Analog Corner #273: Soundsmith Hyperion phono cartridge & AudioQuest AC power products

Peter Ledermann, founder and chief designer of Soundsmith, Inc. (footnote 1), began his adventures in phono cartridges by reverse-engineering Bang & Olufsen's Moving Micro-Cross moving-iron cartridges for customers B&O had abandoned when it got out of the LP player business, and putting them into production. The B&O cartridges were of the direct plug-in variety; once they were no longer made, a worn or broken B&O cartridge would render a B&O turntable unusable.

For those unfamiliar with them, in a moving-iron (MI) cartridge a tiny piece of iron—not a coil or a magnet—is attached to the end of the cantilever. An MI's coils and magnets remain stationary within the cartridge body. B&O's patented Moving Micro-Cross (MMC) design features a cross-shaped piece of iron; the distances between the cross's arms and the fixed magnets vary as the stylus traces the groove, thus generating a tiny current. This configuration is said to minimize crosstalk.

Ledermann then expanded beyond B&O-specific products and entered the standard-mount cartridge market, expanding his line to include an almost dizzying number of models that vary in body composition and construction, cantilever material, and stylus shape. Because the coils and magnets of all Soundsmith cartridges are fixed, it's relatively easy to vary their output-voltage and loading requirements to meet an individual customer's needs, compared to moving-magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) designs.

According to Ledermann, the advantages of a fixed-coil design include the potential for at least five times less internal moving mass. A lighter stylus/generator system requires less force to overcome its lower inertia and set it in motion; lower mass also means less stored energy to reflect back into the stylus/groove interface, and lower inertia means faster response times. Improved stylus control results in measured channel separation well into the high 30 to low 40dB range, compared to the more typical 25–30dB produced by even the best MCs. Another claimed advantage is less stylus "jitter," and thus lower levels of groove noise. If you think 30–40dB of channel separation is unrealistic, consider that the channel-separation specification of Neumann's SX-74 cutter head is equal to or greater than 35dB from 40Hz to 16kHz!

Because such a large portion of the surface area of its moving element is bonded directly to its suspension system, an MI cartridge often boasts a greater manufacturing consistency than that of MCs. For the same reason, MIs are likelier to survive an "oops" moment—and they're easier to rebuild.

Thus, Soundsmith offers rebuilds of its fixed-coil designs that cost considerably less than those offered by makers of MC cartridges, for whom a "rebuild" usually consists of an entirely new cartridge at half price. For instance, Soundsmith's Hyperion cartridge—Ledermann builds each one himself, by hand—costs $7999.95, which includes free retipping for 10 years to the original owner for stylus wear, and $850 for a rebuild. These sorts of things should be factored into any cartridge-buying decision: In this case, you'd pay, at most, $850 for a rebuild of an $8000 cartridge, compared to ca $4000 for the rebuilding/replacement of an $8000 MC.

Hyperion Particulars: A unique feature of the Hyperion is its cactus-spine cantilever, an innovation motivated by the German engineer Frank Schröder, an expert in vinyl playback, a designer of tonearms, and a consultant to Ledermann. It may sound like a gimmick, but it's not.

Soundsmith doesn't specify the genus and species of cactus used, but claims that its spines combine the qualities most desirable in a cantilever: stiffness and damping. The spine's stacked, longitudinal, columnar fibers are further damped with a desiccated resin. A proprietary Soundsmith technique (patent pending) adds something else desirable in a cantilever: a "precision-formed" taper.

Attached to the cantilever is a detail-digging nude Contact Line (CL) stylus. Alternatively, for no extra cost, an Optimized Contact Line (OCL) stylus with more sharply defined edges is available (my review sample came with an OCL stylus). While these styli can dig way more information out of the groove, they require precise setup.

