I really like having a couple of different hifi systems to try components in, as each different system and room combination gives somewhat different results, which helps to provide additional insights to a component’s musical & sonic performance across different contexts.
Take, for example, my first impressions of the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono preamp combined with the new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phono cartridge that I wrote about in my Thorens TD124 / Leben CS600 integrated amplifier / vintage Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre system (system details HERE).
I found the Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phono cartridge to be a match made in heaven musically & sonically with my usual Leben RS-30EQ valve phono stage doing duties, and the Zephyr Mk III provided the best analog performance I have ever heard from my A5-based system.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the cold out-of-the-box and solid-state Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage was very nearly the match for the Leben RS-30EQ, and I am pleased to report that the MMP3 Mk II has continued to improve in musicality & sonics as it warmed up for a couple of days (more details to come about that).
Next, I wanted to try the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage with the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge that I have mounted on my CTC Classic “Garrard” 301 (below) in my Tannoy Westminster Royal SE based audio system (mostly current system details HERE).
The new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridge with its 2.12 mV output voltage means it doesn’t need a step-up transformer like my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge does when used with my vintage McIntosh MX110Z tuner-preamplifier, which is nice.
I’ve always had the jones for Rickie Lee’s Pop Pop album, with its dreamy all-acoustic renditions of old jazz standards, so I thought I’d give it a listen to refamiliarize myself with the Carmen Mk II before I placed the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II into the system in lieu of my vintage McIntosh MX110Z’s valve phono stage.
I’ll tell you what, these Soundsmith high-output, fixed-coil, moving-iron phonograph cartridges are superbly musical, and the Carmen Mk II didn’t disappoint on Pop Pop.
The Carmen Mk II sounds naturally warm, articulate, timbrally real, with an excellent portrayal of beat & melody, and importantly for Pop Pop, the Carmen Mk II tracks Rickie’s big vocal dynamics with ease, which can “upset” some phono cartridges.
Sonically, the Carmen Mk II gives a big relaxed soundstage with lots of space and excellent imaging, along with a very natural sounding level of resolution and inner-detail.
The Carmen Mk II is the kind of cartridge I really like, displaying superb natural sounding musicality as well as excellent sonics, which makes for a particularly emotionally gratifying listening session with Pop Pop.
Compared to the Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge that I have mounted on my Woody SPU tonearm, that I have voiced my system around, the Carmen Mk II actually can go toe-to-toe with the SPU musically & sonically on Pop Pop.
There’s a similar level of natural warmth, timbral realism, prowess with beat, melody, and dynamics, with both of these cartridges, making the music fun to listen to and emotional involving.
It’s not often I can drop in a phonograph cartridge and have that level of relative musical parity happen, so count me as impressed that the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II at $1000 USD can be as musically compelling as my Ortofon SPU (~$1073 USD) plus my bespoke Intact Audio nickel core SUT (~$2500 USD) combination, for less than one third the price – that’s value!
These are very preliminary impressions at this point, of course, but it bodes very well for the Carmen Mk II that it performs in the same league as my SPU + SUT combo.
I’ll report in much more detail about the Carmen Mk II in musical & sonics terms for the final Positive Feedback review, after I get a bigger baseline of LP listening in.
To try the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono preamp in my Westminster based system, I plugged it into my vintage MX110Z tuner-preamplifier’s auxiliary line-level input, using a Belden 8402 microphone cable interconnect for connection duties.
The Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono preamplifier going through the Aux input of my MX110Z in my Westminster-based system, did pretty much the same thing as it did when replacing the Leben RS-30EQ phono preamp in my Altec A5 Voice of the Theatre system, that is sound very musically & sonically compelling.
Compared to the vintage vacuum tube phono stage of the McIntosh MX110Z, the solid-state Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II fared well, having a naturally warm & rich presentation that was superbly musical.
The most noticeable difference was that the MX110Z’s phono stage threw a wider soundstage, and had just a touch more vacuum tube richness.
The Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage is right up there musically & sonically with both the Leben RS-30EQ and McIntosh MX110Z phono stages, which for me is high praise indeed.
Now if you have a vintage McIntosh MX110Z or a new Leben RS-30EQ phono stage, you wouldn’t benefit from replacing them with the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage, as they’re all at similar levels of phono prowess, even though they differ in their particular musical & sonic attributes.
However, if you don’t have a phono preamplifier yet, and you want one that is high-performance at a relatively modest price, that can compete with excellent vacuum tube phono stages, I would steer you towards the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage.
I think you’ll be impressed with the level of musicality & sonic performance of the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage, just as I am, so give one a listen if you get a chance.
So my first impressions of the Soundsmith MMP3 Mk II phono stage are very positive, and as I spend more time listening to it I’ll characterize its performance musically & sonically in greater detail for you in the full review for Positive Feedback.
As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the tone be with you!