SME 3009 S2 Improved Tonearm problem...possibly

I’m struggling with my vintage turntable setup. I’ll give a run down of my setup and what all has been done and the problem I’m having.

Thorens TD125 MKII Turntable...New Walnut Plinth. Caps have been replaced. Strobe works as it is suppose to. It has a lexan tonearm board. It has been leveled and regulated. Still has original power cable. Original Thorens platter matt

SME 3009 S2 Improved tonearm with removeable headshell. Bronze knife-edge bearing properly installed. Aftermarket brass low hung weight. Original wiring in good condition. Upgraded to RCA connections. I have installed the SME fluid damper and using the recommended 200,000ct oil.

Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC * Cartridge with less than 50 hours just purchased new. This was spec’ed to me by Soundsmith.

Phone preamp is a Gold Note PH-10 with seperate power supply and is set to correct specs recommended by Soundsmith and tested by myself.

I just put a 3" walnut butcher block under my turntable. Put hockey pucks under the butcher block and installed spikes under my turntable.


I am experiencing midrange distortion. I’ve noticed today that piano is heavily distorted. The music isn’t as lively sounding with the Soundsmith cartridge as with the Shure Type III V15 I had on before. However, it should be a much improved sound.

I noticed today, as I’ve been tweaking the table constantly, while I was adjusting the tonearm height that with the table on and attaching the allen wrench to adjust height that I was getting a buzzing sound through the speaker. This would happen when the allen key touched the base of the tonearm or any point on the tonearm. Could this be the source of my distortion? If so, what is the possible fix?


This is driving me up the wall!!!



while I was adjusting the tonearm height that with the table on and attaching the allen wrench to adjust height that I was getting a buzzing sound through the speaker. 

Possibly the earth wire in the arm is broken or the arm is not earthed through the phono cable.. Check the armtube and base that they are earthed.

If you don't have a meter simply get a bare wire, attach one end to the phono earth and use the other to touch the arm - if the noise/hum decreases the earth is dodgy.

Piano distortion could be anything - you need to go through the set up and check everything - alignment, VTA, antiskate and tracking force.

I've went through the setup for the past 2 weeks. It can't get any better setup without measurement equipment. I've used levels, VTF digital gauge, VTA alignment gauge, etc.


My only other option is the tonearm wiring because everything else has been addressed. I assume


The Soundsmith is very smooth compared to the Shure.

Have you checked the input impedance on the phono stage - the Soundsmith MI cartridges can be very sensitive to input impedance - small changes can impact the sound quite a lot.

If the Soundsmith is new I would run it at the upper end of the recommended tracking force for a week or two until it is run in.

Also you could try removing the damping - it can slug the sound.

Another suggestion would be to try a slightly heavier headshell and see if increasing the effective mass helps. If you don't have another headshell add some blutack to the headshell to add mass and adjust the counterweight for testing.




I’ve played with the settings at the phono stage and have settled on the SoundSmith recommended settings. They seem to produce the best sound. However, I’m still not getting the best sound.

I just installed the fluid damper to the tonearm. I was getting high frequency distortion prior to installing the damper kit. I made a few other slight changes when I installed it, so I can’t point a finger at what made the shift in distortion.

I have went from the lowest recommended VTF at 1.8 grams and am now at the 2.0 gram setting. Neither have seemed to make any difference in the distortion or sound.

Midrange is muddy and distorted. Vocals are clear. They do seem a little laid back, but are clear. Drums are not as dynamic as could be. Not much impact or clarity there.

When the music gets lively, the distortion really starts to come through. Like I said, I noticed today that piano tracts really show the distortion. This is strange because my Klipschorns have shown great clarity and sound very lifelike in piano tracts prior to this vinyl setup.

My new cartridge came with 2 aluminum bars designed to go between the headshell and cartridge, if needed. I haven't installed them, though. 

When the music gets lively, the distortion really starts to come through. 


This does sound like distortion.

Firstly the Zephyr MIMC is a low output ( 0.4mv ) low compliance cartridge.

So just double checking your Goldnote should be set to MC input, gain 0db, load 470-1000.

