SUT shootout

Over the past six weeks I have had the chance to finish a SUT "shootout". I thought I would post my impressions.

My system config for the shoot-out consisted of the following:

TT: Nottingham 294
Tonearm: SME 312S
Cartridge: Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum & Benz Ebony
Preamp: Shindo Masetto
Amp: Atma-sphere S30 and Tube Audio Lab 300B
Speaker: Hawthorne Trio (Biamped Open Baffle Speaker)

Music listened to covered multiple genres (rock, jazz, classical) in both 33 and 45 rpm formats. Because of the different turn ratios of the products I used a SPL meter and tried to listen with volume at roughly 80-85db.

My subjective ranking is as follows:

1. Hashimoto HM-7
2. Auditorium 23 "Hommage"
3. Hashimoto HM-3
4. Modified EAR-834P (Upgraded parts and tubes)
5. Sowter
6. MC from Shindo Masetto (Lundahl based transformer)
7. Cinemag
8. Altec (DIY)

The good news is that all of the above are extremely musical. There were no poor performers. I think most people would be happy with any of these products on their own. It was only in direct comparison where some of the differences became apparent.

The top three (Auditorium Hommage and both Hashimoto's) were a notch above the rest because they had both huge soundstages and the ability to dig deep into the music in regards to detail. The Hashmito HM-7 and Auditorium further distinquished themselves from the HM-3 by being more nuanced and textured. The Koetsu's warm tone came across better with these top 2. The tone using the HM-3 was more neutral in character. In comparing the HM-7 to the Hommage, I felt the HM-7 had a slightly better ability to separate instruments in complex musical arrangements and had a slightly lower noise floor.

The EAR and Sowter were very good at showcasing detail and texture but the soundstage was smaller than the top 3.

The internal SUT from the Shindo preamp had the most unique sound of the group and was the toughest to grade. It had the lowest noise floor and really shined in certain types of music (intimate vocals or small scale jazz/chamber music). However, the soundstage of the Masetto (Lundahl) was the smallest of all the products and when it came to larger scale music (symphonies especially) it had a harder time separating instruments.

The Cinemag and Altec were, not suprisingly, extremely similar considering their common heritage. The soundstage was larger than the Shindo, Sowter and EAR but smaller than the Hashimoto's and Hommage. Where I felt they came up a little short was in the area of musical detail. Of these two products, I placed the Cinemag higher because I thought it was slightly quieter.

It is interesting to note that the pricing of the products ranged from a low of approximately $350 (Cinemag based SUT) to a high of roughly $5000 (Hommage). My "winner" (HM-7) is priced at approx $1600 for a finished product.

Finally, I am aware that the performance of the products in question may differ substantially with other cartridges and systems so my ranking is a subjective opinion within the paramaters of my system, room and musical tastes. None-the-less, I had a fun time doing it.
Thanks for the further info Br.

Even though the gain of the HM3 and Cinemag are pretty close, the turns ratio of the HM3 on low gain setting (1:20) will give a reflected impedance of 117.5ohms vs 183ohms for the Cinemag (1:16).
Its hard to predict how different cartridges will work with differing SUT's and to complicate things further the best setting (turns ratio) for the SUT will vary with the phono amp.

In my setup with the lowish gain Cary ph302 (38dB on MM) the high gain 1:30 setting of my H7 sounds best by far with my modded/retipped 103R - though Hashimoto suggest using the low gain/ratio 1:16 setting based on the 14ohm DCR of the cartridge.

IME the H7 sounds nothing like your description of the H3 - being very transparent, neutral, extended, detailed and fast compared to the standard 'red' Cinemag.
I've not heard Bob's 'blue' version which is apparently a far better device (than the red) - but I'd like to.

If you are (or will be) in Southern California, give me a shout. We can compare the two SUTs, as well as any others I might have lying around. Bring your HM-7 unit and it will be a real party!
IMO, the blue cinemag is more extended than the HM-7. The HM-7 brings out the Koetsu tone a little better than the Blue - especially in the midrange. Soundstage is very large for both. Blue is a tad bit more more up front sounding (or you can say the HM-7 is a tad bit more layed back). Both are well built but I like the design of the Choir Audio SUT better. It is larger and heavier. The blue is small and rather lite. Having exposed transformers looks cool but I personally like them in an enclosure for extra protection. Both are great sounding SUT's and I can't imagine anyone disliking either. The step up from the Cinemag red to blue is huge.
Br, thanks for the invite, but I'm located in Australia - so not likely to take up your generous offer.

Sibelius, that Blue Cinemag must be quite a piece (and a bargain) to be running neck and neck with the H7. I almost went with Bob's blue Cinemag - I did love the red - but decided to try something different with the Choir Audio unit.
The H7 does sound fantastic and like you I much prefer its form factor to Bob's Cinemag - less likely to be pulled around by cabling and it looks quite tasty and elegant(though its sound that counts of course).
I can see how the the small footprint of Bob's unit could be useful though - and it has its charms in a form follows function way.
Hey Br2098, I'm in So Cal and would love to hear the Bob's SUT. I'm running a Shindo Masseto/Cortese combo and in the process of rebuilding a Garrard 301 (hammertone version). I was originally looking at the A23 SUT but it seems the "blue" version of Bob's Cinemag devices might give it a run for the money.

Where in So Cal are you? I'm in the Long Beach area.