As much as I had hoped to write about new companies at T.H.E. Show this time around, I keep finding myself drawn to "old friends" for one overriding reason: their sound is the best I encounter. Such was the case with veteran audio designer Peter Ledermann's Soundsmith. Despite Peter's 1960s-holdover proclivity to turn his consistently impressive, housed-in-wood electronics into multi-colored light shows—thank God you can dim the lights or turn them off entirely—the former Director of Engineering at the Bozak Corporation continues to astound with the sound of his phono cartridges and the amazing frequency response of his small Firefly speakers.
On display was Peter’s "The Voice" phono cartridge with sapwood ebony body ($2200). The ebony is said to produce sound a little warmer and better-damped than the standard model. Peter will probably introduce yet another version of “The Voice” with a different hardwood body before long. A high-compliance cartridge designed to be used with the moving-magnet preamp of one's choice, the Voice conveyed every iota of drama on the opening minutes of Janos Starker’s recording of Dvorak's Cello Concerto. Paired with Soundsmith's entry-level $300 phono preamp, the system could not convey the even quieter, seductive silky smoothness, more fleshed out and layered midrange, deeper bass, and more pronounced leading edge of Soundsmith’s classic Strain Gauge phono cartridge and matching preamplifier system ($6000–$15,000 for both, depending upon preamp features, but with sound consistent throughout the line). Yet, in some ways, The Voice was more truthful. A hell of a lot of us, including yours truly, would be delighted to have the "The Voice" in our phono set-ups.
Also on display was the new HE 150 150W power amplifier ($6000). Using the same circuit as its costlier, more powerful brother, the amp’s performance was difficult to fully assess because it was paired with the smaller and less full-range of Soundsmith's two Firefly speakers. I'll leave that one up to you.