Thanks for the photo, Jonathan - what an amazingly stylish deck, something for which Michell were justifiably well known.
Is that an SME tonearm of some description that you have onboard? They are made just down the road from me, in Steyning.
And an interesting looking LP on the platter. I am a sucker for non-black vinyl.
I got one which looks just like that a few days ago - a Woody Guthrie LP, I think.
You’re so right the Michell turntables are along with the Oracle I think particularly beautiful designs.
The deck originally came with a Rega RB600 but my dream arm since about 1988 was the SME IV or V and so when SME announced they would no longer supply arms to end customers without turntables I jumped in and bought one of the last SME IV’s on their shelves! Since that photo was taken I’ve done a couple of other upgrades - first the latest spec rubber coated suspension springs after I visited the factory and more recently the SME has had the silicone damping trough upgrade which also permits easier adjustment of VTA.
As for the record it’s actually the last Abba album “Voyage” which came in the fetching orange vinyl. Like you I’m quite partial to coloured vinyl and just acquired a yellow vinyl copy of Daisy Jones and the Six “Aurora”. They’re handy for photographs although I know some people reckon black vinyl sounds best (or if memory serves didn’t people used to rave about JVC purple vinyl???)
I really need to put a seriously high end cartridge on there now because having heard what a Lyra Kleos SL and Sumiko Pearwood Anniversary did to the performance I found it a real struggle to go back to the OC9!! It’s one thing having a £60 000 SME turntable in the house and knowing it’s brilliant but hopelessly out of reach but the danger with hearing things that are just about affordable is you start wanting them!! I’m certainly very interested in a few options from Lyra, Kiseki, Koetsu and the Audio Technica Art series.
Enjoy your music!
Fascinating, Jonathan, thank you.
You seem to be thinking of old turntables? I rather meant used ones like when my dealer sells out his demoex at half price or when a customer changes to a “sharper” turntable…
Oh sure, that makes sense. I always see these ancient 1980s decks floating around that probably have 10,000+ hours on them…no way those are at their best…
I had exactly the same setup (Thorens 160/Mayware Formula 4). I got in touch with Inspire Hifi, which rebuilds and upgrades older turntables - they sent me an estimate for £450, which included a new Rega arm. I was tempted but eventually sold the turntable a few years ago, as I wasn’t totally happy with the Naim Stageline I had at the time. I toyed with the idea of getting a new turntable/phone pre-amp, but finally sold my LPs.
I think that SME shot themselves in the foot by stopping selling their tonearms on the open market. But they seem not to have reversed that decision, so the business model must be working for them.
Graham, like you I thought SME were mad to stop selling arms direct to the retail channel but when I asked them about it they had some good reasons for doing so. I believe one or two of their overseas distributors were buying in loads of SME arms to fit to rival turntables so it was hampering sales of SME’s own turntables in those territories. I believe they have now re-started selling the Series II tonearms to retail again and after a change of distributor in some territories I suspect they may even start selling the series IV and V again without the need to buy a turntable to get the arm. Time will tell I guess. I also gather that they wanted to focus engineering and production on their expanded turntable range and so something had to give due to rising demand for their turntables and arms in combination.
Hope that clarifies,
Maybe the new-ish Ikea turntable will fit the bill
Has anyone heard it? (Link)
I remember seeing this when it came out and being initially put off by the built in phono stage. I suspect it’s on par the usb type TTs you see in Curry’s etc. Would be interested to know who actually makes them. It’s cool to see IKEA coming out with stuff like this though. I bought one of the record stands from that range. £6! Bargain.
Thanks for that explanation, Jonathan.
I have been into hifi (for want of a better word) for 50-odd years, but have never had an SME tonearm.
I have only ever had three tonearms during that period.
The first was an Infinity Black Widow, with a graphite armwand, on a Thorens TD160S deck (with Ortofon MC20 moving coil cartridge), which I sold to a friend when I got my Linn. The Black Widow was very stylish, in a skeletal sort of way, but was not sufficiently rigid to avoid colouration.
When I bought my LP12 in 1990, I went with the obvious choice: an Ittok, although I opted to pay the 10% extra to get a black-finished one, as they were reputed to ‘sound better’ (which may or may not have been true, as I never heard a back to back comparison).
In due course, I opted to have an ARO installed on the LP12. I suppose that I must have traded in the Ittok, as I have no recollection of selling it.
Ray Horn at Grahams HiFi persuaded me to try a Dynavector XX2 Mk II, and I had two or three of them for them for the next 30-odd years.
Then last year, as the XX2 Mk II needed to be replaced, and just before a bout of ill-health struck me, I had a Dynavector Te Kaitora Rua fitted to the ARO. And what a stonker that is - beautifully clear and precise, with a great bass response. I think that I have found my ideal cartridge, and its open, skeletal form suits the ARO’s own minimalistic design. A wonderful match!
So they are! The M2-9 M2-10 and M2-12 straight and M2-9R and M2-12R j shaped arms. I hadn’t noticed that, thanks for sharing the info.
The introduction of the new VA tonearm compliments the magnesium range of tonearms fitted to SME turntables, which provides an opportunity for the highly credible M2 Series to be assigned to a Classic Range now available for individual retail sales.
