Tour the SME Factory

Following Munich's High End 2014 show I flew to the U.K. where I met up with Chad Kassem and Chad Stelly of Acoustic Sounds, the new American SME distributor. On Monday, May 19th we took a train to Shoreham by Sea to visit turntable and tonearm manufacturer SME.

The history of this venerable company is best discussed in a product review. On this day we were happy to have a full day's worth of SME including a guided tour conducted by operations manager Liam Daly. We also got to visit the home of SME's founder, late Alastair Robertson-Aikman and meet his wife. I was fortunate to meet Mr. Aikman during my last visit some years ago.

Today his office and his listening room are as they were while he was alive. His son Cameron has taken over but he was unavailable during our visit.

So take the two part SME tour and be assured that a great deal more news from the Munich show will be posted here over the next few days:

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture Purfessur Mikey!

An antidote to those who love to love to spout, "Aw, you're just paying for the name." No snake oil here. Just good old fashioned solid engineering.

Which begs a question - are there turntables which achieve similar sonic results without this type of no-holds-barred engineering? I can see the pleasure in owning the best in craftsmanship, but I can also see the intellectual satisfaction of owning a simpler, smarter design which achieves similar results. I've heard the old Dual 701 did just that, in its day. Seems the high end Regas and the VPI Traveller may also fall in that category.

Ortofan's picture

Were you able to visit the Music Room?
Are they still using modified Quad 63 speakers in there?
Still the Krell Reference amps, too?
Likewise, which cartridge is installed in the turntable?

Michael Fremer's picture
Yes. I may post some more from the visit. They have a Clearaudio Stradivari on the 30/12. The room, like ARA's office is basically untouched since his passing. I meant GOLDFINGER!
Ortofan's picture

Isn't it curious that a firm whose core competency is the masterful machining of metal parts would opt for a phono cartridge with a wood body?

Michael Fremer's picture
Isn't it curious that a writer whose core competency is analog would type "Stradavari" instead of "Goldfinger"? It was the $15K Goldfinger….
Ortofan's picture

Thanks for the update. Chalk it up to a combination of sensory overload at the show and jet lag.

Wonder what Ortofon could produce for double the price of the Anna?
Maybe we'll find out for the 100th anniversary...

Jim Tavegia's picture

Their machining is second to none and what a great tour. I'm sure their customers feel the same pride as Steinway piano owners do.

Ortofan's picture

Perhaps for old Steinways, made before the CBS buyout.
Today, I'd rather have a Fazioli F308 or a Shigeru Kawai SK-EX.

Jim Tavegia's picture

The Steinways now are just fine.

volvic's picture

Alistair Robertson Aikman should be proud that his company still produces some of the best analog products in the world. Setting up a IV or V is an absolute treat and oh so easy. I will treat myself when my 50th comes, time to start saving. Thanks for the tour Mr. Fremer.

Peterayer's picture

I know of two 30/12A turntables that are birthday presents. One for a 60th and the other for a 50th. They could well be the last turntables that these guys will ever need.

Besides the extreme quality and engineering created at this factory, what really struck me from the videos is just how much product they produce. They make, and thus must be selling, a relatively huge number of turntables and arms. And they are not inexpensive. Analog is alive and well, even if SME is not such a popular brand in the US. Those 12" V-12 arms are very popular in Asia.

Thanks Michael for sharing these fascinating videos. Hardly a guy in his basement type of operation.

volvic's picture

I plan to be another one of those lucky ones, and yes it will be my last turntable. Thanks again for the tour, love the video.

SimonH's picture

I can't believe it is just over 40 years ago I worked there for a summer job when I was 16 - the first morning was in the machine shop and then up to the assembly room for the remainder!

Last year I went for a 20/3 as a "retirement" present - with the view that it woud outlast me - picked it up from the factory.

The factory sits at the foot of the SouthDowns under some of my fave local MTB/XC Bike Routes.

Also nice to see a bit of asthetic design creeping in with the new 10 as well.

mauidj's picture

I was very fortunate to receive a 20/12A for my 60th. SME's have been my dream tables for years. I just love their simplicity, lack of bling and unbelievable construction. The sound is more than I could have ever dreamed of especially partnered with a Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge. Audio nirvana!

BB's picture

I'm gobsmacked, as the Brits say, at the large scale of the SME operation. They have a tremendous investment in capital equipment and facilities. It's hard to believe that they can sell enough tonearms and tables to justify this large and fine operation. Contrast it to most other tonearm and table manufacturers, which are cottage industries by comparison. At one time SME made parts for other industries, hence "Scale Model Engineering". I wonder if they still do.

While my current arm is a Triplanar, I still have my old SME 3012 Mk II on static display. The fit and finish of SME products is without peer. One of the experiences that got me into audio was seeing an SME tonearm as a young boy. There it was, glistening and untouchable in a glass display case at long-defunct Graham Electronics in Indianapolis. The display case was lit like a jewelry display - totally befitting. Even as an 8-year old I admired the intricacy and lovely finish on what must have been a 3009 Mk I. That dangling weight on a fishing line was intriguing. Some day I would have an SME, and I did - two actually.

jusbe's picture

Audio production represents only 40% of their output, I think they said. I imagine they make precision parts for industries such as medicine, aerospace, racing and others requiring high degrees of engineering value (which is confirmed on their website).

BB's picture


M3 lover's picture

Hey Michael, years ago an English mag (Hi Fi News?) ran a story on Robertson-Aikman's listening room. It was fascinating because of it's uniqueness. As best as I remember that started with two pair of Quad 63 speakers, structurally rebuilt by SME. Later I read his version influenced the 900 series Quads, but I don't know. The pairs were placed behind a scrim, at 90 degrees to one another. The table/arm was likely a 20 or 30 with a V. Electronics might have been Krell but I'm even more vague about that.

My point is to ask if that is similar to what you heard and then your comments about the speaker set up and results?


WntrMute2's picture

What a difference from the VPI tour!

vinyl_lady's picture

Thanks for the tour videos Michael. Like some above, I had my sights on an SME TT & arm for years. In 2009, as a slightly delayed 60th birthday present to myself I sold my Project Perspective and purchased an SME 20/2 with a IV.Vi arm with the intent that it would be the last TT I buy. Five years later I still feel that way. What a great TT & arm.