part, the bearing, I have modified it several times and so know exactly what affects what. Plinth, made several, tried em out, heard the differences. Motor, controller, suspension. Belts and drive mechanisms. Half a dozen iterations of each. Arm. Phono leads. I could go on and on. And on. It categorically is NOT the case that anyone can rank these things in order all neat and tidy. Certainly not the arm. Absolutely not the cartridge.

Would be nice to know what hands-on experience those claims are based on. If any. 
The Link is a Wealth of Information for SoundSmith, 
Read Shakti's Reports on all Three Pages, the broad range of experiences undertaken by this   Audio Enthusiast and HiFi Business Proprietor extend beyond any I know off. 

https://www.analog-forum.de/wbboard/index.php?thread/145907-shakti-besch%C3%A4ftigt-sich-mit-soundsm...
Just buy one of the Hanas and be happy...Great cartridges for the money.
I own a Paua II and love it. Absolutely no complaints. I also think that Peter L. has his head on straight regarding cartridge design and calibration. That meant a lot to me. Being a low compliance cartridge, however, you will realize a significant improvement using it in a higher mass arm even though Sound-Smith recommends anything between 7-29 gms.
The Paua mkII is a wonderful cart and it’s what gave me the upgrade bug to the Hyperion.
Peter is 3 weeks into building it right now and I’m going to his place to pick it up - and then I will be selling my PAUA on Usam  if anyone is interested pm me. Purchased in Jan 2021 and a great entry point into his highest level designs with a very generous retipping program.
To the one guy who felt short changed by Peter in the course of a telephone conversation, it would help us to understand your angst if you would say what the subject was and what was your question. Because in general, there is absolutely no other cartridge manufacturer who so readily reaches out to customers and has also become a major guru in the industry, other than Peter.. The only other company that even comes close is Lyra, with Jonathan  carr as its spokesperson. You must have reached Peter on a very bad day or at a very bad moment, because I have found him to be unfailingly courteous and responsive. We are lucky to have him.
"The Paua mkII is a wonderful cart and it’s what gave me the upgrade bug to the Hyperion."

I'm envious.
I heard the cactus needled Hyperion demoed by Peter years ago. What stayed in my mind is the fact it was on an "average" setup-VPI HRX and thru his bookshelves.
The sound coming thru the unimpressive looking small bookshelves was huge. Only thing that topped that was hearing the amazing straingauge, which was another setup there. 

Those 2 carts are in the BADASS category to my ears.

I've mentioned this experience in the past thread. Even Peter was impressed with the sound of his gear when we  played one of my "stampers" I had with me. It was David Gilmores debut album. Peter wanted to keep the album for his demos!

Off topic sidenote:
Pink Floyd fans, if you don't already own this album, get it. You want
this version
https://www.discogs.com/David-Gilmour-David-Gilmour/release/751793
For a 70's Rock album, audiogeek/phool demo showoff worthy, IMO.
Just buy a high quality MM/MI and do not mess with the lower scale MC as most are inferior in sound and range in comparison.


@tablejockey 

To be honest the only cart I ever owned before were from the Rega line including the Apheta and their top of the line Aphelion2.  Really no comparison. 
To anyone interested, and it’s even tempting for me. Just saw this posted; an old SoundSmith VPI, or, predecessor to the Zephyr. Really good deal IMO.

http://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649718051-soundsmith-vpi-cartridge/
I own a Sussurro MkII and it's the best sounding cartridge I've owned. got around 3000 hrs on it. It replaced a Dynavector Karat D3. Have a Zephyr MIMC ES waiting in the wings for when I send the Sussurro to be re-tipped.
I have the Zephyr MIMC Star (first version) on a VPI Scout running thru Soundsmith MCP2 MK II preamp and it beats MCs and MMs I have owned (all in the same price range). I have probably 2000 hours so far and it's still going strong. Great performance and the re-tipping service when needed is a real cost benefit. 
@slaw I was thinking of the Sussurro but from some other posters do you think jumping all in for  a SG cartridge would be wiser? Never listened to a SG before. 
It has nothing to do with the sound, but the only small gripe about my Otello (I think it is previous generation, maybe two years or so old now) is the stylus protector. It is trickier to place on than those few from other manufacturers I have tried. Admittedly, I have not tried too many, but even those few were simpler.

Maybe other Soundsmith cartridges have different stylus protector.
This SoundSmith design for OMA was more eye candy than any new design from SS. 
@glupson

It has nothing to do with the sound, but the only small gripe about my Otello (I think it is previous generation, maybe two years or so old now) is the stylus protector. It is trickier to place on than those few from other manufacturers I have tried. Admittedly, I have not tried too many, but even those few were simpler.

