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Certainly the trouble with the SME V seems to lie in the wiring. Even with Van den Hul silver, the arm still sounds sterile, clinical, CD-like, earnest and tonally grey. Substitute Kondo wiring and all its faults are transformed into virtues. This is an astounding counter-intuitive discovery. For me it’s been one of the biggest surprises in the last ten years. Yet if the idea with the V was simply that this is a magnificent arm ruined by bad wiring, what can we say about the IV?

Stupidly I failed by a whisker to get a Kondo’d IV but the word out there is that even the Japanese master’s wiring cannot save the arm. There’s something wrong with it. As far as I can tell, the only other significant difference is in the grade of bearing. If that is the case, it would tell us that in this design a slight roughening of the surface of the ball bearings has a fundamentally disastrous result on the whole. And that’s pretty much the conclusion I’ve arrived at.

SME is a great company. It’s fantastic to see that they have committed to designing new arms. While the tonal DNA of the company might be towards a slightly austere and regimented sound, for me the Kondo’d V has remained my favorite arm for the last few years and is world class. And there are little birds telling me that the new SME 20/3 is something else altogether, a turntable that could well walk off with ‘the belle of the ball’ sound at an ultimate turntable shoot-out.

Which is great news. It tells us that SME can do more than build masterfully well-engineered designs. It tells us that they make products that can lead the pack musically as well. But like everyone else it also turns out they are not infallible.

The thing about the SME IV is that apart from slightly lower-grade bearings and the lack of a damping trough, it’s pretty much the same as the V. In fact it’s got one less connection at the cartridge end so some Americans prefer it to the V. I’d though like to focus on how extreme it is, from the magnesium the arm wand is made of to the radical shape of the counterweight which is beautifully offset in a cradle, the brilliant cartridge setup system, the crude but effective VTA adjustment and the top-quality SME machining throughout still setting standards to this day.