A Direct Comparison: Technics SP10 Mk3 and SME Model 30/12A

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
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#1
I have noticed in recent threads by SpiritofMusic and others that there is again some discussion about different turntable drive types. And recently, a WBF member sent me a private message asking for my thoughts about a direct comparison that I made between by belt drive table and a friends direct drive table. So I would like to share with you my impressions of that comparison and open a discussion about a few topics: directly comparing turntables in one's system; what we can learn and conclude; what we can not; and can we attribute these impressions specifically to drive type or are there just too many variables between different turntable designs? Finally, with a vintage design like the SP10, are there so many variations to plinths, modifications and different supports that specific conclusions about their sound are difficult to reach?

In March 2016 my good friend and fellow audiophile, David, agreed to bring over his newly set up turntable in order to hear it in my system. David is very familiar with my system having heard it in its various iterations over the last several years. Our intention was to directly compare his Technics SP10 Mk3 to my SME Model 30/12A. We both own an SME V-12 tonearm and an AirTight Supreme cartridge, so this comparison would be very direct between the two turntables only. The SP10 was positioned on my Vibraplane just as my SME is.

David's SP10 is a refurbished original with the Richard Kreps modification to the bearing. The motor controller and power supply unit is a NOS which he found on line. The turntable is placed in a panzerholtz plinth designed by Albert Porter, and he uses the copper platter mat recommended by Albert. I think there are four Stillpoint footers under the table. We used my Transparent Audio phono cable so the only variable was the turntable unit itself and the different samples of the same SME arm and Supreme cartridge. I did the cartridge/arm set up for both turntables using the same music.

I first made mention of this comparison on my virtual system page #10 but never got around to sharing my listening impressions. As it was a year and a half ago, and my memory is not that good, I will refer to two emails I sent to friends for the sonic details. I do not remember the specific recordings we heard, but we did listen to a variety of classical, jazz and pop, of both large and small scale. Here are some quotes from the first email:

(with the SP10) I heard a slight hardness to the high frequencies and some vocals, especially when the volume was turned up. There was also a sameness to the recordings. I could not really relax while listening and it did not quite sound natural to me. It was also not that engaging. There was a very slight mechanical haze to most music. It was less evident with loud jazz horns and drum solos, but with strings and upper piano notes, it was pretty distracting.

We tried with and without a record weight, we tried the metal platter mat and the rubber platter mat, we played with lots of VTF and VTA settings until we got what we think was the best sound out of it. We got it to improve, but we could not eliminate it. By contrast, my SME sounded just as big, with the same degree of high resolution, but without the fatigue. It was smoother, more relaxing and more natural sounding. Presence was great with both, and the SP10 may have dug slightly deeper with bass extension and bass articulation in the most demanding complex music. Drive was also slightly better, but dynamics were about the same. Violins sounded a bit steely with the SP10.

It was a very interesting experiment and comparison. We both learned a lot about our tables. Critical listening for five days to all kinds of music for what were at times pretty subtle differences can get very tiring after a while.

In the end, I preferred my own table. It is more natural sounding, is just as resolving, with slightly less very deep bass control, but it is much easier to listen to for an entire evening or very long term. There is just no fatigue or high frequency glare. I don't know if this was because of the hunting for speed from the servo, or the modern panzerholtz plinth, or something else, but I was clearly reminded of your general comments in the thread that you started.


And here is the second email:

(referring to the SP10) At first I was astonished at what I thought was slightly more detail and information, but the more I listened the more I heard the same thing. I first noticed it with violin, then upper keys on piano, then on midrange horns. The DD SP10 adds a hardness to the midrange and upper frequencies as well as a slight coolness and glassiness to everything. The balance of violin string to wooden body is not the same as with a viola or cello. With the violin, you dont hear much wood, only strings, and they are steely. It is almost like digital glare but not as pronounced, but with all of the resolution of very good analog. Now that I have noticed it, it is hard to ignore and it gets fatiguing after a while.

The SME by contrast is more natural sounding, with the same or slightly less ultimate resolution but very smooth, relaxing and non aggressive. But it can be very dynamic and detailed with the right recording. Resolution with no aggression. It sounds more real. In a few days when I switch back, I will know if the SME has the same resolution or not. It might be like the VDH Colibri versus the AirTight. One has edge and excitement, but the other is more natural and real sounding.


