SME V vs 309 Sonic Differences

Hi all,

I've read from a few sources one or two line comments like "The SME 309 gives up surprisingly little" when compared to the SME V. I've also seen a comment "most of the difference is in the tonearm cable." But in trying to nail down the true performance difference I have done numerous searches on both google and AudiogoN and can't seem to come up with anything beyond these one-liners.

Does anyone have experience with both arms that can give some insight? I just committed to an SME 309 and am wondering what it sonically gives up. Based on what it gives up, I'm wondering if the SME V would ever make sense as an upgrade, and what upgrade path exists for the 309 itself as either general improvements or targeted changes to specifically narrow the gap with the V. Any personal experiences with any possible upgrades is also welcome.

(Also, on a side note - I've heard some say the SMEs can be dark or too analytical. Is there any truth to that?)

Thanks everyone!
I wouldn't worry about any rumors on the sound of SME arms. They are right there at the top and the right cartridge can get a wonderful pairing.

Stereophile, in their review of the SME 10 table did a comparison between the 309 and the IV.Vi. That should get you close on the info you're seeking.

I owned a SME 20/2 IV.Vi arm for nearly 10 years. The SME arms have the best build quality out there imo. I can attest arm cables make a big difference on the SME arms (I used a Hovland, Graham IC 50, 2 different Purist Audio Designs -Venastus and Proteus Provectus)

Arms are hard to judge, did you get the cartridge dailed in exactly like the comparsion arm? Etc. I suspect the SME V and IV.Vi are better...but you might also be better off spending more a arm cable or cartridge to...

Good luck !
I'll just second that the tonearm cable makes a big difference on the SME's. The stock SME cable with my 312S (Van Den Hul) is rather poor IMO. When I replaced the VDH cable with a Graham the difference was very notable (for the better) - and I'm generally a skeptic when it comes to cables.
Hmmm....sounds like my best bet might actually be the idea I had to take my battery powered MC step up and solder a short set of lines directly from its PCB to an SME din. Maybe with a Litz braid.
Hi Gsoravil
I actually have used both arms on my SME 10 tt.

First upgrade was a vdH Silver-Hybrid (SME upgrade item) with the 309.

Next going from 309 (with the silver cable) to a SME V arm.

In each case I would not have wanted to go back to the previous item - the changes are NOT dramatic yet worth while. The silver cable gave me more 'harmonic detail', subtle but absolutely worth while when first used with the 309.

Going to the V arm from the 309, a re-test of the stock copper hybrid became a complete NO NO.
The V is clearly more revealing and has a better bass performance, so much so, that I had to now use the silicon damping through (very little but still) with the same cart (Windfeld) and settings I had used with the 309.
The 309 is a bit more benign (less energy at both frequency ends), not a bad arm at all! (same family signature)-- BUT again, you do get what you pay for when going for the V.

Lastly, my system is pretty much revealing and it clearly showed the differences. Depending on system settings and likes, the V vs. 309 may no be as noticeable --- and some may even prefer an arm that is not THAT MUCH 'on-the-point' as is the V arm. But as I said, there was NO WAY back for me in this case, and I have not regretted a single moment having spend the extra bucks on the V.
I had a 309 in the past and before buying it I scouted the web extensively. My conclusion based on what i read whas that the 309 has a fantastic price performance while the IV and V are just in the norm in that respect. Take it with 2 cents of salt but this was my conclusion. Short/normal budget 309 and the other for top notch performances.

Curious of a few things from your post. What percentage of the overall gain from the stock 309 to the V with cable upgrade would you say was the cable itself? 30%, 50%? Also, do you get the sense the damping trough would help the 309? Lastly, if you don't mind would you expand on what type of table and cartridge you're running so I have a better idea of equipment class?

Thanks much!
I have a 309 on my Gyro SE (with the arm decoupler kit). I can't compare to the V, but I can say the 309 sounds neither dark nor analytical.

Compared to an Incognito-wired RB300, it is much less beefy and more refined, sort of like the difference between a pro wrestler and a middleweight boxing champion. Some people might miss the extra fat.

