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ME isn't a hi-fi
S manufacturer, it is a
precision engineering
Jason Kennedy marvels at SME's latest
example of engineering excellence.
company that happens to make
hi-fi. It made its name as a hi-fi
company in the
industry's halcyon days by
producing the finest tonearms
in the business. And it was the
process of creating and
perfecting tonearms that led
SME into the precision
engineering business that is its
mainstay today.
To have such a company
expending time and money
producing beautiful turntables
and arms 1s a luxury indeed. The
level of precision required for
the contract work that
sustains SME makes the
manufacture of turntables and
arms look like child's play, but
having a Rolls-Royce-plus
capability means the standard
of engineering is considerably
finer than you're likely to
find with other brands. A
walk around the factory
reveals that other hi-fi
manufacturers realise as
much - components are
made there for some
of the biggest
names in the
Ifitwere solely a mat-
ter of profit, SME wouldn't be
in the hi-fi business any more,
but luckily its proprietor,
Alastair Robertson-Aikman, is a
bit of an enthusiast. So much so
© SME produces
arguably the finest
tonearms in the business -
which is why they'll cost yer.
that he had a substantial listen-
ing room built onto his house
that has twice appeared in these
pages and which currently
houses two pairs of heavily
braced Quad ESL63 speakers,
Krell, Audio Research and LED
amplifiers and the new Model
10 turntable.
This is only the third model
that SME has made in its forty
plus year history. Admittedly it
didn't start with turntables
until the 80s, and the previous
models have been refined in
recent times, but it’s still a
momentous occasion, The
Model 101s SME's ‘entry-level’
model and has a matching
Model 10 tonearm, the combina-
tion retailing for more than
£3,000. Not the sort of price
usually associated with entry
level kit, but when you consider
that the next model up, the 20,
costs nearly £5,000 with arm,
and you take into account the
quality of the
engineering that has gone into
its manufacture, you realise
that it represents good value.
The design of the Model 10 1s
quite unlike its Model 30 and 20
forebears, which were
essentially variations on the
same theme. The 10 has some
aesthetic similarities to Wilson
benesch's Circle deck with its
circular base and protruding
arm board, but its construction
1s quite different. It uses a
T-shaped subchassis supported
on low compliance isolators, the
latter use a sorbothane-like
material of the same variety you
find in Deflex damping products
and which has impressive
isolation and damping
properties. The same material is
used for the three adjustable feet
that support the chassis, so
there's no chance of this deck
sliding around, even if you want
it to. The feet are all there is to
adjust when setting up the deck,
there are no springs to balance
and all you need for the job isa
spirit level.
CE Ta Repimted From November 1999 |
Like other SME designs, this
turntable features a threaded
centre spindle and matching
record clamp, an element which
its designer feels confers
considerable sonic advantages.
Where this model differs is in
having a one-piece clamp that
simply uses an O ring to avoid
damaging the record label.
The platter 1s driven by belt
from a motor unit that will be
familiar to users of the Model
20, this being controlled by an
eight-bit micro controller in an
outboard power supply. The
latter is a significant upgrade on
previous designs by virtue of
having upward-facing switches,
thus requiring less familiarity to |
operate. Speed is crystal
referenced and facilitates the
usual 45 and 33.3rpms - you
have to spend a bit more if you
want to play shellac.
Neat features on the Model 10
include a stylus guard rail to
keep flailing limbs away from
expensive needles, and an arm
base that's pre-cut to accept
Rega/Kuzma, standard SME and
new Model 10-type mountings.
The new arm is a variant on
the popular Model 309 theme
with the same detachable
headshell and counterbalance.
In this case augmented by a
threaded tube which
combines with a supplied screw
to allow precise VTA (vertical
tracking angle)
setting through arm-height
Where it differs from the 309
is in the magnesium arm tube
as found in the range topping
Series V, but costs have been
controlled by the use of a base
which is simplified but
nonetheless allows traditional
SME alignment by forefaft
sled-style movement. Anyone
familiar with the dying art of
cartridge alignment will testify
that the SME system is a superb
design. The Model 10 variant
isn’t quite as glorious, but it's
nicer than most alternatives.
This is the first tonearm I've
used with a
O The 10's
PSU is more
ergonomic than
| Grasshopper IMGLA (com-
| plete with tip
| Elsewhere
| twistable headshell, and thus
the first time I've checked the
uprightness ofthe needle on the
record with the aid of a mirror
an alarming process that
suggested in two instances a
headshell which is parallel to
the platter 1s not necessarily
correct. Or, to put it another
way, both cartridges used
required a bit of headshell
rotation to get the tip to stand
upright in the groove — an
adjustment few arms allow.
