Jun 182018

I didn’t think I was going to be able to get the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge review finished up over the weekend, but I was able to put in some long hours and get it finished up!

The new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge.

The Positive Feedback review of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phono cartridge is now live HERE!

I would like to thank Peter Ledermann for his recommendation and loan of his Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge so I could write about it for you here at Jeff’s Place and for Positive Feedback.

The Soundsmith Carmen Mk II is one of the most musically enjoyable cartridges I’ve ever reviewed, and it was a real pleasure to write about it for all of you.

I am delighted that I now have a relatively affordable, warm, dimensional, musical, and relatively high output phonograph cartridge that I can easily recommend to music lovers everywhere!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 12:32 pm
Jun 162018

I was hoping to get the Positive Feedback review of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge finished up this weekend, but it’s looking like it is going to be next weekend instead – it’s turned out to be a busy weekend!

Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge, Thomas Schick headshell, with Art of Tone DIY headshell leads.

Also, something very interesting happened during the review of the Carmen Mk II – in a good way – that I’ll tell you all about during the review – it’s an unexpected first!

First Watt SIT-3 installed into the Westminster based system.

I installed the Nelson Pass designed & built First Watt SIT-3 stereo power amplifier into my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE based system in place of my usual vintage hot-rodded McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers.

The  First Watt SIT-3’s sonic & musical chops during run-in have been all over the place. Sounding laid back at one point, then forward and a bit harsh at one point, now the SIT-3 seems to have settled into a rather remarkable combination of musicality & sonics that I find very seductive – it totally blew me away last night listening to Getz/Gilberto. Much more to come on the SIT-3!

Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier powering my vintage Altec 832A Corona’s!

The Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier has generated more “hits” and interest inquiries in the last week than any other post I’ve made, which is an impressive debut. I guess there’s many of you out there that love EL84 amplifiers just as I do!

I’ve got the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier running-in on my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers and it is sounding very nice indeed.

At this early point in its run-in the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier sounds rich, natural, musical, and I’ve discovered my vintage Altec Corona’s can have convincing and articulate bass response along with superb musicality!

The Still Audio EL84 exudes quality and artisanal class, and its superb choice of components is very impressive.

After I get some more time on it I’ll switch it over to my vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre based system in place of the Leben RS600 integrated amplifier

Vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeaker topped with a Yazaki-san’s custom Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processor.

I want to hook up the Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processors that Yazaki-san custom built for my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers.

I’m going to use vintage Western Electric WE16GA wire to connect the Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processors to my Coronas because that’s what Yazaki-san would do!

Closeup of Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processor on top of the vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeaker.

Much more to come on the Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processor adventure with Yazaki-san!

The Fisher SA-100 stereo power amplifier.

Vintage Eico HF-81 EL84 integrated amplifier sitting atop vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeaker.

On the vintage front I’ve got two EL84 listening adventures to share with you, the first being Ron Barbee’s vintage Fisher SA-100 stereo amplifier, and Doc Leo’s vintage Eico HF-81 integrated amplifier.

So in toto I’ve got four EL84 based amplifiers here right now, the vintage Fisher SA-100 stereo amplifier, the vintage Eico HF-81 integrated amplifier, the single ended pentode EL84 Almarro A205A integrated amplifier, and the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier – what fun!

Ok, now it’s time to get back to listening and writing, so stay tuned for more soon!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 5:02 pm
Jun 142018

As you know, I’m a big fan of EL84 integrated amplifiers, as they provide a live-like musicality that always seems to thrill me!

So when Mark Still contacted me about writing up his hand-crafted Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier here at Jeff’s Place and for Positive Feedback, I was happy to say “Yes!”.

Adding to the intrigue was Mark’s description of the amplifier as, “Following in the footsteps of Don Garber of ​​fi and Shindo Electronics, making each and every amplifier by hand using the best parts available.  Each unit is a work of art and is meant to last a lifetime.”

Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier by Mark Still.

Mark’s Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier is built to a stunning level of quality that I wish my photo’s conveyed, but you really have to hold this one in your own hands to admire its artisan-level craftsmanship in order to really appreciate it!

Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier by Mark Still.

Like Don Garber, Mark is a big fan of Hashimoto transformers, and his Still Audio EL84 is equipped exclusively with Hashimoto transformers!

Don Garber’s fi 300B monaural amplifier with Hashimoto transformers.

The chassis of Mark’s Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier reminds me of Don’s fi chassis, which were works of art, with it’s open architecture stainless steel construction. Mark has put some screening around the open architecture chassis to protect creatures with inquisitive fingers or noses from getting accidentally zapped from its electrically charged innards!

