SME 20/2 sound problem. Remedy suggestions needed

Dear Readers! I bought SME 20/2 w/V tonearm as an upgrade from my Roksan Xerxes w/SME IV tonearm. I use Denon DL 103R cart, a very good phonostage just in league with Manley Steelhead, amplified in biamping by Primare Integra on high/midrange and Krell KAV250a on bass, Danish Physics DP.02 speakers. Xerxes palyer with very airy big warm soundstage, the vibration bound turntable design (similar in construction to LP12) being compensated by rigidly controlling Krell produced a rhytmical, colourful sound. Lots of so called coloration transformed into big big lively music. Now replacing it with SME 20/2/V arm all life got immediately lost - sound is dry, flat and monochromatic . Could it be that Denon DL 103R does not live up any near to the SME high end purism, or would You rather say that theres no synergy between a very uncoluring and rigid SME deck and Krell which is known as most monochromatic synthetic and sterile sounding amp? Is it possible that given same system and cartridge the difference between Roksan w/ SME IV and SME 20/2 w/V arm could be so startlingly negative towards the SME deck? I read somewhere that SME decks play flat on rock - I listen mostly to rock/metal - but such a vast devastating difference? colours vs no colours, life vs lack of vitality, music vs. synthetic flat sound? Please help with your knowledge, I'd highly appreciate suggestions. thank You!
there's no easy way to put this...if possible 'get the xerxes back'. otherwise experiment with other cartridges to put life into the sme
I too had a similar experience when moving from a Goldmund Studio (with SME V/Lyra Helikon) to an SME 30 (with SME V/Lyra Helikon). The pleasantly vibrant, not to say blowsy, sound of the Goldmund was suddenly gone.
Today, I recognise that the SME 30 is hugely superior. It almost totally removes that euphonic vibrancy that many turntables impart. By doing so it lets you hear more of the individual tone colours of the instruments, but most of all the musical phrasing and the relationship between one note and another.
Certainly, getting to grips with this turntable has been a learning experience. The manufacturers say that it is easy to set up (and this is true as far as the basics go). What they do not warn you about is the fact that any number of problems may arise with the fine tuning of the arm/cartridge - this is especially so in a situation like yours (or mine some years ago) when you move a familiar arm/cartridge across and naturally expect to hear a percentage improvement in the well-established positive characteristics of those components. The apparent shortfall is - paradoxically - due to the fact that the SME is letting you hear more of what is going on (not less). Some of the problems that may arise:
1. anything less than optimal alignment, VTA, VTF, antiskating, etc will tend to produce an unimpressive sound, meaning that it will no longer give you a reasonably pleasant, forgiving sound as it did on your old table.
2. the grainy sound of an ageing stylus may be become audible to an extent that it was not before (this happened in my case).
3. the harmful effect of poor quality internal tonearm cabling or the external phono cable (like the ones that SME install/supply with their arms!!)will be more audible.
4. the effects of the support surface will be more evident. SME claim that the turntable (thanks to its suspension, high density metal construction etc) is indifferent to the material it is in contact with but my own experience does not bear this out. And a UK SME dealer who I once talked to confirmed this, saying 'It sounds like what it is sitting on. If it is sitting on metal, it sounds slightly metallic, if it sitting on wood, it sounds slightly...'. I have had good results from placing it (with the rubber feet removed) on four large high density graphite blocks (like those sold by Audio Tekne).
Imagine if you have all those problems (to some degree or other) together! And that's without considering your favourite records, which may not be as well recorded or as free from groove wear as you thought.
Of course, there are some who say that the SME turntables sound more 'alive' with other arms (the idea is that a highly damped SME turntable together with a highly-damped SME arm is just too much - the sound is too 'controlled'). I haven't experimented, so I can't comment. The other arms would be Graham & Triplanar (if you can get an appropriate arm base for the latter).
Best wishes,
I totally agree with Pgtaylor. The SME turntables are far more neutral and of higher resolution than the typical mid-priced Brit belt drives from Rega and Roksan. While I've never heard any of the REALLY expensive (> $100K) turntables, the SME 20 and 30 series are the best I've personally heard, particularly in the ability to convey the emotional power of the music. At first Concerning the DL-103, the SME IV has the same effective mass as the SME V, so it must be the 20/2's ability to drain more spurious vibration out of the turning of the record. In other words, the Roksan table's colorations were compensating for a bad cartridge/arm match. The DL-103 needs about an 18g arm, and the SME IV and V have an effective mass of 10g. Have you messed with VTF and VTA on the SME to listen for the effects?

