VPI Classic 3 or SME 20/2


Hello all - I'm considering moving from my Classic 3 with 10.5 3D arm to the SME 20/2 with SME V arm and I wanted to see if anyone out there has made this move (or a similar move) and if so what are your impressions. I'm using a Benz LPS cartridge right now and use the Allnic AUT2000 step-up transformer into the MM phono stage of my VAC integrated (sigma 160i). Overall I am very happy with my vinyl sound right now - I'm only considering trying the SME because it is available for a good price within driving distance and it's such a ballyhooed tt that so many seem to consider a destination piece. (I also, like many of you I imagine, enjoy trying new gear.) But it will be a bit of hassle doing everything involved to make it happen and so if it is going to be largely a lateral move I'd prefer to avoid the effort. I'm aware that the SME V doesn't allow for azimuth and on-the-fly VTA adjustments. Have also read that the Benz LPS is a nice match for the SME V. Also painfully aware that there's no way to know without hearing with my own ears - I can (and will) audition the SME but I never have much success getting a feel for other gear in short auditions in unfamiliar rooms. So any impressions out there would be much appreciated. 
davelarz
If the table is used and well priced, there is little financial downside as the SME is a desirable table and can be easily resold. No risk, no reward. 
Following @testpilot 's logic, if you ever decided to go back, there will always be a bunch of VPIs available used, including models where the motor is decoupled, which I've found to be a decent improvement over the alternative. Cheers,
Spencer 
Yes I have the same feeling. The SME 20/2 doesn't come up used very often, especially within driving distance and at a used price. VPI's are everywhere. 
Ten years from now the SME will still be a top dog and known quality; the VPI will be: “Wait, which line? Model? Mk #? Year? Drive system? Platter? How many pivots on the arm? etc...”
I have no opinion to offer.  The sound will likely be different.  But would it be better?

I notice that the responses here are all sort of market-trading ones.  Very Audiogon-y!  No one has offered an opinion on your principal question which is what can you expect in SQ if you move from the VPI to the SME system.  Since you say you are currently "very happy" with your vinyl SQ, that's an important consideration.  If it were me, the only consideration.  

One thing you might do is look for an old SME thread here or elsewhere  and revive it.  Since there are so many VPIs out there perhaps someone has already made a similar trip and would comment.


Melm - I've looked at what SME/VPI conversations exist here and at other places. Not much, a thread comparing the HRX with the 20/2 from 2006 I think. And yes it's true I'm happy with my vinyl sound now. But surely you are familiar with the itch to be just that much more... happier.

Fstein... but I like my speakers. Do you even know what speakers I have? I don't think I mentioned that in this thread. Maybe I filled out a "your system page" here at some point that I don't remember. 

Anyway I have Verity Parsifal Encores and I like them.
I had a SME 10 with a Benz-Micro LPS and have heard the SME 20 which is also a great turntable. I have set up and heard a couple of VPI turntables.

I would get the SME 20. Great rock solid turntable. Set it up and no need to fiddle as it will stay set up correctly. The arm will be a great match with a Benz LPS.
I had an SME V which wasn't able to adjust for azimuth. (I don't really remember)   Maybe that changed since I had mine, but azimuth adjustment is very important for proper setup for me. 
I actually agree with melm.  They will sound different.  Not necessarily better so to speak.  Your system will have a lotto do with it as well.
Not sure if this will help, but my local audio club of 80 members had more owners of VPI tables than any other brand, everything from original Scout to HRX. About 2 years ago, about 6 or 7 of 15-20 all sold their VPIs and went in varying directions. Not a single one of them has gone back to a VPI nor regretted the decision. Most of the changers went sideways or slightly up in price. FWIW, I  was one of those guys.Don't think any of us bought SME, so no direct comparisons. 
When I have heard of dissatisfaction w/SME it's usually with the arms sounding "boring", perhaps too dark and analytical. Of course, detractors would argue that the SME extracts more details and that it's a good thing. 
Ultimately, without a chance to compare them side by side, you are going to have to trust your gut at some point. Perhaps that's why so many replies touch on the market aspects of your dilemma. Cheers,
Spencer 
Really helpful feedback sbank, and I appreciate it. The market aspect in this case is not very troubling to me - the SME is being offered at a price where I feel like if I decide to do so it won't be a big problem, could possibly make money on the deal. And if I sell my VPI (and a few other things I have around that I need to move) I will break even on the swap. More the effort involved - long drive, the effort of potentially selling a Classic 3 which is a hassle. But I've decided to go for it. I've read all of those "dull, uninvolving" critiques of SME tt's and I admit I'm skeptical. I will report back. 
@stringreen I fully agree that an azimuth/crosstalk calibration is super important. Adjusting for azimuth on an SME V tonearm is very difficult, but possible. (It takes me a few hours.) Unfortunately you have to play with the cartridge on the arm, instead of being able to rotate the arm or headshell, so it ends up being a lot of trial and error until you get it right.
SME annihilates VPI. This is not even fair. The cheapest SME Model 10 wipes the floor with the most expensive VPI offerings. OP are you joking?
Well I picked it up today. A little dusty but otherwise looking like a battleship that will outlast us all. I will report back on my thoughts on the comparison.
I started a similar thread as this over the Hoffman site and so here is what I wrote over there this morning:

