Turntable + cartridge + phonostage
SME 20/3A + Dynavector DRT XV-1s + Vitus Audio SP-102
Price: 43 980 + 15 300 + 99 900 zł
Polish distributor: RCM
ul. Matejki 4, 40-077 Katowice
tel.: (32) 206-40-16 | (32) 201-40-96
WWW: SME | Dynavector | Vitus Audio
Country of origin: Great Britain | Japan | Denmark
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła, Dynavector, Vitus Audio
Translation: Marek Dyba
This review of 20/3A turntable is one of the very first done in the world – not the first, as there was one for example in British „Hi-Fi News&Record Reviews”, but still among the first ones. This is a totally new model though. It takes some features, solutions after older brother – 20/2, but in fact is more similar to the top model - 30/2. The „A” letter in its name indicates that also a top tonearm is used - Series V from same manufacturer. As you surely notice we are reviewing the whole system. Polish SME Distributor matched this deck with Dynavector DRT XV-1s cartridge and absolute novelty in his offer – a Danish phonostage coming from Vitus Audio, that costs almost 100.000,00 pln. That's a hell of a system…
We tested before:
Records used in the test (a selection):
I know such a high level of performance, in fact I'm used to it. I wouldn't like to sound conceited but on the other hand I'm not going to pretend that I think otherwise. I'd rather be perceived conceited as that is more like getting rid of false modesty than as arrogant as that's more of a attitude directed towards other people which is not very polite. All right – I'm done with philosophy. I know this level of performance from the best systems I heard in my life. That means sound as close to perfection as only possible considering capabilities of contemporary recording and audio industry.
The most accurate description of a sound of this system is very simple – the sound is very natural. There is not much to tell about the tonal balance as it is very close to what I know from the best analogue and digital sources and to some extend to what I know from live concerts. In this case it makes much more sense to discuss each frequency subrange.
It is also extremely clear sound. I thought that usually such a sound comes only from the best digital sources. I was wrong – what one gets from a CD player is less noise, more stability but in fact also less information – and these are the elements that make us think we hear very clear sound. The fact is that most CD players deliver quite “dirty” sound and they try to mask it by either softening the sound or adding some brightness to it. Each of these strategies works well in a different system so if you choose all elements right, there should be no significant problem. Sound of turntable setup on the other hand is much clearer if only each and every element of this setup allows it. This particular reviewed rig clearly shows what I'm talking about – fabulous purity, clarity of the sound. And when e.g. Hammonds appear on Kankawa's Organist, it sounds both – very soft and powerful at the same time. That's how this instrument really sounds like. Another example - in George’s Dilema piece from Study In Brown album by Clifford Brown & Max Roach the percussion cymbals enter and their sound, the vibrations are very complex, rich with both basic tones and harmonics. One of the things this clarity of the sound does is showing easily quality of each pressing. This is a feature that is not so obvious for me. Whether it is clearly showed or covered by some other sound elements – it is not inseparably connected with particular technology, or design type. There are nicely, softly sounding turntables with a simple design (e.g. Rega), and other sounding more on the bright side, focused more on precision (e.g. Pro-Jects). Same goes for more complex designs, both suspended and mass-loaders. You might draw some general conclusion like: mass-loaders offer more precise sound than suspended turntables. And that's usually true. But it does not mean it can be applied to each and every turntable available on the market.
The reviewed system, and I believe credit goes mainly to the turntable, delivers slightly soft and not so tangible sound, (at least not as SME 30/12 or Transrotor Argos and also Avid Acutus Reference did), but it still manages to clearly show you the quality of recording itself and particular pressing.
So what is this sound really like? How is it different from what other systems offer? To be honest this sound is partially intentionally “shaped”. Both cartridge and phonostage make the sound bit more attractive bringing the soundstage closer to the listener and slightly boosting microdynamics. All the events seem to be very active but not because sound is too bright but because it is permanently “present”. Amazing, huge soundstage very close to the listener and totally independent from surrounding room, not restricted by it – all that just complements the effects previously mentioned.
Turntable's sound is very neutral but it doesn't mean “emotion-less”. It is fully capable of presenting everything and anything a musician is willing to share if only other elements of the system don't limit its capabilities. Powerful but not exaggerated bass is one of the things that make it different. Sound is presented in a large scale and 30/2A can't really do much more about it. Surely more expensive and 12” versions will sound better – but at this price point I can't see anything that could offer such an exciting joyride as 20/3A does and come even close to this level of performance. That's why I shall recommend this turntable to all audiophiles who can afford to buy it. I could easily live with this deck.