Mark says, “Every detail of this amplifier has been extensively researched to find the absolute best possible part available. Everything from the PTFE tube sockets with gold pins for perfect connections to the highest grade transformers I could source.  It’s these types of details that make this amplifier extraordinary.  We did not invest is expensive machined cases rather we chose the highest quality parts.  We found that keeping it cool with the perforated sides to dissipate heat easily was much more important.  All the wire is PTFE (Teflon) coated, Silver tined copper.”

Bottom view with pictorial of the tube complement. All new production Mullard tubes, by the way.

Top view.

“This EL84 based amplifier takes the EL84 tube to a whole new level of sound. Using transformers capable of 15Hz to 50,000Hz gives this amazing amplifier extraordinary bandwidth taking it beyond the hearing of most people.”

Bottom angle view.

Top angle view.

Right now I’ve got the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier powering my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers and it’s sounding mighty fine!

Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier powering my vintage Altec 832A Corona’s!

The Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier puts out 10 watts per channel, which is a massive amount of power for my Corona’s, and also comes with a remote volume control (which you can just see in the photo above), which is a really thoughtful touch!

Price for the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier is a very fair $2895 USD considering the incredible parts quality and the hand-crafted nature of the amplifier.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the Still Audio EL84 integrated amplifier in due time, and I’ll be trying it in my various systems here at Jeff’s Place and reporting back on the results.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 9:56 am
Jun 142018

It is always such a pleasure to hear from Yazaki-san, he is such a gracious and kind gentleman, and he has more good audio ideas in a day than most of us do in a year!

I have a fascinating multi-part story of serendipity and intrigue to relate to you about Today’s Fresh Catch, the Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processor, that Yazaki-san custom built for me to try with my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers.

Vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers. Photo by LA Jazz Audio.

It turns out that about two years ago, in a parallel audio universe, that Yazaki-san had recommended to Alan-san a pair of vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers as being a good match for the vintage Marantz Model 7 preamplifier and PX25A SET amplifier that Yazaki-san had modified, and built, respectively, for Alan-san.

Unaware of Yazaki-san’s recommendation of a pair of vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers to Alan-san a couple of years ago, in a moment of serendipity I also bought a pair of vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers from LA Jazz Audio, purveyors of fine vintage audio equipment, back in February of 2018.

I absolutely adore my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers, they’re extremely musical, have cabinets that were beautifully crafted for Altec by fine furniture builders Glenn of California, and while still being large loudspeakers they handily fit into room corners so they are very unobtrusive where space is at a premium.

My vintage Altec Corona loudspeakers’ components compliment are the 803A bass drivers (1947-1958), 802D compression drivers (1957-1972), 811B HF horns, and N800E crossovers, which puts their production circa 1957-1958, so they are about the same age as me at 60 years old, but unlike me they are in mint condition!

Yazaki-san’s vintage Marantz 7k preamplifier.

Yazaki-san modified Alan-san’s vintage Marantz Model 7 according to the modifications Yazaki-san detailed in his seven-part series of articles about modifying his beloved Marantz Model 7, My Adventure With My Old Model 7 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7). Is it a coincidence that Yazaki-san’s article about the Marantz Model 7 has 7 parts? I think not!

DA30 SET monaural amplifier.

Yazaki-san also built a beautiful PX25A (DA30) SET stereo amplifier for Alan-san, just like the one he uses in his home system (a mono example of Yazaki-san’s stereo PX25A is shown above), providing Alan-san a home hifi system that is very similar in nature to what Yazaki-san uses at home.

As a final touch Yazaki-san built Alan-san some custom impedance compensators (i.e. Real Sound Processors) for his vintage Altec Coronas, which Alan-san reported as being very complimentary.

Care package from Yazaki-san!

I received a care package yesterday from Yazaki-san containing some wonderful goodies! The first being some excellent Japanese green tea to relax with while listening to music, and Yazaki-san’s custom RSP-AZ9EX’s for my vintage Altec 832A Corona’s!

Custom Spec Real Sound Processors by Yazaki-san for the vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers.

Yazaki-san also sent me a wonderful treasure he found in his literature collection, a booklet titled, “Altec Lansing, Speaker Units & Enclosure Drawings”.

Altec Lansing Speaker Units & Enclosure Drawings

Yazaki-san told me, “I don’t remember well, but I got the booklet at the audio fair in Japan around the end of 70’s or early 80’s. It was published by the distributor of Altec products at that time, named “Electori”, which survives until now!’

The Altec 852A Corona is the 8 Ohm version of the 16 Ohm Altec 832A Corona’s I have.

Inside this wondrous booklet are the cabinet drawings of Altec drivers, horns, and loudspeakers, including the Corona’s – what a treasure!

Cabinet drawings of the Altec Corona loudspeakers.

Here’s some close-ups for you to enjoy …

I’ll have much more to tell you about Yazaki-san’s design considerations of the custom Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processors for my Vintage Altec 832A Corona’s, as well as listening impressions when I get them installed on the Corona’s!

Many thanks to Yazaki-san for such a wonderful care package – you’re the best!