Under the microscope, Soundsmith's OCL stylus looks similar if not identical to Ortofon's Replicant. The tip's effective mass is a low 0.30mg, and the cartridge's compliance is low at 10µm/mN overall (12µm/mN in the vertical plane, 7µm/mN horizontal). Other specifications: a frequency response of 20Hz–20kHz, ±1.0dB; channel separation of ¢36dB at 1kHz or ¢25dB from 50Hz to 15kHz; output voltage equal to or greater than 0.4mV; a DC resistance of 10–11 ohms; and a very low coil inductance of 2.75mH per channel. Soundsmith suggests preamp gain of 58–64dB and recommends loading the Hyperion with ca 470 ohms. Because of its low inductance, the Hyperion is not sensitive to capacitive loading. The recommended range of vertical tracking force (VTF) is 1.9–2.1gm.

In most ways—setup, tonearm compatibility, and electrical characteristics—this exotic design behaves like a typical MC cartridge. The exception is that slightly higher inductance, which makes it particularly resistive load sensitive. However, Soundsmith's low-output MI cartridges can be used with a typical 1:10 MC step-up transformer (footnote 2).

Setup and Use: I installed the Soundsmith Hyperion in my Swedish Analog Technologies tonearm and carefully set the stylus rake angle (SRA) and azimuth, both of which are critical with a cartridge whose stylus has a radical profile. I achieved an SRA of 92° with the SAT arm approximately parallel to the record surface, and my measurements of crosstalk revealed precisely 30dB of separation in both directions with the arm a tiny nudge away from cantilever perpendicularity, indicating excellent build quality.

Of course, final tuning of SRA should be done by ear, and from record to record SRA can vary from 91° to 93°. You also need to take into account dynamic SRA as the stylus rides the groove. This is why some consider 93° to be a better setting than 92°: in play, the angle will decrease by about 1°.

As for azimuth, Peter Ledermann claims that using a digital oscilloscope to sample the cartridge's output—say, approximately 16 times a second—will produce channel-separation numbers that are lower than the ones he achieves through his own measurement technique that, he says, produces better and more useful results than does the digital oscilloscope.

Just before I submitted this column to the editor, Ledermann lent me an analog voltmeter and a pair of series high-pass filters. With them, I measured well over 40dB of channel separation in the Hyperion. This tells me that, over the years, I've measured and reported lower-than-accurate channel-separation numbers for some cartridges, for which I apologize. However, the methodology I use is certainly accurate in terms of maximizing and separation and equalizing left- and right-channel output, even if the final numbers are lower than they might be using a different measurement technique.

Channel-separation results within 1–1.5dB of each other are generally considered excellent. Few cartridges produce identical crosstalk measurements between the channels, but the Hyperion did—and even my original 30dB figure is still very good.

I ran the Hyperion into both the MM/MC inputs of the CH Precision P1/X1, and into the Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamplifiers, the latter in combination with Ypsilon's MC10L 1:10 step-up transformer, which lets the cartridge see a load of 470 ohms—right on the money of Soundsmith's spec.

Using a 1–20kHz sweep tone at –20dB, from The Ultimate Analogue Test LP (Analogue Productions AAPT 1), I varied the load on the CH Precision's MM/MC voltage-gain input: 510 ohms produced close to flat response, with a smooth, measurable rise at the top of the audioband. A phono preamp with continuously variable resistive loading would be the ideal partner for the Hyperion. Soundsmith makes a moderately priced one, their MCP2 ($1199.95), but I stuck with the Ypsilon and CH Precision.

Smooth Sound: Peter Ledermann claims for his MI cartridges "improved stylus control" that results in both greater channel separation and less "stylus jitter," and thus lower groove noise. And yes, the Hyperion did course through grooves smoothly and silently.

It's not the only cartridge that reduces mechanical artifacts to the vanishing point. As I've previously pointed out, with more "traditional" MC cartridges I've made 24-bit/96kHz transfers of LPs, played them on my Astell & Ultima SP1000 media player while listening through headphones, and did not hear in any way "a rock careening through a vinyl canyon," as some have put it.

The Hyperion went a few steps further, translating "less jitter" into an unmistakably unique liquidity and smoothness that was never at the expense of transient precision or resistance to grit and etch, when called for. The Hyperion was like a chameleon. It delivered a delicacy, ease, and transparency that brought to convincing life well-recorded classical music. Recently, I found a boxed set of Beethoven's five piano concertos, performed by Artur Rubinstein with Josef Krips conducting the Symphony of the Air, and recorded to three-track tape December 6–16, 1956, at New York's Manhattan Center (5 LPs, RCA Victor Living Stereo LSC-6702). The strings' transparency and rich sonority were remarkable, not even considering the recording date. The piano, too, though somewhat spotlit, had, despite the Manhattan Center's rich reverberant overlay, a convincing harmonic structure, clarity of attacks, precise sustain, and generous decays.

