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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:

  • SME 10A turntable HERE


Records used in the test (a selection):

  • Musik wie von einem anderen Stern, Manger Products, MANG-2010, 2 x 180 g LP.
  • Alan Taylor, In The Groove, Stockfisch, SFR 357.8007.1, DMM Series, 180 g LP.
  • Boney M., Oceans Of Fantasy, Hansa, 200 888-320, LP. ¬
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, WARPCDD207, 2 x 180 g LP + 2 x CD + 24/44,1 WAV.
  • Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Study In Brown, EmArcy/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9072, 200 g LP.
  • Czesław Niemen, Katharsis, Polskie Nagrania Muza, SX 1262, LP.
  • Depeche Mode, Sounds Of The Universe, Mute, STUMM300, 2 x 180 g LP;
  • Electric Light Orchestra, Time, Jet Records, JET LP 236, LP.
  • Frank Sinatra, The Voice, Columbia/Speakers Corner, CL 743, Quiex SV-P, 180 g LP.
  • Gerry Mulligan&Thelonious Monk, Mulligan meets Monk, Riverside/Analogue Productions, 1106, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre, Zoolook, Dreyfus Disques /Polydor Canada, Jar 5, LP.
  • Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 4 x 45 rpm 180 g LP + CD-RIIα + 24/192 WAV.
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1.
  • Queen, Jazz, EMI Electrola, 064-61 820, LP.
  • Tingwall Trio, Vattensga, Skip Records, SKL 9087-1, Limited Edition 180 g LP. ¬
  • Wes Montgomery&Wynton Kelly Trio, Smokin’ at The Half Note, Verve/Universal Music Japan, UCJU-9083, 200 g LP.

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.
This performance is in a way „normal”, but also bit spectacular, slightly soft, not as three-dimensional as delivered by SME 30, or Transrotor Argos (I'd also add to this group Avid Audio Acutus Reference and Bergmann Audio Sindre, but without absolute certainty). It is quite close to perfection but still not perfect – there are still some things that might be done to make this SME sound even better.

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.
I'd like to start with the bass. That's often a weak spot of a turntable setup, specially of suspended ones – like this SME 20/3. Neither this one nor SME 30 sound like suspended decks. Just to be clear – it doesn't also mean that they sound like mass-loaders. Bass is very well extended but bit soft. But this softness doesn't come from rounded attack's edges but rather from pursuit of a naturalness. In real life a double bass (also bass guitar) unless slapping and popping technique is used sound quite soft, without obvious source of the sound – you can hear mostly the work of fingers and much less of a soundboard. That's exactly what you get from SME and this whole system. Both the turntable and cartridge are great but big part of a credit goes to Vitus phonostage. I compared it directly with my own RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, that so far competed with many great phonostages I tested and never really sounded much worse. Only during this review I realized that Sensor's bass is not so well extended as I thought it was and not so rich either. When comparing analogue setups with the best digital ones (vide Linn Klimax DS ) – most of the former can't offer as rich, and as well differentiated bass as the latter. Sometimes one might think just the opposite but in fact one gets this impression from better midrange and upper bass while the lower bass is in fact not as good.
With SME and Vitus this downside of analogue setup disappeared. I don't recall such a fabulous double bass on Mulligan Meets Monk, or on Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, or an electronic bass on Sounds of the Universe by Depeche Mode. Now I was offered very dense, deep and lively presentation. Changes, changes, changes – that's what music is really about and Vitus (I mean mostly the owner of the company) seems to understand that perfectly.
There is a lot of bass and it's very well differentiated. When I compared directly the same recordings (same masterings even) on vinyl and on CD (played by my Lektor Air), I realized that there is plenty of bass but not too much. Air offers even more powerful bass but it sounds bit less natural which creates impression that there is too much of it. This is mostly a problem of recordings themselves, specially those on CDs, but the reviewed system dealt with them swiftly. It looked like fantastic, enhanced resolution helped to extract “something more” from the signal and thus avoided any distortions.