Just for the fun of it, let me conclude with a photo and email message from Yazaki-san!

Dear Jeff-san,
Nattawut-san, my young friend in Thailand, sent me this photo with Hiraga-san and Kritapas-san. It must be a great night for them in Paris with Hiraga-san!
Best regards,
Shirokazu Yazaki

I’ll have much more to say on this adventure with Yazaki-san’s custom Spec RSP-AZ9EX Real Sound Processors for my Vintage Altec 832A Corona’s, and until then, thanks for stopping by and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 8:19 am
Jun 132018

Ron has a way of finding nice vintage audio treasures, and as a very talented tube tech Ron enjoys the process of freshening them up so they can be heard in all their glory.

Ron brought along his latest project for the listening session with the First Watt SIT-3, the very interesting vintage Fisher SA-100 stereo power amplifier that he just finished freshening up with some new caps and such.

The Fisher SA-100 stereo power amplifier.

Ron knows I have a fondness for small EL84 based amplifiers, and has a knack for finding really nice examples of them, like the Fisher SA-100.

The Fisher SA-100 is a 25 watt per channel, 5AR4 tube rectified, 7189 power tube, stereo amplifier, as you can see in the tube complement diagram for the Fisher SA-100 above.

The 7189 is a ruggedized version of the EL84, with the main difference being that it is rated to operate in the 400 volt range instead of the EL84’s 300 volt range.

Ron really likes the Fisher SA-100 stereo amplifier, and knowing his good taste as a musician and audio enthusiast, I’m really looking forward to hearing it!

Fisher SA-100 stereo amplifier.

Stay tuned for some listening impressions of this beautiful little vintage Fisher SA-100!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 8:09 am
Jun 122018

Today’s exciting arrival is the First Watt SIT-3 stereo amplifier, which was designed by – and in the case of this particular SIT-3 amplifier – hand-built by Nelson Pass himself!

The First Watt SIT-3 stereo amplifier designed by Nelson Pass.

I consider Nelson’s First Watt amplifier designs to be an artistic expression of what is possible at the cutting edge of audio performance, and as such they are state-of-art minimalist circuits designed with the ultimate musical and sonic performance in mind.

Simplified SIT 3 topology schematic.

Nelson’s First Watt amplifiers also tend to be lower power designs, and in the case of the SIT-3 that means 10 watts into 16 Ohms (my vintage Altec loudspeaker collection) 18 watts into 8 Ohms (as with my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers), and 30 watts into 4 Ohms.

SIT stands for static induction transistor (i.e. a VFET), which is what the First Watt SIT-3 uses in its power stage, and Nelson says it has the character of a tube triode.

Static Induction Transistor

The SIT-3 is the 3rd iteration of Nelson’s First Watt SIT stereo amplifier design, thus the “SIT-3” designation, and it differs from the SIT-1 and SIT-2 in that the SIT-3 is operated in common drain mode, rather than common source mode like the SIT-1 and SIT-2.

Common source mode provided both voltage and current gain for the First Watt SIT-1 and SIT-2 amplifiers, but common drain mode in the SIT-3 provides only current gain, so Nelson utilizes an autoformer in the SIT-3 to boost voltage by 11dB.

Nelson says, “The SIT-3 has more power, more damping factor and less distortion than the
previous designs. It retains their desired second harmonic character with even fewer
higher order harmonic components … The SIT-3 has an organic quality that breathes more depth and
life into the music … This is one of those all-night, year-after-year pieces.”

As always, I’ll have a lot more to say about Nelson Pass’ First Watt SIT-3 stereo amplifier, and will be providing some first impressions before long, so stay tuned!

¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ 

Postscript 1: Yesterday my buddy Ron stopped by to listen to the new First Watt SIT-3 stereo power amplifier that had arrived from Nelson Pass, and we had a nice time listening to the rich, dimensional, nuanced, and natural sounding SIT-3.

First Watt SIT-3 (right) and vintage Fisher SA-100 stereo amplifier (left)

The SIT-3 was changing by the moment as we listened to it warming up and running in, and there’s still a lot of run-in that needs to occur, but suffice it to say that the not-quite fully-baked SIT-3 never sounded less than delicious and beguiling.

I’ll have a lot more to say about the SIT-3, but just as a word of advice, if you have an inkling that you would like to have a First Watt SIT-3 stereo amplifier of your very own, and have loudspeakers that can be driven with 18 watts or less, you may want to consider buying one of these quickly before they sell out, as there won’t be many made.

The First Watt SIT-3 is the first amplifier I’ve listened to in a long time that I thought could entice me away from my restored and hot-rodded vintage McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers – it’s really good, and it isn’t even completely run-in yet!

Much more to come about the First Watt SIT-3 in due time!

¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ 

Postscript 2: Well I’ve now got the First Watt SIT-3 properly installed into my Westminster Royale SE based system, and my vintage Mac MC30 monaural amplifiers are sitting forlornly off to the side of the room.