I was listening to a Roksan Radius a month ago and found it to be highly colored. The midrange was recessed, which made the bass and the ambient details sound bigger than they really are at the expense of the voice or instrument carrying the tune. Switching to a more linear turntable may be revealing a less than optimum arm/cartridge match.
Dear Zbielak: IN my experiences as we grow-up with better audio devices in the audio chain as " wrong " things come along/out, so we can't think ( almost never are so lucky. ) that a better audio device wll show ( plug&play ) immediatly the quality improvements, specially on the analog area.

If, like almost any one could think on it, the SME TT is realy better then you have to make a new overall audio system set-up, even the V and IV are different designs other than its similar effective mass and build material.

Looking to your system I have to ask: why the 103R?, I mean that your new SME gear ( even with rock/metal. ) maybe deserve a different cartridge that can realy show the quality of that SME rig and IMHO that cartridge can't do it, what you are hearing now ( between other things ) are some of the drawbacks of your 103R. Remember that the quality performance of your system ussualy is the quality peformance f the weak link in the audio chain.

Other thing that worry me is that you are running two different amplifiers with your speakers. The input/output impedance of the amplifiers are different, the frequency response is different, the output level on both channels on each amplifier is different, the THD/IMD on those amplifiers are different, its noise and overall colorations are different too
I prefer to handle speakers for same amplifier models to preserve " continuity ".

Other link where this TT change could " interfere " is with your phono stage that is maybe the most critical link in the analog chain, I know that you posted that is smilar than the Steelhead but with all respect that IMHO is no secure/absolute/precise reference of high quality performance.

The very good news is that right now you have the great opportunity to re-think your audio system to achieve a stepped quality performance from what you are experienced yesterday and today ( till today. ).

You need know-how, patience, money and more patience.

regards and enjoy the music.
Welcome to Audiogon! I see you are a new member and this thread that you initiated should be a very interesting experience. There will be lots of suggestions. I tend to agree with what others have said. After a big change, one often needs to reexamine previoulsy held beliefs and expectations. After the initial shock of a different sound, be patient and try to figure out what is causing the effect.

I have the SME 10 tt and SME V arm and can tell you that huge gains can be had by experimenting with all of the cartridge/arm set-up variables including whether or not the cartidge is a good match to the arm. I upgraded the arm from the SME 309 and the cartridge from a Sumiko Celebration and each time, the neutrality of the SME platform (table) allowed me to hear the differences very clearly. Then I began to really play with slight changes in VTA, VTF and alignment. You have an excellent table/arm combination.

I sense your frustration. Just try to be patient and enjoy the learning process.

A few years ago, I upgraded to an SME 20/2 with a Graham Phantom arm and a Dynavector XV-1S cartridge from an Oracle Delphi with Eminent Technology ET-2 arm and a long-discontinued Van den Hul cartridge.

The difference is just amazing! I can't speak for the SME V arm because I have not heard it in a long time, but it has a very good reputation.

I suspect that the most serious problem may be your cartridge and then perhaps your setup. I think perhaps Raul could provide even more guidance to you as he has a great deal of experience with TTs, arms and cartridges
Thank You all for Your words of support and experienced knowledge! I am working right on swallowing the pill of bitterness :) Hence - the cartridge first, and well over 1000$ one for sure. Maybe it's an early question to ask, since I still crave for more general oppinions 'bout my deck/arm malady - it's a young thread so far - but what cartridge would You suggest me to try out with the SME deck? I think of some carts in league with Koetsu Black, but that's so far I know. Maybe You know a certain cart which You consider just perfect for Rock and Metal music - colourful, dynamic, fast, soaring in hights, spacial and maybe even tending to some exaggeration in mid/bass punch. Or maybe that's too much to ask of a cartridge alltogether? I crave for colours in music, had plenty but now Im as colour-thristy as if stranded on a desert for a cup of water. Please post Your suggestions for an ultimate ROCK/METAL cartridge, I'd highly appreciate more thoughts of how to fine tune SME20/2 w/V optimally.

