One spring day years ago I wondered into a music store looking for the latest and greatest album at the time. Instead, I was treated to a demonstration of Klipsch K Horns powered by a pair of Mcintosh tube amps playing a piano conerto followed by a musician playing the same piece live. That, my friends is where the journey began.
This has been a pretty large project getting to what you see here. I built my house around the sound room! I also did all the finish work in the sound room myself. The next one will be much easier! It's cost a fair amount of money and gray hair too but I feel it's cheaper than the professional therapy that I would have needed without the vast improvements the sound room has contributed.
If you ever come past Boise, stop by and we'll have a Koolaid and listen to the latest Marcel Marceau record.
My new Magdrive® table. A long time coming but worth it!
Rockport Technologies Lyra
3.5 way speakers
CH Precision M1.1 monoblocks
Nordost Odin 2 wires
Pivoted Linear Tracking arm. Does what other linear tracking arms attempt to do, namely removing lateral loads on the stylus/cantilever!
Lyra Etna SL
CH Precision P1 phonostage and X1 power supply
CH Precision L1 linestage
Used in the monoblock configuration, one box per side
Commonwealth Electronics 12A and 12D idler drive tables
A VERY turntable
Garrard 301 Oil bearing Schedule 2
Shown is one of my new platters for the 301. This table shows me just how much we have NOT advanced as far as turntables are concerned. Much like British sports cars, it has soul as well as a few quirks. A keeper to be sure.
This is one special cart. A legend.
ReQuest THE BEAST
Full meal deal server
CH Precision C1 DAC
Equi=Tech Balanced power unit
250 watt tubed mono block amps. I commissioned David Berning to work his magic into a high powered set of amps that could do it all. In short, he succeded.
Schröder Reference SQ 10
A piece of art
Technics SP-10 MK 3
Mounted in one of my custom plinths. Wish I would found this unit 25 years ago. Would have saved a lot of searching.
EMT 930st, 938, 948 and a 950
German engineering that makes most tables look like Tinker Toys. I have replaced the original tonearms with the Ref and Tri-Planars. These tables are special indeed.
Steve, thanks for such an informative answer. The Zu modded 103 I've loved since it first hit the grooves, and the stylus/cantilever upgrades since do take it into territory that top MCs exist in. Despite it's shortcomings, esp. detail retrieval and ultimate transparency, I really do believe it has the beating of the Orpheus in terms of dynamics, tone and o'all involvement. Always struggled with most Lyras, esp. Skala and Helikon which really set my teeth on edge in the higher frequencies. OTOH, just LOVED the Parnassus, which had a fantastic, liquid tonality. Now, that's a cart I could settle for permanently, alas no more. The Titan I heard just didn't do it for me, the tonal balance a little skewed. Clearaudios too analytical, Benz's too coloured. My tt/arm (direct rim drive/air bearing linear tracking) has pretty good adjustability for vtf/vta/azimuth, and I believe I'm right in saying the S'gauge has adjustments on the cart body for azimuth etc. My dealer says azimuth in particular critical installing this cart, and he would take most of a day dialling it in. So hopefully I'd get the best impression of it's capabilities. I have to say with the most neutral analogue front end I've ever had, into the most transparent and dynamic spkrs I've ever had, I feel confident a super fast and truthful S'gauge may very well synergise nicely. Can you contribute further thoughts on how the cart settled into your system long term, and whether it's your cart of choice, or if not, what you tend to favour now (I know you love the Olympos).
After hearing the VdH Colibri here and in many other rigs, nothing else I have heard would be called "uber dynamic", :). I think the SG is in its own class for sound.
No doubt, you will find the SG cart interesting. I found it to be relatively honest, fast (in fact very fast), detailed from top to bottom and eerily quiet in the grooves with the optimized line contact stylus set at the correct SRA and zenith. The top end can be a little abrasive at times. Maybe a little too much energy there for some recordings. Like some other designs, the OLC stylus is not happy unless set up exactly in its sweet spot. When it is there, the sound just snaps into place. It is either right or wrong, no in between. The standard stylus is a little more forgiving but still demands perfect set up. I think a lot of SG listeners/users did not care for the SG because they were not able to get the set up optimized.
I have had and still have a number of modded Denon carts. They can be quite good and a great value. They do commit quite a few sins of omission. When you have such good speakers as you do, why would not want to hear everything in the grooves? I doubt I ever listen to a Denon 103 again in my rig though. There are just too many better carts. As Shakespeare said, "life is too short for a mediocre cartridge", or was that my buddy Lugnut...not sure.
I have also owned the Orpheus. Don't know if I would call it boring but I think I know what you mean. A little slow on the uptake. Long story short, the Orpheus is gone and it has not been missed. I will be curious about how you compare the Titan to the SG. Have you heard the Titan in your rig?
Hi Steve, I'm about to audition the Soundsmith Straingauge. I'm going for the base SG-200 model, so will route via my pre existing Hovland HP200 tube preamp, no sweat. What I'm finding interesting is that my previous cart champion, the Transfiguration Orpheus, is well beaten by my...ESCCo modded Zu Denon 103 (mods incl. Paratrace stylus and white sapphire cantilever)! At a third of the price, that is quite something. Like you I run the Zu Def4 spkrs, and there may be a v special synergy going on between the two most characterful transducers in the system, cart and spkrs, both Zu, the spkrs were voiced by Sean with special reference to the Zu 103. Now, in comparison, I find the Orpheus to be uninvolving, and overly neutral ie boring. But I'm aware the Zu 103 is not the last word in top to bottom eveness, transparency or esp. detail retrieval. Not totally taken by many top MCs I've listened to incl Lyra Titan, various Clearaudios, Benzs etc. My question is, on the audio spectrum does the S'gauge fit more with the uber neutral, clinical Orpheus, or more on the uber dynamic and involving Zu 103, or is it in a totally separate class? And how does it synergise with your Zu Def4 spkrs? Your advice is really appreciated.
