SME V : what to expect ?

Hi !

I've had many turntables , also "audiophile" ones.
Armwise I have some SME3009 which is musical. I had a Linn LP12 with Ekos II etc... sold it it didn't sound good...

I can buy a SME V new now for relatively low $$$.

Any SME V owners here who want to share their experience with me ?

greetz from Europe
I owned a SME IV for many years, that has the same arm tube, with slightly lesser bearings, on an Oracle Delphi MKIII.

After switching to a VPI TNT with JMW-10 arm, the VPI with the same MC cartridges sounded much, much better.

I would never buy another SME arm. They sound lifeless.
My experience with SME 345, same tube and bearings, is that they are competent performers, easy to set up and work with just about any cartridge. Is it the very best? Depends on your definition of best. I dont think it adds anything to the music, which I guess is what its supposed to do.
I am not sure that making a determination about an arm's sound by comparing it to a different arm on a dramatically different style turntable table is fair. The SME V is a fine arm. It may be not be the best, but it has little of the false added brightness (sometimes confused for liveliness) that many audio components do; definition and staging is very good. My issue with the arm is that it can have an overblown low bass that on the the wrong table (one without enough energy in the mid/upper bass) can make the bass range sound disjointed from the rest of frequency spectrum; almost like a poorly calibrated subwoofer. On the right table, in a system that needs the energy in the lower bass it can sound great. I went from an SME V to an ET2 and while I never really looked back, there were times when I used my Stax F-81's, which need all the help they can get in the low bass department, that I missed that low bass energy.
Having owned both the SME V and ET2, as well as the Gyrodec and Oracle, I can concur with Frogman 100%.
The SME V is a great arm on a deck that suits it, eg Sota/SME V. It was a complete disaster for example on the Linn Sondek when it was 1st released.
I've owned two SME V's and an SME IV.Vi. Frogman and Dover provided good info. My V's were both mounted on Star Sapphires and mated well with various cartridges including Benz Ruby 2, Koetsu Urushi, Onyx Platinum and a few others. I always enjoyed what I heard.

The IV.Vi was mounted on a Nottingham Mentor along with a VDH Black Beauty. I preferred that setup to the Sota/SME V combos.

My first complaint about the SME's is no azimuth adjustment. If you're gonna spring for a pricey cartridge, I think it's a must. My other complaint, and this applies to almost all pivoted arms, I always heard tracing error, and after a while, it got old.

I almost went with a linear tracker but after recommendations from Ralph at Atma-Sphere and Thom from Galier, I decided to give the Tri-Planar a try. That was a few years ago and I'm still enjoying the T-P. For whatever reason, I don't notice any tracing error and it's got all the adjustments you need; and they're all repeatable.

If you could find an ET-2 in good shape, I'd take it over the SME. I have one friend with a Sota Millenia, ET-2, Benz LP and another with a Sota Nova, ET-2, ZYX Universe. I could happily live with either setup, especially the one with the Universe

I have used the SME V and IV on the following turntables: Basis Debut Signature, Technics SP 10 III and Technics SP 10 II (both fully restored Bill Thalmann), and Thorens TD 124 II and I (both fully restored). Cartridges include Benz LPS and Benz LP (upgraded with micro ridge stylus), Denon 103R, Ortofon 2m Black, Shure V15 Type Vmxr (with Jico stylus) and others. Overall, the SME arms are excellent arms. Unlike others, I have never had bass problems with these arms. They sound ripe, lush and detailed. Their sonic characteristics carry over from turntable to turntable fairly intact. The SME IV is more lively and dynamic sounding than the V, perhaps a bit colored in this respect. I have never had tracking / tracing issues with these arms. But, set up is critical to achieve best results. I use the SME overhang gauge to rough in positioning, and then fine tune with the Feickert device. VTA is difficult to adjust properly. I am amazed at how well the SME V handles the Shure V15 Type Vmxr due to the high compliance of the Shure. As for azimuth, while I check it with Fozgometer, I don’t adjust the SMEs because of the sheer difficulty of it – adding spacers to the cartridge mount, readjusting the cartridge, rechecking, and re-doing because it’s not quite right. Ultimate exasperation. Nonetheless, the SME’s azimuth is very close to correct.

Now what is really interesting is how the SME arms compare to the Graham Phantom Supremes. I use a 9” Graham on the Basis and the 10” Graham on the Technics tables. The Graham’s have far superior adjustments for overhang, VTA and azimuth. The result is a more perfectly dialed-in sound. I simply can’t fine tune the SMEs as well as I can the Grahams (azimuth is adjusted with the Fozgometer). As compared to the SMEs, the Grahams have superior inner detail, dynamics, delicacy and bass definition. Overall sound is “leaner” with Grahams as compared to the SMEs – perhaps attributable to the bass ripeness for which the SMEs are so famous. Unfortunately, the Graham simply can’t handle the low tracking force of the Shure V15 Type Vmxr, especially for anti-skate adjustment.