First Watt SIT-3 installed into the Westminster based system.

Nelson Pass’ First Watt SIT-3 is a ridiculously good amplifier, displaying both accomplished musicality and sonics.

I forgot to say in my last postscript that I put one of Mark Coles’ Sablon Audio Gran Corona power cords on the SIT-3 in place of the stock power cord, and as I’ve experienced with other Pass amplifiers, a really good power cord makes a huge difference in performance. If you’ve got a Pass or First Watt amp and are still using the stock power cord, you haven’t really heard what your amp is capable of yet, so you’ve got an adventure to look forward to!

I’ve been listening to the SIT-3 a lot with both the Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III and Carmen Mk II phono cartridges as I’m finishing up the review of the Carmen Mk II for Positive Feedback, and they are exquisite together!

I’ll have a lot more to say about the First Watt SIT-3, so stay tuned for more!

¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ 

Thanks for stopping by, and may tone be with you!

 Posted by at 9:17 am
Jun 102018

I am hoping to finish up writing my Positive Feedback review of the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge next week, with the reviews of the Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge and MMP3 Mk II phono preamp to follow in separate articles in due time.

I thought you would enjoy reading a little “sneak peek” from the review before it goes live at Positive Feedback (probably next weekend), so here you go – enjoy!


Peter Ledermann is the Artisan Smithy of Sound: The New Soundsmith Carmen Mk II Phonograph Cartridge!

By Jeff Day

I get emails from audio enthusiasts and music lovers around the world asking for recommendations of a relatively affordable phonograph cartridge that is warm, dimensional, musical, and has relatively high output so you don’t have to use an expensive step-up transformer with it to play music.

I have found that particular combination of traits in a phonograph cartridge to be a rather tall order, and as a result I really haven’t had as good an answer for those sort of inquiries as I would like.

So I thought I’d do some research on the topic in hopes of being able to find a phonograph cartridge with those qualities that merits a recommendation, and my research led me to Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith fame, whose original Carmen phonograph cartridge has been described as just such a music machine by Herb Reichert at Stereophile back in May of 2015 (you can read it HERE).

After explaining my phonograph cartridge quest to Positive Feedback Editor Dr. David Robinson, David put me in contact with Peter, whom I told basically what I’ve written above.

I asked Peter if he would be so kind as to make a recommendation of a Soundsmith cartridge with the desired traits that would work well with my 12-inch Thomas Schick and 12.5-inch Pete Riggle Audio Engineering Woody SPU tonearms, which are the primary tonearms I use on my Classic Turntable Company’s Classic 301 and Artisan Fidelity Thorens TD-124 Statement player systems, respectively.

Peter makes low, medium, and high compliance cartridge designs to complement various listeners’ tonearm needs, but for my Schick & Woody SPU tonearms Peter recommended both his new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II and Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridges as being good choices, being medium and low-compliance designs.

Peter said the Carmen Mk II (above) closely matches my criteria of a lush, dimensional, and musical presentation, with a high output of 2.12mV, so a step-up transformer is not necessary.

Peter describes the Zephyr Mk III (above) as having a more detailed presentation, with “… truly remarkable separation and sound stage imaging at a level not previously achievable in a modestly priced design …”, also with a high output of 2.4mV.

Peter has sent me both his new Carmen Mk II and new Zephyr Mk III, as well as his MMP3 Mk II phono preamplifier to listen to and write about.

I’ll start with the Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge in this article, and then I’ll describe the Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge and the MMP3 Mk II phono preamplifier (below) in subsequent articles.

Peter Ledermann is the Soundsmith

Before I delve into the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge, I’d like to tell you more about the fascinating smithy of sound, Peter Ledermann.

Peter opened Soundsmith as a repair center in 1969, at Audio Experts in White Plains, NY, and Peter has now been smithing sound for 47 years!

Since 1969, Peter has taught audio engineering and audio electronics service to students, has worked at RAM Audio in Danbury, CT (1973), was Director of Engineering for the Bozak Corporation in Norwalk, CT (1976), has worked at the IBM T.J. Watson research center think-tank (1980), and then in 1991 Peter left IBM to pursue Soundsmith full time.

After Peter established Soundsmith in 1969, Soundsmith evolved into a specialty repair and restoration center with a stellar reputation, servicing audio equipment from all over the world.

In fact, I plan to get my beloved vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier to Peter at some point in the future for a check-up & tune-up (and a needed volume pot rebuild), to ensure that I can continue to enjoy its musical charms for the rest of my days.

You can read more detailed bio information about Peter at the Soundsmith web site HERE and HERE, and I recommend reading both links for the additional background they provide.

More specific to this review, Peter has also been designing and building his own cartridges, and rebuilding all brands of cartridges, for more than 45 years now.