I am left to wonder if the character I heard from the SP10 is specific to how it reacted to the rest of my system or if my system revealed an inherent character of the turntable which will remain and be heard in other systems. Perhaps those with more extensive experience with SP10s will share their views. Because this was such a direct comparison, the differences in sonics in this case could easily be attributed to the two turntables. On the other hand, having heard this SP10 in my friend David's system, what it contributes to his overall sound is not so clear because we have not compared the turntable to any other turntables in his system and there are just too many variables between his room and the rest of the system to fully understand what the SP10 is contributing to his overall system sound. In the case of the SME, I have also directly compared it to my previous SME Model 10 with the same 9" arm and Supreme cartridge, so I attribute certain traits to the Model 30/12.

Complicating matters is that various samples of SP10s are found in varying conditions. Some have modifications, some have none. Some have different kinds of modifications. Some have different plinth designs, platter mat materials, footers, record weights etc. not to mention arms and cartridges. I have learned to treat these comparisons more as specific data points about how one component sounds in one system and room and not to necessarily form generalizations about something like a turntable drive type based on such limited exposure.

It was a fun experience and I appreciate the opportunity to have done such a rare direct comparison of two large turntables in the same familiar system over a number of days.

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Steve Williams

Site Founder, Co-Owner, Administrator
#2
Peter, that was a terrific read for me because of the direct comparison of the two tables as the only variable in your system. I know things like this are always difficult to do, so thank you and David. Just for the heck of it have you considered bringing your SME 30/12 to David's house and do the same comparison but with his system this time
 

spiritofmusic

Member Sponsor
Jun 13, 2013
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#3
Fascinating stuff, Peter.
I remain convinced that excessive servo feedback controlling speed in DDs results in this glare or etch.
So that average speed accuracy is greater w DDs, but moment to moment it may be worse than belt drives, and continued micro adjustments instill an underlying subliminal unease.
 

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
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#4
Thank you Steve. I have considered taking over my turntable to David's house. That would indeed be interesting. I am a bit hesitant to move it, as my dealer told me to "only move it if you must". I would also have to think about the Vibraplane and compressor to optimize its performance, so it would be quite a task, but it might be worth it. I will discuss with David.
 

Steve Williams

Site Founder, Co-Owner, Administrator
#5
That was why I suggested direct comparisons such as these don't often occur for the obvious reason so kudos to you and David
 

bonzo75

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Feb 26, 2014
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#6
Thanks for starting this Peter, great write-up. I am interested in knowing why DDs are giving these differences - due to plinths, arm mounts, etc etc. Never really had a chance to listen to a DD and a belt together.
 

spiritofmusic

Member Sponsor
Jun 13, 2013
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#7
Peter, I really don’t think you need to do it. I think it’s perfectly ok to settle on an opinion that DD is to yr ears not as involving as belt, and moreso, decidedly less natural.
For my part, I do find it fascinating that Mike L has gone to belt drive in the form of the AS after, what, 15 years as a deep convert to DD w the Rockport and NVS.
Re my preferences, I’d certainly love to reassess them .
I’ve had a chance to hear a low torque belt drive recently, the AMG Viella, and it did nothing for me. However the higher torque Kuzma Stabi M and XL4 were much more to my liking.
Maybe I will return to belt drive w the Spec thread drive which has a combination of simple engineering solutions I really admire, and at a more palatable price than yr SME 30.
And I retain the opinion that idler drive done properly has the potential to present DD prowess on dynamics and speed, but not at the expense of coldness of presentation. To this end I’m actively investigating a fascinating all-new, take no prisoners idler drive approach.
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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#8
Fascinating stuff, Peter.
I remain convinced that excessive servo feedback controlling speed in DDs results in this glare or etch.
So that average speed accuracy is greater w DDs, but moment to moment it may be worse than belt drives, and continued micro adjustments instill an underlying subliminal unease.
there are a few things that jump out to me.

one is the SME 30/12 is a fantastic tt, and one a few levels higher than any SP-10 Mk3 is going to be in ease and refinement. It plays in those areas with the very top level of turntables.

two is the Pass Labs + Magico system is not warming over anything with a hint of leaned out top end. the two Dobbins SP-10's I had, a Mk2 and Mk3 did not have the greatest degree of ease and refinement. they were very good in these areas, but not in the league with my Dobbin's Beat or especially the NVS. their motor-platter interface was quiet, but not QUIET!!!!

even the modest Dobbins Garrard 301 in some ways was easier on the ears than the SP10's.....at the expense of information reduction.

