Opinion on SME 15

I posted this on another forum, but thought I might have more luck here.

I'm thinking of replacing my VPI TNT with a final turntable to see me into the foreseeable future. The TNT (series 1, bought in 1989, with various upgrades over the years) has a Graham Phantom II with a SME base and my new table would be something to exploit that tonearm.

The stellar build quality and SME longevity have great appeal to me. Price wise I could only stretch to the SME 15. It seems to have the main objective criteria covered: Effective isolation, non-resonant chassis, superbly quiet bearing and excellent speed stability. The reviews I've read indicate excellent sound quality - though they have all reviewed the table in 15A guise, i.e. with the SME 309 arm.

Many SME owners seem to love their tables, but there is a portion of vinyl enthusiasts who describe SME as detached and un-emotional, lacking in PRAT (?). I am seeking a neutral platform to hear what's on my records, not a stylised boutique sound - but of course I want it to be enjoyable.

I was hoping owners of the SME 15 would  chip in with their longer term impressions. Still loving it?

Actually any SME impressions would be useful - particularly the Graham/SME combo - or if you switched from SME and why.

I think your Phantom would be great on the SME15 (although I’ve not heard the combination). When I bought the Phantom II it was either that or an SME V. I preferred the Phantom even though it was twice the price.

Conrad Mas recommended that the Avid Acutus, another suspended table, should only be used with fixed bearing arms like the iV/V. The only unipivot to be the exception was the Graham because it is as stable as a gimballed arm. I’ve seen a few Acutus’s combined with the Phantom and they (reportedly) work well together.  The SME15 suspension is nowhere near as “bouncy” as the Acutus so I would expect even less of a problem.

The only other concern for turntables using a Graham is weight vs suspension (LP12 was always a “no”) but I don’t see that being an issue. Check first?

So your final decision must be whether you consider the SME 15 to be good enough to replace your TNT?
A wildcard thought is to suspend the TNT on an aftermarket isolation platform as an alternative.
Good luck.. :)
"PRaT" is marketing bulls**t.  SME stuff tends to be very neutral.  If you like it, fine.
Here is my story. I had a VPI Prime which I liked by I hated the arm. I wanted a table around the price of the prime and since I had a scout 2 before which i did not like the jmw metal arm either so i went with a linear tracker Trans Fi Terminator and that combo was awesome. I wanted to simplify so got the prime, i sold it once a heard the new Technics 1200GAE and was very satisfied but had an itch for something that could take 2 arms, found a SME 20 local with a M2-9 arm lond story short I might be selling the GAE, the 10 is an excellent sounding table the fit and finish is spectacular, speed stability is spot on, less feed back noise than the Technics I used both on a symposium shelf. The design with the clamp and platter just works better I feel it is quieter than the Technics with better imaging and depth. Good luck!
I would suggest a Brinkmann Bardo on a HRS base with upgraded tube power supply as something to consider for your most excellent tonearm The new SS power supply is also fantastic and comes included w table.

enjoy the music !!!!!!!!
I spent the weekend with a friend who has a SME 10 with Sumiko Pearwood II cartridge. 

The SME 10 sounds great in this system. He used to have a VPI TNT with VPI tonearm. Definite improvement
moonglum595 posts02-17-2019 10:45pmThe only other concern for turntables using a Graham is weight vs suspension (LP12 was always a “no”) but I don’t see that being an issue. Check first?

So your final decision must be whether you consider the SME 15 to be good enough to replace your TNT?
A wildcard thought is to suspend the TNT on an aftermarket isolation platform as an alternative.

Thanks for the thoughts. I hadn't considered the weight - the SME V weighs 720g and the Phantom 1100g. That's a bit of a difference, though I've never seen it mentioned that the damped/adjustable SME suspension pods are fussy in this respect(?).

My TNT is a bit of an experimenters kit - original plinth and heavy acrylic/lead platter, Mk 5 main bearing (last of the non-inverted type), the ball 'suspension' pods integrated single motor/flywheel and SDS.  
I'm pretty confident an expertly conceived/executed design like the SME 15 would be a step up - and build quality on another level.