After I introduced Jeff’s Place readers to Peter’s new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II and Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridges, I got questions about Peter’s relationship to Bang & Olufsen (B&O) phonograph cartridges.

Well, it turns out that Soundsmith is the world center of expertise related to B&O phonograph cartridges and is licensed by B&O to manufacture their cartridge designs. If you are a B&O aficionado, or just want to learn more about Soundsmith’s B&O phonograph cartridges and services, you can read more about it HERE.

In addition to B&O and Soundsmith phonograph cartridges, Peter also offers phono preamplifiers (like the MMP3 Mk II I’ll be telling you about in a future article), various useful accessories, loudspeakers, Strain Gauge cartridge/preamplifier systems, and audio amplifiers, all which you can read more about at the links HERE.

Soundsmith Phonograph Cartridges

Peter currently offers eighteen different Soundsmith phonograph cartridge models that are specifically designed to complement various audio enthusiasts’ tastes and system needs. If you have a specific or unique application in mind, I recommend you contact Peter and ask for advice, just as I did.

Peter prefers fixed-coil phonograph cartridge designs to the more ubiquitous moving-coil designs, and he says fixed-coil designs have vast advantages over moving-coil designs in terms of lower internal moving mass, more robust suspension, and flexibility of output levels.

Peter’s Soundsmith phonograph cartridges are also unique in that they are hand-made in the USA, and your initial investment is protected because they are rebuildable multiple times, for 20% or less of the purchase price, depending on the model.

Peter says that the fixed-coil generator has at least a 5 times lower internal mass than a moving-coil generator, which results in much lower stored & reflected energy, and a higher natural resonant frequency / lower amplitude resonance.

In practical performance terms, what this means is that as a cartridge tracks the information in the record grooves, the generator moves up to an incredible 20,000 times a second, so the 5 times lower internal moving mass of the fixed-coil generator becomes significant, making it able to much more accurately track the encoded information, and giving up to 10 times better performance than a moving-coil cartridge is capable of in the same circumstances.

Peter says fixed-coil designs allow for a much more robust suspension than moving-coil designs, which means that the cartridge will have a greater chance of surviving “accidents” as well as being much more likely to stay in perfect internal alignment during long term use.

Specifically, Peter says, “This is because – unlike MC designs where the entire armature and coil assembly is tethered by a single wire, connected to a single point – moving iron designs allow a continuous (and difficult to distort or break) combinational suspension and damping system that is fully-bonded to the moving element. This dual-purpose suspension and damping system is bonded to 90% of the moving element at any tracking force and is not variable as is found in single wire pivot MC designs. This fully-bonded arrangement is not only hard to damage, it all but eliminates azimuth-rotation as a result of long term use – or even accidental abuse.”

Peter cites the third major advantage of his fixed-coil designs is that the output levels can be designed to suit any preamp without changing the voicing of the cartridge, which means that you can boost output level and eliminate the need for an expensive step-up transformer.

Two of my three phono preamplifiers require step-up transformers for low output moving-coil cartridges, so not having to worry about the expense of extra step-up’s is a big plus for me.

Peter says, “An important consideration of fixed coil designs is that the coil designs themselves can be changed (even to mono designs) without changing the moving mass of the system. This means that for a given model design the output levels can be specified to suit any preamp requirement, without changing any other specification of a developed cartridge model. In contrast with an MC design, the addition of many additional layers of wire windings can add substantially to the problems of high moving-mass.”

Peter has a more detailed description of the benefits of the fixed-coil designs’ lower moving mass, more robust suspension, and flexibility of output levels, that you can read at his website HERE.

The New Soundsmith Carmen Mk II Phonograph Cartridge

Peter says that he developed the new Carmen Mk II as an affordable ($1000 USD), high-performance design, with purity of tone, a slightly lush and ultra-smooth presentation, and a well-developed midrange, being its primary voicing considerations.

The Carmen Mk II is a fixed-coil design, with a stylus that is a true hyper-elliptical shape, the cantilever is aluminum alloy, output is a high 2.12mV, the tracking force is from 1.3 to 1.6 grams (standard medium-compliance, with high-compliance as a special-order option), and the cartridge is housed in a handmade ebony wood body.

The Carmen Mk II is also available as a dual-coil mono cartridge should you want to get your mono groove on. There is a 2-year warranty to the original owner, and the Carmen Mk II can be rebuilt for $199 USD when the time comes for refreshment.

More details on the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II are available HERE.

Review Systems

For this review of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge I used two different systems, in order to offer a broader perspective of its musical & sonic performance.

The first system (above photos) used for this review consists of restored vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre loudspeakers, Duelund DCA16GA speaker cables, a Leben CS-600 integrated amplifier, with Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnects connecting it to a Leben RS-30EQ phono preamplifier, which in turn connects to a Thomas Schick 12-inch tonearm mounted on an Artisan Fidelity Thorens TD124 Statement Long-Base turntable.