It’s actually one of the simplest if you do it correctly, it just automatically snaps into place. Peter has a very short video on his web site showing how to do it.

Here, I found the YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikXNwh8Tfs8
bkeske,

It snaps in place and stays there firm. It may be my big fingers, clumsiness, something else, but it does need some aiming when placing on, and finding the little protrusion to pull when taking off. Video shows the principle. However, there is no headshell in the video so everything is more accessible. In my experience, the part to pull to "unlock" when taking off is very close to wires. It is small, too. Fingers have to fit between the plinth and cartridge, avoid wires, locate the protrusion, and pull it in the right direction while keeping the arm in one place.

Compared with Soundsmith’s approach, Ortofon’s OM series protectors are like a breeze. They do not lock, but I have never had one fall off. Maybe by luck, but possibly by design, too. The shape of the front of the cartridge (stylus area) seems to have similar shape.

Again, it may be just me, and even for me the complaint is not major, but I have had Technics, Ortofon (multiple shapes), Audio-Technica and Soundsmith’s approach is not to my liking. I am a bit sorry I brought it up because it is really a minor issue on what I consider a decent (for me) cartridge that I would buy again.

EDIT: I just tried to put a stylus cover back on and off. To practice, I guess. Usually I do that when everything is off, but this time turntable was connected and amplifier set to phono input. I tried carefully and heard the noise. Basically, the protector rubbed against the stylus while being placed on. It did not seem to touch it when it was on, but pulling it over makes it go under a small angle at first and that is the moment it rubs on the stylus.

I doubt it makes any damage, at least not any more than the record surface would, but imperfect of a system it seems to be.
Peter Ledermann did Zoom interview for our Group last summer.
I was very impressed with the fact that they will a rebuild stylus
for anything they make. I do not think other makers offer that do they?
His company was chosen by B&O to handle all their repair work
for years.
Recently B&O decided to rejuvenate about 90 of the old
straight across (Sorry forgot model) turntable  and asked Peter
to do the work. I believe I heard these rehabbed units will be offered 
at about $10k. 

A member of our group, AZAVCLUB sent his old B&O in for a rehab after hearing the story. He said the work was performed in the window promised for less that the quoted cost range.

Peter also started a charity that he operates which helps children who were once slaves readapt to society. If you buy the music they offer on his site a portion goes to the charity.

That said Peter is not a young man and has a lot of balls in the air.

Anyone who does some research about companies before they buy 
will see a few good reasons to choose Sound-Smith.


Thank you Peter for setting an example of what a quality human being can be.
@glupson 

Yep, I get it. My Goldring 1042 may be the easiest as it simply slides on. My Ortofon Mono I find a pain in the rear, to me. Snapping in that rear tab is a bit clumsy.

I use the guard almost nightly, as I cover my SOTA with a cloth/vinyl soft cover, and cautious out the cover snagging the cart/stylus. So perhaps I’ve gotten used to it. My biggest ‘getting used to’ was sliding it on over the stylus guard area initially. Perhaps my fingers are smaller, as I find ‘unclipping’ the guard perhaps easier than you. Nice thing is, I slide it over my lift lever, so it’s alway there and does not get lost on the plinth somewhere, or easily knocked-off.
bkeske,

You are fast. I just edited my post above to reflect what I tried in the meantime.

This lift lever placement is ingenious. Thanks. I have always been looking not to lose the cover.
@rsf507,

It was an easy decision for me because I got mine new @ 40% off. If cost is your main driver, I'd have no problem buying used and have it re-tipped if needed. SoundSmith is a lifetime investment.
In reference to Soundsmiths customer phone service responses. Somebody had contacted Soundsmith and had a negative interaction with whoever picked up. Dude, you’re lucky they picked up at all. Typically, it goes to voice mail. I believe one responder said it all very well. Quirky, eccentric, and very busy independent shop, but exceptional quality cartridges built and/or repaired by Paul himself, and a handful of coworkers with lifetimes in audio experience, dedicated and passionate. Exactly the kind of business model I prefer to support with my patronage, not to mention they have the ultimate stylus for the Grace F-9 cartridge to keep my Acoustic Research ES-1 turntable playing sweet music years to come. My personal experience is, I don’t know crap  about cartridges. I emailed them. Got a response completely educating me, from Paul himself. So I then call and left a message about ordering and shipping. Paul himself calls me back. That kind of personal service is a rarity with any kind of business. Much respect for Soundsmith.
Whoops.  Should reread what I'm typing before I hit enter. I was meaning Peter, not Paul.  Kinda biblical.  Lol

