SME Model 12A Turntable Page 2

True, the deck's unmediated sound means that at times this track loses some of its mystery – its 'romance' if you like. While the recording can seem like the audio equivalent of an impressionist painting when heard on other decks, the contrast here couldn't be more stark. However, if you're seeking a turntable package to transcribe almost exactly what's present in the groove, then this is it.

Stereo imaging is one of the Model 12A's real strengths. Indeed, it is one of the few high-end decks that is truly successful at conveying the precise location of all the various musical strands in a mix. The result is that the listener is able to focus on any particular instrument or vocal and follow it throughout the song with ease. Sandii & The Sunsetz's 'Living On The Front Line' [Immigrants; Yen Records YLR-28004] is a quirky electropop track from the early '80s, and one of those recordings that keeps getting better the more you listen to it. The Model 12A dug deep to reveal vast amounts of information, the lead guitar clear to hear through the entire track.

On lesser decks the instrument can easily become crowded out, subsumed into the overall 'fray' of what is a busy, condensed and compressed pop song. Here it was pinned in space with true precision, rather than fading in and out, popping up every now and again from behind the lead vocals and percussion.

Again, the Model 12A revealed the 'tiered' nature of the production, with different layers set behind one another, all carefully marshalled, ensuring this was no longer a morass of sound. Indeed, anyone with a Model 12A may find themselves deliberately choosing densely produced programme material, just to experience how skilfully the deck 'unpacks' it all!

Four On The Floor
This is not to say that the turntable succeeds only in 'hi-fi' terms, because it's clearly a highly engaging and involving performer with a variety of material – whether it be a highly polished production or not. Flowered Up's 'Weekender' [Heavenly HVN 16X] is a punchy indiepop single from the early '90s that showed how deftly the deck handles complex rhythms.

The Model 12A is not a turntable that aims to tempt with euphony. Rather, it's a matter-of-fact performer, preferring to hammer out low-end leading edges like a virtuoso 'four on the floor' drummer. The result was that 'Weekender' pounded along with thrilling slam and power, the deck sounding surefooted and wonderfully secure. The focus was on solidity and grip, and in particular I loved the way it revealed the relationship between the hi-hat, snare and bass drum patterns.

Nailed Down
Having reviewed the Synergy with its SME IV-derived tonearm and made comparisons in the past between the stock IV and 309 arms on several decks, it was illuminating to hear the 'tickled up' 309 on what is a very similar platform to the Synergy.

Grace Jones' 'My Jamaican Guy' [Warm Leatherette; Island Records ILPS 9722] is a great reggae-tinged song with some serious percussion work from the rhythm section hosted by Sly and Robbie. If the 309 arm here differed from the Synergy's modified IV it was only that the percussion's subtle dynamic accents were not quite as fully resolved and that the periodic bass drum 'thunk' was perhaps a shade diminished.


Otherwise the Model 12A made more than a fine job of the track, giving an admirably focused, detailed and controlled take on it. And there were plenty of other aspects to enjoy, such as the deft handling of the cymbals which had a tightly defined and tonally pure sound that glistened out of the mix.

As you would expect from an SME turntable, the Model 12A sounds 'meaty', and that's not just down to the general confidence and poise of its presentation. There's also a subtle tonal warmth that invests bass with real weight. This strong and gutsy sound is underpinned by the deck's fine speed stability, which ensures every bass guitar or double-bass note is a meaningful occasion.

Dance music dominated by heavily-modulated bass synthesisers such as Uncle Bob's 'Burly House' [Stress Records 12STR 7] gains some welcome extra heft thanks to this low-end warmth. A vintage techno track, sub-bass runs right through it, and the Model 12A certainly isn't shy about showing this. It delivered the sort of visceral thump only a true high-end turntable is capable of, the stylus feeling as if it was nailed down into the groove.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
This is a no-nonsense, compact, user-friendly package that will cut to the heart of the musical mix to reward with a sound that's taut, precise and highly detailed. Add the superlative build quality and you have a package that punches far above its weight when it comes to value for money. And while its new finish options may still lack the 'razzmatazz' of some rivals, many will want the deck for precisely this reason.

SME Limited
Supplied by: SME Ltd
01903 814321