Sussurro Paua on JMW 10.5 arm - mini review

I started my search for a new cartridge about a month ago. I have a VPI classic 1 with the JMW 10.5 arm. I researched cartridge options that matched well with my tonearm. One cartridge that was mentioned many times was the soundsmith zephyr. I had my mind made up to purchase one and began trying to find a used one. After looking for quite some time, I had no luck in finding a used one. I was just about to order a new zephyr direct from soundsmith.

Enter the Soundsmith Sussuro Paua. I located this cartridge used on the Agon classifieds. It had roughly 400hrs on it and, the price wasn't that much more than a new Zephyr. I took a look at the specs of the Paua and realized that the cartridge weight and compliance are identical to the Zephyr that was designed with JMW arms in mind. I then sent an e-mail to Peter Lederman to verify that this would be a good match for the JMW 10.5 arm. He said it would be a great match as long as you can set the loading on your phono to 1000ohm minimum. I went ahead with the purchase.

When I received the Paua, I set it up with a Mint LP protractor. I then used the ultimate analogue test LP and a multi-meter to set correct azimuth. I also set the SRA to 92 degrees with a USB microscope. I also adjusted my loading on my phono to 1100ohm setting. I was then ready to spin my first side.

I put the LP on and dropped the needle and was pretty disappointed in what I was hearing. While the cartridge did technically work fine with this loading, it sounded pretty dull and lifeless. I searched the internet for what information I could find on the Paua. I did read one specific review in tone magazine that claimed 2800ohm sounded best in his setup. Soundsmith states that this cartridge performs best between 2K and 4K ohm on thier website.

I re-adjusted my phono to a 2500ohm load, which is the highest setting I have on my rogue ares. This was really pleasing and lively. I tweaked my pre some to accomodate this loading and then began to seriously listen. I had been using a Soundsmith Boheme cart up untill this point. It was a good cartridge in its own right but, I realized from the first side that the Paua was in a different league.

My first impressions compared to the boheme were razor sharp accuracy and the high frequencies are beyond crystal clear. I am hearing in great detail high frequency sounds that I didn't know were present in recordings I am very familiar with. The Paua also has better definiton on extreme low frequencies as well. Low frequencies have become more powerful and tight where the boheme was somewhat less defined and boomy at these extreme lows.

I now have had this cartridge for a few days and have become aclimated to the sound. It is astonishing the amount of detail this cartridge retrieves from the groove. The soundstage I have become used to over the past two years with the boheme has become extremely wide. My speakers dissapear and it seems as if I have a stage of musicians that is wider than my listening room. Every instrument is in it's own space and well defined with correct tonality. Vocals are up front and strikingly realistic. When I close my eyes and listen, I don't feel like I am listening to a recording. It really does bring the performance into my listening room. This may be a bad analogy but, I would compare it to seeing high definition television for the very first time after watching standard def your whole life. It really does seem like that much of a diffference to my ears. A real pleasure.

I know alot of you have owned quite a few nice cartridges and I wish I could give comparisons to other high end cartridges but, this is the first really nice cartridge I have purchased. All my other cartridges have cost less than 1K each. This sussurro paua blows them all away. It's not even close. I guess that is to be expected considering the price.

I just wanted to share my first impressions and initial thoughts as there isn't much information or forum post out there about the paua. Take it for what it's worth. Those of you that might be considering the Zephyr for your VPI table might be as pleased as I am if you can locate a used Sussurro Paua. It is a great match on the JMW 10.5 arm. Sorry for being long winded. Happy listening.

Great review Andy.

I saw the ad for the Paua and was interested in buying it for myself.

Unfortunately, the gain on my phono pre is only 58 db and the gain on my linestage is 12 db, or 70 db in total. ARC, the manufacturer, said the Paua's output of .3 mV was just shy of what my phono pre and linestage required; something north of .5 mV -- .6 mV+ even better.

But I'm glad you picked it up and are enjoying it. As I have said on other threads, I think there is a natural synergy between Soundsmith carties and VPI tables with the JMW uni-pivot arm.

Keep us informed of your thougts as you continue to educate your ear.
After a few more days of listening, I am amazed at what this cartridge can do. This is the most detailed and revealing cartridge I have ever heard. I would say the sound is mostly neutral with just a hint of warmth. It presents only the information in the groove and doesn't add much coloration of its own. The background is black and dead silent. I suppose this is because this cartridge is shielded on all sides to reject RF/EMI. Compared to the un-shielded grado reference that I have listened to with the classic 1, the paua is completely silent. The grado always had a faint hum due to the lack of shielding.

