STATE OF THE ART IN SOUND REPRODUCTION, 2005

THE SAO WIN SMC 10 TYPE 4

2005 The Anstendig Institute

Written by Mark B Anstendig

The Win Research SMC 10 Type 4 is a phonograph pickup cartridge for playing records. Since records have been essentially replaced by digital sound reproduction for more than two decades, and in the last few years better digital sound has reached high levels of possibility that rival or equal analog sound, why would this cartridge represent the state of the art in sound reproduction/playback today, in September, 2005?

The new Win cartridge is both state of the art in sonic quality at the moment that will probably not be exceeded for its medium, and it is also state of the art in mechanical/technological engineering per se.

The new SMV 10 Type 4 is made with recently introduced, second generation magnets from patents from the Russian Space Program. Magnets from the Russian program have already been manufactured in Scandinavia for some years and are used in previous WIN cartridges. But with these newly introduced magnets, the Russians have provided the data for much stronger magnets, which they not previously released. These newer magnets, which are being manufactured under tight controls and tolerances in Switzerland, are approximately twice the strength of anything else available. This new, previously unheard-of added strength in the magnets within the cartridge allowed Dr. Win to reduce the moving mass of the cartridge by half, with more-than-proportional added resolution of detail, assuming the cartridge is correctly set up in a compatible tone arm and turntable. This added resolution of detail, especially in the expressive nuances, is in addition to that of the already remarkable SMC 10 cartridges of the last years.

In addition, the new cartridge pushes the manufacturing precision of other of its parts to the extremes of today’s possibilities. For example, the new Type 4 uses a new, finest, thinnest gold wire available which, for the first time, is manufactured without variation in diameter over its whole length, and which is finely coated with copper, a technology at the limit of any possibilities anywhere. The diamond of the cartridge is laser etched and all micro edges are polished round, instead of the usual facets, which can often scrape a record and damage it. And the cantilever is etched in a new way, previously impossible. These are the highlights of a technology which is the equal of anything out there anywhere for technological state of the art, especially for the tolerances within which everything is manufactured and put together. Just in the way it is manufactured, this pickup cartridge is technologically a present-day wonder.

But why is it state of the art in all sound reproduction, when we have the new, improved, high-resolution digital possibilities, like SACD?

Digital is still a developing medium. As a way of writing sound information to a medium, a high-quality digital format like SACD may be capable of high-quality results comparable to or exceeding analog. But that is only the digital recording system. The interface and the analog-to-digital and the digital-to-analog conversions are by no means standardized and ultimate at the moment. In fact, the last I heard, the best way to get quality SACD playback was to buy a top-of-the-line machine, like the best SONY, and then send the machine to a special technician who would change the digital-to-analog output, which supposedly improves the sound noticeably in important parameters.

Then, the format for the recording in SACD and other technologies like DVD-Audio is far from certain and standardized for good. SACDs come with both stereo and surround-sound listening possibilities and might even include other possibilities. The industry should make up its mind. And, as far as surround sound is concerned, The Anstendig Institute’s papers on Stereo reveal surround-sound and even stereo as being man-made effects, and not anything natural in real life. We shouldn’t forget that the aim is to be able to reproduce what is out there. Not make our own new effects and foist them onto the sound.

The greater part of SACD releases seems to be re-mastering of very old, famous analog recordings. That is especially true in the classical music field, where few performers today can equal the finest performances of the old greats like Reiner, Toscanini, Barbirolli, Bernstein, etc. The originals of those old recordings are in analog, with the one main drawback of analog being a reduced dynamic range. But no amount of re-mastering can truly replace the original dynamic range with dependable accuracy. Why, technologically speaking, convert those analog recordings to digital, then have to convert them back to analog in order to play them through your speakers (which have to be analog), when you can just put on the record, use one of these fabulous Sao Win cartridges, and do a little volume adjustment of your own while you listen? The only reason would be that few still have high-quality record players and records in good condition. That is, sadly, quite true and a drawback.

But such a high-quality setup, with the new Win cartridge in a well-mated turntable and a perfect record, without scratches, etc., is still the state of the art in sound reproduction at the moment. And anyone willing to go to the trouble and expense can still do so. And a high-end SACD player as described would also cost one a great deal and be a lot of trouble to acquire.

At the moment, for dependable, superb playback sound, nothing The Anstendig Institute knows can beat this Win cartridge, which is set up in the magnificent new Graham Phantom Tone-arm, installed in the equally magnificent Basis Audio Signature Vacuum Turntable. These superb components are perfectly matched to this cartridge. In fact, Sao Win holds the top of the line Graham tone-arms in such high esteem that he adjusted and established all the parameters of this cartridge using the Graham tone-arm.*

The SMC 10 Type 4 is not yet in production. The one used by The Anstendig Institute is the only existing hand-made copy at the moment, and Dr. Win is awaiting feedback from our institute’s usage before ordering parts. But the SMC 10 type 3 is in production, although never in large numbers, since Dr. Win assembles and adjusts all of the cartridges himself by hand.

The sound itself is the best our institute has heard. We have spent over three decades finding recordings of those extremely rare performances where everything is “in a zone” so to speak, and where the level of musical refinement, lack of vulgarity, and expressive content reach levels of truly extraordinary fineness, delicacy and musical culture. With these recordings, this cartridge brings out details, especially in expression, that only someone who lived with a master for a long time would even know exist. And hearing such recordings so accurately reproduced is probably the only way modern-day people can still get to develop such a sense of artistic discrimination.

 

Footnote:

* The Basis Audio turntable and the Graham Tone-arm were, at the time, available through the Berkeley highest-end audio reps “Musical Surroundings” and their dealers. The Basis Audio products are now available directly from Basis Audio. The Graham products are still available through Musical Surroundings, along with many other superb analog products.

The Anstendig Institute thanks Musical Surroundings for their knowledgeable assistance and help. It also thanks Graham Engineering and Basis Audio for their technical assistance, and in particular for still researching, developing and manufacturing state of the art products for the still very important, even crucial, analog sound reproduction field.

 

The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit, tax-exempt, research institute that was founded to investigate the vibrational influences in our lives and to pursue research in the fields of sight and sound; to provide material designed to help the public become aware of and understand vibrational influences; to instruct the public in how to improve the quality of those influences in their lives; and to provide the research and explanations that are necessary for an understanding of how we see and hear.