The Hyperion presented such a stable, three-dimensional picture of soloist and orchestra in a real space that I listened to two concertos in a single sitting. Despite a few pops and clicks, the sound made me almost believe I was witnessing Rubinstein's performance in person, 62 years ago. No CD in my experience has ever opened a door on such mesmerizing, nonmechanical, transparent sound. End of sermon.

518acorn.bream

That made me pull out the next LP on that shelf: Julian Bream's The Golden Age of English Lute Music (LP, RCA Victor Living Stereo Soria Series LDS-2560). Again, the Hyperion's commendably uncolored reproduction of tonalities, its transparency and articulation of transients, brought Bream's performance to life. The balance between nonmechanical string plucks and the lute's resonant body was ideal.


Footnote 1: Soundsmith, 8 John Walsh Boulevard, Suite 417, Peekskill, NY 10566. Tel: (914) 739-2885. Fax: (914) 739-5204. Web: sound-smith.com

Footnote 2: For excellent guidance on using any cartridge with a step-up transformer, see this article.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
thatguy's picture

"comments about this video ranged wildly."

Only moronic idiots post comments about things.

;)

bhkat's picture

I watched that Living Voice video again. It was a great deal of fun looking at that video. It's great to see someone care about music and audio so much and be able to spend that kind of money on it.

tonykaz's picture

I'm impressed that you are finally admitting being "crazy" to this readership ! Of course, it has always been rather obvious.

Way back in the day, we at Esoteric Audio were demonstrating and Modelling Cable Sound differences. ( the 1980s ) I'm pleased that Analog Planet has finally arrived at a place where Cable Interfaces are components in the system that should be auditioned and even matched to the gear in use . Considering that this reviewer ( until recently ) only had Aluminium power wiring in his house, hmmmmm..

Since the Audioquest Guy helped you rewire and re-engineer your house wiring, it seems appropriate that his Cable devices would get honourable mention, which I would imagine deserve far more praise than you seem to offer, I'd be doing 5,000 words on all their neuanced improvements .

Not that it matters but I also approve the SoundSmith guy getting a few rounds of applause here in this Magazine, he is definitely one of our better talents with a lonnnnnnnngggg list of accomplishments. Bravo

Tony in no lockdown, masks, mandates or illegal immegrants Florida

CG's picture

This column is a reprint from 2018.

As far as I can tell, that was a couple years prior to the generator installation at Chez Fremer and the subsequent reconfiguration of the house electrical wiring.

So, you know what drives me crazy???

tonykaz's picture

I stand corrected !!

Tony in the lowest taxed State : Florida

Anton's picture

"Tony in no lockdown, masks, mandates or illegal immegrants Florida"

Ewww.

Jack L's picture

Hi

God bless. Amen !

Jack

tonykaz's picture

Stereophile is an Institution in pursuit of Quality of Life

I'm letting people know that Florida is the leader in that search ! ( I've traveled the World and seen most of the great places )

This is a big tent with room for all outstanding qualities. Isn't it ???

Tony in Florida

Anton's picture

Doesn't surprise me that you need to track political douchery into a Hi Fi site. It gives you something to talk about other than the same narcissistic self-back-patting blather you typically rehash over and over and over.

Stereophile should have nothing to do with your political bullshit. We are hear/here for Hi Fi, not your utterly idiotic politics masquerading as science idiocy.

I guess you can't keep low lifes out of Hi Fi.

tonykaz's picture

or is it sarcasm. ?

Anton's picture

You don't rise to a level that would generate an emotional response.

I'm just saying any Hi Fi website doesn't need your douchebag attempt to work politics into a Hi Fi discussion. What sort of creepy dumbassery is that?

Makes you a loser and detracts from the site. I don't even care which side of politics you are on, you could have been a liberal dick and it would be the same crap move. I'm just saying it's a low life approach that you feel the need to bring it here.

