They should be.
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I apologize, but I find it odd that you pose the question as to what people think about SME tables, then seem to answer your own question by pointing out other tables people should preferably consider. Moreover, have you seen the prices for a "highly customized Technics SP10-Mk III", with the power supply properly restored? While I am a big fan of the SP-10 MK III, I purchased an SME 30 Mk II for much less, and a used SME 20 goes for maybe 1/3 the price - further, both of these can be easily serviced without certain parts already having become unobtanium.
The Walker Proscenium is in a completely different ballpark - $60k more than the price of a new, fully tricked out SME 30/12a, and about twenty times(!) the price of a used SME 20/a.
Walker Procession is $38k, top of the line SME is close to that,I think. I mentioned it because someone said that he would prefer Avid at this price level.
The reason why I asked about SME was that I hoped that those familiar with this level turntables would compare them or at least describe the sound of SME tables.
Thanks - I appreciate the clarification. I agree with Jperry - the SME tables are really underrated, and I would say are quite a bit better than the SME tonearms. In terms of sound of the SME tables, in my experience, they are very neutral, with no significant weaknesses (other than the fact that you can only mount one tonearm on them). Compared to my Verdier La Platine, the Verdier is warmer, richer, with more density in the midbass, but not as "clean" or "stable." Moreover, the SME is superior at the frequency extremes (low bass and upper treble) - fully extended in both directions.
As one Audiogoner previously put it, the SME is almost the CD of belt driven turntables (I do not mean that pejoratively) - it is extended in the frequency extremes, precise, neutral, dynamic (both in the micro and macro sense), and of course, absolutely bulletproof; maybe a different way to put it is that it combines the strengths of digital and analog. It will tell you everything about the arm and cartridge you are using with it, but still presents music in that analog way we know and love.
I have only heard the Acutus (not the latest SP Reference) in my local dealer's system and at audio shows, but in that experience, I would say it is a little more colored than the SME 30, without the same level of resolution of low level detail. (At least in the past, resident Audiogon analog guru Rauliruegas stated that he preferred the SME to the Avid). With that said, some may prefer the Avid's tonal balance (or appearance) to the SME; in any event, either of these tables can be exceptional with the appropriate tonearm and cartridge.
However, there is also something exceptional about a well implemented direct drive turntable - for lack of a better term, they possess an authority and a continuousness (meant in the HP sense) that really stand out - even going back to the Goldmund Studio / Reference, and the top of the line Japanese tables before then, like the SP-10 Mk III. Recently I have heard both the Tech Das and the Wave Kinetics NVS at various shows, both of which I would propose as being essential auditions in their respective price ranges.
Thank you for a detailed post. The way you generally described SME sound, it is very close to how some others described Simon Yorke sound. I am somewhat surprised that you don't appear to think highly of SME tonearms, especially compared to their tables.
Lacee, would you care to elaborate on Kronos? It might be more three dimensional than SME, what about the other elements?
Taters---I was talking about the reference system in the main room in his shop (a great room, built in the golden ratio formula of 10' X 16' X 26', and fitted with RPG diffusers and ASC Tube Traps). The SME replaced that huge acrylic table built in France (or was it Switzerland?) that Brooks is pictured adjusting on the Brooks Berdan Ltd. website. He was involved in that table's design, but used the SME in the store for the last few years of his life.
Bill Johnson's Winter home was out here in the California desert, about 1-1/2 hours from the shop, and Bill had Brooks come out and set up his table/arm/cartridge (I don't know what they were!). Bill and Brooks are both greatly missed.
The prior turntable you are referring to is either the SPJ La Luce or Centoventi. I believe Brooks had more input on the SPJ tonearm design, but not sure about the table - I believe that was mostly the work of Judy Spotheim and team. Great man, and sorely missed by the audiophile community.
Right you are, Rzado, the table I was referring to is the SPJ La Luce. Brooks mentioned he had consulted on the design, but didn't get specific. Brooks had a working knowledge of suspension tuning from his days in race car design, and applied it to turntables. That's where his mod for the Oracle came from (adding mass at a specific location on the table's floating sub-chassis), which made possible getting the spring rates of the three suspension springs tuned to the same frequency. The sub-chassis therefore bounced up and down vertically in perfect balance.
Taters, Brooks was pretty sick for a couple of years before dying, and Brian was doing all the work (demoing, advising, selling, delivering, setting up, all the turntable/arm/cartridge assembling and adjusting) at Brooks Berdan Ltd. (which is still operational under the management of Brooks' widow Sheila) during that time, including showing at The Newport Hi-Fi Show. He may not be Brooks, but he's no regular Joe either! Many of Brooks' top lines (Wilson, VTL, lots of table/arm/cartridge makers), having established a working relationship with Brian as Brooks' health deteriorated, decided to follow Brian to his new store. Brian has added new lines (as has BB Ltd.), while some of the older ones (Jadis) stayed at the old store. An interesting situation! Both establishments are very deserving of patronage.
Mordante said :
I'm always a bit underwhelmed by SME arms. Never heard their turntables. But IMHO SME arms seem to suck out the live of the music. Over-dampened or something.
That's quite a common perception.
