Apr 252018

There was a knock at the door just a moment ago, and it was the man in the Big Brown Truck dropping off a package from Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith fame.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I get quite a few emails asking for a recommendation 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.

I haven’t really known how to answer those sort of inquiries, but I thought I’d do a bit of research on the topic, which led me to Peter Ledermann and his Soundsmith phonograph cartridges.

I asked Peter if he could recommend a cartridge from his line that matched the above criteria, and in fact Peter recommended two, the new Zephyr MK III ($1500 USD), and the new Carmen Mk II ($1000 USD), neither of which have been reviewed in their latest versions.

The new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III (left) and Carmen Mk II (right) phonograph cartridges from Peter Ledermann.

First let me say that I wish my photos did justice to these cartridges, as they’re beautifully made and exude quality, which is a little hard to tell from my accompanying photos.

The new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge from Peter Ledermann.

A little bit of information about the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge from the Soundsmith web site:

“The stylus used is a large part of what makes it special; an ultra-low mass occlusion free nude diamond cut and polished into a true hyper-elliptical shape. The combination of low tip mass and theFixed Coil design gives the Carmen a tremendous resolution advantage over MC designs selling for more than twice the price. Housed in a handmade solid Ebony case, the Carmen delivers.”


  • Cartridge Type – Fixed Coil
  • Available As Dual Coil Mono
  • Stylus: Nude Elliptical, 0.120mm SQ
  • Radius of curvature: 6 x 17 μm
  • Cantilever: Aluminum Alloy
  • Recommended tracking force: 1.3 – 1.6 gm (standard medium Compliance); 1.0 – 1.2 grams for special order High Compliance
  • Effective tip mass: 0.35 mg
  • Compliance: 28 μm/mN (high), 22 μm/mN (medium)
  • Frequency response: 20-20,000 Hz ± 2.5 dB
  • Channel separation (stereo only): 1000 Hz >26 dB, 50-15,000 >20 dB
  • Channel difference: <1.6 dB (Stereo), <1.0 dB (Mono)
  • Output voltage: 2.12 mV
  • Cartridge weight: 6.8 grams
  • Stylus to Mounting Hole Offset: ≈ 10mm (0.4″)
  • Loading: ≥ 47 kΩ

The new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III from Peter Ledermann.

A little bit of information about the new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge from the Soundsmith web site:

“It features a newly developed aluminum alloy – the same one we are now using in the Paua MKII, just released. This new metal alloy has unique dualistic properties, providing stiffness in the ranges required as well as damping exactly where its needed – and by the proper amount – in the most critical parts of the sonic spectrum. The result  is a cartridge that will slam your Rock and Roll while providing a new level of linearity and clarity for the most complex classical and jazz passages.

Attached to our new cantilever material is a tiny new super low mass “High Profile” Contact Line diamond we have developed for the new Zephyr MKIII. This stylus traces more of the groove walls than a standard contact line, but avoids some of the alignment pitfalls that can occur with a high profile contact line design, allowing more azimuth alignment forgiveness than is normally possible with such designs.

These improvements are paired with technology borrowed from our higher end line;  “Trickle Down” technology from a unique Dynamic Energy Management System  (DEMS) developed by Soundsmith that moves the damped energy and propagates it properly within the cartridge body. This is a similar system we employ in the Soundsmith’s well received and reviewed high end Sussurro Cartridge.

The new Zephyr MKIII is capable of truly remarkable separation and sound stage imaging at a level not previously achievable in a modestly priced design. The composite body and unique DEMS design work in tandem to contribute to the Zephyr MkIII’s ability to produce high-end performance from a moderately priced cartridge. Be prepared to sit back and realize … you may have never really  heard your record collection before.”


  • Cartridge Type – Fixed Coil
  • Stylus Type – Contact Line
  • Output – High
  • Available As Dual Coil Mono
  • Stylus: Ultra Low Mass Nude High-Profile Contact Line
  • Radius of curvature: 6 x 17 μm
  • Cantilever: New Soundsmith Aluminum Alloy
  • Recommended Tracking force: 1.8 to 2.2 grams
  • Effective tip mass: 0.28 mg
  • Compliance: 10μm/mN (low compliance)
  • Frequency response: 15-45,000 Hz ± 2.0 dB
  • Channel Separation (stereo only): 1000 Hz >28 dB, 50-15,000 >25 dB
  • Channel difference: <1.0 dB (Stereo), <0.5 dB (Dual Mono operation- w/optimal VTF setting)
  • Output voltage: 2.4 mV
  • Cartridge weight: 10.27 grams
  • Stylus to Mounting Hole Offset: ≈ 10mm (0.4″)
  • Loading: ≥ 47 kΩ

Soundsmith MMP3 Phono Preamp from Peter Ledermann.

Peter also sent along his entry level Soundsmith MMP3 phono preamplifier for me to try, and I’ll look forward to comparing it to my Leben RS-30EQ phono pre and the phono pre in my vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier.

Soundsmith MMP3 Phono Preamp from Peter Ledermann – end view.

Soundsmith MMP3 Phono Preamp from Peter Ledermann – connection view.

Here’s what Peter’s web site says about the Soundsmith MMP3 Phono Preamp:

“An upgrade in quality does not have to deplete your wallet. The Soundsmith MMP & MCP preamps are revolutionary designs for their price – and the comments we get at each hi-fi show prove it. These preamps are what we use to demo our cartridges at all our shows even our high end cartridge designs –

Each hand-made preamp circuit is housed in a high quality aluminum case, powered by an external DC power supply, with easy to set up instructions. All amplifiers have extremely accurate RIAA equalization response.


  • Model #: MMP3
  • Type: moving magnet
  • Input/load: 47k/100pF
  • Gain: 43dB standard ** or 34dB special order
  • Noise: -93 dB down
  • Features: ultra low noise, constructed with very high end audio grade components
  • Price: $799.95 + shipping

I will have a lot more to say about these in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for some real-time impressions as I work towards the review for Positive Feedback.

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

 Posted by at 5:30 pm

  9 Responses to “Today’s Fresh Catch: Soundsmith!”

  1. Aren’t these cartridges related to the bang & olufsen cartridges?
    When I invented scratching back in 74 (I was born in 68), I broke a few of those.
    Got in a bit of trouble for that.


    • Hi Jesper,

      Soundsmith is authorized to build a line of cartridges under license by Bang and Olufsen that can serve as replacements for B&O cartridges, and also offers a rebuild service for certain original B&O cartridges, which you can read about HERE and HERE, respectively.

      These are different cartridges than the Soundsmith product line of cartridges that you can see HERE, which included those featured in this post.

      I hope that helps!

      Kind regards,


  2. Hi Jeff,

    I know the frustration music lovers have with the high cost of phono cartridges.

    Of the low cost cartridges I have experienced, the only one I can recommend is the Denon DL103; and I do heartily recommend the DL103. I recently purchased a new DL103 to replace an older one with many hours on it. I purchased the new one through ebay in a Buy It Now purchase for $220 which included shipping. The seller was Innovee Tech, of Long Island City, New York.

    I rely upon the Denon DL103 because it is musical and affordable. A cartridge is like a bottle of whisky; the user will use it up or break it. There is much to be said for a low cost bottle of whisky that tastes nice. We probably should renew our cartridges more often than we do. A long succession of Denon DL103 cartridges has admirably met my needs for many years.

    Of course, to use a Denon DL103, one has to have a step up transformer or a high gain phono stage. I recommend a high gain phono stage. Every step up transformer has its own voice; and getting rid of the hum can be problematic. I think most users would be happy with an upgraded version of the Jolida JD9 phono stage, which will play any moving magnet or moving coil cartridge under the sun. The upgrades to my JD9 include improved op amps (plug in), Obligato coupling caps, my favorite 12AX7 tube or ECC83 tube, which is the old stock Yugoslav EI tube, and self adhesive damping panels added to the chassis. I am very happy with this phono stage. List price of a JD9 is around $700 USD. There is a used Jolida JD9 for sale on hifishark right now for $255 USD. This won’t last long. There is lots of info on line on JD9 upgrades.

    One can buy one moving magnet cartridge after the other looking for that good sounding one, in the process spending many dollars.

    Jeff, for readers who are looking to keep cartridge expenses down, I suggest an alternative: 1) Buy a high gain phono stage ( a one time expense). 2) Buy a $220 Denon DL103. 3) Enjoy the music. With its nice sounding spherical stylus, the Denon DL103 will not extract every annoying detail from of your records; but it will get most of the good details and will make real music (especially with one of my Woody Universal Tonearms).

    That is my nickel’s worth.

    Best Regards,


    • Hi Pete.
      I love my Zu DL-103 cartridge something fierce, but the SPU-GT I also have trounces it in a lot of ways that have quickly become requirements for my listening needs. At the same time, I’ve found myself slowly cutting out as many stages as possible from the cartridge to the preamp’s output stage, which has me currently listening with preamps that have built-in phone stages- the McIntosh C20 and the wickedly good Leben RS-28CX. Neither of those preamps have high output stages, of course, but what they do have, especially the Leben, is exceptional.

