Paul Seydor of The Absolute Sound Reviews SME Model 12A

Thu, 11 Jun 2020

Regardless of cost, design, or complexity, every [SME] model can lay serious claim to being class leading in performance.
The platter, belt driven and weighing over ten pounds, is machined from aluminum alloy and damped with SME’s proprietary “isodamp” material. This material together with the reflex clamp ensures without qualification the most effective platter/mat/clamping intimacy in my experience and the only one that can be fairly said to come close to vacuum hold down.
TAS Reviews SME 12AThe outboard power-supply, considerably improved over the 10A, allows for 33, 45 and 78 speeds and pitch adjustments of +/- 0.01% while the powerful new 5.5 pound motor is isolated from the subchassis by urethane mounts and spikes. Once you’re used to an SME anything else feels pretty rinky-dink. SME’s claim that the motor is “ultra-low-noise” and “virtually vibration-less” is certainly born out in the listening, as I detected no hint of motor noise [just] rock-solid speed accuracy and stability.
Speed stability and consistency you can banish as concerns. Ditto for that elusive entity called “timing”: things start and stop at the same time or not as required by the music and the performers, and so it is with the 12A. This results in a reproduction of instrumental timbers and voices with a lack of coloration or other sort of editorializing that really does make me feel as if I were listening back at the source. There are virtually no colorations in the tonal sense. What I can say with certainty is that the 12A is emphatically in that group of record-playing components which can be relied upon allow your pickup to do the best job it’s capable of when reproducing what is on the record.
There is about this and every other SME product I’ve used an unmistakable sense of really deep background blackness that suggests there’s considerable validity to Robertson-Aikman's liberal employment of mass and density to handle unwanted resonances. Well, all I can report is that during the evaluations I threw every damn rock'em, sock’em, driving, propulsive LP I typically use for such purposes at this set up and thanks, maybe, to that powerful motor, the 12A has stupendous slam, crunch, and dynamics. None of my West Side Story recording formats prepared me for how completely blown away I was by the immediacy, transparency, and sheer exuberant vitality of the performances with dynamics that that veritably leap out of the speakers.
Reproduction was stunningly clean, clear, and powerful, the big pipes sounding like exactly what they are - huge shuddering columns of air. I cranked the volume up to ear shattering levels without any hint of smear, roughness, loosening, or muddiness, the lines remaining firm, controlled, superbly registered with outstanding definition and clarity regardless of how thickly pilled on the textures became. However SME has managed it, the way this new table isolates the stylus/groove interface is impressive by any standard. The 12A may be the welterweight in the company’s lineup, but it can certainly hold its own in the ring with the big boys.
There are two things, among many others, that I’ve always admired about Alastair Robertson-Aikman. The first is that he lavished the same thoughtful design, precision execution, and classy presentation upon his lowest- as upon his highest-priced products. With the 12A, you never get the feeling you’re merely settling for something less, being brushed aside, or condescended to just because you didn’t buy the top of the line. I suspect AR-A would be overjoyed to know that in the 12A, a clear advance over the 10A, the new ownership is honoring the tradition.
I have seen and heard arm/table combinations costing multiples its price that come nowhere near its level of performance, to say nothing of the caliber of its build and construction. And then there is its sheer pleasure in use. SMEs are among the most discreet, unobtrusive, self-effacing, yet utterly dependable of stage managers in the theatre of vinyl. With an SME behind-the-scenes, the show always goes on.
Paul Seydor, The Absolute Sound, July/August 2020

Read the full review in The Absolute Sound, July/August 2020, Issue 306

 

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