SME Exits the OEM and Retail Tone Arm Business

SME press release (December 3):

SME will exit the tonearm retail and OEM business with immediate effect shifting our focus on our core turntable and tonearm combination business. The decision to leave the tonearm business was not taken lightly, especially as we have played a key role in the design and development of the world’s best tonearms. The growth of our turntable business and commitment to higher production levels means that we cannot continue both streams.

SME has designed, engineered and manufactured tonearms for retail and OEM sales since 1959 and achieved international recognition as makers of the best pick-up arms in the world. This tradition of tonearm manufacturing will continue with the manufacture of our highly accredited tonearms for the purpose of coupling with our comprehensive range of high-end precision turntables in which SME will be expanding in 2020.

Whilst no new orders for individual tonearms will be accepted from the issue date of this product announcement, all obligations of the warranty will be honoured. Factory service and spare parts support for tonearm owners will continue.

Stuart McNeilis
Chief Executive Officer

In other words, SME will continue manufacturing its arms for its own turntables but will no longer sell arms at retail or to other turntable manufacturers. I can think of more than a few that will be scrambling to find a worthy replacement!--MF

COMMENTS
Fsonicsmith's picture

Let's face it-SME has done little or no innovation for decades with their tonearms. They are damned good but no longer among the very best. Their arms imo need to be carefully matched the design of the table for best results-true of most tonearms but even more with SME arms. SME seems to be bent on expanding their product line of tables such as the one recently featured with the built-in Nagra phono stage and outboard power supply. Their decision to market the Garrard 301 only as a complete turntable/arm/plinth combination ties into this. My point being: this does not surprise me in the least. I doubt very many enthusiasts will be crying over their pretzels and beer.

Michael Fremer's picture
Turntable manufacturers that use their arms like Transrotor will be crying....they need a new source of a HQ arm
jpb6061's picture

Hard to find replacement arms of SME quality at a reasonable price point? I've got an SME 309 from Paul Bolin that has to be more than 20 years old (even came with Sumiko Analogue Survival Wrap). Fit and finish are extraordinary, and I'm in the process of fitting it to a refurbished Technics SP-15 to try with a Lyra Delos Mono, just for fun.

It would be interesting to see a comprehensive list of tonearms in ascending or descending order of price.... and then sound quality! Curious as to how many manufacturers of tonearms exist today.

Forgive the rambling, but you still rock! Your writing to me embodies a perfect juxtaposition of technical information and entertainment. Reading about things audio should, IMHO provide rich vicarious enjoyment and stimulating opinions. Harry had it right when he positioned TAS as a "Journal" back in the day.

Thank you!

Ortofan's picture

... Heinz Lichtenegger.

Jay's picture

That's what was always so great about SME, they got their products right the first time. No nonsense, no marketing hype, just a truly great piece of equipment at a sane price.

On the upside though second hand values will go through the roof. Not that my Series V is going anywhere...

Jay's picture

The sad decline of a once great company.

volvic's picture

This is a silly and counterproductive decision. I own three of their arms that I bought new on sale at ridiculously low prices several years ago; 2 SME IV's and an M2-9, which I got from Audiogon new in the box for very little. Only one of the arms is mounted on an SME table the others are on different tables. I always used to enjoy listening to different tables like Avid and Oracle with SME mounted arms as it allowed me to not only gauge the table with an arm I am familiar with but made a potential purchase that much easier because I had one I could use. That has now ended. I also pity the manufacturers that made armboards for SME like Linn with its Kore and others like Avid who machined theirs for SME arms. In short I think it is a very sad day for analogue hifi and very misguided decision on SME. Pity.

volvic's picture

I didn't know I had saved before adding final paragraph.

volvic's picture

This is a silly and counterproductive decision. I own three of their arms that I bought new on sale at ridiculously low prices several years ago; 2 SME IV's and an M2-9, which I got from Audiogon new in the box for very little. Only one of the arms is mounted on an SME table the others are on different tables. I always used to enjoy listening to different tables like Avid and Oracle with SME mounted arms as it allowed me to not only gauge the table with an arm I am familiar with but made a potential purchase that much easier because I had one I could use. That has now ended. I also pity the manufacturers that made armboards for SME like Linn with its Kore and others like Avid who machined theirs for SME arms.

I think it is also counterproductive for SME themselves, I bought my SME table only after first buying their arms and deciding afterwards to purchase their table, it would not have happened if I did not have the SME IV in my possession first.

