I sold my SMEV/10 last month after living with it for over a year. Great sound, great look, faultless operation and exemplary speed stability. But I always had the nagging doubt that it wasn't quite as lively and projected I wanted. Having used my BENZ LP in another deck previously I knew it wasn't delivering all that it could so I wanted to try another deck that would let it cast off its shackles and give it free reign to dig up the dynamic and projection that i knew it to be capable of delivering. I know the SME's are judged to be the pinnacle of neutrality but as we all know one mans neutral is another mans dull, and for me the combo just verged on the edge of bland, i just wanted a little more- impact.
I trawled around the various forums and dealers seeing what was available and highly regarded by those who's opinions I hold in high regard, punters with a good set of ears who have settled on a system and enjoyed it 'intacto' for years or cautiously work through the upgrade ladder in search of perfection. Suggestions came thick and fast and I weighed them all up, considered the pros and cons- and then ignored them and bought the deck and tonearm that best matched the colour of my cartridge and made me feel like I had a 12" dick. It's not like we buy hifi to please our friends right?
I was fortunate enough that the importer, Branko at Audiofreaks, actually had part of what I wanted already in stock in his demo list, the rest was ordered directly from the manufacturer. I had my DPD delivery notification in my inbox on Thursday and I've been tracking the item ever since. Sophia, Munich, Oldbury, North Sheffield and today landing on my door step around noon. A massive bloody box containing my new deck to go along with my arm, a Kuzma Stabi S long-wheelbase in black to match the Stogi S 12".
There's a fair bit of unpacking to do with the deck and the boxes are bloody massive, no doubt they ship the XL in the same box. For reference that is an 82mm lens cap on that box, I could hide in there.
What's inside, more boxes of course.
With the box open it's time to get the parts out. First up is the solid brass T-Bar that constitutes the main frame.
You wouldn't want to drop this hunk of metal.
In the middle you can see the main bearing housing which is of an impregnated Tufnel construction with a slightly domed thrust plate and oil bath at the bottom. You fill this up pretty much to the top and it vents excess via a small blow hole at the top.
Next out of the box is the sub-platter.
A drop of oil on the point and in it slips into the bearing.. I wait for it to settle down and a single bubble of oil escapes through the vent hole- perfectly filled with no overspill. Result.
The finish quality of the alloy machining is excellent, every bit as good as the SME that it has replaced and improved upon.
Sadly these pictures do not do the machining justice the finish is so flat.
Once in place and settled I quickly position the motor and spin the sub-platter up just to get a rough handle on the motor pod location before I fit the arm.
I've only got the standard motor kit at the minute and as you can see it's just a simple AC motor with no fancy power supply, in fact it's just a simple capacitor phasing supply, it couldn't be any simpler. it's pretty damn stable though with just the slightest hint of kickback every now and again. A first rate effort for such a simple supply which points to careful motor selection and grading at the factory- or maybe just my blind luck in getting a goodun. I already have a DC motor supply built up I'm just deciding on whether to try the Kuzma Digital Ac supply before spunking a coupe of hundred quid on Maxon's best. Decisions, decisions, I'll have to measure this unit first and hand the sample off to Paulr on PFM to demodulate the speed. (Honestly if you can rip a sample from a test record do it, this will tell you more about your deck than you'll ever learn any other way).
Next out of the box comes the tonearm, a 12" slice of manhood .
And of course some accessories for this behemoth. Quite a decent manual, 12" alignment protractor and the mounting template, (for the 9" version- numpties).
Here's the arm fitted, but not yet set up in any parameter. Obviously i was joking about the 12" dick bit, but I was deadly serious about the colour of the cart and the deck and arm, what's the point in having a deck that looks like it was thrown together by a colourblind idiot. (Ortofon Samba users take note, you know who you are!)
I should mention at this point that Mark, (Ynwoan ) has been dutifully helping me extract the parts from boxes and provide an additional steady hand and straight pair of eyes for sanity checking my rash set-up choices. There's something quite worrying about the way the 12" cranes out towards you begging you to write of the cantilever with the merest brush of fluffy jumper sleeve.
If ever there was an arm and cart combo that needed a stylus guard it's this one. it just hangs out there so blatantly.
As mentioned earlier the build quality is something to behold, the metal work makes all rega arms bar the polished RB1000 like quite agricultural. it exudes an air of purposeful solidity from front to back. It's the little details that make it. The headshell machined from solid and butt welded to the arm tube, not pinned. The bias weight is attached directly to the body of the tonearm with its actuation centre being exactly in line with the point of the unipivot.
Graphic details are laser etched into the metal, eroding the hard anodised finish on the arm rather than simply screening or sticking less permanent graphics in place.
The tonearm wire is Cardas best, double screened with foil and braid in the external wire and terminated with a pair of Eichmann Tellurium Copper bullet plugs.
Of course none of this matters if it doesn't sound any good and fortunately as far as i'm concerned it sounds very good indeed. While it might not yet have the absolute rock solid speed stability afforded by the 3-pahse digital PLL supply used in my SME it's as good as any simple AC motor supply I've experienced and considerably better than provided by many suspended decks.
Bass is full and nuanced with detail that reaches down deep enough to match what i hear from my MAC-DAC front end yet provides greater air and space around performers in the way that great vinyl can. Tracing error seems to be greatly reduced. I have a couple of albums where the tracks extend well past the inner null position yet they replay without the expected additional sizzle.
What i really like about it though are the colours. I always found the SME V to be entirely reliable and neutral, but for me that verged on grey and tonally bleached, it just wasn't vibrant enough, it lacked a little sparkle and always erred on the side of dynamic restraint. The new 12" Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S combo is by comparison a 1970's Panini football sticker album, compared to the SME's sterile newspaper shades of grey. Maybe there's a touch too much colour for it to be perfectly faithful to the source, but that's ok I want a touch of added drama and excitement and so far the Kuzma has me delving into my collection for record after record across all genres. It's good to have found my vinyl groove again.