The second system (above photos) consists of Tannoy Westminster Royal SE loudspeakers with external Duelund CAST crossovers, Duelund DCA12GA tinned-copper speaker cables, vintage (and hot-rodded) McIntosh MC30 monaural amplifiers, Duelund DCA20GA tinned-copper interconnects, vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier, shielded Duelund DCA20GA tinned-copper interconnects from the MX110Z to bespoke Intact Audio nickel-core monaural step-up transformers, which connect to a Pete Riggle Audio Engineering 12.5-inch Woody SPU tonearm. The Woody SPU tonearm and a 12-inch Thomas Schick tonearm reside upon an Artisan Fidelity “Statement” dual tonearm plinth, which houses my Classic Turntable Company “Classic 301” (a very hot-rodded Garrard 301).

Listening Evaluations

Before I delve into my listening impressions with the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II on the above two systems, allow me to provide you an overview of what I listen for when I evaluate component performance during reviews, to help give you some additional context.

I find it useful to partition my perceptions into two broad (and somewhat overlapping) categories while listening: musicality and sonics.

The musicality aspect of a component’s performance is related to its performance on the basic elements of music. I listen for how close a component comes to presenting recorded music realistically compared to live music, in terms of timbral realism (the unique ‘voices’ of instruments), the resolution of tone color (the ability to distinctly hear the chordal variations resulting from adding additional pitches to three tone triads), melody (the tune you ‘whistle while you work’), harmony (treble & bass accompaniments to the melody), rhythm (the steady beat that determines the tempo), tempo (speed), dynamics (variations in loudness), and loudness (the ability to play naturally at live-like levels appropriate to a piece of music).

The second category of performance I listen for is sonics, which describes the performance of a component in reproducing the non-musical artifacts of the recording process, like transparency (the ability to ‘see’ into the recording), resolution (the amount of detail in the audio signal that is audibly presented), soundstage (the ability to discern the three dimensions of the recorded space in width, height and depth), the soundspace (the ability to convey the acoustic sense of ‘space’ of the recording venue), and imaging (the ability to localize instruments & musicians on the soundstage).

Finally, I listen for the ability of a component to integrate musicality & sonics in a way that maximizes an emotional response during the listening experience.

Regarding emotional response, researchers who study the neurobiology of music have found that certain elements of musicality and sonics reproduction stimulates emotional responses in the brain.

Their research suggests that a home music system that can play at realistic loudness levels, is dynamically realistic, and can realistically portray timbral textures, tempo, and beat, will be more emotionally engaging and musically satisfying than a home music system that can’t do those things as well.

Also, researchers have found that the brain connection in the intraparietal sulcus does processing for both visuospatial processing and transposing melodies, which may help explain why some audiophiles get additional pleasure when that brain region is stimulated by processing recording artifacts containing visuospatial information, like imaging, soundstaging, and the sense of recorded space, which may co-opt the intraparietal sulcus in a way that increases the level of emotion experienced from recorded music.

If you are interested in learning more about how the neurobiology of musicality & sonics influences the music listening experience, search on “neurobiology” on my blog and read the various associated posts.

In simple experiential terms, I have found that if a given component overtly emphasizes sonic performance more than musical performance, it grows tiring for me to listen to before long, as it distracts me from the enjoyment of the music itself.

I have also found that if a given component overtly emphasizes musical performance more than sonic performance, I’ll probably love the way it plays music, but over time I may miss hearing some of the finer recording cues that can add to the overall enjoyment of the recorded music listening experience.

I suppose that every hifi system and listener will be a little different in what they need and prefer to achieve for their perfect balance of musicality & sonics.

Listening Impressions


Ok, that’s it for now! I’ll post a link to the Positive Feedback review when it goes live on the site.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 5:22 am
Jun 062018

After discussing this topic in a couple comments with capacitor guru Daryl Stahler, I wanted to follow up with a proper post to give this exciting news more visibility in case you didn’t read it in the comments.

A quad of vintage Sprague Bumblebee capacitors, with an Arizona Capacitor for scale.

To reiterate what I said in my comment: I want to let you know some more interesting background on what Daryl is talking about with his hint about Bumblebee capacitors in his comment (you might remember Daryl as being one of the principal designers at Arizona Capacitors).

Daryl is no longer with AZ Cap’s and is on to further capacitor adventures, of which I can only tell you a little about at the moment (more coming when Daryl gives me the ok).

To quote Daryl, “I can tell you where to get the reversed engineered Bumblebee’s – Fender! I personally reversed engineered their current offerings from the vintage parts. I worked with their engineering group to produce the line they now have. They are produced using the same dielectrics, impregnants, and construction as the originals. I get nothing from this, as Fender is a Arizona Capacitor customer, but just wanted to let you know as an FYI.”

I find it very exciting to hear that the famous and historically important Bumblebee capacitor is available again!