Thanks guys. The Mk 3 and the 950 EMTs before that have been real eye openers. They showed me how good a direct drive table could be. If there would have been an decent supply of MK 3s, I would have not had to spend all the time, money and effort developing the KODO table. It has worked out very well though since The Beat has exceeded all expectations. I could not agree more about the Olympos cartridge. It is one of the best to my ears. It also mates exceptionally well with a Schroder Ref SQ. That combination was one of several used to develop The Beat. The pair are very revealing without being clinical or dry.
Hi Vetterone, congrats on your "KONDO The Beat" table! and getting it to the market. Haven't heard one yet but the pics I have seen so far look great.
I also really like you pic of the Schröder Reference SQ 10, it looks awesome. I heard one just last night at a freinds place paired up with a Lyra Olympos cart and sounds marvelous, table was the TW Acustic Raven AC.
Vetterone - you are a man after my own heart! I love your decks and cartridges. I am busy building my black Taj Mahal - oops - my EMT 950 slim-line. It is going very slooooowly. Just so that I don't lose momentum, how does it sound like stacked up against your other decks - is it all it is cracked up to be, or is it a case that it is a tough old workhorse as opposed to something that does not deliver much in the way of sound. In other words - is the 950 just hype.
I read what you said about your phono stage search. Where has it taken you? About 6 years ago I did a series of reviews, and the two stages that stacked up then were by a custom UK designer called Paul Hynes, and the Whest ps 2.0. I still have the Whest - though I am told that the version 3.0 is better still and the reference is something to behold. I reckon you should try and get your hands on the Whest reference - given the quality of kit you already own - it may just float your boat.
Hi Steve I was looking at threads posted on Agon re Garrard 301 and came across your beautiful system. Looks like you have this down to an art with the 301's. Last weekend I was lucky enough to pick up an old console that I have posted as on my systems as "Treasure Chest". The clean up on the unit will start soon, as soon as I make room in my Garage ha ha. Do you have any tips or suggestions on my new project ? Any help is appreciated.
Aaron, Saying the Strain Gauge beats all of these fine carts would be a personal opinion and one that not everyone would agree. The Lyra Olympos still holds my utmost respect. There is another cart I have been using for the last few months, an Allnic Verito, and it is stellar as well. What everyone that has heard the shootouts in my system would agree on is that the SG is certainly in the same league. I should mention that I think the optomized line contact stylus is a must for best results. It digs out a great deal of information and is almost dead silent when set up correctly. The key of course, IS setting the SG up correctly. It takes time and a good ear. Azimuth and VTA have almost no room for error.
Thanks for that response Vetterone. In that case it might be simplest to go for the Soundsmith SG-510 full function preamp with remote and route any auxiliary sources (DAC, tuner, other MC phono stages) through this. I am certainly in favour of reducing box count in a system and since I listen to analog 99% of the time this should not represent a real compromise.
All of the positive things that have been said about the Strain Gauge appeal very strongly, especially the super low groove noise. I have a ZYX/Sonic Purity Ayame (kind of like a nude Universe built exclusively for the Australian and New Zealand market) which is already very good indeed and very quiet in the groove but if the Strain Gauge exceeds the ZYX Universe, Lyra Olympus, top Allaerts, top Koetsu and Dynavector XV-1s then it sounds like something worthy of serious consideration.
I do find the best and cleanest sound comes from running the SS phono/pre directly into the amps. No question there. The SS pre has a 10db gain when used in the variable output mode. My guess and it is a guess is that you would have enough volume but MAY lose some leading edge dynamics if you use a passive volume control such as the Placette. I don't have a way to try this for you.
Do you run the Soundsmith Strain Guage phono preamp into your preferred active preamp or do you find better results driving your power amps directly? Do you feel that there is enough voltage gain from the Strain Guage phono preamps fixed outputs to use with a zero-gain volume control (the buffered Placette Active for example) and amps with high input sensitivity (less than 1 volt for rated output)? My own system uses an active line level crossover so presumably some voltage gain is present in this device already.
Thanks for any insight into this interesting device.
There has been a lot of gear go through my system over the last few years. Three or four stand out as defining the meaning of big. The Strain Gauge certainly is big. Speed or the ease with which the music flows is startling. This cart makes most other carts sound compressed. Bass has weight and is controlled. Top to bottom, this piece imparts a life like energy to the music that my other carts fail to match. This may very well be the finest cartridge I have heard, and by a large margin.
I have not spent much time using CDs to compare the linestage but so far, I like it. There are dynamics and sparkle that take you to the event. We have tried the phono section directly to the amps and through several preamps. So far it sounds much more transparent direct to the amps. If someone doesn't beat me to it, I will post a full review after I spend more time listening.
Thanks JT. It sounds pretty darn good too. I have been talked into building a couple of these for others. Everybody seems quite happy with the sound as well as the looks. One key is to put a very good arm and cart with it. Fun stuff!
I built the rack myself. Wood working is one of my hobbies. It uses Bubinga for the sides and heavy stair step material for the shelves. I use it for my heavy rotation LPs. It has three shelf levels. It is designed to hold 500 LPs but I only have about 300 records in it at the moment. Been very handy. I really like stacking the LPs face forwad. Makes finding the desired record a breeze! Most of the other LPs are located in the back shelves and a spare bedroom.