“my thoughts... are pretty clear right from the outset. In short, I'm thrilled that I made the effort despite the fact that it ate up most of an entire day and now I have some selling to do. The SME is a pretty massive upgrade over the sound I had with the Classic 3 in just about every parameter. At twice the retail price I suppose one would expect this, but you're always worried about the diminishing returns factor. 

I'm not sure I have the language to describe the nature of the upgrade other than the obvious - the engineering and build quality aspect of the SME is staggering and eons beyond the fit and finish of the VPI. It feels like a military spec piece of gear (though to be fair the glossy piano black of the VPI is very appealing to me and overall I find it to be a beautiful turntable). 

In terms of SQ the best I can say for now is that it reminds me very much of when I went from a PrimaLuna amplifier to the VAC that I have now. If you'd told me that I had to live with that PrimaLuna for the rest of my days I would not have complained in the slightest - it was a great amp, well built, lovely sound, and price-to-performance-wise an incredible bargain. But from about the first note I heard through the VAC I was aware that it was a different class of audio altogether and there was no going back for me. 

I'd listened to the VPI quite a bit the past few days and very much doubted whether it was worth it even to pursue another tt because it sounded so full and big and alive. And I still feel that if the Classic 3 with 3d arm were the last rig I ever owned I'd be a happy man. But the SME is simply in another class to my ears, and I heard it that way after about 30 seconds of s1, t1 of Brubeck's Bossa Nova USA (2-eye, long time reference record for me though I'm not exactly sure why...).

The many many criticisms that I've read on the web that SME's sound dull and lifeless... this is truly baffling to me. Usually when there is a prevalent criticism of a component I find myself somewhat agreeing even if it doesn't come to be much of a problem for me. Lyras are bright. Check. VPI's are noisy. Indeed. But this dull and lifeless SME business - to say that this is not my experience is to understate the case considerably.

In conclusion, thank you all for your input. I'm grateful for this site to engage in threads like this.”

We use an SME 20/3 with Series V tonearm and Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge in our 2-channel reference system. :-)
Congratulations OP!!! I use a Model 10A with an Ortofon 2M Black. Absolutely magical.
I'm a big fan of VPI tables and arms.  Have been using VPI tables for almost 30 years.  They are a great value and provide a lot of musical satisfaction.  

But my opinion is that....      There is little doubt in my mind, given that choice between the VPI CL3 / VPI arm and the SME 20/2 / SME V, that the SME is the better choice.  As @nekoaudio  has indicated that it is their reference table / arm, it would probably be the last table / arm that would overcome the need for upgrade in most every system.    

That said, it's also my opinion that you should get some experienced assistance in setting up the SME combo.  
Congrats on your SME 20 purchase.

A really great reference table
A few more thoughts:

-I thank you bpoletti for talking about careful setup because I had taken the previous owner's set-up for granted in some ways due to the fact that I picked up the table and consequently didn't have to remove the arm. But when I took a closer look I realized the suspension was not properly adjusted. Very easy to do (as is pretty much everything with this table) but I was glad to have done it.

-I am not at all a fervent believer on either side of this highly polarizing debate, but I have to say... the speed controller seemed to benefit from a power cable upgrade (master coupler) and going into my power conditioner (RSA Elgar). Going to straight into the wall with a purple jellyfish, speed was drifting from one side to the next. With the SR going into the Elgar, steady as can be and spot on at 33.3.

-Based on what I've read it seems that among British audiophiles the SME is known for it's black backgrounds (and I can attest to that for sure - you ask yourself how much more black could it be and the answer is none... none more black) while Linns are known as the ultimate PRAT machines (they do love their PRAT those Brits). I have never owned a Linn so I can't comment other than to say that this 20/2 I'm listening to is the PRATtiest damn PRAT monster in PRAT town. I'm not sure I ever even  understood the notion of PRAT before I heard this thing. Which makes me wonder if Linns possibly have too much PRAT? Can one ever have too much PRAT?

-Only thing I don't like about the tt so far is the clamp. Sounds livelier and more open to me without it. With the clamp there's a slight muffling effect and the (ample) bass gets a little slushier.

-Speaking of that ample bass, that is my main issue right now, more an issue I think with my speakers and my room than with the SME, although taken as a whole it is resulting in too much bass. I have a small almost square room (14x13) and Verity Parsifal Encore speakers which have rear-firing woofers that produce almost subwoofer quality bass (I've had people come in here to listen and assume I had a subwoofer). You can adjust the amount of bass you want with the Veritys depending on how closely you place them to the rear wall (closer, more bass) but given the size of my room I'm limited in my wiggle room there and have them out about as far as they can go now. With the VPI C3, not a bass shy deck by any means, I would now and then encounter boomy bass of the room mode variety. I was concerned about this being a problem with the SME having read that it produces heavy bass, and indeed it does. Tonally perfect I must add, to my ears at least, tight and amazingly well articulated at the lowest registers, that kind of "wow I never knew what he was actually playing during that passage before" type of articulation. But I am definitely encountering the "too much bass" phenomenon more often with the SME. I listen to primarily jazz and Brazilian music, and with the majority of my records the SME bass experience is exquisite. But it booms in here with more records than with the VPI. I've only had the deck a few days and I am still playing around with various parameters so we'll see. Someone I have made deals with in the past has a Triplanar Mk VII he's getting rid of and I admit I am tempted to try it. Seems like the go-to arm for many with the 20 tt who want to be able to adjust for azimuth and also according to reports has a milder bass presence. 


@davelarz, before making a radical change to the arm, I'd suggest trying to play with your setup in the room and room treatment. Many in squarish rooms have reported improvements by going to placement of the speakers across a corner at 45 degrees. Bobby at Merlin and others have used this setup at shows with square rooms to great effect. 

There are tons of threads to read about bass traps, etc. If your room is peaking at a certain low freq. you can often fix the problem with traps in the corners behind the speakers (or all 4 corners). DIY traps are high performing if you are so inclined. To test the theory you can even buy a few of the round roll bags of fibreglass at your local Lowes or Home Depot and put them in the corners. RealTraps and GIK are two worthy commercial products that are fairly priced. Mio Weave are bargains for treating echo and mid/high reflections if you decide to treat the room in total. Cheers,
Spencer

Did you try different VTA adjustments? If not you should raise the VTA and see if it improves the bass problem!
Dialing in VTA, and the settings overall, has certainly helped. I love this tt. Hard to say when and how the upgrade jones will strike next but at the moment this really seems like the last record spinner I'll ever need. 

I put up a post at the Hoffman site and I'll do it in a separate post here at the Gon but thought I'd tag this thread too: Can anyone lend me the height adjustment gauge for the 20/2. Mine did not come with it to accurately adjust the suspension. I've jerryrigged something to give me what I believe is the requisite 3mm but being an obsessive completist (anyone here know anything about that?) I would like to use this gauge, especially since it seems that SME thinks everything through and gives you exactly what you need to make the exact right adjustment as easy as possible.

That said, having just splurged for the tt, I'd like to avoid shelling out $65 (SME-Height Setting Gauge-Model 202-System Set Up Tools|Acoustic Sounds ) for something that seems like a one-and-done adjustment so was hoping someone wouldn't mind sending me one and then I'd send it back when I'm done (obviously I'll pay your postage). Thanks - Dave
I usually dial in the VTA with me eyes and ears.  Glad to hear your are enjoying your new table.

tzh21y
"
I usually dial in the VTA with me eyes and ears"

That is remarkable, notable, and amazing what do you think the rest of the audiophile world uses they're noses? Toes?