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.
It was obvious to me when listening to Vattensaga by Tingvall Trio that some mistake was made (and I was pretty sure that it was not in the mastering stage as it had been done in Pauler Acoustics studio, that belongs to Stockfisch label). Sound was not so tangible, not so lively nor deep as the one of CD that I reviewed some time ago (HERE). Don't get me wrong – this sound is good but the sound of CD was referential. Want more? Here you go – the vinyl version of Craft On A Milk Sea by Brian Eno sounded very alike the 24/44,1 WAV file it was pressed from.
This becomes even more obvious when listening to the recordings taken and mixed exclusively in analogue domain. Mercury's vocal starting Mustapha (on Jazz, Queen) was accompanied with great reverberations like it was taken in a big room with hard walls. The bands starting to play just a moment after that sounded flat, lifeless, boring. Because that's how it was recorded. Some turntables try to equalize those differences. They do it in one of many ways – either by softening attack's edge, or homogenizing sound, or charming listener with artificially over-saturated timbre. SME and this whole system doesn't do it. I wouldn't call it a ruthless killer of imperfect recordings neither. It's just … truthful, and thus extracting as much music from the record as there is to extract. Even records that offer sound quite far from perfect like Katharsis by Niemen on Polskie Nagrania label, thanks to this rig will sound OUTSTANDING!

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.
The cartridge is a classic and a perfect example of Dynavector's craftsmanship. I know that DRT XV-1t is even better than DRT XV-1 but it's also twice as expensive. Even re-tipping costs a lot. DRT XV-1s sounds bit showy, catchy but in a good way. It slightly emphasizes small details, brings sounds close to listener. The bass is well extended and the resolution outstanding throughout whole frequency range. This cartridge has a tendency to add “some sugar” to information read from the record. What I mean is that when I listened to the piano it always sounded involving and same goes for vocals and other instruments. Even if the record wasn't of such a great quality it still sounded involving. You can clearly tell that there are differences between pressings, Dynavector won't make it easy for you to define the nature of those differences, as everything seems bit nicer, more dynamic, more tangible than it should be. To be clear – „should be” in MY opinion.
Vitus phonostage has a very similar sound character with Dynavector – one might think they were designed together by the same people. It delivers very involving sound, slightly warm (but I mean really slightly) bit dark but at the same time gentle. Powerful bass and very nice, liquid midrange are the most prominent features of its sound. I will not discuss it's price – if you can afford you won't debate the price/value ratio. It's a phonostage with clearly modeled, shaped sound but it's most likely the best one I ever listened to at home.


SME 20/3A

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.
It's quite big and very heavy device – much heavier than many integrated amplifiers. The casing is made of thick aluminum slabs. It's equipped with an orange display. It incorporates adjustable settings for loading, sensitivity and gain plus the device can store the settings for particular cartridge. A very nice remote control equipped with a display come with the device. It works with all Vitus Audio products. You can use either symmetrical (XLR) or line (RCA) inputs and outputs (all come from Neutrik). Take a look inside – it's a real beauty! Huge power supply, separate EI transformers for each channel and additional one for a display and logic circuit. There are lots of discrete regulators combined with large quantity of small but high quality capacitors like e.g. ones from Elna. What's more – several different types of capacitors are used (polypropylene high-voltage Mundorf's M-Caps among them) to decouple rectifier diodes in order to minimize RF noise. There are five amplifying modules per channel. Four of them are common for MM and MC cartridges and the last one is for MC only. Inside there are small PCBs with transistors coated in some dampening material. There are lots of relays between modules that are responsible for switching between different gain values. Together with phonostage one gets also a very expensive power cord - Vitus Audio Andromeda.


SME Limited
Mill Road, Steyning
West Sussex BN44 3GY
tel.: +44(0) 1903 814321 | fax: +44(0) 1903 814269 |

2-16-15 Iwamoto-cho Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 101-0032
tel.: +81 (0)3-3861-4341 | fax: +81 (0)3-3862-1650 | e-mail:

Vitus Audio
AVA Group A/S
Sandgaardsvej 31
DK-7400 Herning
tel.: +45 9626 8046 | fax: +45 9626 8045 | e-mail:

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Air (previous it was Prime, tested HERE)
  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base – under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD