SME doesn’t follow fashion. Its focus has always been on high-quality engineering delivered in a no-compromise way. Take a look at any of the company’s turntables or arms and that obsession for quality is impossible to miss, and goes a long way towards explaining their hefty price tags.
This measured approach also means that SME doesn’t introduce new products often, and when they do appear, they tend to stay in production for decades.
So when the company decides to launch a complete record-playing package called the Synergy, which includes a brand-new turntable design, we can’t help but take note.
The Synergy package is made up of the new 12 turntable with a dedicated arm that’s essentially the highly regarded SME IV (but internally rewired with leads from Crystal Cables) and an Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti cartridge. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the inclusion of a built-in phono stage from Swiss high-end hi-fi royalty Nagra. Considering many of Nagra’s products tend to cost way more than the complete Synergy package that’s quite some coup.
While the Synergy is aimed at those who want the minimum of fuss without sacrificing performance it still requires a little bit of putting-together.
Just lifting the packaging makes it clear that this is a heavy unit. It weighs in at just short of 25kg. Make sure your support is capable of handling that load, particularly if you’re thinking of using a wall shelf. As with any turntable it is essential that the support is perfectly level. The deck comes with adjustable feet, so there is a little scope for adjustment if needed.
As far as assembly is concerned things are pretty straightforward by high-end standards. The arm and cartridge are already attached and properly aligned. Even the tracking weight and bias are factory set, which is a real benefit for those who aren’t comfortable adjusting such things.
You will have to unscrew the pair of transit bolts holding the sub-chassis and another one securing the motor unit. You’ll also need to remove some packing strips that help to keep these things in place during transport.
The tightly toleranced main bearing is shipped with just the minimum of oil – to prevent making a mess in transit – so more needs to be added before use. SME provides the precise amount of the lubricant in a syringe, and putting it in to the bearing is easy. After that the flat rubber drive belt goes on, followed by the main platter.
The deck’s design is something of a departure for SME. The company’s established models have tended to use multiple rubber ‘o’ rings to suspend their sub-chassis where here the designers have used a polymer (specially developed to isolate vibration in the aerospace industry) to minimise the impact of external vibrations. It seems to work well, the Synergy proving less fussy about supports or being positioned close to the speakers than other rivals we’ve tried.
The Synergy uses two power supplies. There’s one to drive the motor and a second to feed the Nagra phono stage. In both cases the connecting leads are long enough to allow the supplies themselves to be placed well away from the deck, which reduces the chances of electrical hum or other interference being generated.
While the instructions are fairly clear there are points, particularly when it comes to connecting the various cables and earth leads, where a few diagrams or pictures would help to make things clearer.
In our system the Synergy produced a fair bit of hum when earthed as the manual suggested, but a little experimentation soon fixes the issue. Systems vary in this respect though, and yours could well be fine.
We’re particularly fond of the Synergy arm. It’s a lovely piece of engineering and works with spellbinding precision. It’s essentially a rewired SME IV (a design that has been around for decades) so when it comes to adjustments and being able to dial in a cartridge accurately few alternatives come close to instilling such confidence. Make no mistake; this arm is an absolute pleasure to use.
SME has made a fine choice in using the Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti cartridge. This moving-coil unit costs £3099 if bought separately and is well known for being a detailed and well balanced performer. Its unfussy presentation is ideal for those that want something that works well across all types of recordings. The only issue for some could be the relatively low output of 0.2mV, but as the Synergy’s phono stage is optimised for this cartridge there’s no issue in this context.
While the phono stage is optimised for the Ortofon, its cartridge loading values can be tweaked if you ever feel the need to change or upgrade to another moving-coil. It’s not something we see many people doing initially but, over time, as the cartridge wears and needs to be replaced this becomes a useful feature. The phono-stage circuit itself is as electrically quiet and noise-free as we would hope for.
Once the deck is up and running it’s a joy to use. Its speed can be changed between 33⅓, 45 and 78rpm at the press of a button, and that hefty platter only takes a few seconds before it locks at the right speed. There’s a small LED on the motor power supply that flashes until the speed has stabilised.
SME provides a strobe disc to check absolute speed accuracy, and if you should find the deck less than accurately set – unlikely – then it’s a simple matter to fine tune the setting with adjustments of just +/- 0.01% of the selected speed possible.
The Synergy comes with a record clamp. This is a chunky item that feels lovely to handle thanks to some impressive machining and its immaculate chrome finish. While it may appear to be a bit of a hassle to use the clamp every time you play a record it soon becomes second nature to screw it on. Not too tight, mind.
We listen with and without the record clamp and for us there’s no contest – clamping the disc results in greater authority, punch and precision to the sound.
Any hi-fi source of this quality positively demands a top-notch partnering system. We use Burmester’s 088/911 Mk3 pre/power combination with ATC’s SCM 50 speakers to good effect.
In our experience, SME’s products tend to excel in detail resolution and control, and the Synergy is no different. When we listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony we’re immediately impressed by the package’s resolution and its ability to distinguish between the various instrumental strands while still producing a cohesive presentation.
That high level of control we expected is fully present and apparent in the way the Synergy sounds so composed regardless of the complexity of the music played. The symphony’s massive dynamic swings are rendered with complete confidence, the turntable never sounding like it has to work hard to keep up, while at the same time it refuses to short-change the listener when it comes to drama and excitement.
We’re impressed by the Synergy’s stereo imaging too. It delivers a large, spacious soundstage that’s populated by precisely located instruments. The sounds are nicely layered giving a convincing rendition of depth that fails to diminish even when the music gets demanding.
The cartridge is in large part responsible for the tonality of a record player and in the Ortofon MC Windfeld Ti we have a pretty neutral and even-handed device. It’s an agile and precise performer that’s refined enough to keep some of our most aggressive recordings listenable but also transparent enough to allow the better ones to shine. Our 180g copy of Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis is a great example. The disc sounds solid and subtle, with the Synergy conveying the dynamic ebb and flow of the music superbly. There’s no shortage of body or sonic authority when the music demands.
Speeds (rpm) 33⅓, 45, 78
Speed change Electric
Phono stage Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 18 x 37 x 35cm
Our previous experience with the company’s decks had given the impression that rhythmic expression wouldn’t be a strength, but in the Synergy we hear the kind of drive and ability to render momentum changes that impresses. While this package doesn’t prioritise these aspects of the music with quite the same enthusiasm as say, Linn’s LP12 Klimax (£18,670), it remains a highly entertaining listen all the same.
We love the way this SME transports us into recording sessions, delivering music with all the transparency, verve and sophistication it deserves. This package sounds authentic, and that’s a quality that’s rare in hi-fi, even at these levels.
We’re not sure how highly the likes of Nirvana would feature on a typical SME owner's playlist but we can’t help but give Smells Like Teen Spirit a spin. It proves a blast, with the Synergy package pounding out the beats and Cobain’s highly charged vocals with all the passion and energy intact. It’s a great performance – one that stays with us long after the listening session ends.
The story remains equally positive whatever you listen to. During our test sessions we play everything from Bob Marley’s Catch A Fire set and Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run all the way to Orff’s Carmina Burana and the SME Synergy never fails to please.
If you’re looking for a fuss-free high-end turntable package where the manufacturer has already done all the legwork in component matching, this is a brilliant place to start. The SME Synergy is a terrific proposition, and one that promises to reward for years to come.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 5