I still can't believe how wide the soundstage is with the paua. The stereo seperation is so great that it makes for a very life like performance with all instruments spaced out and clearly defined. As I continue to listen to this cartridge, what I am finding out is the level of low frequency information that is retrieved from the groove is amazing. The clarity of the highs was the first thing that struck me from the very first side but now, I am really enjoying the well defined and powerful low bass notes. This type of low bass was a problem area for many other carts I have listened to. With the paua it is clear and powerful with good punch.

The paua is balanced and very musical across the whole frequency range. The midrange is very luscious and female vocals sound convincingly real. I have a few ella fitzgerald re-issues. Ella has never sounded this good. I also have adele 21. Her voice is very realistic and powerful with this cartridge. It still retains it's smoothness even when she hits those very high notes. I am extremely happy with this purchase. It truly is a great match for the JMW tonearms and with the classic in particular. Highly recommended.

Hi. Thanks for the review. What VTF did you use?
I'm glad you like your Soundsmith, Andy. I used to own an Aida that was mounted on a VPI Scout, and I really liked it with jazz, but I found it less pleasing with rock and vocals, where it exhibited excessive sibilance. However, it was an overall a very musical cartridge, and it is possible that I didn't get the best out of it as at that time I had a rather limited knowledge of how to set up a turntable.

A few comments on your review. I also have a VPI Classic, but with a Lyra Delos and I'm surprised to hear your impressions regarding Adele's record. My Delos makes it painfully obvious how awful that record is sound-wise. The vinyl quality is very poor to start with making the record very noisy, worse than many of my 30-year-old used records. It also sounds like it was recorded or mastered digitally; it lacks the analog warmth and depth. So it makes me wonder whether the Paua is too forgiving, or not very revealing in the alternative, or you're still adjusting to its sound.

And the last question: how much is it? I know you bought it used, but the seller has to provide the purchase price. Thanks.
I agree with you about the quality of the adele album. It's not one of my best LP's. I even returned two other copies before I got this third one that is decent at best. You are also correct about it being a digital master. I just mentioned it becuase the paua really excells with female voices and I think adele has a beautiful voice. I purchased this paua for $1400.00
Andy, perhaps you can try the cartridge with a complex rock music such as Pink Floyd? The arrangements and vocals on their albums are a good test for sibilance issues, cohesiveness, and overall ability to convey the heft and intricacy of their sound at the same time. My Delos excels at this task. I'd be very interested in your impressions with the Paua.

Lastly, how much is the Paua brand new? Any idea?
The paua is about $3800 new. I have not had the chance to really listen to rock music with this cart yet. I have played a handful of rock tracks but, not a full side. I will sit down this evening and listen to some rock albums. I do have some floyd but, it is pretty rough. I have mostly 90's rock. I will list some artist that I have and you pick which one you want to hear about.

Nirvana, Foo Fightters, Pearl Jam, Llynrd Skynard, Allman Bros., The eagles, The doors, Counting Crows, Van Halen, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Weezer, Jimi hendrix, James taylor, The beatles.

These are some of my rock albums that I know are in great condition. Are you interested in any of those?

I am tracking at just under 2g. It was around 1.98. This is where my arm liked it best.
I did listen to a side of Nirvana unplugged before I wnt to the office this morning. I didn't notice any sibilance issues on that particular LP. S's sounded like an S and were not pronounced as SCHH. Also, CH or SH were not overly pronounced but were clearly different than S's. High cymbal strikes are clear and not splashy. I will listen to a few others this afternoon if you have any request from the material above.

Almost four grand, wow. Sounds like you got a good deal on it.

I'm familiar with most artist from your list and do have one or two of their records with a few exceptions. Van Halen and Van Morrison records are very well recorded in my experience so you should really enjoy listening to them. If you have "Moondance," it is an exceptional recording and of course exceptional music. It'd definitely reveal any sibilance issues, or problems with presenting vocals.
I do have moondance. Mine is a 180gr warner bros re-issue. It was mastered at acoustech from the original analog master tape. It is a great album. I will listen to the whole album and write notes as to what I am hearing. I will report back later.

Van Morrison - Moondance

Track 1, and it stoned me - Stereo seperation of the instruments is very good. Van's vocals are clear and with good prescence. When He delivers the line "and it stoned me" the S sounds like an S, not SHH.

Track 2 - Vans voice seems very smooth on this track. The interplay of that walking bass line with the flute sounds great. Good response across the whole frequency range. On the piano solo. The highest of notes are well defined without breakup.

Track 3 - DEEP BASS that sounds great. It stays the correct tone without fluctuation. The Bass tone is well controled and precise. Strikes on the snare drum don't have any breakup or sibilance.

