99 times out of 100, manufacturers deliver review samples. But when I received an invitation to hear the latest incarnation of the SME Music Room, I figured I'd collect the new M2 in person. Perhaps in an upcoming issue, we'll report on the transformation Alastair Robertson-Aikman has wrought on the listening room. For the time being, let's look at The Tonearm With The Toughest Job In The World.
Come again? It's like this: SME hasn't made a big deal out of it, not wanting to cause last-minute panic buying, but the legendary SME Series II arm is no longer. That familiar, hugely successful arm had been around in various forms since 1959 (running in near-parallel with its automotive equivalent: the Porsche 911 and its variants). The Series V and its derivatives cost substantially more, so SME needed a new entry-level design. Enter the M2. It's task? To fill the most famous tonearm cut-out in the world, recently vacated by a million-plus-selling monster.
What's so telling about the plans SME has for it were the first glimpses: the M2 debuted not as a stand-alone purchase but seen at hi-fi shows as an OEM arm supplied to T&A for the G-10 turntable, and the Musical Fidelity M1. There's no doubt that other customers will follow, for the SME offers much that the current OEM champ - the assorted Rega variations - cannot, including adjustability in every plane, interchangeable headshells, a finish above Leica and into wristwatch territory, the best instruction manuals in the business and more. (This isn't a dig at the Rega, probably the best budget tonearm ever. But it isn't the place where I'd want to park my Koetsu.)
Offered in three lengths, the SME M2 truly is a 3009 for the 21st Century. Even if you don't see the logo, modestly relegated to the back of the arm's mounting plate, you can tell straight away that it came from Steyning. AR-A has mixed complementary materials, including stainless steel and assorted alloys, to create a straight-tubed arm with performance nearly as whisper-quiet, precise, secure and resonance-free as the more complex Series V and siblings. But with starting prices at £583 inc VAT, nearly £200 less than the entry-level Series 300 model.
Up front is a detachable, angled headshell using a new mount rather than the long-serving collet arrangement that Ortofon made a world-standard. Unslotted - you move the arm back and forth for overhang - it fixes to the arm with a clamping bolt at its side. Beneath are four detachable cartridge leads, so wire freaks can experiment with ease.
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