Was gonna give this one some time but people are asking so thought I would answer them all at once with this sort of incomplete review. Although if I'm honest all reviews are incomplete since no one can ever cover everything. We are doing well to hit a few of the essential highlights. With that out of the way, here goes.
The Soundsmith Strain Gauge works on a completely different design principle than the other three main types - moving coil, moving magnet, or moving iron. MC and MM are generators. The faster and farther the cantilever moves the greater the signal they generate. MI is sort of a variation on this I don't want to get into other than to make the point they all generate a signal based on stylus/cantilever velocity.
Strain Gauge does away with all this instead using tiny little strain gauges to use cantilever pressure to modulate a steady voltage coming into the cartridge from the SG200 preamp. In my mind this makes the SG more like a tube or valve.
A tube is a valve, in which a small input signal is used to control or modulate a larger power source. Never seen anyone describe SG this way but this is the way I think of it. Power comes in from the preamp, and you know it because the SG cartridge lights up with really cool looking blue LEDs. Really, seriously cool looking!
Okay, it is the same blue as my Origin Live Sovereign turntable speed LED, so I may be biased. But wow does it ever look great with the lights down low!
The SG approach has a number of advantages, chief among them being greatly reduced moving mass. The SG cantilever is fastened to a removable stylus body. Where it stops would be where the suspension starts on a MM, MC or MI. Then those would have the cantilever continue on with either a magnet, coil or bit of iron at the end. SG eliminates all that extra length, resulting in a moving mass that is only a fraction of even the lightest MC.
The cartridge comes fastened to the bottom of a nice wooden box, with the stylus stuck to some adhesive in the lid. Clever packaging. The cartridge body and stylus assembly look to be machined anodized aluminum. It fits precisely into the body, and sort of snaps in and is held in place magnetically. A tiny little set screw snugs down to eliminate any micro-chatter.
Once installed, the cantilever rests against two tiny little pads. These I presume are the strain gauges. Ledermann is mum, but I can't help but notice the whole thing is designed to have each one parallel to its opposite groove wall.
The SG remember is not a generator. It modulates a voltage according to the position of the cantilever. So there instead of the usual VTF range there is a VTF number: 2.3g. Not +/-, just 2.3g.
I think a lot of what people say about setup being tricky comes back to the very differences I am trying so hard to explain here. If anti-skate is off for example on a normal cartridge this will make a difference but not that much since the cart is a generator it generates pretty much the same. But with SG if the side bias is off that is putting pressure on one side more than the other which will result in greater signal. In other words it is a lot easier to hear the image move side to side as side bias is adjusted.
Some may hear this more obvious difference and conclude SG is fussy. I hear this and interpret it as precision. The SG is one incredibly precise cartridge.
This is mounted on the Origin Live Enterprise arm with the OL Cartridge Enabler gaskets. The combination of large cartridge body, with flat sides, and being able to mount it with the stylus safely in its box makes cartridge mounting easier and a whole lot less stressful. The stylus doesn't go in until the cart is attached and ready to be aligned. Sweet.
Once all set up and playing my first impression is of dead quiet. Zero noise, for one, because of auto-mute. This cuts in and out within .5 sec of the stylus touching down or lifting off. But it is also very quiet in terms of groove noise and especially preamp noise. There doesn't seem to be any.
With side bias and VTA dialed in, boy does this thing track a groove! Just huge amounts of detail jumping out all over the place. Transients in particular. Percussion instruments, from wood block to rim shots if you like percussion you will love Strain Gauge. Sax, cymbals, all string instruments, are rendered so believably lifelike it brings them to life. Never enjoyed jazz, classical and blues so much. Top end extension is clean and crystal clear. Don't know why anyone would complain about the top end. They have. Just don't know why.
Best of all though is the magic. That hard to define feeling you get that makes you just want to lean forward and listen. This thing has it in spades.
The one thing lacking is bottom end authority. Everything else is head and shoulders better than Koetsu/Herron. Bass, not so much. In fact it is more than just bass, there is kind of a general overall lack of body, of fullness. Not much, and bear in mind the Koetsu/Herron is exemplary in this department. It is more a situation of everything else is so stellar that it makes the one bit that is not sort of stand out.
Interestingly, this is not the case on all records. One in particular comes to mind. Reference Recordings Mickey Hart Rafos is supremely well recorded but so eclectic I have played it maybe 3 times in 30 years, and never once all the way through. Pretty much the whole thing is percussion, and all kinds of odd instruments too. Everything from tiny little triangles to giant monster drums. Listening to it before was always more like a science project or soundstage exam than music session. With SG though it was entrancing, I was genuinely surprised when the first side was done, and flipped it right over to hear side 2. The drums were superb, the whole thing is, including one big drum that shook the room. It was like I could feel the skin of the drum, every individual oscillation, reverberating back and forth, and this was all at some subterranean frequency!
So it is kind of odd and had me wondering what could this be? Undoubtedly power supply related. Others like vinylshadow have recommended a power supply upgrade. After studying some options I have just shipped the SG off to Rens Heijnis in The Netherlands.
Some may take this as what a POC it shouldn't need a thing, just flip it for a good cart. Like, same people say if Moab is so good how come it needs a whole new crossover? The answer: not need, worth. They are worth it. Also not the total flyer it seems. The idea came from member John in Belgium, who reached out to me on my system page. He is the real trailblazer here. Thanks!