The SoundSmith MMP4 Phono Preamplifier: Review
the Soundsmith MMP4 is simply a miracle and one of the most significant improvements in my system...
I cannot believe it has been over two years since my firs post. Shortly after the first post I upgraded my Debut III to a Pro-Ject Genie RPM 1.3 and my phono box to the Pro-Ject Phono Box SE II with multiple loading and capacitance options. I got the Pro-Ject Genie in 2010 from the folks at Stereo Exchange who were very helpful when I explained to them that I wanted an upgrade from my Debut III but that I was on a budget. Two years later the upgrade bug was bothering me again and after a lot of research I decided to go for the VPI Scout. I had moved upstate New York and there were no VPI dealers near me so I had to find an on-line dealer and I finally got a great deal on my Scout from Hi-Fi Heaven.
The Scout was an incredible improvement from the Pro-Ject Genie. Listening to the Scout with an early production high output Benz Micro Glider straight into the Primaluna Phono Board of my amplifier I could hear more music emerging from a quite dark background better than what my Genie could deliver. But something was still missing.While the new table was a significant improvement, I was still underwhelmed specially by recordings of live music, reed instruments, horn sections, and organs and didn't feel my set up delivered well on most of my R&B, soul, jazz, and classical records. I switched back and forth between the phono board, the Phono Box SE II, and the Bellary VP 129 (which I used primarily as a headphone amp) and surprisingly the phono board always did better but it still had a hard time with musical passages involvings horns and heavy instrumentation. I could tell my Scout was clearly an upgrade, my Genie also had a hard time with horns jazz and classical, and the VPI Scout delivered so much more detail and cohesiveness on my rock, new-wave, folk, and blues records.
I first thought switching cartridges would help so I tried my DL-160, a medium compliance cartridge that does okay with the JMW-9 arms and also earlier this year I ordered a Soundsmith Otello that should be the right compliance for the JMW-9T tonearm and will arrive in a few weeks. Nonetheless, I was now convinced tha my phono preamps were not helping my VPI Scout deliver everything it could. It was time to upgrade my phono stage but after buying the Scout I had to do it on a budget. I read every review I found of phono stages in my price range. I read how some reviewers described listening to the Graham Slee Era Gold V as "miraculous" and just like experiencing an entire new system but at $999 it was out of my price range. I also wanted to hear something "miraculous" even if it meant compromising loading options to be able to afford something in my budget. Since the best cartridge match I had for the JMW-9T tonearm was the high out put Benz Micro Glider and I had the Sound Smith Otello being built, a moving iron cartridge that is also high output moving iron, I decided that what I needed was the best Moving Magnet phono preamp i could afford. I was intrigued by Soundsmith Phono Preamps but I could not find any literature about them. I live in the Hudson Valley so one Saturday I jumped in my car, wife and kids came along, and I drove 45 minutes south to Peekskill New York to Sound Smith's lab and showroom. When we arrived at the Sound Smith a team of teenage soccer players was lining up for snacks at the first floor cafeteria and my wife and kids stayed behind for hot cocoa and muffins. I took the elevator to the fourth floor and I had arrived, the door to the Sound Smith showroom was wide open and I went right in. A VPI HRX set up with Soundsmith Power Amps
driving Soundsmith Speakers was on display and much to my surprise Peter Ledermann himself emerged to greet me. I explained that I had a cartridge being built and that I was also in the market for an upgrade to my phono preamp. Peter was warm and welcoming, asked questions about my system, and told me that he only had an MMP4 in stock at the moment and offered a listening test.
I listened to Diana Krall's live in Paris through the Soundsmith MMP4 Phono Stage after Peter swapped armwands on the VPI turntable for the Sound Smith Aida high output cartridge. I was speechless, if this entry level then I cant wait to hear what Soundsmith has to offer up the ladder. I brought the MMP4 home and I could not be happier with the results.
I must confess that prior to my listening session with Peter Ledermann I was not a fan of Diana Krall but I had to get my hands on some of her vinyl to listen through my new MMP4 preamp. I did not have a reference to make a "before and after" comparison but listening to Diana Krall's Glad Rag Doll, her most recent release on Verve, was incredible, her vocals came through warm and emotional, Mark Ribot's guitar was equally amazing.
I went on to listen to a record that I was very familiar with and that the Primaluna Phono Board, the Pro-Ject Phono Box SE II, and the Bellary VP 129 could just not handle well. I love compilations and A Taste Of Bluesway BLS-1973 is one of my favorites, it has Earl Hooker on a couple of tracks, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. But mys system could not handle the brass section and the saxophone in Ray Charles' 1964 live recording of "I Gotta Woman." The Soundsmith changed that. For the first time I was able to hear trumpets and trombones, and the sweet vibrations of a saxophone reed, and also the warm texture of Charles' vocals. Also for the first time I could really hear the organ on Jimmy Whiterspoon's "I don't know" and I just realized there was a harmonica, after reading the liner notes I learned that Charley Musselwhite was in this track all along and the MMP4 brought the harmonica through the complex instrumentation of brass, saxophones, organ and guitar.
I went on to listen to Tom Waits' "Big Time" a live recording of the 1989 concert movie that always came out dull and jumbled in my system. The Soundsmith MMP4 brought it to life, I could hear Ribot's riffs like never before, Tom Waits' vocals were unprecedented, horns and accordion
If I had to summarize it, the Soundsmith MMP4 is simply a miracle and one of the most significant improvements in my system. With the Soundsmith MMP4 instruments are more focused without compromising the warmth I love in my tube system and I can now really appreciate how great the VPI Scout and the Benz Glider are. I grew up south of the border in the 1980's when we used to cruise down main street blasting cassette tapes of Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, AC-DC, Motley Crue, and, on rainy days, The Cure, which gives me an idea of the best way to describe listening to music before and after the MMP4. In my previous set up everything sounded nice enough, kind of like hearing music blasting from the car of the kids cruising by. With the Soundsmith MMP4 I can listen music just like if I was sitting at the driver's seat, clear and sharp presentation and all the texture and warmth that can be delivered by an analog set up.
POSTED BY ARTEMIO GUERRA AT 5:16 PM
LABELS: CLEARAUDIO, GRAHAM SLEE, PHONO PREAMPS, PRO-JECT, SOUNDSMITH, VPI SCOUT