The cartridges employed for this
assessment were a Wilson
| benesch Carbon and a recently
rejuvenated van den Hul
in the replay — еооеле ;
chain were DNM Start and PA3S
amplification, a Michell
| Iso/Lithos phono stage and
| Living Voice Avatar
| speakers. Cables were vdH on
the Model 10 with DNM and
| Electrofluidics thereafter - the
supports I'll go into shortly.
I've been using an SME Model
| 20A for some time now and have
' become so familiar with it that 1
| no longer hear it - not that
| there's much to hear. so the
Model 10 was up against tough
competition when it first took
over the record playing mantle,
but its limitations are very
skilfully disguised and all
really missed of the 20 was its
bottom-end power — a factor, no
doubt, of the lighter platter and
‘less compliant suspension on
the Model 10.
Initially I made a couple of
comparisons with CD - ап
odious pursuit indeed, but
one which revealed the
deck’s light, open and
relatively forward charac-
ter. Using polycarbonate
and vinyl from Classic Records’
DAD series revealed the 10's
impressive detail-scouring skills,
which brought out the age of
the recordings as well as the
leading edges of notes.
[t's clearly a nimble deck and
isn't phased by complex
material. What's more, bass
power 1s not in short supply.
Massive Attack’s bass-heavy
Angel, for instance, had me
transfixed with its darkness
and presence.
It has a bit of a penchant for
| reverb and other elements of
acoustic space, revelling in the
| Natural echo from Zakir
Hussain's tabla on Making Music
| and picking up the lack of stereo
| focus on a less
impressive print
of Kind Of Blue
f when
” with a 180g
Fo Simply Vinyl
The results of this test
were gleaned for the most part
with the 10 on a Townshend
Selsmic Stand, a support that
isolates components using
pneumatic suspension, and
clearly makes life easier for
| anything that's placed upon it.
| Soto give the deck's suspension
a sterner test, I placed it on the
carbon fibre top shelf of a
Wilson benesch Asside support.
Here the close proximity of
medium-sized loudspeakers
standing on wooden
floorboards rather undermined
the 10°s performance,
| particularly in the bass, which
lost its precision, and in the
' midrange which hardened up.
This is a fairly common result
when making such a transition,
| but served to reveal the limited
| scope of the Model 10's
suspension. Clearly with more
solid floors or greater
distance between deck and
speakers this limitation would
not be an issue, but it's
| something to bear in mind if
| circumstances are restricted.
Switching cartridges over to
| the heavy, open-bodied
| Rolls-Royce Aerospace grade hi-fi
| and it’s a bargain at the price.
This Month's Editors Choice
for that sort of experience.
the asking price in engineering terms
“It’s a nimble deck
and isn’t phased by
complex material.
What's more, bass
power is not in
short supply.”
Grasshopper was an extremely
rewarding exercise, the
resulting coherence and clarity
easily supporting the unhealthy
price of this rare needle. One
startling result was the
clarification of rap lyrics on one
track (Obvious by DJ Vadim,
ironically enough) which also
turned out to have a strange
gong in the background -
previously the words were too
difficult to discern and the gong
just a strange noise. Proving that
the 10 is more than a match for
cartridges costing as much as
the deck itself.
The SME Model 10 15 a welcome
addition to a very fine range,
handling all sorts of material
with an open and persuasive
balance that encourages you
to keep on listening and
# hunting for more vinyl (it 1s
out there by the way). As well
as being stylish it's ridiculously
well made - so forget your
BMWs and your Lexii. This is
| was well chuffed to get hold of the
SME Model 10 (055) before
everyone else. its a real beauty and
the sort of deck that would appeal to
both rhythm and timing brigade and
those more concerned with stereo,
~ bandwidth and so on. Listening to
ALi Farka Toure last night i was
transported to a spiritually uplifting
place...I'd say three grand is a bargin
MTM DECK £2,643.75
| TONEARM £689.33
A beautifully made deck that warrants
alone, needs good quality support and
fully warrants the finest ancillaries to give
of its best.
E SME Lid, Steyning, Sussex BN44 3GY
E (01903) 814321
| Reprinted From November EEE) HI-FI CHOICE |
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