May 262018

The new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge on the Artisan Fidelity Thorens TD124 turntable.

As I’ve reported earlier, I found the Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phono cartridge (above) to be a match made in heaven musically & sonically in my vintage Altec A5-based system, so I’ve been very eager to hear what the new Zephyr Mk III can do on my CTC Classic 301 turntable in my Westminster-based system (details HERE).

If you’ve been reading along on my Soundsmith posts, you know I was impressed with the new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II in my Westminster-based system, where it performed at a musical & sonic level that was very comparable to what I am getting from my Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge in combination with my bespoke Intact Audio nickel core SUT, for less than one third the price.

The new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II playing Rickie Lee Jones “Pop Pop” LP.

The new Soundsmith Carmen Mk II sells for $1000 USD, so I was very curious as to what the new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III that sells for $1500 USD would perform like on the CTC Classic 301 in my Westminster-based system.

The new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge on the CTC Classic 301.

After removing the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II from my CTC Classic 301 turntable, I mounted the Zephyr Mk III and dialed in its settings.

Rickie Lee Jones’ Pop Pop 2 LP set.

I used the same Rickie Lee Jones Pop Pop LP set for the first listen of the new Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge on the CTC Classic 301 turntable that I used for my last post about the Carmen Mk II phono cartridge on the CTC Classic 301.

The Zephyr Mk III has the same sort of rich, smooth, timbrally realistic, naturally dynamic presentation of the Carmen Mk II, which really allowed me to relax into and enjoy the music flowing over me.

The Zephyr Mk III sounds more resolving, nuanced, and intimate on Pop Pop than did the Carmen Mk II, while offering up a wider & deeper soundstage, more resolved images on the soundstage, as well as a more voluminous sense of space of the recorded acoustic.

On the flip side, with the Zephyr Mk III there was slightly more emphasis of LP surface noise on Pop Pop than with the Carmen Mk II.

Cowboy Junkies, The Trinity Session.

I put another record on with gorgeous female vocals, the Cowboy Junkies’ The Trinity Session, featuring Margo Timmins’ vocals.

The Zephyr Mk III gives a huge sense of recorded space to The Trinity Session, which filled my living / listening room with lots of natural detail and subtle instrumental nuance, which gave an intimate, sometimes delicate, and a beautiful & highly musical overall feel to the record.

With both the Carmen Mk II and the Zephyr Mk III I got a big dose of smooth, naturally warm, timbrally realistic, tonally colorful music, and they both have a combination of musical & sonic traits that I predict will delight music lovers.

The Zephyr Mk III emphasizes the sonic qualities of the sense of recorded space, a voluminous soundstage, defined imaging, and resolution of detail to a greater extent than does the Carmen Mk II, but in an artful way that still emphasizes overall musicality in a very satisfying way, so that’s what you are buying with your extra $500 USD over the price of the Carmen Mk II.

I suspect that listeners who prefer listening at softer levels will be particularly impressed with the Zephyr Mk III’s ability to make music come convincingly alive at lower volume levels, no doubt to the appreciation of significant others or neighbors during those late night listening sessions.

I’m just getting started understanding the musical & sonic capabilities of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II and Zephyr Mk III high-output, fixed-coil, moving-iron, phonograph cartridges, so I’ll have a lot more to say as I get nearer to the review for Positive Feedback.

I must say that I’m very impressed with both of these cartridges, as they possess a high degree musicality as well as sonic prowess.

The new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III and Carmen Mk II phonograph cartridges from Peter Ledermann.

They also are a very good value, and compete as peers with the musicality & sonics of my reference Ortofon SPU Classic GM MkII stereo phono cartridge in combination with my bespoke Intact Audio nickel core SUT, at about a third of the cost for the Carmen Mk II, and at about half the cost for the Zephyr Mk III. 

Ok, that’s it for now, but there’s much more to come on these cartridges!

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

 Posted by at 10:42 am

  6 Responses to “First Impressions of the new Soundsmith Zephyr Mk III phonograph cartridge on the CTC Classic 301 turntable!”

  1. Hi Jeff, after reading your earlier reviews on the Zephyr I dug deep and brought one – based on your enthusiasm and wise words! And I’m glad I did.
    With very similar gear and musical taste it sounded a perfect match – and after just a few hours It’s proven you right! A cartridge of exceptional value and not expensive to re-tip which makes it even more of a bargain.
    The set-up was easy, especially with that pincer looking front guide, which made alignment a breeze.
    I’ve got it set up in a Schick 12″ and Schick head-shell running direct to a Leben phono and into Shindo pre and power. I’ll try with the Leben CS600 once it’s settled in. TT is a Grail Audio Garrard 401 and speakers are Audio Note ANE HE-SPE.
    I’ll give The Trinity Sessions and POP a play next but currently listening to Linda Thompson. The vocals are superb, even at this early stage. And I agree with your comment about losing very little at lower volumes.
    My only question is; did you play around with the VTA or keep it the same as the SPU?


    • Hi Pete,

      The Zephyr Mk III is pretty amazing, for sure, and I really like Peter Ledermann’s cartridge ethos of protecting the owners investment by offering rebuilds at a modest price. I’m very glad to hear you’ve been enjoying it! 🙂

      That’s a really nice system you’ve put together – I like it – a man after my own heart!

      The Schick headshell is my favorite so far, it’s really musical and benefits every cartridge I’ve tried on it, although the Yamamoto headshell I’m using right now with the Zephyr Mk III is pretty nice too.

      My to-do list includes trying the Carmen Mk II and Zephyr Mk III with the Schick headshell, but my next task is to build some Art of Tone headshell leads with Audiosilente clips for the Zephyr Mk III, as I’m using generic headshell leads with it at the moment, and I am expecting great things from the AoT combo!

      I did change the VTA a little for the Zephyr Mk III when switching from the mono SPU, but not by a lot. I’m wrapping up the review of the Soundsmith Carmen Mk II now (another fantastic cartridge), and will start focusing more on the Zephyr Mk III in the next few weeks or so, adding in the Art of Tone headshell leads, and getting setup dialed in even more. I’m pretty happy with the VTA on it at the moment, but I’ll play around a little more with it to see what happens.

      Breaking news: I just tried the Zephyr Mk III with my Westminster Royal SE’s and the new Nelson Pass First Watt SIT-3 amp that arrived yesterday (more soon) – the combination is incredibly good!

      Kind regards,


  2. Thanks Jeff, i look forward to your further reviews.
    Just a small issue I found with the Schick head shell was that I had to push the cart body quite far back to get the right reading on my Dr F set up. Probably as far as it could go. Not sure if that will be an issue for you? It maybe that my arm isn’t as accurately positioned as your CTC rig.


    • Hi Pete,

      I haven’t tried the Zephyr Mk III with my Schick headshell yet, so not sure on that one. It seems fine with the Yamamoto headshell.

      Kind regards,


  3. G’day Jeff, knowing that you’re in the middle of your Zephyr review, thought I’d flick you this brief update on my recent changes with the Zephyr.
    I had it set up in my Schick headshell, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, I found there was a slight restriction due to not being able to set it back far enough (in the headshell) to achieve the correct pivot to spindle distance. Reckon I was just under a millimetre too far. So today I reinstalled into a Yamamoto Boxwood headshell with a much better outcome. Firstly it gave me more latitude to get a spot on reading, and maybe it likes the timber better? But I guess the set-up is all important.
    I’m running with the Yamamoto supplied headshell leads, which look a tad flimsy, so maybe I’ll change those soon. What Yamamoto timber have you been using?

    • Hi Pete,

      I’ve got the Zephyr Mk III mounted on a Yamamoto Sound Craft African black wood headshell.

      I’m using the stock Yamamoto headshell leads at the moment, but am thinking of giving my usual Art of Tone headshell leads a try, as well as the new Acoustic Revive PC-TripleC-EX headshell leads.

      So far my DIY Art of Tone headshell leads are my go-to leads because of their excellent tone and musicality, but I’m looking forward to giving the Acoustic Revive leads a try.

      More to come!

      Kind regards,


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