Arm - the SME is a low mass arm, not ideal for the low compliance zephyr. The Shure is very high compliance so they would behave differently.

I have rebuilt a few SME's - usually the bearings are pretty knackered due to age - but you would think that would affect the Shure as well.

I would suggest add mass to the headshell  - add the 2 bars provided and reset the tracking weight - this should help somewhat unless there is some other issue with the arm.


Yes, the settings on the Gold Note are MC Input, 0dB gain and the load is 470k.

I added the two bars in between the headshell and cartridge. I guess it decouples the cartridge from the headshell and does add a bit of mass.

I reset the VTF to 2.11 grams. Double checked all the other settings too.

Threw on a mint original pressing of Phil Collins Face Value and played ’In the Air Tonight’. I played this the other day and it sounded pretty good till the drums kicked in and major distortion started. Tonight, the drums did not distort. I did have volume turned up quite a bit too. Here’s another problem I noticed the other day and forgot to mention. When the bass kicks in I get a hum that seems to come from the lower frequencies and builds and gets louder and louder till all frequencies distort majorly. What in the world is the cause of that? I almost want to equate that to like a tuning fork resonance. As the fork is struck, the vibrations build and build. Could this be some resonance coming into the tonearm?

By the way, distortion is still there, but has started to go away after the install of those two bars.

I purchased this cartridge per recommendations of Soundsmith themselves and I did inform them prior as to my setup. They were aware of what I have. I thought, like you said, from my research that my tonearm would want higher compliant cartridges. Soundsmith seemed to think it would work, though. I’m awaiting a call from Peter himself to hopefully get his insight on a remedy. Meanwhile, I’m still going to press forward in trying to fix it and try to get y’alls insight.


When the bass kicks in I get a hum that seems to come from the lower frequencies and builds and gets louder and louder till all frequencies distort majorly. 

Thats feedback coming through the turntable/arm either airborne or through the floor. The fix is to move your turntable - is it near the bass speakers ? is it on a table thats passing vibration ? wobbly floor ?

Because there appears to be issue with arm/cartridge this probably doesn't help, making the TT more sensitive to feedback. do you have a lid ??

The Soundsmith cartridge does not mate well with the SME arm. It obviously mistracks on some recordings. Get a better arm! The SME 3009 is late- Fifties technology. A Fidelity Research arm would be a lot better. I have two. I had a 3009 44 years ago. Soon sold it and bought a JH Formula 4.

Thats feedback coming through the turntable/arm either airborne or through the floor. The fix is to move your turntable - is it near the bass speakers ? is it on a table thats passing vibration ? wobbly floor ?

That's what I deducted. It's not on the best of stands. it is placed in proximity of the left channel Khorn. I don't use a sub when playing vinyl. I put the turntable on top of a 26# solid walnut butcher block that is sitting on hockey pucks. The turntable is then sitting on spikes. The turntable itself is suspended by springs by design of Thorens. The lid is kept on when not in use, but when in use it is lifted off. It is not attached anywhere to the turntable.

A Fidelity Research arm would be a lot better.

I'm open to a different tonearm. However, I'd rather not spend more money if not necessary. I know I don't have a lot in my vinyl setup compared to a lot of others, but $8,000 into this venture.

One thing I've realized, I do not have the tonearm grounded to the chassis of the turntable. The chassis is grounded to the phono stage via an AudioQuest ground wire, but that is the only grounding I've done. Could this be the source of all my ills with this vinyl setup?

Whether or not an un-specified "Fidelity Research" tonearm would solve your problems is problematic.  While I do like my FR64S, its "technology" is about as old as that of the SME 3009, give or take.  And specifically the FR64S, FR's best along with the FR66S, is on the high end of effective mass and may not mate well with the SoundSmith cartridge unless it is low in compliance. While I am no fan of the 3009, you ought to be able to solve your problems with it by trouble-shooting as per Dover.

Looking at the Fidelity Research arm, it looks like a SME 3009 with a different bearing. If I buy a different arm, I'm looking for something that has more precise calibrations such as dials for VTA, VTF and Anti-Skate. The SME V looks like something I'd be interested in, however I don't know if that arm fits my table.