      However, I also agree with you that cartridges should be replaced/rebuilt more often than we’d like to admit. The way Lederman has designed his products around not just output but also serviceability has put his company on my wishlist for quite some time. For example, the rebuild on that Zephyr MKIII just so happens to be the price of a new Denon.

      Jeff just so happens to have both an Ortofon SPU and a Denon DL-103. I’m mighty curious how the Soundsmiths will sit with those two legendary cartridges if Jeff decides to use them for comparison.

      And, uh, as a fellow 846A devotee, how’s that new new crossover design coming along? 😉


      • Hi Grant and Pete,

        The Ortofon SPU’s and the Denon DL-103 are definitely two classic benchmarks of performance for phonograph cartridges, that’s for sure.

        Personally I prefer the SPU’s over the DL-103, but the DL-103 is a very nice cartridge too. To get the most from the Denon design one really has to replace the cartridge shell like Audio MusiKraft or Zu does. I really like the Audio MusiKraft approach with the tunable cartridge shell, and the stock version doesn’t even come close to the performance of the hot-rodded AM version. Haven’t heard the Zu.

        It will be fun comparing the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II and Zephyr Mk III to those classic benchmarks. I too like the idea that Peter Ledermann rebuilds his cartridges so affordably, and I suspect that most of us don’t keep our cartridges up the way we should, like we do with vacuum tubes, for example. When you figure in the cost of future rebuilds the Soundsmith cartridges become as inexpensive to own as the Denon’s, so if they outperform the Denon, well you know what that means!

        The Altec home loudspeakers like the Valencia’s and Corona’s are really something special, and I’ll be interested to find out how they respond to the Hiraga-style crossovers that Pete is building. I haven’t heard anything from Pete on his crossovers for a long time, so I don’t know if he’s still planning on doing those or not, but I hope so, as there’s lots of guys out there interested in a quality crossover for vintage Altec home-style loudspeakers.

        I’m hoping to get the Carmen Mk II mounted and adjusted either today or tomorrow, so I should have some preliminary observations shortly.

        Kind regards,


        • Hi Grant and Pete,

          I asked Peter Ledermann about how often cartridges should be rebuilt and here’s what he told me:

          Peter told me that if you adjust anti-skate in the method of Frank Schroder, so that you get even stylus & record wear, the rule of thumb is that you can expect to get about 500 hours with a conical stylus, 700-800 hours with an elliptical stylus, and with a line contact stylus about a 1000 hours.

          Peter also told me that the risk of not rebuilding cartridges in a timely fashion, is that if you wait until you hear a problem “… you have damaged your records.”

          I guess it’s a little bit like not doing maintenance on your car’s engine until you hear a problem with it, which is of course too late to avoid damage and an expensive repair bill.

          Kind regards,


    • Hi Pete,

      I know a number of people who use only conical (spherical) needle cartridges like:
      Dennon 103, EMT TSD15 SPH or Ortopon SPU.
      They play all their stereo vinyl collection with these cartridges.
      I have two EMT TSD15 cartridges. One SFL (super fine line) and other one SPH (spherical).
      I prefer reach tone and dynamic of SPH. But this cartridge doesn’t suite to all kind of vinyl. Even some records from 70x sound better with SFL (SPH doesn’t track this records as good as SFL). Also SFL has much more detailed upper mid. IMHO violin records (even from 60x) sound better with SFL.
      I agree with you about modern cartrige prices. I afraid the day when I have to fix my EMT cartriges.


  3. In reading over those specs, it looks like the Zephyr, rather than the Carmen, will be better served by a higher-mass tonearm like the Schick. Although there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule with medium-to-low compliance cartridges and tonearm mass, a really high compliance/light VTF pickup like the Carmen may not be showing at its best with your particular setup (a very nice setup, I hasten to add!).

    I will also say that I’ve found the step-up the preferable route to boosting low voltage signals over a higher-gain phono stage, particularly tubed phono stage. An SUT that is suited impedance-gain-wise to the cartridge can give such a lovely sound to the cartridge!

    • Hi Trey,

      I went with Peter Ledermann’s recommendation that both the Carmen & Zephyr phono cartridges would work well with my tonearms, and that appears to be the case.

      As far as the eternal debate on SUT’s and high-gain phono stages, it’s a moot point with the Carmen & Zephyr phono cartridges, which because of their relatively high output don’t need either.

      Kind regards,


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