SME vs. Clearaudio Turntable Comparison - Thoughts?


My current system:
Primaluna Dialog Premium HP integrated amp
Parasound JC-3 phono preamp
Harbeth 40.1 speakers
Clearaudio Performance SEP TT w/Lyra Delos cartridge
Clear Day Cables double shotgun speaker cables

Thinking about upgrading the Clearaudio TT to something new and looking for opinions.

Given a choice between a Clearaudio Innovation Wood with Universal tonearm or a SME model 20 with a SME V tonearm, which would you choose and why?

My take is that Clearaudio is a bit more aerospace tech oriented and SME is more old school industrial design built like a Mac truck.  

I love the appearance of both models, somewhat favoring the looks of the SME for it's classic styling and also digging the Innovation for it's non-traditional appearance.  

Bottom line is sonics, so I'd really like to hear your thoughts on which one sounds better if you have heard both or either.  I primarily listen to rock, folk, and jazz.  

Thanks,

Peter
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 The ClearAudio Innovation Wood is an Excellent table. The platter floats on a magnetic bearing and spins with virtually no resistance. I also think the magnetic bearing helps isolate the platter from vibration. It has an electronic speed control that continually adjusts the speed of the platter. And if you want there is a place you can mount a second arm. I have the Universal arm on mine and I am extremely happy with the pair. I have not heard the SME. I will say that if I ever do upgrade it would probably be to a Kronos turntable.


The SME V was designed in 1987 and not changed since.  Old tech.

Poor fine tuned arm hight adjustment - they do not care about SRA, and no azimuth adjustment, are deal breakers for me.  Owned one for years and it sounded too "dead" with most MC cartridges.  IMO. YMMV.

Go for the Clearaudio.
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I agree with Don, The SME was a fine table in it's day - but there is a ton of technology that has been developed over the years i.e optical speed control systems, bearing materials, use of magnetically suspended platters etc. The Clearaudio is the clear winner between these two tables - no question. Especially considering there is an Innovation with 12" universal on A-Gon right now for a silly low price. If I was in the market I'd snatch that up in a heartbeat. 
don_c55
The SME V was designed in 1987 and not changed since.  Old tech. Poor fine tuned arm hight adjustment - they do not care about SRA,
Huh? The SME V offers extremely fine height adjustment, which is how you set both VTA and SRA with precision. So I'm not sure what you're trying to say here that SME "do not care about SRA."

Sure it's old tech. The whole LP concept is old tech. The SME uses the best bearings, extreme manufacturing tolerances and offers exact, repeatable setup. That's tough to top.

I'm not saying it doesn't have competition - the Triplanar would be one good example. But the SME V remains an extraordinary arm, imo.

By poor height adjustment I mean no index marks on height adjustment like VPI, Triplanar, or Graham.

If  movement in height reduces quality from previous setting it is hard to move back to the previous exact height.


I ended up choosing the SME 20/2 with a IV.Vi arm.  
I've been using Clearaudio turntables for the past 10 years so I am up for trying something else.  I was able to get a NOS still sealed in the box for $2K below dealer cost so I had a tough time declining.  
Can't wait to get it and set is up.
Please report back once you get it set up. That Clearaudio is still up for grabs- Would be curious how the 20/2 / V.Vi arm compares to your old Clearaudio. 

Have fun!
I got the SME 20/2 w/IV.Vi tonearm a couple of weeks ago.  No tonearm cable was included and since I didn't know this until everything arrived I had some delay in setting it up.  I ordered a cable from Audio Sensibility in Toronto as I had heard good things about Steven's work.  
Once the cable arrived I began setting everything up.  I followed instructions in the manuals to the letter and I would say everything went "pretty well."  Setting the VTA was the biggest challenge.  Warped records cause the biggest issues with the tapered arm.  If you set the VTA too low the record will tap the tonearm as it tracks to the end of the record.  It's easily solved but took some trial and error before getting it right.  
Leveling the turntable was relatively easy compared to some I have had in the past, including my Clearaudio units.  The adjustable feet on the SME make it very easy to adjust.  
Setting the suspension is also super easy.  
Setting up the tonearm was not as easy.  It is finicky, at least until you get it just right, which is not a cut and dry process, at least in my case.
 
One bonus I wasn't expecting is that mine came with the upgraded speed control unit.  Since it was a NOS package I expected the older style that used a dial-like knob instead of digital switches.  I have heard the newer ones are more accurate so I was happy to see it when I open the box.
Now for the sound comparisons...
I have only spent about 10 hours listening so far, so it's not entirely easy to compare, but what stands out the most is that I hear more music on the SME compared to the Clearaudio.  The SME handles loud, complex passages of records with much more deft than the Clearaudio did.  It's like I can hear deeper into the music front to back than before.  The Clearaudio sounded great but I now understand more clearly where it struggled to deliver.  
The Clearaudio had a little bit airier sound than the SME.  The SME is more restrained and polite.  This might be where some folks have referred to the sound as being "dead," but this is not my impression.  To me it sounds smoother than the Clearaudio.  Where the Clearaudio sounded a bit bright, the SME sounds rounder and fuller.  No doubt the rock solid build quality of the SME is responsible for these improvements.  I can sit and listen to records longer and loud volume on the SME than I could on the Clearaudio.  
That's all for now but I will update again later as I digest more of the differences.