Would appreciate Your word.
one of higher end garrott bros models will put the 'old school' into pretty much any turntable/arm combo. google...they'll ship from australia, and you'll spend less than a grand. dynamic, low noise floor, solid.
Hence - the cartridge first, and well over 1000$ one for sure.

The 103 series can be very critical in Arms when they are not heavy enough, and to be honest, Analog reproduction is a combination from everything. Probably the SME is much more accurate and you simply hear the truth (more than before).
There is a cartridge from Zyx, FS100 - I think -, that has a very remarkable performance for its price. It produces more "music out from the grooves" than others I heard in this price area. And it is a easy going cartridge, no secrets from set up. the Koetsu will compensate the high and low frequency areas, midrange is superior, can be a good match, but sooner or later you will think about it again...
05-05-09: Johnnyb53 wrote:
"In other words, the Roksan table's colorations were compensating for a bad cartridge/arm match. The DL-103 needs about an 18g arm, and the SME IV and V have an effective mass of 10g."

Okay, I will have to look for some higher end cart. I will probably have chance to hear Koetsu Black Goldline soon, I also consider an audition of Grado Statement Master MI cart. Maybe You have any oppinions on those carts?

Now as for the Denon 103R, are You positive about this mismatch? Is there any way to make 'em both come any closer to matching? Put some extra weight on the cartridge or something of the kind? Which parameter in cartridge description has to fit? Cound You please shed some light on it for me? It will be helpful to avoid mismatches like the current one with DL 103R, when looking for a next cartridge.
Thank You
Another cartridge I would recommend is the Sumiko Celebration. It was designed using the SME V arm on an SME table. It sounds wonderful and there are many reviews on the net. It can be found used for $1000 or new for about $2000.
I have heard Lyra cartridges on the SMEs that sounded fantastic.

As for the DL-103, it famously has a short, stiff cantilever and wants an effective mass around 18 g. With arms with detachable headshells, this is easily remedied with a heavier headshell. Not so easy with a fixed headshell, but could be done with a headshell weight.
Zbielak, using the Cartridge Database's Tonearm Database, you can determine the optimal range of cartridge mass for use with any tonearm in the database. The reverse is also true if you do a search for a specific cartridge. The database will provide an optimal range for effective tonearm mass.
I use my 20 with the ball bearing feet instead of the rubber. To remove the rubber inserts just remove the foot and with I small allen key push the rubber out. This should give you a faster sound which I prefer.

Enjoy, Jonathan.
05-10-09: Johnnyb53

"Not so easy with a fixed headshell, but could be done with a headshell weight..."

What mass should I apply atop of the headshell to come near the optimum? Is there a way to calculate it? I understand if the optimum mass be achieved the cart should play in the familiar manner?
Will the cantilever not break if I extra weighted the headshell?
What mass should I apply atop of the headshell to come near the optimum? Is there a way to calculate it?

Apologies for jumping in again, but you can calculate it using the Cartridge Database information using the link provided in my post above.
Which one of Dynavector Karat 23R or Clearaudio Victory H would suit the arm/table combination better in Your oppinion? Do You have any experiences with these carts?
Well, I trew out the Denon and installed an old Linn K9 and the result is comparatively superb - DL 103R must have really been an execrable match for SME V. I was astonished to discover K9 is a sought after, reputable cart, reaching quite high prices 2nd hand. Do you have any thoughts on this Cart? I might be curious to chceck some other MM's - would You recommend any of tonally similar yet more sophisticated cartidges, please?

Thanx for encouragement to experiment. I listened also to both Clearaudio Victory H and Dynavector Karat 23R - Clearaudio has outstanding highs, and I think it will be my next step in refinig my system. Thank You for your oppinions.
Here is a discourse on MM cartridges. Might be worth checking out. It certainly inspired me. I'm now using a B&O MMC-2 and am quite happy.