In short I think it is a very sad day for analogue hifi and very misguided decision on SME. Pity.

grey17's picture

I think this is entirely a luxury and exclusivity play by SME and the current owner. They want to limit availability to SME turntables as a sign of exclusivity. I wouldn't be surprised if we see the lower end SME arms appearing on new Garrard tables. As to if this will work or add to their bottom line is to be determined by I am skeptical.

volvic's picture

It is akin to what Rolex did in the 80's when they limited their dealership network to those who could sell more and offer no more discounts, thereby making their brand more exclusive over the long haul. Which worked for them as they were in the luxury business. SME is in the hi-fi business and more tricky to accomplish with what they are trying to accomplish, the market is simply not that large. They have overnight, shut off a revenue stream and a gateway to their products by restricting supply and trying to make themselves look more exclusive. Time will tell if it pays off. I personally think it is very shortsighted and will shrink the company.

volvic's picture

Is when the Swatch group cut off supply of movements to other watch manufacturers to keep exclusivity of the ETA movement but Swatch reversed that decision several years later funnily enough.

mdiehl's picture

I own a SME 3009 arm with a Lyra Delos cartridge on a refurbished Thorens turntable, which is a wonderful combination. I have a suggestion for Michael: It would be interesting to provide your audience with a systematic review of tonearms that are affordable (especially for younger aspiring audiophiles) and can fill the SME niche because of their discontinuation. Could become a series or presentations.

Ortofan's picture

... Jelco, Rega and Pro-Ject, to name three options.

Or the "younger aspiring audiophile" can just be satisfied with the tonearm that is supplied with a new Technics turntable.

volvic's picture

Was how you adjusted overhang. I can't tell you in my early days how I used to obsess and over obsess as to whether or not that cartridge was perfectly aligned to my Dennesen alignment gauge. With the SME all that stressing ended for me. Until I purchased my SME arms, I bought the SHURE V15 MK V with its awesome alignment gauge that took the guesswork out. But for all other cartridges the SME has been king for setting up and forgetting.

J. Carter's picture

"The growth of our turntable business and commitment to higher production levels means that we cannot continue both streams"

Yes you can its called expansion. This is such a BS excuse. They must make more profit off of turntable sales and selling tone arms OEM and in retail probably took away from the higher profit end of their business.

volvic's picture

I am pretty sure Mr. Aikman would not have approved of this.

swimming1's picture

Spend your money on new lps or old lps

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Most SME arms were bought for use on other than SME turntables which were I thought a relatively small market in comparison. They probably trashed demand for the arms by doubling prices. I predict this strategy will fail and another great british company will bite the dust. I find the new stylised integrated turntable models pretty repulsive. Likely they will discontinue the old 30/20/15 models soon. They still have to make arms for the turntables so why not sell them separately? Even linn will sell you arms still and they are not as good as SME. It's impossible to buy arms made to their standards for sensible money. I'm wondering how Michell and Avid will respond as their designs relied on SME arms as a synergistic match?

volvic's picture

If I’m not mistaken Avid has already started making their own arms.

Yorkshirefoxy1's picture

I’m sure that SME will regret thus decision but there are a number of British manufacturers of tonearms still around such as; Hadcock, Helius Designs, Rega, Origin Live, Linn (although SME does some work for Linn) Michell is a modified Rega and so are Moth. Not forgetting Roksan & Wilson Benesch.

The Helius Designs tonearms look very interesting http://www.heliusdesigns.co.uk/index.html

But that’s the trouble when companies get new masters they don’t always understand the implications of their decisions until it is too late. I’m sure at the budget end of the scale Project, Rega & Jelco will have increased sales!

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

The Audio Note arm is a rework of an older Helius but much better made. Most of those you mention are quirky or have had a past records of QC issues. SME arms are in another class as far as construction is concerned if not ultimate sound quality these days. Have the new Avid arms reached market? When announced the prices seemed very high.The alternative I would go for on a Michell TT is the Audiomods arm - but that is practically a one man operation. I can't see who fills the gap in production capability. Someone in the know claims SME had back orders for 800 arms when this was announced.

Yorkshirefoxy1's picture

I have an SME dealer in Birmingham UK who about a couple of months ago deleted them from its website and I wondered what was wrong? Undoubtedly they are of a superlative build quality but it makes you wonder if Project, Rega & Jelco arms have eaten into their sales. SME seems to have done little with updating their arms over the years. They also do work for BAE Systems and Ministry of a Defence and others so that might’ve been their priority.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I am guessing that their consumer TT arm business has not been that great so they feel they are not losing much. Rega and others will win if they haven't already. Maybe time for a 12" Rega arm?

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