SUT shootout

Over the past six weeks I have had the chance to finish a SUT "shootout". I thought I would post my impressions.

My system config for the shoot-out consisted of the following:

TT: Nottingham 294
Tonearm: SME 312S
Cartridge: Koetsu Rosewood Signature Platinum & Benz Ebony
Preamp: Shindo Masetto
Amp: Atma-sphere S30 and Tube Audio Lab 300B
Speaker: Hawthorne Trio (Biamped Open Baffle Speaker)

Music listened to covered multiple genres (rock, jazz, classical) in both 33 and 45 rpm formats. Because of the different turn ratios of the products I used a SPL meter and tried to listen with volume at roughly 80-85db.

My subjective ranking is as follows:

1. Hashimoto HM-7
2. Auditorium 23 "Hommage"
3. Hashimoto HM-3
4. Modified EAR-834P (Upgraded parts and tubes)
5. Sowter
6. MC from Shindo Masetto (Lundahl based transformer)
7. Cinemag
8. Altec (DIY)

The good news is that all of the above are extremely musical. There were no poor performers. I think most people would be happy with any of these products on their own. It was only in direct comparison where some of the differences became apparent.

The top three (Auditorium Hommage and both Hashimoto's) were a notch above the rest because they had both huge soundstages and the ability to dig deep into the music in regards to detail. The Hashmito HM-7 and Auditorium further distinquished themselves from the HM-3 by being more nuanced and textured. The Koetsu's warm tone came across better with these top 2. The tone using the HM-3 was more neutral in character. In comparing the HM-7 to the Hommage, I felt the HM-7 had a slightly better ability to separate instruments in complex musical arrangements and had a slightly lower noise floor.

The EAR and Sowter were very good at showcasing detail and texture but the soundstage was smaller than the top 3.

The internal SUT from the Shindo preamp had the most unique sound of the group and was the toughest to grade. It had the lowest noise floor and really shined in certain types of music (intimate vocals or small scale jazz/chamber music). However, the soundstage of the Masetto (Lundahl) was the smallest of all the products and when it came to larger scale music (symphonies especially) it had a harder time separating instruments.

The Cinemag and Altec were, not suprisingly, extremely similar considering their common heritage. The soundstage was larger than the Shindo, Sowter and EAR but smaller than the Hashimoto's and Hommage. Where I felt they came up a little short was in the area of musical detail. Of these two products, I placed the Cinemag higher because I thought it was slightly quieter.

It is interesting to note that the pricing of the products ranged from a low of approximately $350 (Cinemag based SUT) to a high of roughly $5000 (Hommage). My "winner" (HM-7) is priced at approx $1600 for a finished product.

Finally, I am aware that the performance of the products in question may differ substantially with other cartridges and systems so my ranking is a subjective opinion within the paramaters of my system, room and musical tastes. None-the-less, I had a fun time doing it.
Cool thread, the subject of which I'm only just beginning to investigate (tried a CineMag, liked it OK but wound up returning it for tangential reasons, at least for the time being).

But while Dougdeacon has apparently long since moved on from SUTs, and I have not yet begun to load as one might say (I used no resistors, since no provision was made for adding them in the particular SUT I tried), I'd still like to ask why it requires $1K worth of what I'm assuming must be premium resistors in order to figure out optimal values? Couldn't this experimentation be performed first with cheapie resistors to get into the ballpark, and once that's done then finish coming down the homestretch using fewer expensive ones? (Yes, I do at least know that better resistors actually sound better, often much better.)

Furthermore, is it truly necessary to load both the primary and the secondary to get good sound? I would have thought, in my ignorance, that one of the benefits of going with a reasonably well-matched SUT may have been eliminating the need for adding any resistors at all. And indeed, in my short time playing around with the two ratio choices in the model I tried, I found that transformer-loading seemed if anything less critical than what I've experienced with regular resistive loading, i.e., my carts sounded happier at a wider range of nominal loads than has usually been the case going straight into the phonostage's MC section. Which is also something I've read people saying around about using SUTs in general, however you and several other obviously experienced posters above would seem to take exception with this liberal, loosey-goosey point of view...
"Couldn't this experimentation be performed first with cheapie resistors to get into the ballpark, and once that's done then finish coming down the homestretch using fewer expensive ones?"

Hey Sibelius, I still have your Zu Druids and they sound great.

I am trying to go back to a MC setup again and was going to build a SUT with Hashimoto HM-3, where did you get your HM-7 from?
Largely based on Sibelius' review, above, I recently purchased a Hashimoto HM3-based SUT; the SUT-H from Choir Audio. It's a great product and is better in every way than I was expecting (and I had high expectations). John Parker is a great guy to deal with and a true gentleman.

Before ordering the SUT-H I had been using a friend's CineMag (Bob's) unit for a couple of months, and I also already owned an Audio Note AN-2. The Hashimoto-based SUT is simply better than the CineMag unit in every way, at least in my system. Cartridges have been a pair of Shelter 501s (stereo and mono), recently upgraded the 501 st to a 5000, and a DL-103R.

I got my Hashimoto SUT's (HM-3, HM-7) thru Choir Audio. He (John) also has a Cinemag version as well.