Track 4 - Van's vocals are upfront and center. Cymbal strikes are very lifelike. The guitar melody is clearly in the right channel. It seems as if it is in it's own space. The horns are well defined but not overpowering.

Track 5 - You can clearly hear fingers picking strumming the strings and moving across thee frets in the opening. The fog horn has more presence than my boheme. Tambourine is clear and smooth. It has been a bit harsh to me before. The bass sounds the best I have ever heard it sound on this song. I played this one twice. ;)

Well, I didn't quite make it to side 2. I have to start preparing dinner. I hope this was somewhat helpful. I didn't notice any sibilance issues on any of these tracks. I still can't get over the level of detail this cartidge can reproduce. Low level detail, High level detail, This cartridge does it all. I can't seem to find any faults for my listening taste. It does well with rock, jazz, country, just about anything I have thrown at it so far.

The previous owner replaced this cartridge with an ortofon A90. I can only dream of how good that must sound to get rid of this paua. I am really pleased with this cartridge. I was also listening to the metallica 45rpm re-issues earlier. Talk about deep powerful bass lines and thrashing rock guitars. I was really impressed by the way the paua handled that material. Metallica isn't my first choice in music but, it is fun every once in awhile.
Have a good evening.

Another sibilance test

I played Johnny cash - the golden unplugged album. This album is nothing but johnny cash and a guitar. There was no sibilance to speak of which, I thought for sure would show up if it was there. especially on this minimalist recording. I also have a townes van zandt live album. This album is also just singer and guitar. That album has no sibilance either. I would say it is safe to assume that the paua doesn't exhibit excessive sibilance.

PS. If anyone reading this is a cash fan. This golden unplugged album is amazing. Check it out.....

I just now returned to this thread. Good to know that the Paua is performing so well. I saw your comment about Metallica 45s. How do you find them overall? My experience with Metallica 33 reissues, or new pressings, has been absolutely awful. Starting with the vinyl quality - noisy, looks burnt, and warps. The originals are very expensive. The experience has prevented me from dropping more money on the 45s...

I purchased a Paua a little over a year ago -- like you, when I put it into my system was disappointed just as you posted -- I spoke to Peter and he recommended a load of 2500 which I had my phono-pre reworked as well as raising the gain to 63dB -- after these changes were made, the Paua blossomed and was simply brilliant -- even after a year it still amazes me and is a total pleasure when I dig out a lp that I haven't heard for years -- in many instances (because the Paua brings out details I never heard and is so crystal-clear sharp) it's like hearing these records for the first time -- I listen to quite a variety of music and as far as I'm concerned, the Paua is staying put...

I have found the metallica 45rpm series to be slightly better than the 33rpm 180g re-issues. On my system they seem to be more dynamic and detailed. I have the S&M on 45 and it sounds pretty good to my ear. Is it worth the money........... That all depends on your personal taste. I always think things should be cheaper. HA HA! This is just an expensive hobby.


Hope you are still enjoying your Paua. I bought mine two months ago and I am still grinning. I have a modified Scout 2 with a Classic arm. The Paua works incredibly well with the Classic arm. I have experienced most of the same great benefits you have - this cartridge completely changed my system.

My cartridge is wired a little differently - it is set for a 470 load with a max of 1000. I prefer listening to the 470 load setting at 64db.

My previous cart was a Benz Micro Wood SM. Soundsmith gave me a good trade in value for the Benz. To me, the Paua has a much richer, clearer sound than the Wood. I listen to LPs a lot - I basically need a retip every year. The Paua is relatively inexpensive to retip and best of all the retip will not change the sound. This is probably the last cartridge I will ever buy.
Bringing this thread back to life... LOL

I am still enjoying the Paua very much. It is a wonderful combination with the JMW arms. VPI and soundsmith are jointly developing a cartridge called the legend which is based off the paua. I'm not sure what the differences between the two carts will be but, to the best of my knowledge it is a paua that has been optimized to work with JMW unipivot arms. I know VPI has a prototype in their shop that they are running on the 3D arm and having very good results. I would like to hear that combo myself.
VPI has shown pics of the Legend on its Facebook page. It looks like a Paua with a VPI label. Soundsmith said it and VPI have not worked out the tweaks yet. The Paua's weight and compliance are already similar to the Zephyr - maybe it will get an eliptical diamond like the Zephyr.
I wonder if there is anything to be gained by going with the elliptical stylus vs an OCL on the JMW arms. I haven't heard the zephyr but, I think my paua with OCL stylus sounds wonderful and is a great combination with the JMW 10.5 arm. What would be the pros of going with the elliptical on the legend if that is the case? It seems to me that detail retrieval would be better with an OCL stylus. It would be interesting to know more details on the legend and Peter's thoughts on the elliptical stylus