Finally, we come to my personal favorite of the Stogi S’s characteristics; namely, it ability to help cartridges create rock-solid images and spectacularly three-dimensional soundstages. Where some otherwise good arm/cartridge combos struggle to produce images that stay focused or soundstages that break free from the speakers or the dimensions of the listening room, the Stogi S/Shelter pair makes both tasks look easy. I almost fell off my couch when I first heard the huge soundstages the Stogi S produced, and then experienced the illusion of the near-physical presence of instruments and performers upon those stages.
This quality proved especially gripping on the Quartetto Italiano performance of the Dvorák American String Quartet in F, Op. 96 [Philips], where the voices of the individual instruments rang true, not just because timbres were accurately reproduced, but also because the sizes (and shapes) of the instruments were rendered with almost sculptural precision. The sense of being transported to the recording site was compelling thanks to a myriad small spatial cues that suggested I was in a space whose acoustics differed from those of my listening room. And the performers sounded eerily present and alive, in part because the arm/cartridge caught subliminal details that captured the players moving in their chairs as the performance progressed. The point is that the Stogi S helps cartridges do many small things well, and that together those small things add up to a heightened sense of musical realism—a greater willingness on the listener’s part to suspend disbelief and simply get lost in the music.
Where does the Stabi S/Stogi S fit in the broader spectrum of available ’table/arm combos? At $3300, the Kuzma slots in neatly between two likely competitors, VPI’s $2500 Scoutmaster and $5500 Super Scoutmaster. Because the Stabi S ’table and Stogi S are minimalist designs it’s easy to miss their underlying sophistication, but a side-by-side comparison between the Scoutmaster and the Kuzma pair proves revealing. The Scoutmaster starts out with a price advantage, but to get it to match up evenly with the Kuzma rig you’d need to add VPI’s $999 outboard SDS power supply (the Kuzma comes with an outboard supply), an aftermarket “drop counterweight” for the VPI arm (the Kuzma has “drop counterweights”), a dust cover (the Kuzma has one), and interconnect cables to connect the VPI to your phonostage (the Kuzma features generously long cables whose “wires run in one uninterrupted piece from the headshell to the RCA plugs”). The closer you look the more value you’ll see in the Kuzma combo. And consider this: If you set aside the $1900 you’d save by buying the Stabi S/Stogi S instead of VPI’s brilliant but costly Super Scoutmaster, you’d be well on your way toward the price of a statement- class phono cartridge such as Shelter’s 90X.
I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with the Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S, and I’m not looking forward to the day when it must be returned to its U.S. distributor. I’ll admit that I was skeptical of the design at first (I kept look at the ’table and thinking, “Where’s the rest of it?”), but the Kuzma’s quiet, clear, and natural sound soon won me over, as did its ability to tap the enormous performance potential of top-tier phono cartridges— something not all ’table/arm combos in this price range can do. But maybe the most telling observation of all was that, when I started spinning LPs on the Kuzma, I never wanted my listening sessions to end, which is why I gave the Stabi S/Stogi S a TAS Golden Ear Award in this issue.