Has anybody here come across an Amari Turntable? For some reason one came up as a suggestion for me on eBay. It looked just like an old Micro or Melco turntable sporting a Brinkmann tonearm, but the price seemed a bit too good to be true. Further investigation showed they have turntables that look a bit like high end Clearaudios, and also one that apes the oracle Delphi. They appear to be made in China and the pricing is almost too cheap to be true. They come bundled with an AT95E no less, the idea being at least you can get up an running and assume that most will replace with something much better. However, I can’t help but feel that the likes of Clearaudio, Brinkmann et al. may be more annoyed than flattered by the clear imitation here. But curious as to whether anyone has seen, handled, or even tried one.
Goodness, that’s gone for the ‘machine’ look. Industrial design rools!
I assume that the motor is in the big silver box, to stop any interference with the deck. I wonder how the user ensures correct spacing of the motor and deck.
And is the arm a 12 inch design?
I think that my Linn is safe!
Here’s an original Micro-Seiki RX-5000 with an SAEC tonearm;
Good gracious, that’s a bit different. That looks to be a copper platter without a mat, which might give rise to unwanted resonance when a record is played.
Again, I wonder how the user ensures the correct distance between the motor unit and the turntable.
And it looks as if the cartridge is missing.
Great to read your turntable history - I must admit I still think nothing looks as good on a Linn as an Ittok - a simply fantastic piece of design! The Te Kaitora Rua must sound magnificent I should think and it’s good to hear that it’s delivering so much pleasure on your ARO - a design classic if ever there was one!!
Like you I dreamt of owning an SME arm for decades but financially they were always out of reach. I think my obsession started around 1987 when if memory serves the SME V was launched and graced the front cover of Hi-fi news magazine and was followed a year later by the IV. I still have both of those reviews in my rather large vintage hi-fi mag collection!
I always knew that what I really wanted on the Gyro even in 1999 when I bought it wasn’t a Rega but an SME and in fact I was very lucky. I went for lunch with my Mum just after SME announced that they wouldn’t be selling anymore arms in isolation and she remembered me falling asleep reading those old hi-fi reviews as an impoverished student. She would retrieve them from me when I was sound asleep so they didn’t get crumpled in bed!| She also knew that I applied for a job with SME after university but sadly they had no suitable vacancy. Anyway she basically offered to purchase the SME Series IV. I was reluctant to accept such a generous offer, so pondered for a few days but she finally convinced me that she wanted to do it. She thought it would be a lovely thing that she could buy and that I would always keep and remember her by.
A few days later I went with a friend up to the factory to collect one of the very last Series IV tonearms allocated to retail or trade sales. I couldn’t quite believe that the dream had finally come true. The factory itself was inspiring because it’s a marvel of post war British architecture with its glorious square windows and flagpole. It manages to be modestly sized and yet magnificent.
Unpacking the arm was equally exciting - savouring the gloriously retro box artwork ‘SME the best pick-up arm in the world’ and then sliding off the box to reveal an inner black foam box which has the letters S M E carved into its granite like texture - like an ancient monolithic inscription hewn from stone. I took my time savouring the SME branded screwdrivers and installation tools and studying the beautifully written and illustrated user manual. Whenever I review a piece of hi-fi equipment for Soundstage I always reflect on the fact that SME are simply the world’s best at writing user manuals and packaging their products, they have elevated it to high art…
When I got the Series IV out of the box it just looked so incredibly beautiful and elegant. The finish and the feel of the bearings was flawless and I defy anyone to cite a more beautiful arm.
The SME arm mounting system is quite simply the world’s best. It’s a model of engineering simplicity and precision and permits easy adjustment of overhang and VTA then locks utterly solid. It made my Rega RB600 with its primitive mounting system look like the work of an apprentice, the SME is the craftsmanship of a grand master…
Sonically I hadn’t expected the Series IV to be vastly better than the RB600 but I was wrong. Bass suddenly extended and hit noticeably harder and the tonal ‘greyness’ that the Rega imparted was gone and was replaced by a huge increase in the reproduction of timbre and detail.
So I guess if there’s a message in all this it’s that you shouldn’t ever stop chasing dreams, they have a habit of coming true in the most unexpected ways… To be honest I can’t think of a nicer way of being reminded of my Mum. Playing vinyl is something I do when I have a little time at weekends and in the evening so it’s a time for relaxation and contemplation and celebration. We still meet regularly for lunch and then I bring her back here usually for a movie but sometimes we just play records using ‘her’ tonearm making lots of happy memories of good times together. Some thirty odd years ago one Christmas my parents bought me a lovely Capital records box set of Sinatra and so we were spinning some of those albums quite recently.
Great story, Jonathan, and lovely photos of the SME arm and its packaging - although you spoiled it at the end by referring to that dreadful old mobster!
Steyning is not far away from where I live (Brighton). Do you know if it’s possible to do a factory visit/tour?
I word love to visit SME in Steyning and, of course, Naim HQ in Salisbury. I hope that it will be possible to do this once the recent dreadful epidemic has gone for good.
I did go to Naim once, several years ago, to pick up some spare packaging boxes, and got to meet Sheila, Naim’s formidable former Customer Relations Manager (who I think, if memory serves, used to cut down and shape plastic milk bottles for an early Naim tuner - the NAT-101?)
But I didn’t actually get inside the Factory itself.