Model 20/3A weights around 28,6 kg (31 kg with power supply), and this weight comes mostly from great density of materials used in this design. Subchassis measures only 440 by 350 mm, but weights 11 kg! Its thickness 16mm resists flexing at low frequencies whilst high frequency resonance is attenuated by efficient extensional damping. The table is build up in fact of two decoupled platforms – the lower one 12,5 mm thick and the upper one 16 mm thick. Each of them has a 2 mm thick dumping plate of a bit smaller overall dimensions bolted to it. The motor sits on the left side combined together with the lower platform. It is placed inside solid, very rigid casting. There is an aluminum pulley on its axis (also a cast very precisely finished), where you put the belt on. The torque is transferred to a large diameter aluminum subplatter. There is kind of a collar at the lower end which prevents belt from falling down. Than on top of all that comes a large aluminum platter weighting roughly 6,5 kg. Its diameter is larger than record's but it seems to create no problem at all when taking record off the platter. The main bearing's axis (Ø 19 mm) is made of hard, passivated steel. The axis hangs under upper platform but is also extended to the bottom and there, in the lower platform, there is a large cylinder fill with oil that dampens vibrations of the main bearing. There is a rubber string that pulls the main bearing in the opposite direction than the belt does which is supposed to balance there two pulls. A cable from power supply goes to a small box in the back of turntable and than with a another short cable directly to the motor. I've mentioned already that a new material was used for finishing of the platter – it turns out that it collects electrical charges much more easily than a material previously used. To prevent that from happening manufacturer added another grounding cable for platter going from power supply to motor or to the upper metal plate.
SME 20/3A is a decoupled design with two, similar boards making together a chassis – the top one is bit bigger and also heavier. The way these two are decoupled is a proprietary solution developed by SME. It consists of four supports fixed to the lower board and the upper one is suspended on them. The subchassis is suspended on forty purpose moulded ‘O’ rings which ensure freedom from feedback. The method of anchorage allows the rings to be removed or replaced in a matter of moments, even whilst a record is playing. The turntable is driven by a 3 phase, brushless outrunner inductance motor with 8-pole Neodymium magnets and 3 integrated Hall position sensors. The electronic controller uses a high performance microprocessor, optimized for motor control. Closed loop speed control is implemented using a proportional plus integral (PI) algorithm. Fine pitch speed adjustment allows increments/decrements of +/-0.01% of selected speed. Speed ranges: 33 1/3, 45 & 78 rpm.
SME 20/3A is equipped with SME Series V 9” tonearm. It's a shorter version of the top SME's tonearm. It's less expensive version was installed on Avid Acutus Reference I tested not so long time ago. Van den Hul M.C. D 501 cable comes with the arm – it is quite good but you still should get a better one.
Not too big, really heavy, suspended turntable, made with extreme precision every manufacturer should learn from. That's how I image a perfect turntable. 20/3A isn't perfect though it comes close. To get a perfect one you need to spend much, much more.Dynavector DRT XV-1s
It all started in 1999, when Dynavector presented the first version of this cartridge named DRT XV-1, with a cutting edge solutions like its magnetic circuit that comprised eight small ALNICO magnets characteristic yoke with coils winded on it. Plus one more Dynavector's proprietary solution called „Flux damping”, that allowed to control magnetic field. The XV-1s is the latest evolution of Dynavector design and was presented in 2002. It features a revolutionary square shaped front aperture with a matching square shaped armature this enables the moving coil wound armature to move in an equalized and stable magnetic flux., The body of cartridge is made of African Ebony wood. Cantilever has a 6mm length and 0.3 mm diameter and it's made of solid boron. 30 micron PCOCC wiring coil is used, which allowed to achieve 6 ohms impedance. Cartridge is equipped with PF Line contact shape, with stylus radius of 7 x 30 microns. It's a MC type cartridge with output of 0,3 mV (1 kHz, 5 cm/s). Manufacturer recommends tracking force between 1,8 and 2,2 g, but, as usually with his cartridges the maximum recommended force delivers best performance.Vitus Audio SP-102
Vitus Audio belongs to Hans Ole. All products are made in Denmark. Even though model SP-102 is a successor of SP-101, it's in fact a brand new design based on the technologies gained through the development of the two-chassis MP-P201 preamplifier.
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