SME 10 turntable Page 2
SME's M10 tonearm is available only with the Model 10 turntable. According to the SME literature, the M10 is a derivative of the 309, itself a lower-cost variant of the original SME V—but according to the importer, Sumiko, it's actually better than the 309. Fabricated from a one-piece, pressure-diecast, tapered magnesium armtube, the M10 uses Abec 1 bearings (as opposed to the higher-quality Abec 7 bearings used in the more expensive IV.Vi), and its detachable magnesium headshell allows for adjustment of azimuth. Cost is kept down by using a mounting plate that's simpler than—and incompatible with—the standard SME mounting template. However, the Model 10 'table does include the standard SME mount, making it compatible with the full line of SME arms as well as those from some other manufacturers.
With its simple, suspensionless construction, you can have this 'table up and running in just a few minutes. You remove a transit screw from underneath, inject some oil (supplied) into the bearing well, place the main platter over the subplatter, plug the power supply's mini-DIN plug into the base, level the 'table via its three threaded feet, attach the simple yet ingenious chromed-loop stylus protector (which effectively prevents you from accidentally banging into the arm as it hangs exposed in mid-air), and you're done.
While most tonearm designs fix the pivot point and move the cartridge to set overhang, SME's system does the opposite: the cartridge's position is fixed in the headshell, while the base slides fore and aft. On more expensive SME arms, the base is fixed via four bolts while a sub-base moves. On the M10, the base itself slides along special slots on the 'table's arm-mounting platform.
All SME arms have internal wiring that terminates in four pins at the end of the armtube, necessitating the use of four tiny headshell leads with clips at both ends. With some cartridges, the two sets of pins and clips end up in such close proximity that the wire forms a tight loop that tries to bend back the clip at the solder point. The force can literally open a clip, seriously reducing its contact area with the pin—critical when you're transferring ultra-low voltages. Or the clip can fall off altogether, which means you have to carefully bend it back to its original, tiny-diameter opening. Too big a diameter and it will fall off again as soon as it's flexed; too small a diameter and you'll never get it back on the clip.
To set stylus overhang, you fit the SME-supplied template over the spindle, lower the stylus into a tiny hole representing the proper overhang, and slide the arm base forward or back until the armtube sits parallel to lines on the template. While it makes cartridge-mounting easier, and despite the high rigidity of the SME connector, a detachable headshell considerably reduces arm rigidity even as the slotless cartridge mount increases rigidity. The headshell also leaves no way to adjust cantilever zenith (the cartridge movement pivoting around the stylus), which adjusts tracking tangency to the grooves. SME assumes that your cartridge has been properly constructed—not an unwarranted assumption in these days of expensive, handmade cartridges. We hope.
Though the M10 arm offers VTA adjustability using a rigid, stable, locking arm post, other than hash marks on the side of the overhang template (which you can reference to a line silk-screened on the side of the tapered armtube) there is no VTA gauge. Accurate, repeatable settings are difficult to achieve, though if you're meticulous you can get close.
The detachable headshell allows for azimuth adjustability—something the fixed-headshell models don't. SME arms feature a convenient, dialable, damped-spring antiskating system, while VTF is set by the movement of a counterweight along a locking threaded screw. Within its range of adjustability, setup of the M10 is about as simple and foolproof as it gets.
At a price differential of $495 compared with the armless 'table, the M10 is an exceptional value. In terms of build quality, adjustability, and fit, finish'n'feel, nothing else comes close for the price in my experience. Still, I doubt SME could sell the M10 by itself for $495. Even if it could, I doubt many end users or manufacturers of other turntables would want to attempt machining the narrow slots in the armboard necessary to make overhang adjustable.
The touch, the look, the feel
When everything was set up and ready to go, I was confronted by an absolutely magnificent piece of gleaming industrial architecture. While some turntables look like objets d'art, the SME Model 10 looks like a piece of fine, precision machinery. There are many larger, immediately more impressive-looking turntables out there, but the longer I looked at the 10, and the longer I had my hands on it, the more I came to admire both the soundness and innate simplicity of its design, and the ultra-high quality of the machining and finishing of its parts. This entire production is up there with Rockport's, and that's saying a great deal.
To flatten the record on the platter, the 10 uses a threaded clamp much like VPI's together with a washer that goes under the center of the LP label. On/Off and speed (33 1/3 or 45rpm) are selected via illuminated buttons on the outboard power supply. Once you've hit On, you have to hit Off before changing speeds.
With a record clamped on the platter, you hit On/Off and the 'table is almost instantly up to speed. Press the button again and, just as quickly, the 'table stops—thanks to an electrical braking system built into the drive.
With the 'table sitting on a Zoethecus stand, I listened with a stethoscope. Placed against the base, the 'scope picked up a slight mechanical hum from the power supply, which sat on rubber feet on the same shelf as the 'table. A few inexpensive Vibrapods (great product) eliminated the hum entirely. (A better solution would probably be to move the power supply.)