Indeed the SME arm is well damped, something that SME have been renowned for. In fact public opinion tends to be split between those who prefer maximum damping and those who feel SMEs are “over-damped”. One can only please some of the people some of the time. ;^)
The SME V is an outstanding product both sonically and in terms of manufacturing accuracy and ease of setup. It is a true “Super-Arm” but at only half the price of the competition which makes it a “steal”. Best I’ve heard the SME V perform is in the Avid Acutus despite, somewhat perversely, my being an "undamped" enthusiast.
There seems to be a great synergy between these 2 and although, like you, I wouldn’t normally prefer the SME V, I would cheerfully partner it with this table.
One of the great things about SME is that they are a traditional engineering company who make the parts themselves using in-house machine shops. Many others shared this mindset (B&O, Linn etc) and they’d routinely machine parts to an accuracy of half a “thou” (0.0005”). This is a tight tolerance generally reserved for main bearings etc. The Electronics company I worked for had many in-house machine shops around the country who routinely manufactured even the most basic parts to that level of accuracy (that is until someone protested that half the stuff we fabricated didn’t have to be this good and would settle for +/-2 thou!!!)
Apologies my friend. I said the answer to the question was a simple one but I didn't say its implementation would be ;^)
I guess what I'm really trying to say is that we will never be truly happy unless our choices are pleasing to us.
You missed another most important condition : dealers tend to be franchised and limit the number of different alternatives they offer so they'll be plugging whatever big name turntable comes into your head and possibly one or 2 other big names (if we're lucky) so it becomes physically impossible to evaluate all the permutations you describe. In a way this is probably a blessing ;^)
Having said this a good dealer (assuming folk have access to one) will take some of the guesswork out of it.
One thing which becomes clear from visiting many different dealers is that it is possible you may not like ANY of the items on offer, reinforcing the importance getting something that you DO like.
All is not lost though. Even though the T/T may not be 100% favourable, another aspect of turntable management is the "tuning process". You can have a barrowload of fun with this : turntable mats, clamps, weights, periphery rings, earthing main bearings, variable tonearm damping (some arms have a well for damping fluid), removing energy "drains" from your turntable and tonearm, removing extraneous mechanical resonators from your turntable, changing the type of support, re-building your house etc etc.
The sky's the limit...
In reality I wouldn't recommend doing half of this stuff but rather explore choices that make the more drastic ones unnecessary?
I make it sound like it is the most hateful thing on Earth but in fact I wouldn't consider existence meaningful without a turntable. It allows access to the music in a way that nothing else can. It's all worth it in the end :)
All the very best,
Responding to doc_c55, I too note some issues with the SME arms, but would not characterize them as "lifeless" per se - colored, but not lifeless. I heartily agree with the frustration of adjusting azimuth - you basically need to create shims to add to the cartridge screws, or otherwise mess around with how the tonearm is mounted in the base. VTA is also a pain, but you can work through it with patience.
I don't agree there are clearly "better" turntables for less money, particularly at their used prices - perhaps there are tables different in presentation that may suit an individual's tastes more (particularly certain direct drive tables as I note above), but I would put an SME 20 or 30 at its respective used price against anything on Audiogon right now.
A used SME 20 or 30 is a great table and a good buy, at retail it is vastly over priced for the way it sounds. Do you enjoy paying for shipping, currency, dist. markup, dealer markup, and the list goes on. Used it's a great buy, new not so much. Stick with an elliptical stylus though, you will never get a micro-ridge or line contact set up correctly.
After owning three SME tables I will tell you first hand, it is impossible to get the most out of a great cartridge using an SME arm, you do not have enough setup options and what you have are terrible. Let's be honest here, if you bought a car and couldn't adjust the mirrors would you recommend it!!!!
The better the cartridge the less likely you can get it to sound its best on an SME table. This is not debatable, this is fact, and a phase response test will show it.
I like the SME Arms, and have never had any issues with setup - the 312S which is my preferred arm have some azimuth adjustment because of the removable head shell. I do agree that VTA adjustment is "clunky" however its not a setting I change once its setup, lets face it SRA is not changing more than a few 1/1000 of a degree with the varying thickness of LP records. If you follow the correct instructions on how to mount the arm properly especially in regards to the offset angle, so that the rails of the SME mounting base is at the correct angle in relation to the spindle, any cartridge can be dialed in perfectly.
I find that they are extremely well and solidly built, and once set up all settings can be securely locked in place.
Good Listening and Happy Holidays
Well built but rather lifeless sounding. I speak as an ex-sme owner. Ironically they sound much better with non-sme arms such as triplanar and graham and I have heard the 30 with both of those arms and it sounded much better. The 20 is a big step down. The 10 can easily be bettered by much cheaper decks. They sound the opposite of the yorke which is more fleet of fot and alive with better bass and timing.
brizonbiovizier- Did it also have this lifeless quality with the addition of the Graham and/or Triplaner? May I ask what you have found that suited your tastes better since owing SME. I heard both Brinkmann Bardo and Spyder earlier this year, and liked only the Spyder. I found Bardo a bit unemotional sounding. Tonearm was exact same on both, which was REED.