Reviewer: Peter Familari
Financial interests: click here
Turntable: Kenwood L07D/Kenwood Tone arm
Phono stage: Dared LP-100
Preamplifier: Elektra PYNX tube preamplifier
Power amplifier: Audio Research Reference 75
Speakers: Wilson Audio WP/8
Interconnects: Nordost Valhalla, Nordost Tyr 2, Frey 2, QED Reference Audio Evolution XLR and QED Reference Audio 40 RCA
Power cords: Nordost Valhalla, Analysis Audio Plus Oval 10
Power board: PS Audio Dectet
Ancillary equipment: Garrott Protractor, Pro-Ject Measure It electronic stylus gauge
Racks: Quadraspire Q4 Evo Bamboo
Room: 12 x 14 feet with 13 feet ceiling, not ideal acoustically but I've got to know how to treat its acoustic foibles well. Floor is hardwood covered by a rug. The room has its own separate electricity spur that runs to a dedicated circuit breaker at the main switchboard. Cable running from the room to the mains board is via a single hospital-grade power point. Composition is solid-core, 20 gauge 99.9% pure Australian copper.
Cartridge prices at time of review in Australia: Soundsmith Zephyr MMIC $2'106.15, Soundsmith Otello $674.21, Ortofon Cadenza Bronze $2'999, Garrott P77i $599
Soundsmith prices in US currency: Zephyr MIMC $1'499.95, Otello $479.95

Cartridges and a partridge in a pear tree. As we move past the festive season and into a brand new year, I'm still grateful to Santa for leaving some audio jewelry under our Xmas tree. He loaned me three enjoyable cartridges to savour before they had to be returned to their rightful owners. This trio is the Soundsmith Zephyr MMIC, the Ortofon Cadenza Bronze and the budget-pleasing Soundsmith Otello. Magenta Audio are Soundsmith's Australian distributor. Interdyn do the same for Ortofon, Audio Dynamics handle Garrott who make my resident budget cart.

The Zephyr and Cadenza were both in on review terms, a perfect pairing sitting as they do at about the same upper level of each brand's extensive range/ranges. Given the pricing, the pair promised to open avenues to high-end sound without the typical blistering asking price of exalted top-end models. It's a promise both delivered on in spades during the course of this assignment. The Zephyr MMIC is the cheapest of Soundsmith's five low-output fixed coil models but said to utilize much of the $6'425 Sussurro model's technology. The Cadenza sits fourth from the top of Ortofon's moving coil series of cartridges.

The endearing Otello is Soundsmith's invitation model and cheapest in their range. But don't let its affordable price tag lull you into thinking it's a sonic dullard. Within its design parameters, the Otello really swings, delivering a satisfying mid-fi performance that's truly alluring. So a natural rival for the Otello had to be none other than my long-term mid to upper mid-fi reference, the $599 Garrott P77i.

The gear is the means not message. With four resident turntables to use as cartridge platforms, the obvious choice for this quartet of pickings fell on the venerable Kenwood L07D. Neutral sounding and with the ability to cast a vast soundstage where detail or lack thereof have no place to hide, the L07D is still one of audio's masterpieces. To add to its plethora of qualities, it comes complete with its own mid-mass tone arm that can be transformed into a higher mass model by simply screwing in an additional Kenwood supplied counterweight. What's more, the L07D's tonearm can be raised or lowered by Swiss watch calibre gearing whilst weaving its magic in a record groove. On revealing systems, you can hear precisely what each minute adjustment does to the overall sound. So it's a sensible platform for cartridge reviews especially used with the legendary Orsonic AV-1, a head shell which makes cartridge azimuth settings a bit of a doodle thanks to its Allen-key controlled horizontal adjustment.

My problem was that while I have three Orsonic AV-1, two have different types of lead-out ways soldered into the head shell pins. Rather than introduce another sonic variable, I used the one non-soldered Orsonic throughout the review. Each cartridge had to be realigned and mounted every step of the way. Then bending the Cadenza's cantilever (ouch!) with a close-up camera lens added weeks to the review because a replacement had to arrive from Denmark. When I say I was paranoid carrying out azimuth adjustments with the Cadenza, I'm not kidding.