That sound you hear is cheers all around the world from musicians and vintage audio nuts at this news!

Daryl has some other exciting capacitor news to share when he is able to disclose the details, and when that time comes I’ll interview Daryl and tell you all about it – stay tuned!

Thanks to Daryl for checking in and sharing the news!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 2:07 pm
Jun 062018

I had a really nice visit to England and Wales over the last couple of weeks, and just got back.

If you were wondering why I was slower than usual answering comments and emails, that’s why, and I still might be a little slow catching up on answering email and messages as I’m really jet-lagged! If I miss answering a message, ping me again to remind me!

If you read my Facebook post about my trip, this is the same thing but with photos added. Honestly, I’m not trying to bore you all with my travel photos (and there’s actually a few audio and music things along the way that I talk about), but this post gives me a record to look back on of my travels, so it is a bit self serving as well.

The British Museum.

The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum.

I stayed a few days in London (Kensington), visiting the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abby (the Poet’s Corner in the Abby is a must see!), the Tower of London, the British Museum, St. Peter’s, saw The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre (followed by some very tasty Vesper Martinis), etc.

The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre was a lot of fun!

Phantom of the Opera!

Classic “Vesper” James Bond martinis before & after the opera was a real treat!

The real standout in London wasn’t seeing the Crown Jewels, which was cool, but rather dinner and a great bottle of Napa Valley wine at ffiona’s in Kensington! Definitely check out ffiona’s if you are in Kensington, but be sure to get reservations well in advance as ffiona’s is rather small with only a few tables. Prices are reasonable. Be sure to tell ffiona that Jeff sent you!

Ffiona’s in Kensington. A little slice of heaven on earth!

Then we took the train to Bath, where we visited the Royal Crescent, had cream tea at The Pump Rooms, visited the Jane Austen Centre, the Fashion Museum, did a cask beer tasting in an ancient pub (thanks Liz!), visited the Roman baths, and listened to some terrific live jazz.

The Royal Crescent.

The Royal Crescent.

The Roman baths in Bath, England.

The Fashion Museum documents clothing styles of women, men, and children through British history.

Cask beer tasting!

Gavin Lazarus (guitar) and friends playing some great jazz standards in Bath. If you get a chance to hear Gavin don’t miss it, he’s terrific!

We next went to the ruins of Glastonbury Abby (rumored to be the burial place of King Arthur) and Wells cathedral …

… made a short stop in the village of Lacock for refreshments and a short walk about …

… then went to Avebury to see the prehistoric stone circle (think Stonehenge), and had a picnic in the Tithe Barn at Avebury.

We visited the gaudy Blenheim Palace where I was able to pick up a Barbour gilet in the gift shop that I’ve been wanting forever at about a third the cost they go for in the States!

Blenheim Palace. Hitler wanted to make it his own after he conquered England. Didn’t work out that way did it!

They were filming a movie while we were there (a new version of Around the World in 80 Days, I think), which was interesting, and then we set off for Stow on the Wold.

Visited the classy old Stanway House in Cheltenham that was so very tasteful in every way.

The Stanway House, a classy example of a Jacobean manor house.

We saw the working flour mill there, the gravity fountain, and you’ll never guess what happened when I pushed a button on the wall! 

The old flour mill is still a working mill!

Inside the mill.

Before pushing the button …

… after pushing the button the fountain erupted!

We had a nice walk on a public footpath in the Cotswold countryside …

The Cotswolds walk was beautiful!

The Cotswolds footpath view.

Beauty everywhere!


…  and had some local Cotswold musicians play some music for us after dinner.

The banjo player reminded me of my buddy John April, an excellent musician here in Washington State who can play both the banjo and guitar superbly!

John, you would have fit right in with these musicians in the Cotswolds!

John’s favorite banjo joke: “Do you know what you call a thousand banjos at the bottom of a lake? A start!” Ha, ha!

The joke can also be used interchangeably for accordions, like my older brother Bob used to play. 😉

We visited Stokesay castle and watched a bit of knights in armor fun, and had a mead tasting experience (yawn- not my favorite beverage!).

Stokesay Castle.

The fate of knights and ladies of the time ends here.

We then went to Wales and stopped at Llangollen, where I found a chocolate Harris Tweed sport coat like I’ve been wanting for ages.

Then we went to Conwy and met Gareth at his sheep farm, which was a very memorable experience (see my earlier post), and quite illuminating about the negative impact Brexit is having on the farmers in the UK. Gareth could lose up to 60% of his farming income when Brexit goes into effect.

Gareth at his sheep farm giving us a talk about farming in the UK. As a subtitle: never buy a used car from a farmer (note the dented roof)!

A sheep herding demo with Gareth’s Border Collies … no, no … the BC’s are out of the photo getting ready to take a run at the sheep!

Gareth getting ready to shear a sheep!