I use an AT33PTG with it, which is a little more compliant than is ideal for this arm (I get a 7Hz lateral resonance frequency), but it's a wonderful sounding combination.

I did replace the stock SME cable with a SigmaAcoustics silver cable. I originally changed it out to get a lower capacitive loading for an MM cart, but was surprised by the difference it made with the moving coil AT33. MCs are not supposed to be sensitive to capacitive loading. . I keep meaning to put the stock cable back to check my perceptions, but haven't gotten around to it.
I first used the 309 as it came with my SME Model 10/A table. After a couple of years, I upgraded to the V arm. The difference to my ears was in the bass performance. The V was deeper and more defined/articulate/nuanced. This may be due to the better bearings on the V, the dynamic balance, or the fixed headshell. The dynamic balance dial allows for much easier very small adjustments to VTF. The dissadvantage is a lack of azimuth adjustment with the fixed headshell and easy cartridge swapping. The internal wiring is also said to be better on the V. The sliding mounting base of the V is slightly easier to adjust overhang. To sum up, there are both sonic and functional differences between the two arms. I use the Hovland MG2 tonearm cable.

All that being said, for the extra 2K used price, I might put it toward a better cartridge first and do the arm upgrade second. The Stereophile review of the SME 10/A notes a big improvement in arm upgrade to the
I agree with Jfrech. You may see some improvement in an arm upgrade, but I have seen first hand how big the tonearm cable upgrade can be.

I started with a generic tonearm cable, then went to XLO, Purist Venustas, then to Purist Proteus. Each time the soundstage, depth, bass and overall clarity improved.

I have the SME IV.Vi and I have friends that have SME arms. they have a strong preference for the Purist Audio tonearms cables. There is a good synergy there.

I am sure other good tonearm cables will match the SMEs well too.

I think a SME 309 with a good tonearm cable will out do a SME V with a so-so cable. Of course, an SME V with a nice cable would be preferred if funds (or wife) allow it.
I think dmccombs comment here puts the nail on it:

> I think a SME 309 with a good tonearm cable will out do a
> SME V with a so-so cable. Of course, an SME V with a nice
> cable would be preferred if funds (or wife) allow it.

Seems to me that if I did justify a V right now there's no way I could afford to upgrade to an appropriate quality cable, whereas with the 309 I can probably justfy something halfway decent. Overall it sounds like dollar for dollar my best bet is the 309 right now.

Unless, of course, the V comes with a truly good cable. But I get the sense that it probably just comes with one that betters the 309's cable.

Well...the 309 arrived today. Can't wait to try it out. Starting with my backup table I am doing a test fit. Love the weight. Nice, heavy, solid assembly.

What phono cable will you be using with the 309?
In search for a nice cable for a nice price I suggest you include in selection Audio origami rewires/cables web. They can't compete brandwise with others but Dollar for Dollar.......
Disclaimer: I am not related in business with them, just got one cable from them years ago and still enjoy it.
Enjoy your 309
>>> What percentage of the overall gain from the stock 309 to the V with cable upgrade would you say was the cable itself? 30%, 50%?<<<

The vdH silver-hybrid is NOT the stock V cable, it is a separate "SME upgrade item" at least that is my understanding.
Only the V arm internal wiring is done with pure silver wire compared to the 309 high purity copper arm wire.
On the 309 I'd say the silver-hybrid phono cable was 10-15% max. improvement with the V definitely more noticeable about 20-25% maybe a bit more, if one would attempt to express this in a figure which is somewhat ~ questionable.

>>> Also, do you get the sense the damping trough would help the 309? <<<

No, I don't think the damping trough is value added with the 309 due to it's more benign high and low frequency behaviour. It starts to make sense with the arm which is really not a IV arm, but a stripped down V arm.