2,026 posts
02-18-2019 6:22am
I would suggest a Brinkmann Bardo on a HRS base with upgraded tube power supply as something to consider for your most excellent tonearm The new SS power supply is also fantastic and comes included w table.
The Brinkmann is a beautiful looking and is highly regarded turntable. In Australia the price falls between the SME 15 and SME 20 and breaches the limit I've imposed on the upgrade (though not by a huge amount).
It doesn't have the suspension of the SME designs, which may compromise its ultimate performance without an isolation platform. The Brinkmann HRS base is an expensive item itself which puts the price well beyond the SME 20.
The concept and execution looks excellent though and probably one I should consider. Thanks.
I love the Graham arm but looking around another thought occurs to me.
For the same price as the SME 15 I could get a VPI Prime Signature which includes the JMW-10 3D arm.
I could use the Prime with the SDS I already own and sell the Phantom making this move pretty cost effective move.
I wonder how such a setup would stack up against the SME/Phantom? (not expecting a response, just spitballing).

Edit: After looking at the adjustments on the JMW, they don't look nearly as precise or repeatable as the Phantom - don't know if that's something I could live with ergonomically, even without weighing up the sound quality.....back to the SME option I think.
I would say the SME.  I would say go listen and see what suits your liking.  its the only way.
Not that easy here.
In Australia tables in this price range are sold in fairly low volumes - the SME 15 would have to be ordered without demo (i.e not in stock).
I could audition the similarly priced Kuzma Stabi R - though I'd have to extrapolate how it would sound with the Phantom.
There is a fairly new Kuzma Reference 2 available for private sale at the same price as the SME 15. I've been offered a listen to the Ref2 - though again, not with my arm (I'd have to order a SME cutout board).
The Ref 2 normally sells at the price of the SME20 in Aus and seems highly regarded as a neutral platform. 
the person who turned me on to Brinkmann thinks very very highly of the Kuzma tables and arms..FWIW

@tobes as I said above you do not want the 3d arm unless you have alot of patience, the Graham or SME would be better
Post removed 
Thanks for the input. 
SME engineering is certainly a draw card for me.
In the test results accompanying the HiFi News review of the SME15, the measured rumble for the 15 "bests the TechDAS Air Force Two by a very small margin" (the rumble test result for the SME20/3 was slightly better again). That is pretty impressive for a thrust bearing vs an air bearing in a very expensive turntable.
I know it’s only a single measure/ingredient to the turntable sound, but an important one for sure and no doubt accounts for the ’inky black’ backgrounds the SME tables are known for. Noise introduced through the bearing to the record can’t be fixed or compensated for elsewhere - though we are probably talking about levels below commercial pressing limits.
I'm a very happy owner of a 20/2 w/V mkiv arm.  I've had it for about two years and have no desire to change.  
I have not heard the 15 but those I know who have say it's nearly as good as the 20.  
Happy listening!
Post removed 
Just to be clear I don't have any noticeable rumble from my current TNT. It's not intrusive at all in terms of noise.
Having said that, I'd  expect the SME would would drop noise levels even lower - given that it's  bearing rivals even top notch air bearings (per above test).

@tobes  A ’rumble filter’ doesn’t help?
FWIW I wouldn't use one because I think the cure is worse than the problem. I don't think they should be required with any high quality turntable, more for your cheap decks where SQ is not paramount.
Here's one opinion on them:
How much is a Model 15 without arm today?
Looks like they are closer to £8000 in the UK now. Which probably means it’s $12k USD / $15k CAD. 

Since you already have a fairly good front end, you will have to be careful you do not go backwards.

My experience with SME, beautifully built, superb service and support.
However sound wise I sold my Platine  Verdier to someone who had the SME 20. My refurbished (vey trick) Garrard 301 bettered the Verdier by a margin. However the Garrards require much fettling.

If you want a set and forget front end, from your comments on Australian pricing, why dont you see if you can hear a Stabi R with the Kuzma4Point11. I believe from hearing both the Phantom and the Kuzma 4Point11 that the Kuzma arm is considerably better.
If you sell off the Graham that should enable you to get the Stabi R/4Point11 combo for a similar upgrade price to the SME 15.

