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SME pickup arms no longer available

Craig Sawyers

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Title says it all. As of 3rd December SME announced that they were no longer supplying pickup arms, and now would only provide them integrated with an SME turntable.


They instantly removed the entire pickup arm category from their website. Thus ends pretty much to the month 60 years and >1 million arm sales since Alastair Robertson-Aikman sold the first SME pickup arm.

Of course, the new owner (Ajay Shirke) and the new MD Stuart McNeilis can do what the hell they want - but it seems to be a major strategic error to withdraw from arm sales. The entry price for the lowest cost SME package will now be the Synergy at UKP15k (including cartridge and phono stage) to the 30/12 at UKP35k (for which you need to add a cartridge and phono stage).

So for anyone wishing to partner an SME arm with a Garrard 301 or 401, or any other deck for that matter - well tough shit.

Ebay sellers of SME arms will be having a field day - watch the prices soar.

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1 hour ago, Pars said:

Ugggh... I agree with you about the decision to go table only Craig.

Are these guys not directly associated with SME? http://www.smetonearms.com/

No - they are just a reseller and not anything to do with SME the company.

But their supply of arms has dried up. The only ones they can now sell are the ones they have in stock and those in transit.

To give an idea how much the price of SME arms has increased, I have a 1984 price list. The classic 3009 S2 with detachable shell was UKP97.33 . The price index change since 1984 is 3.26 so the price today should be UKP 317.10. The modern equivalent (if you could buy it) is the M2-9-R which was UKP2500. So the effective price increase is 7.9 times.

In 2011 the SME IV was UKP 1373, in late 2019 that should be UKP 1694. When SME exited selling arms a few days ago it was UKP 3500 - So a factor of two increase in real terms in 8 years.

The arms went from something that could be bought by the average Joe, to a high end purchase, and now is priced off the end of the scale as deck/arm packages.

Anyway it is their company and they can do what the hell they want. But from where I sit, it looks like business suicide. For instance I know for a fact that the total number of the model 30 decks at UKP30k they have ever sold is 300 - so less than 1 million of turnover in 20 years since it was introduced. SME are not a big company.

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Only 300 decks of the 30 model in 20 years? That's really low, I wasn't expecting that. However this "new" luxury market driven by the several millions of ultra wealthy guys with no idea on what's value, might allow them to sell the same 15 decks/year for 2x, 3x, or possibly higher, the current price. They just need the right ads in the right places and convincing the buyers that there's a shortage and a waiting list. If it doesn't work they can get back to the old business model which didn't seem to make them rich either.

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Sad day. Presumably their bean counters know their target markets and  their demand curves. A few high margin sales to non price sensitive individuals may work as well or better for them than more sales to price sensitive individuals.

When I think back to my dads  SME III ,  Shure V15 iv, Thorens 160s, Quad 33, 303,  Celestion 66 system, and the impact it had on an impressionable younger me.

And where are they now / who owns them / the state of engineering led British Hi-Fi Manufacturing. Sad day indeed.

Somehow I doubt the current owners have stacked Quad ESL's in their listening room.




Edited by Grahame
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Nice second link Grahame. Although I think they have got it wrong in a big way with their business strategy over the last three or four years, they still make absolutely everything in that little company in Steyning. And that is every screw, nut and connector. The only thing that is bought in is the tapered arm tube, which they buy in raw and unfinished state from Chicago White Metal, and then do umpteen finishing steps to at SME.

So I doff my cap to their attention to detail at a minute level. But they have positioned themselves increasingly to the financially exceptionally well heeled.

