Win SMC 10 Frankencartridge

$2,750

 

I have a friend whom I met at the Audio Asylum.  He’s no longer a friend, he’s become family. The entire family is the type people who make you feel worthwhile because if folks as wonderful as they are like you, love your company, well then, you must be an all right person yourself. If you’ve had friends that you really enjoy giving things to just for the heck of it, then you know exactly what I mean. 

My friend been talking about these cartridges he had that were being built by Sao Win for about a year and I had always thought, “Well, if he gives me one,, cool!  If he doesn’t, no big deal.  I don’t have it today so what difference can it make if I don’t have it tomorrow?”    But, he got them and gave one to me.  Incredible!

The SMC-10 is a cartridge that was designed by Sao Win, one of the acknowledged gurus in the cartridge world.  This particular one (My friend has the other), is a Frankencartridge.  The body of the cartridge is a solid piece of aluminum originally made for Monster a few years back.  It would have been a Monster alpha 2 but had never had its guts filled with the pieces that make a cartridge a cartridge.  Sao Win put the components of the SMC-10 into that body, hence a Frankencartridge!

 

The Dynavector 20XL cartridge, hanging from the JMW 10 arm, may be the one of the greatest synergistic combinations of all times.  When I reviewed the Dynavector, I had been listening to a very fine cartridge for quite some time.  The Benz Glider, in my system, was very, very good at resolution; the soundstage and imaging was top-notch.  It got me doing the boogie-woogie in my chair with every record I played.  I loved it!

Until I listened to a cartridge that cost $100 less!  I was thrilled, chilled, vibrated, homogenized and taken to music Nirvana.  Every record I played sounded like fun!

I decided, without bothering to check it other than chronologically, that the 20XL had been hanging from the JMW arm long enough, so…without any hesitation at all, I ordered a second one!  The new, advanced, supercombobulated, extra fancy ketchup cooled gold clip and bottle washed version of the 20XL.  The difference between the old and new was slight.  In my system, one that leans toward Florida rather than Alaska (warm vs. cold), the difference was a bit more detail, a degree or two less warmth.  Perfect!

Then I’m given a cartridge the likes of which I never expect to be able to buy!  Could it track vinyl grooves that were akin to the constantly falling-into-the-ocean roads as one nears Big Sur?   Would my butt do the boogie-woogie with every record?  Could it possibly excite me like the Dyna 20XL does?

Would it add to the music or make me listen to sound instead of music?  I can’t answer those questions at this point as it takes an ungodly amount of time to break in.  I have about fifty hours on it as I write this.  The first 40 were pure hell!

I had to have aligned, checked my alignment, and re-aligned that cartridge at least seven or eight times.  I must have checked, rechecked, changed and checked again whether the VTF was set where I wanted it to be.  I had to have changed the VTA at least ten or fifteen times.

Azimuth?  Checked it a half dozen times too.    Why did I do this? 

 

Let me say I ruined a gorgeous LP, Soular Energy, because I couldn’t believe a cartridge could mistrack an LP that badly.  It skipped across the record when the bass was strummed hard.  The sound was something emanating from a war prisoner camp.  Worse.

I checked and rechecked everything.  Did I knock the stylus off the cantilever somehow?  Did I short it our cleaning it with LP # 9?  Heck no!

I checked everything once more and when I heard it mistracking again I gave up for the night.  I thought of it as I awoke at three in the morning.  When the Dyna was first mounted, we had to change the placement of the arm lift.  I’d never checked to see where the arm lift contacted the button on the bottom of the arm.  The lift was less than a baby’s butt hair from the arm.   During difficult passages, the arm must have dropped down a kajillionth of an inch.  To make things REALLY scary, when the gumption returned and I came downstairs to attack the problem once more, there was no sound at all!  “Did I fry the coils?  Did something happen to the mechanism of the cartridge?  Destroy the suspension?  Break the connection of the cantilever and coils?”   

No, of course not.  That arm-lift, keeping the stylus from fully contacting the record surface, had swelled by one or two megamillimeters or maybe even one kajillionth of an inch! The attempts to solve the crime had made things worse and lifted the stylus completely off the record!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

I have to admit, I had been completely stumped.  I’d checked all settings, I thought I checked everything twice, making it nice.  Compounding the arm lift problem, however, was a thread of some sort hung “over” the stylus.  Picture a nail, hanging on a wall, with a belt looped over top.  It was impossible to use a brush back to front, as that was the way it was stuck.  To remove the string, I would have had to stroke the stylus brush backwards, taking a chance on destroying the cantilever.  I finally was able to remove it using a tiny bit of the Magic Eraser. Stroking gently over the stylus, back to front, the microfibers of the Magic Eraser cleaned the stylus slicker than goose grease.

Whew!  Between the stuck thread and the arm lift set too high, it took the best part of a week to get to the point that I could sit and listen to records without a feeling of paranoia.  One scrap of paranoia won’t leave until a miracle happens, though.

The SMC-10 came in a gorgeous round box made out of a single billet of aluminum (as is the Alpha 2 body).  It’s disappeared!  Perhaps it was a good thing as I had become so exasperated with the cartridge I wanted to remove it.  If the box had been here, I would have done so!  As of this moment I still haven’t found out what happened to that very special cartridge container.

As it is, I’m listening to detail and musicality that I never thought I’d hear on a system of my own.   The Dyna does detail fine, the Win takes a sharp artist’s pencil, does an intricate sketch of the music and then uses fine, hand made paints to create the scenes you feel and see.

If I took the time to list the LPs I listened to while setting up this cartridge I could fill up all the books in the Wheel of Time series (For those who don’t know, Robert Jordan’s fantasy series is now, I think, comprised of ten very large tomes).  If I listed the LPs I’ve listened to since I got the cartridge set up, that list would fill up the space and soak up the oil of a Valdez.

The SMC-10 is one of those special additions to a system that make you realize the choices you’ve made were very good choices!   When you can senses the size and depth of an instrument it can be a startling event.  Further, when you can sense the body of the musician behind that instrument, your mind begins to shatter like fine crystal.  Mind blowing sound!

But contained in an envelope of musical wonder!  I have to force myself to listen for staging and imaging.  I am amazed repeatedly by the real sound of an instrument, not an electronic facsimile as I play record after record.

I used this cartridge as part of my reviews for the small speaker shoot-out here at Stereomojo for our Frankenpublisher James Darby.

 

Lovely.... - Frankenpublisher

 

I listened to music with a Dynavector P-75 phono pre-amp and the phono stage in my Anthem.  If synergistic or any other problem would arise anywhere, it would have done so with all of the combinations of equipment and music used.  At no time was I dissatisfied, at no time (once all of the problems my stupidity caused had been cured) was I not mesmerized by the sounds brought forth by this cartridge.

 

One more time of Linda sending shivers down my spine when she sings Heart like a Wheel.  Hearing jaw dropping detail; control of that detail so that I’m never taken away from the music.  Learning the feel, the excitement, the pure musicality and not just simply listening to Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (RCA LSC1934).  Hearing the subtle differences between the Shaded Dog and the VICS-1110 reissue and enjoying those differences in ways I just don’t think would be possible without the extreme discerning abilities of the Win cartridge.

AND, back to the Soular Energy I destroyed?  Rejoicing that there are only two, short parts of side one that were destroyed.  The bass still making me feel that if I turned the gain on my pre-amp up real loud, that I could bring down the house; and finally, not mistracking when playing the loudest parts of the LP.

Lots of reasons to rejoice!  Thousands of them.  Maybe millions of minutes of magnificent music making mental images that meld my mind, making me magnificently happy.  I look at all of those LPs awaiting the touch of the SMC 10’s stylus and make a mighty wish, that I live long enough to hear every one of them.

 

 

 

Do I feel that the Sin SMC 10 matched the incredible beauty of the JMW/Dyna 20XL combo?  The cost of the SMC-10 is $2,750 and yet the musicality of the Dyna 20XL calls to me daily.  I think, however, I’ll wait to make any final decision as to whether it just remains on the JMW arm or becomes part of a growing legion of cartridges waiting behind the Dyna 20XL.  It still has a few hours to go until it is supposedly broken in.

 

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