1 + 1 = 2.

the enemy of the very good is the excellent, and so on.
 
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Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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#9
I am left to wonder if the character I heard from the SP10 is specific to how it reacted to the rest of my system or if my system revealed an inherent character of the turntable which will remain and be heard in other systems.
Great write-up, Peter. I heard similar things as you did in this comparison. As for your question that I quoted, I lean towards the former answer, that the character we heard from the SP10 is specific to how it reacted to the rest of your system.

The reason is that I have heard excellent sound in David's system, and a very natural sounding rendition from vinyl that had none of the problems we heard with the same turntable in your system.

But I cannot be absolutely sure what the right answer is to the question.

BTW, for the same reason, that I heard natural sound in David's system, I think it is of limited usefulness that you bring your turntable over to his system. There might be differences in resolution, perhaps, but in terms of naturalness of tone I would not expect great revelations from one turntable vs. the other. It all might be too much effort for too little gain of information.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#10
Thanks for starting this Peter, great write-up. I am interested in knowing why DDs are giving these differences - due to plinths, arm mounts, etc etc. Never really had a chance to listen to a DD and a belt together.
This is why I was so interested in doing the comparison. We read so many generalizations on the forums about drive types sounding a particular way. I really wonder if the best implemented designs don't actually sound more similar than different. And yes, I do think there are many variations of approaches with refurbished vintage tables.
 
May 30, 2010
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#11
Peter,

Did you try changing the cartridges? You are reporting an enormous difference in tonality using strong words, something I could not expect from these quality turntables.

I have never owned an SP10 mk3, but owned an SP10mk2 for some time, as well as the SME30. Although the SME30 was a better turntable - much better bass, imaging and a sense of easiness the SP10 could not match - I never found the SP10 mk2 so poor and disagreeable as you refer. Or perhaps the plinth and copper mat plate are imposing this hardness, coolness and glassiness to the sound.

Did your friend David agree with your appreciation in your system?
 

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
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#13
Great write-up, Peter. I heard similar things as you did in this comparison. As for your question that I quoted, I lean towards the former answer, that the character we heard from the SP10 is specific to how it reacted to the rest of your system.

The reason is that I have heard excellent sound in David's system, and a very natural sounding rendition from vinyl that had none of the problems we heard with the same turntable in your system.

But I cannot be absolutely sure what the right answer is to the question.

BTW, for the same reason, that I heard natural sound in David's system, I think it is of limited usefulness that you bring your turntable over to his system. There might be differences in resolution, perhaps, but in terms of naturalness of tone I would not expect great revelations from one turntable vs. the other. It all might be too much effort for too little gain of information.
Thank you Al. Yes, I have heard very good sound in David's system also. Years ago I did bring over my SME Model 10A and Pass Xono phono stage to David's system. We first compared the phono stage in his Aurum Acoustics CDP/preamp to my Pass and then inserted my turntable to compare to his CDP. We preferred the Pass to his phono and then the SME to his digital. This is one reason that David decided to add a vinyl source to his system.

It is hard to attribute a sonic character to his turntable in his system unless one compares his two sources. Compared to his CDP, the turntable certainly sounds more natural and more resolving. And on some recordings, quite excellent. However, hearing his turntable alone without reference to his digital source, it is hard to say what contributes to the overall sound of his system. He has SS and tubes and full range speakers and there are just so many variables that it is hard to know what his table is doing. I am familiar with his arm and cartridge, having sold him my first Supreme.

I have heard a slight glare and hardness in his system, but not to the same extent as I heard from his turntable in my system, and not consistently. Perhaps his SS/tubes hybrid amp, the deeper bass extension, silver phono cable, and overall resolution level, combine to give a different view of the turntable's signature. Noise floor is also different. I know David is still working on room treatments, power delivery and component supports. It is very difficult to make definitive conclusions about what contributes to what as his system is a comprehensive all in one design by Aurum Acoustics and we have not swapped out many components.

Regarding learning anything by bring my table over to his system: I do think that one can always learn something from a familiar component placed in a different system and room. Would it be worth all of the effort? That remains to be pondered.
 

PeterA

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Dec 7, 2011
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#14
Peter,

Did you try changing the cartridges? You are reporting an enormous difference in tonality using strong words, something I could not expect from these quality turntables.