Why do it, other than to show yourself to be a master debating troll?

tonykaz's picture

You attack with emotional rage !

I wonder if all this is substance induced.

Phew , you seem a little dangerous.

Anton's picture

You should go out record shopping and find some nice vinyl.

tonykaz's picture

You attack with emotional rage !

I wonder if all this is substance induced.

Phew , you seem a little dangerous.

Anton's picture

Dude, just leave your low life need to politicize at the door.

Now you are simply obfuscating and starting to play victim.

Tear yourself away from the mirror and channel your need for constant attention at a more appropriate venue.

Hi Fi is the game here, not your ‘look at me, look at me’ political toilet jamming.

MatthewT's picture

He campaigned for Sanders, so yeah.

deckeda's picture

of:

untimeliness
arrogance of "approval"
embarrassingly moronic and off-topic political "insight"

MatthewT's picture

Accurate, too.

Jack L's picture

Hi

Bingo ! I found noticeable sonic improvement many years back. I simply design/built a power cord for my tube power amps.

As already said in MF's last audio interconnects review, I only use
99.99% pure solid silver conductors for ALL my audio interconnects for sonic reason over non-silver conductors, e..g oxygen-free 'pure' copper.

So the power cord I built is with Teflon + variable air as insulation dielectric for the silver conductors, totally air-tighted. NO overall/individual metallic shielding to ensure FREE flow of the 60Hz AC power current.

So many years now, I can't go without it. Imagine how much I got to pay
for such pure silver power cord assuming such 'gadget' available in the marketplace ?

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jack L's picture

Hi

Whoever claims power cords making no sonic difference needs either tune up/train up its ears or to upgrade its audios, IMO.

A solid evidence of power cord sonic difference is provided by a music production company which only produced GOLD-plated music CDs to the higest audiophile quality (up to 24bit). I got a few of them many years as my sound reference. 24-karat golden plated as the golden colour never fade a bit after so many years ?? Not cheap to own, no kidding !

One such gold-plated reference CD got it last track recorded the same short piece of music using 10 differenet brandname power cords in sequence.

So if there were no sonic difference among power cords, why did this music prdouction company did such 'redundant' thing ????

Nayers, wake up & smell the coffee !

Listening is believing

Jack L

rschryer's picture

..making a mistake in English. "Nayers" isn't a word!

Nice try, pal. :-)

Jack L's picture

Hi

Yea, you got me this time. I stand corrected.

It should be "naysayer" instead. Sometimes, my fingers move faster than my brain. Thanks for pointing it out.

Jack

Long-time listener's picture

... of gold-plated CDs? Do you even know why they USED TO BE considered superior sonically?

Anton's picture

The original thought was that gold would not oxidize, I think.

Archimago's picture

What reference CD is this with the power cord recordings?

Jack L's picture

Hi

You can order it online. I don't have the CD label no. with me here.
Will let you know once I return home from work.

Jack L

Long-time listener's picture

How about some transparency here, from you and from Audioquest? How MUCH of a discount did you get? And why should you get one at all?

And Audioquest, why don't you, like other manufacturers, state the degree of purity of your "high purity" copper? And can you explain why "perfect surface" copper would be advantageous for transmission of a 60-cycle current? Isn't that only relevant for higher frequencies?

I absolutely hear distinct differences in any kind of audio cable, including power cables. Not buying Audioquest until I can get past their BS.

Jack L's picture

Hi

My question to Audioquest: how "high" is the purity of the copper wires used in the Dragons power cords ?? Not every Joe Blow around here knows nothing about metals.

FYI, Oxygen-free pure copper get 2 levels :-
C10100 pure copper: 99.99% pure copper + main imperity 0.0005% copper oxide.
C10200 copper: 99.95% pure copper + 0.001% copper oxide.

It is the impurity copper oxide that affect the sound. Less copper oxides means better sound.

Again, even 99.99% pure silver still get impurtiy: mainly silver oxide which gets only 6.9% of oxygen in its mass. But for 'pure' copper, its impurity: copper oxide gets 25% of oxygen in its mass. That might explain why pure siver sounds so much better than pure copper: much more oxygen content in copper oxider than same in silver oxide, IMO.

