What Hi-Fi (UK)
SME Model 6
It might seem like an odd thing to say, but we suspect that SME doesn’t view itself as a hi-fi manufacturer. Talk to anyone at the company and it’s clear the brand is more about cutting-edge precision engineering than product types.
SME makes world-class turntables and arms, but a huge slice of its business is work done for the medical, military, aerospace and Formula One industries. The single thread tying all these clients together is the need for the highest standards in workmanship, almost regardless of cost. The brand’s reputation is built on excellence and anything less has never been acceptable.
Trouble is, high-end record players are all about precision manufacturing and that’s never going to be cheap. So how can you introduce a degree of affordability without compromising your standards?
The approach that SME has chosen with the Model 6 is to start with a clean sheet but keep the engineering quality as high as ever. In fact, the company claims that the new Model 6 is built to exactly the same impressive engineering standards as any of its pricier decks.
Until this point, all SME’S turntables have used thick slabs of heavily machined aluminium for their plinths. While this is a great solution that gives impressive rigidity, it’s also hugely expensive, so this deck has a plinth made of a high-density resin material that’s claimed to have excellent rigidity and damping properties.
The main bearing and arm assembly are protected from external energy by a vibration-absorbing silicone-based rubber compound. It is used both inside the plinth and on the chassis feet.
Separate power supply
Speed control and the power supply are housed in a single, rather large, separate box, made of the same material as the Model 6’s plinth. This electronic box is more sophisticated than the usual speed controllers we come across, as it allows fine adjustments to the platter’s rotational speed.
The Model 6 is supplied with SME’S well known M2-9 tonearm, here covered in a new black-chrome finish to match the deck’s appearance. It’s beautifully made, easy to adjust and nice to use.
While the Model 6 is available for £5995, we’re reviewing it with the optional Crystal Cable package. This high-quality mono-crystal cable is designed specifically for this deck and works well. It would normally retail for over twice the sum charged for the cable pack when bought with the deck.
The Model 6 doesn’t come with a cartridge but our review sample is supplied with an Ortofon Cadenza Black moving-coil (£1825) – a capable, balanced performer that works well in this context.
By high-end standards, this deck is a breeze to set up. The arm comes attached, so simply find a level, low resonance platform to put the deck on, fit the belt, acrylic platter and cartridge, and off you go.
SME likes record clamps, and includes a dedicated one here. It makes for a bit more work but it’s worth it; the deck’s sound gains substance and dynamic punch when the clamp is used. We use Luxman’s EQ-500 phono stage along with the rest of our reference kit.
There is an unerring composure here – an ability to resolve lots of detail and present it in an impeccably organised way. Give this player something demanding, such as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and it delivers an authoritative performance brimming with control and insight. It is easy to track individual instrumental strands due to the deck’s highly regimented approach to replay and its refusal to blur low-level information. The music’s fierce dynamic shifts are handled with calm and rendered with confidence.
There isn’t the outright authority of the Model 6’s pricier brothers, but this is still great for the price. The stereo imaging is nicely layered and focused, and stability – in terms of both speed and soundstaging – is excellent.
A worthy partner
The cartridge is mostly responsible for the tonality of a record player, and the Cadenza Black proves convincing. It has a clean and even-handed nature that suits the SME well.
A move on to Catch A Fire by Bob Marley and the Wailers sees the SME equally at home. It doesn’t have the exuberance of Vertere’s hugely talented DG-1 (p44) or quite the musical fluidity of Rega’s excellent Planar 10 (p45), but the 6 offers an attractive blend of precision, stability composure and transparancy that many will like.
We love its taut, wonderfully precise bass performance and the way it sounds so consistent throughout the whole frequency range. Voices come through with impressive clarity, letting Marley’s distinctive and heartfelt vocals stir the soul. And it’s happy to rock out too, with speed and attack, as a blast of Nirvana’s Come As You Are soon proves.
Through the use of clever engineering, careful development and innovative materials, SME has produced a superbly made and thoroughly capable turntable that truly lives up to the brand’s heritage.