Nearly any pivoted tonearm can be made to fit your turntable, if you are willing to source a new arm board OR if you are lucky and the replacement for the 3009 has the same or very nearly the same pivot to spindle distance as the 3009. Yes, the SME V would be a great choice but I think SME have stopped making them or selling them as separate entities or both.  You should be able to source a used one, however.



I have an SME Series II Improved with the fixed headshell

If set up properly, it is an amazing tonearm! I stripped mine down to the last screw, cleaned, rewired and put it back together. (There are parts in the service manual where they say to not open certain areas - its worth heeding that advice...) After some colourful use of language, I got it back in order and it sounds amazing!. There are all kinds of compliance info and null point/overhang etc. info online. 

Could be an issue with the compliance, or with the geometry you chose to use when setting it up. The ground noise you are experiencing doesnt seem like it  would be the cause of the distortion from high intensity passages. 

There is a company here in Canada that does a full rebuild/rewire of the tonearm for around 400? I was going to send mine in to be done, but decided to just do it myself. The wire harness they install wasnt compatible with my turntable (DIY heavy plinth Lenco) as I have the arm connected to RCA plugs on the rear of the TT, and there are no provisions for a wire to run from the arm directly to the phono.



Try lowering your gain setting. I had similar issue with my setup when I went from MM to MC cartridge. 

It appears you have a classic case of cartridge/tonearm mismatch. Everything you're reporting (except the induced hum from the hex wrench, and that will never be an issue when using the cart). The Zephyr is a fairly low compliance (stiff) cart at 10 uM/mN. Your SME is a low-mass tonearm (~6.5 to 9.5 grams) when you do the math, your combination has a resonance frequency somewhere betwween 18-20Hz. It should be about 10Hz. The Shure V15-III has a compliance of 30 uM/mN and in your SME that yields a resonant frequency right at 10 Hz - just about perfect. Here's the reference link: 

The solutions are either increase the effective mass of the tonearm by about 20 Grams (a big wad of florists putty?), Or find a compatible tonearm, or find a more compliant cartridge. You also might see if you an swap your Zephyr for an Aida High Compliance - they're the same price, but as the name implies the Aida High compliance is intended for low mass tonearms. It is also a high-output cart, so no MC preamp is required - just a regular MM phono stage.

Good luck.

I will talk with Soundsmith about swapping the cartridge possibly. However, they are the ones that recommended it to me.

This is the link they sent to me when I emailed them asking what do they recommend with my setup. I gave them all the details of what I had and this is what they sent to me:


I'm going to get the table and arm 100% functioning correctly and then go from there. I am open to tonearm suggestions. I prefer something like the SME V with dial settings. Would that arm fit my table, Thorens TD125 mkii?


I agree with @dover re feedback coming the turntable, I had the exactly the same problem as you described and had to put turntable on a floor standing rack instead of wall mounted.

General rule for cartridges is low compliance cartridge use a high mass arm and vice versa.

Don't be fixated on arms with dials for downforce and bias always use a cartridge downforce gauge and do final adjustments by ear same for bias.

Peter Lederman sent me an email in reply to mine about the problems I'm having. He is the owner, designer and manufacturer of the Soundsmith cartridge that I own.

He stated after I asked if it was the wrong recommendation and he said, "lower internal mass makes a cartridge more compatible, not less."

I'm not going to question his statement or his abilities. He invented the Soundsmith Zephyr cartridge, so he should know more than anyone.

Anyway, he called me yesterday evening and said he felt I'm having a bearing issue. He said my description of my problem is a classic example of a bad bearing. So, I plan to replace the bearing with a nylon bearing as SME originally made the arm with. While I'm in there I'll rewire the arm as well.


Its more likely the pillar bearings that are an issue rather than the knife edge bearing.

They often get worn and sticky, inhibiting horizontal motion - there are 2 of them inside the arm pillar.

There's no stickiness in the motion of my tonearm. It's actually gotten away from me several times from how easily it moves.


You can do a test - balance the arm to 0 so that it floats.

Make sure it doesn't tend to drift to one side. 

Try blowing it horizontally to see if it moves freely in both directions.

You cant tell by just lifting the arm - we are talking milligrams when it comes to bearings.