For powerline frequency: 60Hz which is so low to worry about its skin effect inside the copper conductor. So would a smooth copper conductor surface help to reduce skin effect or for whatever reason? Audioquest should be more transparent in this claim.

I can't agree more to your above statement" "Not buying Audioquest until I can past their BS." Hahaaaaa.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Anton's picture

I have read that it is silver sulfide that forms, predominantly, and not silver oxide. Silver oxide, IIRC, has about the same conductivity as silver, some people think it is even higher. I make no claim to definitive insight.

Conductivity of the metals in question:

Silver: 0.016 ohm mm2/m
Copper: 0.017 ohm mm2/m

It would seem cable length would make a bigger difference than copper vs. silver, per se.

Of interest:

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1143/JJAP.46.4179

"...reduced silver and the remaining Ag2O enhance the connectivity and packing density of the silver flakes, and thus increase the electric conductivity of the films."

We have a complex hobby, but are those conductivity differences useful?

Is 0.016 ohms per meter usefully (audibly) different that 0.017 ohms per meter?

Short and thick copper might be vastly better than longer and thinner silver!

Jack L's picture

Hi

Why pure silver sounds better than pure copper is NOT due to their resistivity. The electroncs inside the silver molecules move FASTER than those in copper.

Also, as I already said earlier, the main impurity: silver oxides does less 'harm' to the music signals than copper oxide.

Of course, pure silver power cords to power mega-watt solidstate power amps will surely costly enough to wreck the wallets.

My silver power cord is for my 35+35W tube power amp. So I don't need pure silver conductors of too large gauge size. Plus I was smart enough to obtain my 99.99% pure solid silver wires from a surplus store, saving
big money.

Play smart when dealing with audio cords, my friend

Jack L

Anton's picture

This may be my error, but I (maybe wrongly) thought the speed at which energy or signals travel down a cable is actually the speed of the electromagnetic wave, not the movement of electrons.

Then, does not electromagnetic wave propagation depend more on the dielectric constant of the material rather than speed of any electron moving?

I am happy to learn more!

MatthewT's picture

https://www.wtamu.edu/~cbaird/sq/mobile/2014/02/19/what-is-the-speed-of-electricity/

Jack L's picture

Hi

We are talking about different things here:-

(1) Every metal conductor is made up of many many metal crystal 'grains' in ramdom lineup, even for oxygen-free 'pure' copper or silver. So the music singal waves got to go through the enclosure wall of each such metal grains, causing harmonic & phase distortion (slowing down the signal transit time).

So the best way is to cast the metal rods in the smelting mill so that only one long crystal grain forming the whole length of the metal rod rather than numberless grains in conventional casting way. This was special one-grain casting method was first achieved in 1982 in Japan. We call this long-grain casting. Could be the same long-grain copper metal used in some expensive cables.

All metal grains are made up of numberless molecules with electroncs circulating around. I read a paper before that electrons spinng speed diference was mentioned for silver vs copper.

Finally you mentioned the dielectric used for insulating a copper/silver conductor. Ideally, when a frequency wave passes through a BARE metal conductor placed in a vacuum, there is no slow down in its speed.

Since vacuum does not exist in the real world, we take free admospheric air to substitute vacuum. Air dieletric = 1 like vacuum for a bare metal conductor.

However, for real world electral/electronic insulation, when multi conductors run across each other, INSULATION on each metal conductor is therefore needed to prevent shorting.

It is the insulation material dielectric affecting the flowing of wave.
The very best is foamed polyethylene (dielectric constant= 2.25) usesd extensively as insulation material for cables in very high frequency application, up to beyond 1,000MHz.

Teflon is even better = 2.1. But it is so much much stiffer physically & way way toooo costly for miles-long run very high freqeuncy application. That's why foamed polyethylene is commonly used though its dielectric not is low is Teflon.

Jack L

Briandrumzilla's picture

My guess is that price is dealer cost. The difference between dealer cost and retail price could be considered compensation for the reviewer and that opens up additional questions.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant"

Glotz's picture

You guys are the greatest.. bro hug.

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