Shearing in process …

A happy sheared sheep … well sort of happy!

The sheared wool off the sheep in one piece!

Gareth’s daughter makes lovely wool hearts by hand to sell to help pay for her upcoming college education! I picked up a wool heart for my Mom, who has Welsh genetic heritage!

Wool hearts!

We then visited Caernarfon castle, and went to the Llanberris slate museum where we watched a Jon Jo slate splitting demonstration.

The Welsh Slate Museum.

If you think your job is tough, try slate mining for a while, and you may think you’ve got it pretty good after all!

Slate splitting demonstration.

Who would have thought an old slate mine could be so photographable!

Slate mining.

Slate mining and processing.

In the workers quarters at the slate mine we came across a nice old Garrard integrated stereo system – beautiful!

Workers quarters at the slate mine.

A lovely old Garrard stereo unit in the workers quarters – I’d love to have that one in my audio collection!

Next we visited Bodnant Gardens, which was truly spectacular.

Laburnum Arch

The Laburnum Arch was in full bloom and was really breathtaking.

Then it was off to the Lake District for a little relaxing boat ride and some down time.

The Lake District.

The Lake District.

The Lake District.

Along the way we visited the Roman Army Museum and Hadrian’s Wall at Vindolanda and Cawfields.

The Vindolanda Roman archeological site of the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.

Part of the Roman Vindolanda archeological site – a must see!

The museum at Vindolanda was really impressive, and I would have liked to spend more time there. Below is a photo of the exhibit of Roman boxing gloves at the museum, of which I snapped a photo so I could send it to my friend Santos, an excellent boxer, as I knew he’d find it interesting.

Boxing gloves in Roman times.

Hadrian’s Wall.

Next up was York where we walked the ancient city walls with the Minster bells sounding. We visited The Shambles “Europe’s best preserved medieval street”, saint Margaret Clithero’s house, and Cliffords Tower.

I was poisoned by the most vile martini I’ve ever experienced at an Indian dinner in York, and courtesy of Montezuma I missed the next morning’s tour to York Minster, but Betty’s tea room put a smile back on my face due to a really nice lunch and cream tea later in the day.

York Minster

Lunch at Betty’s in York.

Cream tea at Betty’s in York.

Also had dinner at Guy Fawkes Inn, which was a lot of fun (a local told me Guy Fawkes was the only person to go to the House of Lords with honest intent to serve the people).

Guy Fawkes Inn for dinner and a drink.

Also in York I stopped in for a quick visit to say “Hi!” to the guys at Sound Organisation, where Bob Priestly was kind enough to show me around the store to view their fine selection of audio gear: Linn, Naim, B&W, and other audio goodies abounded!

Bob Priestley at Sound Organisation in York.

If you get a chance stop in and say “Hi!” to Bob and the other cool guys at Sound Organisation!

Sound Organisation in York.

Artwork featuring the nice people at Sound Organisation in York – a fun group!

Then it was back to London for a few days for more fun and games, and then the long trip home. Still recovering from jet lag.

Thames boat ride to the Tower of London.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

I’m listening to jazz on the vintage Altec 832A Corona’s right now (I love them more every minute!), and am enjoying a vacation from my vacation!

A trip to England wouldn’t be complete without a photo of fish & chips, so here you go – all’s good! Cheers!

There will be lots more cool audio stuff to come once I get back in sync with my time zone!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Jun 062018

I’m a bit jet-lagged after just getting back from England after a couple of weeks of traveling, so if I am rambling and a bit non-sensical in this post please forgive me, and hopefully I’ll make more sense in a few days. 😉

The Royal Crescent in Bath, England.

Saracen’s Head, “Bath’s oldest pub.”

Anyways, my buddy Doc Leo just bought a nice example of a vintage Eico HF-81 integrated amplifier for the princely sum of $400 USD, and asked me if I’d like to give it a listen – absolutely I would, Leo!

Vintage Eico HF-81 EL84 integrated amplifier sitting atop one of my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers.

Close-up of the front of the vintage Eico HF-81 EL84 integrated amplifier.

Most of you know I’m a big fan of EL84 based integrated amplifiers, so a chance to give Leo’s classic Eico HF-81 a listen on my vintage Altec 832A Corona loudspeakers was right up my audio alley!

Close-up of the back of the vintage Eico HF-81 integrated amplifier.

I know a lot of you are interested in vintage gear, just as I am, so I thought you might find some listening impressions of the vintage Eico HF-81 to be fun.

Bottom view of the Eico HF-81.

Eico HF-81 connections diagram.

Eico HF-81 tube complement diagram.

I don’t know if anything capacitor or resistor-wise has been updated in this vintage Eico HF-81, so that remains an open question at the moment, but still … what fun!

Vintage Eico & Altec!

I hope to give this a try in the next few days, so stay tuned for more vintage audio action!

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!

 Posted by at 8:45 am