>>> Lastly, if you don't mind would you expand on what type of table and cartridge you're running so I have a better idea of equipment class? <<<

As I mentioned, I use(d) a Windfeld (top of Ortofon's range, but also their Jubilee, the runner up).
The table is a SME-10.
I was eyeballing that Winfeld... I am running a Kontrapunkt b (based on the Jubilee). Might go Jubilee someday unless I score a good second hand Winfeld that I could retip.

I got my 309 the other day and did a half-hearted mounting job on my spare table (wanted to make sure I like it before cutting the heck out of the plinth). Seems to have more clarity but less highs than the Acos that was on the table. Maybe this is the copper internals or the tonearm cable that came with it? What makes this arm stand out seems to be the way in which these arms hold their settings. I am using the stock cable like I stated, but have been eyeing this home-made cable on eBay made with four nines silver and done in a litz braid. He has a full refund policy so can't hurt to try it I suppose...
Scratch my comment on the highs. It would seem my cart is merely taking a few hours, adjusting to being setup closer to spec... :-)
I had the Kontrapunkt-B on my 309, afraid to say that even the Jubilee puts it in its more ~ 'budget' place, never mind the Windfeld. I was 'crying' to my Jubilee back from a repair/check-up and was given the Kontrapunkt-B as a kind loan in the meantime. The Jubilee is a distinct upgrade, it does EVERYTHING a bit better, not the smallest argument as I experienced it.
Wow, that's a bit bigger of a praise for the Jubilee than I expected to see. So I take it the 309 handled the Jubilee reasonably well?

You know my eyes are bigger than my stomach when I silently ask myself "Would it be murder to stick a Winfeld on a 309?" I just don't think Winfeld + V is going to happen anytime in my forseable future. Might have to "settle" on a Jubilee + V on my eventual upgrades down the road. Oh this addicting hobby! I can already tell my next upgrade is me building my own table.
now just to throw the spanner into the gears.

I'm listening to an NOS ~ 150$ "Ortofon M20FL super" MI (moving iron) on my V arm and it give the Jubilee a run for the money!! Big time. In fact it sound better than a Kontrapunkt-B in my rig.

So, if you do NOT have to impress the neighbours and some such, save the cart money and get a top MM or MI cart. 4k$ saved for that Windfeld practically pays for your V arm, never mind trading the 309.
I have experienced great synergy with the SME IV, Hovland Music Groove 2 and the Shelter 5000. This set up (on a Transrotor Fat Bob) gives me all I could ever hope to achieve: bottom weight, detail and sound stage.

I've seen SME IV's for $1500 - $2000 on the Gon.
there is SMR IV and then there is SME
The latter ONLY available in US (for Sumiko), but as mentioned earlier, the is a stripped down V i.e. minus the damping trough.
The 'normal' IV is (silver not black) but uses copper arm wire and bearings one grade or so down from a V or

So there is a difference, and it WILL reflect in the price I should think.
Hi, I would not call the IV.Vi a "stripped down" V (and the IV.Vi has the damping trough)

The only differnce between the IV.Vi and V is the internal arm cabling. IV.Vi using magnan copper ribbon vs the V's van den hul silver. Some (like me) prefer the magnan. the other differnce is the IV.Vi uses a static vs dynamic balance. Theory here being one less thing to resonate. Not sure if there is "better" here...more different I suspect.

So the IV.Vi and V are really variants on the same arm.
Hi Jfrech,
>>> uses a static vs dynamic balance. Theory here being one less thing to resonate. <<<

Well, if that dynamic arm VTF (that I indeed forgot to mention!) resonates, then the damping trough (which is an option to the for all I know), will resonate even more freely... :-(
The damping trough uses less viscous silicon fluid than is used inside the V's dynamic VTA housing, thicker in summer than honey in winter.
BTW, the same silicone 'juice' is also used to damp the swivelling DIN female phono-cable connector.

You are also correct with the manganese/copper cable vs. the vdH silver wiring in the V.
All said, it makes for a rather more expensive arm as compared to the normal IV arm, which is the point I was trying to make.
I own an Oracle 345, it takes the best attributes of the 3,IV, and V, IMHO.