Are the Grahams better arms than the SMEs? Yes, in my experience they are better in almost all respects. Would I give up my SMEs? No! They are superb arms which I enjoy very much for their view of the music.

The next step in my analog journey is to get a handle on how longer arms affect the sound. I have the SME 312S on hand and the 12 inch Graham is a possibility with a change in arm wands.

This is more than you asked – hope it helps.
Kmccarty, when I mentioned problems with tracking/tracing, I didn't mean to say I had problems with skipping(stylus not staying in the groove). My SME's were great trackers in that regard.

I was referring to the fact that pivoted arms are really only dialed in at their two null points and the further you get away from those null points, distortion increases. For whatever reason, I'm quite sensitive to this, particularly near the beginning and towards the end of an lp. My brother, who was born blind, is also very sensitive to this. Aside from my couple nit pics of the SME's, I really did enjoy my time spent with them.

You judge the quality of an arm with a Shure V15 ??????

The SME IV and V are very old designs, unchanged from 1987, when they were introduced!

Thank you so much for your feedback.
The SME V is simply a no-nonsense Product. A good choice when someone is
not an analog fanatic and wants something done right (from the construction).
Sonically it has a good soundstage (but only in the depth, not in the height),
good detail and in a way, you need some knowledge for matching cartridges.
The Shure cart. is a good match for the 3009 (that Arm is hugely overrated,
specially in combination with the MC carts we normally use).
Try to find someone who can rewire that Arm with a good cable, when you
can't, go for the US SME IV.Vi, I think, that one has the best cable from all
Hi Don C55 - the Shure is a decent cartridge with the Jico stylus. I play around with it for reasons of nostalgia. The point I was making is that the Shure's light tracking force and high cantilever compliance are difficult for some modern arms to handle. The SME arms handle not only the Shure, but also modern moving coils with high(er) tracking forces and low cantilever compliance. As for its ancient design, SME has made improvements in the arms over the years - for example, bearings - (if you're buying used it's worth emailing the serial number to SME to find out what changes have been made since date of manufacture). I don't really think you should dismiss an arm designed at the zenith of vinyl just because of its age. There are many highly sought after arms from that era because they are simply excellent, well executed designs.
Has anyone else tried the SME V-12 arm?
Actually, I had an SME V on a Sota which wasn't good. The arm is way too heavy which stretched the springs...and the lead shot couldn't easily balance the suspension. After working very hard I got it to work,however it wasn't nearly right. I think lifeless would be a good description of the sound as told by Donc55
This is going to devolve into another one of these discussions with defenders and detractors. Lots of differing opinions. I've only owned the SME V and V-12 on SME tables and the sound is anything but lifeless with the cartridges I have selected. In fact I hear things (resolution, harmonics, bass definition, neutrality, lack of distortion) from some of my LPs on my system that I have never heard from these same LPs on friends' systems which include two Triplanars, a Graham Phantom, and a Kuzma Air Tangent on various tables.

I'm not saying that the SME arms are the best or even that they are better than the arms I just mentioned. I'm just saying that I don't hear the negatives from my system that some on these forums attribute to the SME V. Lifeless, dull, bass heavy - my SME table/arms have never sounded like that to me.
Agree with Peterayer. I've had SME V on Sota Star ( vacuum ) and sounded great.
Cartridges used were Koetsu Rosewood, Black, Madrigal Carnegie and van den hul grasshopper. Other arms compared with at the time were ET2, Syrinx PU3, Alphason, Sumiko The Arm & FT3 and a few others. Never had balancing problems with SOTA's.
Van den hul was best match in terms of balance with the SME V.
I've found the SME V I had seemed to get out of the way and let the cartridge do it's job.
Are there better arms?
Sure, but the SME is well thought out and most people will get pretty good results without weeks of tweeking.
I have a Basis Vector which I probably prefer but it took a good few weeks of fiddling to get there. With the SME you can get pretty much all the way there within a few hours.
Stringreen, I'd guess something was awry with the springs on your Sota as I (like Dover) had no problems balancing the SME on the Star I had.
I have an SME V on a Sota Sapphire w/ Shelter 901 but I wouldn't if the combo resulted in lifeless sound and dull bass. Bass speed and prat are two of my main requirements when judging components and I got rid of a nearly unused and pristine condition HW-19 MKIV with both a JMW-9 and Audiocraft AC300 MKII tonearm because it couldn't keep up with the Sota/SME combo.

If it doesn't make me want to snap my fingers or tap my toes, I don't need it.
Lespier et al....I changed the springs twice, but always had the same issues. I've heard the SME in other systems that was quite nice, but it never worked for me. Sometimes trolls are doing their dirty work with high end systems. I've experience this a number of times. This is especially true for one system a certain brand is fine, in another system not so good at all.
I have never felt my SMEs sounded "dull and lifeless" at all. The "liveliness" on the SME V can be adjusted somewhat with the depth of the dampening paddle - or deactivate the dampening altogether.
Or get rid of the anti cables - anti cables = rolled off tops, soggy bottom.