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Opinions on SME 15 turntable


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I'm thinking of replacing my VPI TNT with a final turntable to see me into the foreseeable future.

The TNT (upgraded series one with integrated motor/flywheel, ball suspension pods and series 5 bearing) has a Graham Phantom II with a SME base and my new table would be something to exploit that tonearm.

I've decided to limit my spending to ~$10K, which will hopefully ensure a reasonable upgrade over the TNT.

 

Anyway, the SME15 appeals to me from practicality and build quality standpoints. The reviews seem very positive about SQ too.

Many SME owners seem to love their tables, but there is a portion of vinyl enthusiasts who describe SME as detached and un-emotional - CD like, perhaps. 

I am seeking a neutral platform to hear what's on my records, not a stylised sound - but of course I want it to be enjoyable.

 

Apparently there are a few SME 15's in the wild and I was hoping owners would  chip in with their longer term impressions. Still loving it?

Actually any SME impressions would be useful - or if you switched from SME and why.

 

Edited by Tobes
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I’ve had a SME10 for a few years now. I’ve never found it sterile.. I actually think it’s rather neutral. Goes well with my Harbeth speakers. It’ll see me out. Once its setup, it’s setup. SME as a company are great to deal with any issues and all being well will be around for years.

Using a SME IV arm Lyra Kleos using Duc’s MM phono stage and SUT and Luxman 507u amp.

I find that there are more sonic variations with the vinyl that I have in all sorts of ways too many to describe here. So I find no need to change what I have to play them on...

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Thanks for the input.

Interestingly I checked out an old 1990 SME30 review by Ken Kessler - https://www.kenkessler.com/hi-fi/hi-fi-news-november-1990-sme-30-turntable-review/ - which alludes to some of the negatives people report with SME.

This review was, I believe, a followup of Martin Colloms' review which was much less complimentary (Colloms is a Linnie).

Colloms later described the SME30 :

 "while the performance is crisp and comparatively neutral, for my taste it lacks emotion and does not sound as rhythmic, dynamic, and involving as I would like. Superbly finished, this engineer's approach to turntable design is likely to sell well across the Pacific."

 

Similar thoughts about the other SME tables are peppered around the web - though the majority opinion definitely seems more weighted to the positive.

 

The interesting thing is that while Kessler said he could 'respect' but not 'love' the SME30 he subsequently adopted it as his reference and I believe has used it for decades.

An acquired taste perhaps, or maybe it takes time to wean off the colourations of other tables(?).

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Professional reviews of the model 15 seem very positive (both with SME309 arm):

 

Michael Fremer (Stereophile): "Considering its space-saving design, good looks, impeccable build quality, and nimble sound—including rhythm’n’pace abilities that, in my opinion, put it at the head of the SME pack—I rate this combo a complete success"

 

Wojciech Pacula (High Fidelity): "This turntable is both – precise and full of passion. It has its limitations but it manages to overcome them so that they don't spoil the pleasure of listening to the music. It offers a well differentiated, colorful, dynamic, particularly vivid sound........A perfectly executed design." 

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Thanks for the input.

Interestingly I checked out an old 1990 SME30 review by Ken Kessler - https://www.kenkessler.com/hi-fi/hi-fi-news-november-1990-sme-30-turntable-review/ - which alludes to some of the negatives people report with SME.

This review was, I believe, a followup of Martin Colloms' review which was much less complimentary (Colloms is a Linnie).

Colloms later described the SME30 :

 "while the performance is crisp and comparatively neutral, for my taste it lacks emotion and does not sound as rhythmic, dynamic, and involving as I would like. Superbly finished, this engineer's approach to turntable design is likely to sell well across the Pacific."

 

Similar thoughts about the other SME tables are peppered around the web - though the majority opinion definitely seems more weighted to the positive.

 

The interesting thing is that while Kessler said he could 'respect' but not 'love' the SME30 he subsequently adopted it as his reference and I believe has used it for decades.

An acquired taste perhaps, or maybe it takes time to wean off the colourations of other tables(?).

Your last sentence sums SME TTs to a tee...

 

Here’s Fremer’s review of the a 30.2 from 2003. Make of it as you will.

 

https://www.stereophile.com/turntables/796/index.html

 

Note he says. The SME 30/2 is perhaps the most tonally neutral turntable I've ever heard.

 

I guess it’s their “signature”? Some will call it sterile, others like myself will say neutral.

 

 

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I was a bit reluctant to post here at first as I don't have any experience of the Model 15 but as you asked for general SME opinion I'll chime in. I own a Model 10 that i bought new in 2002 and a Model 20/2 that I bought around 6 years ago (if memory serves). Both get used heavily daily, the 20 in the lounge and the 10 in the study. I've never found any fault with either. Neutral but definitely not sterile. If it sounds sterile then the recording is sterile. Superb build quality, apart from an annual drop of oil in the motor and (in the 10) in the bearing, a change of belt every two years and that's it. The 17 year old Model 10 fires up like lightning and has never put a foot wrong.

 

One thing in particular I love about SME is when you buy one of their turntables that's it. There are no 'upgrades'. No change of belt material, no swapping in another flywheel, no third party suspension manufacturers, no motor controller 'improvements' to be had. Sure, you might find some goose on the 'net who reckons you should swap the feet out for something else but some folks just can't help themselves. If you want another level of performance you save another 5 figure sum and buy the next model up. They sit there on the rack and play music day in day out. I wouldn't change either of mine unless I found $30,000 in which case i wouldn't say no to having a Model 30 in the set up.

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Thanks for your comments @Hergest those are certainly things I'm looking for in a new turntable. A thoroughly thought out, completed, design is what I'm after.

There are other companies, like Kuzma, who have had models on the market for well over a decade. The longevity of the designs does give the buyer confidence that the maker has got  a lot of things right.

 

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