I always get excited when a new hifi component arrives to write about, as it’s an adventure in music & sound that I never seem to get weary of.
I decided that I should mount the Carmen Mk II on my Classic 301 turntable first, and give it a listen in my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE & vintage McIntosh system.
I mounted the Carmen Mk II on the Thomas Schick tonearm that I usually run my Ortofon SPU Mono CG 25 Di MkII mono phono cartridge on. That makes it really handy to compare the Carmen Mk II to my usual Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge mounted on the Woody SPU tonearm.
I mounted the Carmen Mk II on the headshell with my favorite Art of Tone DIY headshell leads, got it aligned correctly, set the azimuth, and dialed in the tracking force to a touch less than 1.6 grams.
I followed Peter Ledermann’s advice on setting the cartridge anti-skate, which you can watch the two videos about HERE.
Peter’s method for setting anti-skate was new to me, so I was eager to give it a try, and it also happens to be the preferred method of tonearm guru Frank Schröder.
First up for a little listening was Gillian Welch’s & David Rawlings’ The Harrow & The Harvest, which I continue to listen to a lot lately. Love this album!
It’s a simple acoustic album with two guitars and two vocals that is well recorded, which makes it a great reference for me to get an idea of what a new components is doing.
I immediately liked what I was hearing from the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phono cartridge on The Harrow & The Harvest.
Peter’s cartridge recommendation of the Carmen Mk II plays well to my personal preferences, being rich, naturally warm, musical, and presenting the timbre of Gillian’s and David’s instruments with a lot of textural realism and gorgeous tone.
I was impressed with the Carmen Mk II’s relaxed transparency, which provided additional musical perspective into what Gillian & David were doing on their guitars, while still sounding very natural.
The portrayal of tempo and melody lines was realistic as well, giving tempos the sense of speed they should have, and melodies the dynamic expression they should have, adding to the emotional impact of the music.
Another album I never seem to get tired of is Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals’ Lifeline.
Lifeline is a really fun rock & roll album, and it’s a great measure of beat and percussive impact of a component. This is one of those albums that make you want to jump up and start dancing to the music.
The Carmen Mk II sounds naturally warm, musical, and inviting on Lifeline, which as you know is right up my musical alley!
My first impressions of the Carmen Mk II are brief and at a very high-level with only two album’s worth of listening, but I’ll continue to drill down into the details of its sonic and musical performance as I get more listening time in.
With its output voltage of 2.12 mV, the Carmen Mk II easily drives my vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier to realistic musical volume levels. With the volume pot hovering about the 9:30-10:00 position in normal listening, so there’s lots of room to go if you want to rock out with Nirvana.
Overall, I have very positive first impressions of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II in my system, and I like the way it plays music.
I need to do some further adjusting along with a little fine tuning to make sure I’ve got it completely dialed in, and then listen to a variety of different kinds of music to get a handle on its performance in a more detailed fashion.
I’ll also offer some impressions of the Carmen Mk II relative to my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge mounted on the Woody SPU tonearm as I get some more listening time in.
Ok, we’re off to a good start with the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II, and you can check back for updates, as I’ll offer further impressions as I do some more listening to other albums.
As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!