Earlier this year, SME launched one of the world’s truly great turntables, the state-of-the-art Model 60 flagship. Evidently, engineers have been busy at SME, in Steyning, West Sussex, UK, because the company is now releasing updated, Mk2 versions of every model in their range, from the Model 12 and Synergy to the Model 30. When you consider that the Model 30 has been in production since 1990 without major revisions and is still regarded as one of the world’s finest vinyl spinners, the significance of this launch is obvious.
SME does not do things on a whim or halfway. In October, the company hired the beautiful, historic St. Mary’s House, in Bramber, Sussex, to demonstrate their newest offerings. This outstanding timber-framed house, built in 1470 as an inn for pilgrims, features a sublime music room that was added in the 1890s as a venue for musical soirées and weekend house parties, a tradition that continues to this day with the hosting of live performances.
The music room
The proceedings commenced with a demonstration by Ajay Shirke, owner of SME, of a vintage (1890s) German Polyphon, a mechanical music box that uses punched-metal discs with projections, called plectra, on the underside. The mechanism is wound by hand, and as the disc turns, the plectra engage a series of ratchet wheels beneath. When so activated, each wheel plucks a corresponding tooth on the instrument’s steel comb, sounding its tone. The richly polyphonic sound is then amplified by a built-in soundboard.
The Polyphon player
After that trip back in time, SME’s effervescent CEO, Stuart McNeilis, revealed a limited-edition series of 75 Model 60 turntables, each one—aptly called One of One—anodized in one of 75 different colors to celebrate SME’s 75 years of operation. Each of these 75 turntables is the only one of its kind in the world, and the price, £60,000, reflects a small premium for setting up the anodizing machinery for a single turntable. Most colors are still available at the time of this writing, but are sure to sell out quickly as many will want to own this unique slice of SME history.
Pink SME Model 60, One of One
Sample colors for the new, limited-edition Model 60
The event continued with a demonstration of the new Model 12 Mk2 turntable, which is equipped with SME’s Model 309 tonearm. The phono stage was a Nagra Classic, and Boulder amplification was driving a pair of Rockport Avior II loudspeakers. This musical presentation included a wonderfully curated assortment of priceless albums, introduced by Matthias Boede of the German Stereo magazine, and was an absolute delight. As a seasoned music lover with a sizable vinyl collection, I was in awe of Matthias’s ability to continually surprise and enchant the assembled guests with his varied selection.
A great room deserves a great system
Matthias Boede in full flow
The main design changes on the Mk2 decks are the switch from DC to AC motors and the physical separation of the power-supply transformer from the speed-control unit, which keeps residual transformer interference away from the delicate music signal. SME has also incorporated RCA phono sockets in every turntable chassis in the Mk2 range, thereby eliminating phono cables dangling from the tonearm. SME pioneered this approach on the Model 60. After seeing it, I was left wondering why nobody had done this before. The new-generation motor-control electronics implemented in the Mk2 models operate at a higher temperature than previous versions. This required redesign of the motor-control casework to incorporate more air vents, a feature seen throughout the range. Fine speed control and speed selection are adjusted using the large rotary control on the front panel. SME has also re-engineered the brass motor housing in the Mk2 range to minimize vibration fed into the sub-chassis.
Notice the beautifully sculpted motor-control casing and speed control. The record is a DMM dubplate—yes, I want one too!!
SME claims these refinements, collectively, have led to a significant uplift in sound quality across the range. Comparing the Model 12 Mk2 to its predecessor, my impression was that the new Model 12 offered better articulation of the leading edge of notes such as plucked acoustic guitar and a greater sense of swing. This improvement was highlighted in the classic Beach Boys’ “The Warmth of the Sun,” from the California Project album, performed by Papa Doo Run Run. The vocal harmonies on this track were stunningly clear and articulate, with all the sun-drenched sweetness one associates with the Beach Boys. Earl Klugh’s divine “Like a lover” had a wonderful groove with tremendous dynamic range and a sense of impressive openness. Having lived with the magnificent Model 60 over the summer (read the review on SoundStageUltra.com on December 1), I’m very much looking forward to getting my hands on a Mk2 review sample from the new range early in 2023.
SME Model 12 in the bare metal
Tonearms as far as the eye can see
The day concluded with a comprehensive tour of SME’s manufacturing facility, where the company representatives were keen to demonstrate the huge investments they made in R&D, computer-aided design, computerized five-axis milling machinery, and their new anodizing department. This enables SME to go from an engineering idea to a finished metal prototype much faster and achieve a higher standard of finish than ever before.
Machined brass motor housings await new owners
The glorious art-deco-influenced factory stands proudly in the beautiful Sussex town, its flagpole about to be refurbished to fly the Union Jack again. In an age when so many companies outsource manufacture of parts to China in pursuit of cost savings, I left reassured that SME has absolutely no intention of going down that path. Made in England is still honored in Steyning, and long may that continue.
SME, tradition and engineering excellence for 75 years
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!