"Hello Bill. To which other cartridges are you comparing the Hyperion, please? I ask because I'm considering one."
Ortofon Per WinfeldAtlasAT5000
To name a few.  Among these you can't go wrong.
been using a new zephyr mimc star es for ~ 5 hours or so.
it is a clear cut above in the dynamics department- micro and macro.
bass is also exceptional.
the idea of a complete rebuild for $350 is appealing.
also running an ortofon cadenza blue and audio technica art9xa.
the jury is still out on the best overall sounding cartridge until i work the mimc into my system a little more....
I joined the Soundsmith club a few years ago. At first I heard a Soundsmith PUA MKII at a friends house and was highly impressed. I also heard the Hyperion a couple of times at the Capital Audio Fest in somewhat of a small room with bookshelf speakers. Despite the smallish room and bookshelf speakers, I thought the Hyperion sound was captivating. During these comparisons, I was actively looking for something different than my Benz LPS and Benz Ruby Z in terms of sound. The Benz can achieve beautiful audio playback and are dynamic, but, I interpreted a slight recessed vocal area. It was not prominent, I just felt as if the voices could have had a little more presence, despite the glory of these cartridges. I also  listened to the Van Hul Colibri but it was not my cup of tea. 

When an opportunity arose to purchase a Soundsmith Sussaro MKII, I jumped on it. The sound of it was similar to the Benz LPS, but had more mid range magic, and, a better stereo playing field, as in a noticeably wider stage. The Sussaro MKII on my system equaled or slightly bettered the LPS and Ruby Z in some sound qualities. The LPS and Ruby Z are mounted on a pair of SME V arms. The Benz LPS and Ruby Z do bass really well on my system. The Sussaro MKII seems as if has has slightly less bass, but does not lose bass quality at all. It is a balanced cartridge from top to bottom, which makes me feel that it equals or slightly betters the LPS due to its balanced sound and a perceived wider frequency spectrum. You really have to hear them side by side, in which I did, since I have to exact arms to appreciate what I am stating. 


When I had another opportunity to upgrade, this time I went for the Hyperion. It was installed easily on the SME V and holy cow, the entire musical spectrum took on another spatial dimension. I heard more of the music venue where the recordings were made. I could feel the presence of the hall, room, or studio. The Hyperion MKII makes music sound like a live recording session. The voices are so damn real sounding and the backup vocals are so much more pronounced, that I rate the Hyperion equal or better, again in different ways, than a Koetsu Onyx. The Onyx and Jade have been my reference target point for audio bliss for many years due to their ability to do mid range and vocals in a stellar fashion.  

With advances in cartridge techniques, it seems like not just Soundsmith, but others such as Airtight and Hana are advancing the sound quality spectrum to be very competitive with other higher priced cartridges such as the stone Koetsu’s which have been around for a while. I believe that Soundsmith is doing the same. The spatial cues provided by the Hyperion will simply have you shaking your head in disbelief. The same could be said of the Koetsus...albeit, in a different manner. Once you hear the magic of vocal spatial cues and a wonderous soundstage, you understand why these other more expensive cartridges cost more. The Hyperion undercuts the price of the Koetsu stone bodies, but does not undercut the performance. It is just different and glorious in its own way. One day, I would like to do a direct comparison to the Koetsu Onyx or Jade to prove or disprove my hypothesis of the Hyperion being equal in sound qualities to the Onyx or Jade, but in a different fashion. 

I also rationalized retip and trade in prices for Soundsmith cartridges...they are one of the best priced in the industry for repairs and some vendors offer trade in allowances to upgrade. Good luck. 
@slaw I was thinking of the Sussurro but from some other posters do you think jumping all in for a SG cartridge would be wiser? Never listened to a SG before.

That is what I plan on doing when the time comes. All the reviews and comments point to the SG1 being right up there with the very best regardless of price. Cartridges which of course cannot be compared without being used with an equally expensive top flight phono stage. Factor in the SG1 eliminates the (very expensive) phono stage, and a very affordable user-replaceable stylus (if included with your order) and you have a stone bargain in a truly high end cartridge.

Search around, the clincher for me was there are aftermarket power supplies that are said to elevate the SG1 into the highest levels of the very very best rigs. Depending on the phono stage you have now and what you can get for it the net cost of moving into a SG can be very reasonable.