SME Model 60/Series VA Turntable Page 2

The fit and finish of the deck and control/PSU enclosures is spectacular and every physical interaction a tactile delight. Our review sample came in the standard anodised metal finish, available in silver (natural) or black. Increase your budget to £54,950 and you can have a machined honeycomb finish in black, blue [as seen on this month's cover] or silver. Stretch further to £59,950 and you can opt for the hand-polished bare metal 'Diamond' version.

sqnote Deck Of Dreams
For listening, the Model 60 was set up in editor PM's listening room and fitted with an Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti cartridge [HFN Jan '18] feeding a Nagra Classic Phono stage, T+A P 3100 HV preamplifier [HFN Oct '20] and Constellation Inspiration Mono 1.0 power amplifiers [HFN Oct '19], into Bowers & Wilkins 801 D4 speakers [HFN Nov '21].

Hearing the deck in full flow was an extraordinary experience, and a vinyl lover's dream. Its presentation has an effortlessness and neutrality that is nothing short of enthralling, and completely free of unwanted 'character'. This meant I always felt I was listening to what the artist or producer intended, rather than a nicely polished 'Model 60' version.

This turntable also possesses one of the most eerily silent backgrounds I have ever (not) heard from vinyl – levels of groove noise were astonishingly low, and pops and clicks were only noticeable by their absence. And when not being quiet, the Model 60 turned in a performance that was revelatory, playing familiar recordings in an almost unfamiliar fashion.


Seen with the all-black Model 60, the outboard 33.3/45rpm speed controller is itself fed unregulated DC from another enclosure with a large, but isolated, AC mains transformer

As a perfect example, there's a stray 'squeak' of a guitar string a few minutes into Rebecca Pidgeon's version of 'Spanish Harlem' [The Raven, Chesky Records JR115]. I've always known this minor background flaw was there, but the Model 60 pulled it right into the spotlight. Fortunately, this wasn't something the deck only did to side-effects on recordings; I lost count of the number of times I looked up from making listening notes, thinking 'What was that?'.

So while the Model 60 won't transform your LPs into something brand new, I'll wager it will introduce you to subtleties you've missed before. This clarity and resolving power comes courtesy of the turntable's midband and lower treble talents. To call its detail retrieval abilities 'formidable' would be a gross understatement. No matter what sort of music I chose to pass under the stylus, the Model 60 lifted every element out of the groove and served them up in a way I have seldom encountered.

Musical Masterclass
Jennifer Warnes' 'Bird On A Wire' [Famous Blue Raincoat; Impex Records IMP6021] is a great song and well-known test track for good reason – it's a masterclass in instrument positioning. Yet its semi-circle of musicians has never sounded as spacious or as beautifully defined to my ears than through SME's flagship. Warnes was locked centre stage with millimetric precision, and as each instrument did its stuff – from rich bass guitar to pristine percussion – I could 'see' its position with ease.

This astonishing, incredible level of detail never once left the Model 60 sounding like a surgical instrument heartlessly dissecting the music. Rather, its level of insight worked to knit the music together as a whole. Detail is definitely not the enemy; I've always found that more information equals more musical enjoyment, and the Model 60 showcased this theory exquisitely.

The sense of sumptuous clarity continued into the top end, with vocal performances in particular an absolute joy to behold. On the a cappella version of 'Too Many Walls' [12in single; Polydor CATHX 4], Cathy Dennis was a clear and vivid presence, her singing given a scale greater than I have ever heard. Even more striking was the reproduction of the track's few vocal plosives, although – again – rather than being a distraction this just added to the sense of realism on offer.

Deep And Detailed
Across the lower registers, the Model 60 sounded impeccable. The deck's bass delivery was extended, fluid and taut, and when impact was required, it provided it happily. It was flawless, too, when it came to the detail and texture of bass instruments. The prominent bassline underpinning Donald Fagen's 'Morph The Cat', from the album of the same name [Reprise Records 9362-49975], was fruity, deep and slick in its tunefulness.


The 90o swivel joint at the base of the Series V tonearm is replaced in the Series VA with captive leads that feed a pair of gold-plated RCA outputs. A separate LEMO socket connects to the outboard speed controller via a screened umbilical

This track highlighted yet another trump card that the Model 60 has up its sleeve, namely keeping this bass detail in the picture as the vocals and other instruments joined in – this feeling of balance was a constant during my listening. The swirling synthesisers behind Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth's densely layered instrumentation in Let's Eat Grandma's 'Donnie Darko' [I'm All Ears; Transgressive Records TRANS347XX] were loud and clear, as were the subtle percussive effects tucked away in David Axelrod's 'Holy Thursday' [Songs Of Innocence; Capitol ST2982].

And while SME's Model 60 can stun with its handling of complex pieces, give it something simple and the space and sheer scale that it brings to the table is utterly captivating. Michael Hedges' guitar strings on 'Aerial Boundaries', from his album of the same name [Windham Hill 371032-1], were as crisp and natural as you could ask for – each note rang out strongly and cleanly, and decayed sweetly into the far distance.

The end of the side signs off with Mike Manring's fretless bass joining in on the duo's instrumental take on 'After The Gold Rush'. This stunning reproduction of one of my favourite electric instruments almost had me purring with delight.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
With its Model 60, SME has taken the deck many already considered to be 'the best' and made it even better. Both turntable and arm are exquisitely engineered and finished, and combine to weave a musical spell that's at once both compelling and exacting. It is no overstatement to rank the Model 60/Series VA as the new standard by which all high-end turntables should be judged, regardless of price. Now, pick a colour...

SME Limited
Supplied by: SME Ltd
01903 814321