Zephyr won't play nice with Phenomena 2

I've been totally happy with my setup of a VPI Scout,Dynavector 20x2 into a Musical Surroundings Phenomena 2.  But I recently got a good deal on a Soundsmith Zephyr II, and couldn't pass it up.  I've always been curious about moving iron designs.  

Right off off the bat,I could tell this was a detail oriented cart.  The first thing I noticed that the center stage was just locked in place.  But it seemed a little hot on top and sort of flat.  I wasn't getting that "bloom".  I chalked it up to being new and needing break in.   

25 hours in, there were some changes,but not much and definitely not enough.  Still no depth, not as hot on top,but something missing.  By now,bass is great btw.  

A friend wanted to come have a listen,and bring his phono pre just for the heck of it. A modified Jolida jd9. I wasn't very excited about swapping out the phono stages because I knew the Phenomena was a good pre.  It sounded great with the Dyna.  Reluctantly, the swap was made.  

Bam!  There it was. Everything that had been missing.   We both heard it within ten seconds.  Not subtle.   I was shocked.  I know both of these pre's have their fanbases, as they should, but this isn't close.   I know it seems like I had settings fouled or something but I tried loading it every way under the sun.  I guess it could just be that synergy thing...or maybe that Parts Connexion mod really kicks ass.(level 1)

Well I bought the Jolida. And threw in my fave tubes,Tele smooths. And just ordered 6  opamps to get close to the level 3 mod.  I just wanted to share my experience...

The title of this thread seems to put the onus for your dissatisfaction with the Zephyr. The Jolida seems to show the Zephyr to be a fine cartridge.

I see that the gain options for the Musical Surroundings are as follows:

40, 44, 46, 48, 50, 51.5, 52.7, 53.7, 56, 57.5, 58.4, 59.4, 60 dB

 Where did you have the gain setting during the time with the Zephyr? Did you vary the gain just to see whether that made any difference?
I have recently aquired the Zephyr mkiii and have about 5 hours on it. I'm trying the load at 200pf on my Manley Chinook (with gain set at 40db). The Zephyr manual says 100-200 although I haven't tried 100 yet. (the Chinook has 100, then 200 and nothing in between).  What load setting did you have the Phenomena at? I'm relatively new to vinyl so I'm just curious.
Theophile, that's pretty much exactly what I was trying to convey.  With the MS pre, I was dissatisfied with the Zephyr.  I actually wondered if I had a dud, or just didn't like the Soundsmith sound.  

I I generally kept the gain at 40, though I tried several settings.  Gain wasn't the issue.  I also settled on the 50k loading, which is closest to the 47k that SS recommends. To me, the jolida just makes the Zephyr sound much better, in my rig.  

Fwiw, I use an all tube setup(AtmaSphere UV-1 pre and M60 monos driving Vandersteen Quatros).  I've generally preferred a solid state phono stage in this rig, until now.  

devilboy, it's my understanding that the capacitive loading mostly affects the top end.  Less pf for more top end energy.  With the Phenom I tried both the 200 and 300 settings.  With the Jolida, I'm using the 220 pf setting and 47kohm loading. 

How does your Zephyr sound with just a few hours on it?  I've been told by Soundsmith to be patient with it for 25 hours or so.   This was my first new cart, so I'd never been thru a break in period.  Frustrating for someone with minimal patience😬
@bigboltz, I too have a low patience level, so it amazes me how I managed to burn in my new interconnects on a cd player sitting on the floor for two weeks earlier this month! Probably because I kept it in another room, (out of sight, out of mind. Lol).

If I make a change, I may try the 100 setting. My Zephyr sounds very nice with about 7 hours now. Playing familiar records shows more detail, focus and clarity than my previous Dyna 10X5 on the Rega P5. However, last night Scheherazade sounded bright....uncomfortably actually. Might be the recording. My XRCD version does too, now that I think about it.

The Zephyr manual says recommended to downforce is 1.6 - 2.0g and that may be lowered after 30 to 100 hours. Right now I have it on 1.8g.

Glad you’re liking the jolida. It’s amazing what tubes can do, isn’t it? I just added a tube product for the first time in about 6 years with the Manley Chinook. I put NOS Amperex 7308 in there. They are breaking in along with the Zephyr....same hours.
I have a feeling in about 50-100 hours something magical will happen here.

The waiting sucks though. Not because of the sound I'm getting, but the anticipation of what's to come.

it's my understanding that the capacitive loading mostly affects the top end. Less pf for more top end energy.

You need to pick up a physics text and read up on resonance circuits. Jim Hagerman's paper on cartridge loading is also a good resource.

I know it's been covered in numerous threads, but I just replaced all 6 opamps in the Jolida with BB op627s and it sounds amazing.  What a great piece for an amateur modder....
devilboy, hows it going with the Zephyr and Chinook? I have a chance to pick up a Chinook locally and am very curious.
bigboltz, the Chinook is an amazing piece. Also, after retubing with NOS Amperex 7308 white labels,  I have zero buyer's remorse.  Unfortunately I have nothing substantial to compare it to as my previous phono stage was nothing special. However, the sound I'm getting is wonderful, and the tubes and cartridge have only 13 hours on them so I have a ways to go.  The holidays were very busy for me so I didn't put nearly the hours on them as I wanted.

I can say this though, the Chinook is a safe buy because not only does it sound great, you can sell it easily for good coin if you choose to go down a different path in the future.
I see you asked about the Allnic and Herron in another thread. I never heard either but from reputation and Buzz on the 'net, I think they outclass the Chinook. The Allnic is pricier I think, even on the used market. Regarding the Herron vtph 2, it's still over 2k used so keep that in mind.

However, if given the choice between the two and if budget allowed, I think I would go with the Herron....just based on reputation.

I would love to hear anyone's comparisons between them though.