If you must have SME, personally I would try and find a SME 20/3 at a good price - it is significantly better than the 15 and standard 20. Bob Graham used a SME 30 for many years.
Don't ignore the Kuzma Ref2 because it's been in production for over 20 years. I'm sure the Stabi R is a very nice sounding table, but I have no regrets for buying my Ref 2 w/ 313 VTA arm. Have to say a Stabi R with the Graham would allow you to ad a second arm in the future,  which would be pretty great. 
The armless SME Model 15 currently retails for $13.5k. The armless Model 20/3 is $17.7k.

Thanks for the input but I've moved on since this discussion from 2019.
Decided against the turntable upgrade since an increasing amount of my listening was via streaming.
The ready access to such a vast amount of music is hard to resist. My record collection seems tiny and limiting by comparison.
I have the SME 20/2 that I bought about 6 years ago and can honestly say it's a real keeper.  I'm not saying I will never upgrade to something else, but for 6 years now I have had no interest in doing so.  It's just rock solid and the longer I own it the more I love it.  I bought mine as new old stock for a bargain price before the vinyl boom began, but I still see used ones now and then for not a ton of coin.  The thing about them is they will pretty much never wear out, so if you buy a used one from someone who didn't abuse it, you shouldn't have to worry about issues down the road.  
I did upgrade the tonearm to a Tri-Planer, and I'm glad I did.  It sounds much better than the SME IV.vi that came with the deck, and is easier to set up.  That said the SME tonearms are excellent in their own right.  
Once you hear an SME deck you will understand how a turntable is supposed to sound.  Unsuspended decks sound more lively and some would say even exciting than an SME, but this is because of the extra vibrations that are reaching the stylus through the plinth, platter and tone arm.  Once you isolate from vibration you can hear much deeper into the music.  Removing distortion is less exciting for some, but when combined with the proper cartridge and other components the true sound of the music is revealed.  I honestly believe you cannot miss with an SME TT.  It's the best thing I have heard.  I'm sometimes curious about other brands, but never enough to sell it off and try something else.  It's just too good.  It's like a family member to me now.  I love it too much to part with it.  If I ever decide to get something else I will just keep the SME as a second deck.  

I just gotten SME 15 with the V arm , I love it more than I expected

I owned the Kuzma xl dc with 4 point arm before and I can tell you I love SME :)

Is there anyone who has a SME that doesn’t love it? That might be reason enough. 

I have two SME 10 tables, one with a V and one with the M10 (really a 309). This is like the model 15, but without rubber band suspension. I have no complaints, as evidenced by buying a second after having the first for 12 years. The Series V is clearly a better sounding arm, and has all sorts of tweaks to make set-up easier than on the 309. Damped too. But the M10/309 on the other has advantages too, like having several headshells for quick cartridge changes. If I won the lottery I'd spend the cash on cartridges and phono stages rather than more expensive turntables.

Wonderful combination from all standpoints. SMEs are great just overpriced.

Turntables do not have PRAT. Musicians have PRAT. HiFi gear has dynamics except for turntables. The ultimate turntable spins at a perfect 33.33 RPM silently, under any reasonable circumstance and is oblivious to the environment.  Nothing more. Dynamic aggressiveness has to do with speakers, amplifiers and to a smaller extent program sources. The program source here is not the turntable, it is the cartridge and tonearm. They are responsible for the sound extracted from the record. Turntables are not supposed to make any sound. 

The only downside is lack of a hinged dust cover. You can however have one made or if you are clever, make one yourself.  You get a base to put under the turntable and hinge the dust cover to the base. Because the SME is isolated by it's suspension vibration in the dust cover can not be passed on to it and because the dustcover attenuates the sound that gets to the turntable the system's sound is actually better with the dust cover down not to mention keeping the table and record clean. Here is something to think about. Sound can not travel through a vacuum. Why not pull a vacuum under the dust cover? That would diminish sound getting to the turntable ever further!