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I’m afraid hifi in general in the uk (and probably elsewhere) has been going down the path of high price oblivion for sometime. The market fragments, upgrade paths vanish and less people start on the hobby and good quality kit becomes unaffordable for anyone except professionals/and the rich. I remember when I was a child the local hifi store (stereo only no multi-channel) had Quad, Heaffler, Cambridge audio, castle, Radford, hafler, leak, walker, lowther, b & w, kef, Kinshaw, ferrograph, Goldring  Garrard, Decca, Hadcock, Sme, wharfedale, so many British manufacturers and some others like teac, yamaha, ortofon, luxman etc. Over the years one by one as the founders retired and they were replaced by their sons and accountants (c.f. Quad )  the prices went up dramatically, the skills were lost... Quad "lost" all the design work Sir Peter walker did on the esl 57 and 63 and had to reverse engineer them from scratch and rediscover what worked and what did not before they could make any major changes hense the "replacement" to the esl 63 the esl 988 which was a copy of the esl 63 with lower build quality (plastic top and bottoms)... I went to the Quad demo of the 988 at a hifi show, they were selling quad clothing and had pretty girls everywhere... the sound was terrible - I suspect more the hifi they matched with it then the speaker. But the message was obvious buy quad merchandise. The traditional manufacturers closed one by one or got taken over by large groups c.f. Quad etc. Audiolab got taken over by tag who sold the same mid to low budget audio lab kit in expensive looking chassis for 10 times the price.... the hifi magazines where full of their advertising, raved about their products and less than a couple of years later tag vanished.... a while later I believe the original audio lab staff brought the company back and started reselling their original designs back in the original casework and sensible prices.... I remember talking to the owner of my local hifi shop and he told me that in many cases a hifi manufacturer would not let him stock individual components from their range - he either had to stock everything or nothing. This was too much of an investment for him and in some cases he only thought some of a manufacturers range was good... but his ability to pick and choose was being erodded. 

I read that the entire circulation of all uk hifi magazines now is less than the circulation of one of the smallest ones back when I was young… In 2018 I purchased a hifi/absolute sound issue which stated on the front “ultimate guide to headphones” I read it and was appalled. There was no research, no discussion of the topology at all, One page per product, no internal photos and almost every single review was entirely positive, in most cases the paragraph on the company history was longer than the paragraph on listening experiences. If the review was not 100% positive they added things like “but the more I listened to them the more I liked them”… So its easy to think they you have to have golden ears to appreciate any hifi over a few £100….

Now it’s tough to get started in hifi, most people are happy listening to low fi headphones and compressed music on mobile phones or through laptop speakers.... The hifi magazines refuse to write a bad review of any piece of hifi since they are worried about not being given free review samples, or being sued, or the company pulling adverts from their pages...

Cameras are going the same way. Look at what happened to Olympus.... Canon changed the market with the 5D mk 1 - the first affordable full frame 35mm camera, now look at the price of the latest 5Ds and the L series lenses keep going up and up....

I see the same trend now starting with computers, only 2 cpu manufacturers, only 2 graphics cards manufacturers, only 3 memory and flash manufacturers. Graphics card prices have been sky rocketing so in general have cpu prices and especially motherboards ... 


(sorry for the rant)



Edited by jamesmking
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Interesting rant, James. As I'm seeing it is that nowadays the sound quality you get from an affordable device (let's say a chinese smartphone with a 50 bucks pair of IEMs) is superior to anything you'd say it sounded just decent 50 years ago when Hiend audio was developing to get its heyday. Even listening to current lossy files the sound quality has a better dynamic range, less noise, wider frequency range and less distortion than what you were getting from an expensive top of the line Sony Walkman in the 80's.

The problem is that Hiend isn't justifying the prices for a better sound, it has become another luxury good more likely to show how "winner" and exclusive is its owner than to provide an improved, more intense, listening experience. This is the move we've been seeing on "exclusive" watches, cars, clothes... anything that is targeted to those few millions of humans that for one reason or another have a few millions yearly to spend just to show off. Since those riches create the trend, then the lower income wannabes target to more affordable yet very expensive products that still will show off how successful and "winner" they are. They're still way wealthier than average, they can afford a 150.000 BMW SUV but not a 1M Bugatti, nor a 500.000 Ferrari. Manufacturers have now a really big market of high rent individuals that would allow them to sell the same shit at 10x the price. Possibly the same amount of people that in the 60's were able to afford a pair of Quad 57 with a matching amplifier and Thorens turntable.

Manufacturers aren't stupid, nor their shareholders. If you can sell a camera/watch/speaker/whatever for a several thousands, why getting a lower profit would be acceptable? The paradigm has shifted to the higher prices/benefit as long as the whole production can be sold for a bulkier price. The world has got a load of wealthy ones in the last couple of decades while the middle class (former market of these goods) has got poorer. It's clearly more profitable selling your production at a much higher price/benefit than trying to produce a larger number of items at a lower cost to reach a wider market. Possibly the planet will benefit of this trend too.

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