I have never owned an SP10 mk3, but owned an SP10mk2 for some time, as well as the SME30. Although the SME30 was a better turntable - much better bass, imaging and a sense of easiness the SP10 could not match - I never found the SP10 mk2 so poor and disagreeable as you refer. Or perhaps the plinth and copper mat plate are imposing this hardness, coolness and glassiness to the sound.

Did your friend David agree with your appreciation in your system?
Hi Micro,

No, we did not change cartridges. Al M. and I have heard David's cartridge sound fine in his system. And I used to own that very sample and it sounded fine in my system. I sold it to David when I had the opportunity to buy a newer Supreme at an attractive price. The tonal differences may very well be attributed to how the two turntables handle internal and external vibrations. These turntable designs are very different. The armboards and isolation from their motors are handled very differently. I do not attribute the differences to any issue with David's cartridge sample.

Regarding the overall differences, I did write and observe at the time, that often the differences were "pretty subtle". What I found most interesting is that differences between various recordings were more pronounced with the SME than with the SP10 which leads me to conclude that the latter was glossing over differences or imposing a slightly greater coloration over all of the music than was the SME.

During the comparison, David and I did speak to two people very familiar with SP10s and these plinths and copper mats. There was some disagreement but one gentleman thought that the SP10s sound best in their original obsidian? plinths or even no plinth at all. I just don't know enough about the various elements of the design and simply considered it as the whole combination presented. It is very similar to the SP10 combination that Albert Porter used when he had his SME V-12 and Supreme cartridge.
 

cjfrbw

Active Member
Apr 20, 2010
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#15
Wow, that is a gorgeous SP10 implementation.

The DD hardness you mention is the most common thing you hear about them by way of a complaint. Whether it is some subtle cogging thing that never quite transcends, or platters that tend to be lighter and more ringing, is hard to say.

I have an old Sony PS X70 that I used in Santa Cruz, and hooked it up to my main system in Pleasanton for a bit. I was impressed with it, it was the second tier from the top model in the day and has the micro seiki tonearm. My thought at the time was that I wouldn't suffer that much if it was my only table. I could not hear any generic hardness that I could identify, though the SME 30 is a much better turntable on almost every parameter.

It seems that the fashion trend is turning back to mass loaded tables. Alastair Robertson-Aikman stated the opinion that density was more important than mass per se, which is why the SME tables use dense plates and platter.
 

PeterA

Active Member
Dec 7, 2011
4,870
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38
North Shore of Boston
#16
Peter, I really don’t think you need to do it. I think it’s perfectly ok to settle on an opinion that DD is to yr ears not as involving as belt, and moreso, decidedly less natural.
For my part, I do find it fascinating that Mike L has gone to belt drive in the form of the AS after, what, 15 years as a deep convert to DD w the Rockport and NVS.
Re my preferences, I’d certainly love to reassess them .
I’ve had a chance to hear a low torque belt drive recently, the AMG Viella, and it did nothing for me. However the higher torque Kuzma Stabi M and XL4 were much more to my liking.
Maybe I will return to belt drive w the Spec thread drive which has a combination of simple engineering solutions I really admire, and at a more palatable price than yr SME 30.
And I retain the opinion that idler drive done properly has the potential to present DD prowess on dynamics and speed, but not at the expense of coldness of presentation. To this end I’m actively investigating a fascinating all-new, take no prisoners idler drive approach.
Marc, I tend to not make such generalizations so quickly especially if based on such few samples or so little exposure to alternative examples of a typology. Now, if I could hear the Kodo BEAT, the Monaco, and the NVS, for example, in my system with the same arm and cartridge, and hear a similar signature, then perhaps I would move toward such a conclusion. Until that time, this comparison is only one data point or experience.

EDIT: I suspect that different DD turntables sound quite different from each other, especially if they handle internal and external vibrations differently. I suspect that mplementation may have more to do with turntable sound than drive typology, but I have no way of knowing unless I directly compare more tables to each other.
 
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hi5harry

New Member
Sep 11, 2011
14
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Santa Cruz, Calif
#20
This may be a little bit off topic, but I'm a huge fan of the Teres Verus with the new motor housing, Bybee's, and new drive wheel. Idler wheel drives seem to only have rumble as their Kryptonite. If the platter is heavy ( over 20kg) and the bearing is tight they are a great alternative. My favorite.