08 July, 2015

SME 3012, Thorens TD-125, Pioneer PL-10, Denon DL-103, Shure SC35C

Letter from NYC (43) 2015 (5): The Long and Winding Road
Talk Vinyl: Saving SME 3012; Rehabilitation of Thorens TD-125 and Pioneer PL-10
Talk Vinyl: Turntable Setup
Review: Denon DL-304, Part II
Review: Shure SC35C, Part I

Acknowledgement: I want to thank my friend and analog guru Andy L for his gift of 2 hex-wrenches for SME, without which I'd not have been able to setup the SME 3012.

Related Links from this Blog:
All my Turntables (Arms and Cartridges): A (Rambling) Overview for background material on Thorens TD-125 and Pioneer PL-10.
2011 Report on reactivation of my Thorens TD-124 (with SME 3009S2i/Denon DL-304).
Previous report of Denon DL-304 on the Thorens TD-125/3009S2i

Warning: Purists who lose sleep over setup precision need not read further. You have been warned.

A few years ago, my friend Mark gave me a Thorens TD-124 and a really beat SME 3012. In 2011, with help of my friend and analog guru Andy L we restored the TD-124 to use and it has become my mainstay in Reference System 2. Finally, four years later I managed to revamp the SME 3012 to working condition, but not before a lot of hard work!

Click pics to enlarge.

Saving "SME 3012"
This particular specimen of the SME 3012 is in poor condition. I wonder where the hell it had been before Mark found it, and if I can still call it an SME 3012 (therefore the brackets)!


Deteriorated Rubber The rubber coupler between the arm tube and counterweight bearing tube had deteriorated, with the latter drooping. It still holds and for now that is the way it will be.

Incomplete Counterweight The main part of the counterweight as well as the rider weight are missing. The small counterweight on it is not enough to balance even a light cartridge, and I had to fix some weight over it by blu-tac to achieve balance (see right pic). Andy L told me the rider weight is very important for balance, but until I source the rest of the counterweight (expensive no doubt) that is the way it will have to be.

Head Shell Missing This should have the traditional SME headshell with just two holes for headshell screws. Given my balance woes, I decided to use a very light and cheap retro-style head shell with screw slots that looks like a replica of my Pioneer head shell (see top pic and pic below). Looks good with the SME.

Headshell Collar Problem This almost caused me to give up! The collar had been messed up. It was rotated but getting it back in position was not hard. The real headache was inside: 3 out of 4 pins were sunken and frozen, not making contact with head shell pins when checked by multimeter. I wanted to remove the collar and clean the pins. Andy told me there should be a small screw underneath (like my SME 3009) but there is none, just a longitudinal groove. Perhaps this is a crimped version (could not find anything on the internet)? If anyone has info on this, let me know. I did not have pure alcohol and so applied a liberal amount of 70% rubbing alcohol and some aerosol, and repeated several times. No luck even after prolonged and rigorous probing with the leads of my multimeter. Finally, I resorted to WD40 (I know, it is oil based and not so good). After a few days, I was ecstatic to find 2 of the 3 frozen pins had popped out completely, while the last one did just a little, enough to make contact, perhaps? With the head shell installed, I used the multimeter to test continuity and discovered a fresh set of problems.

Pin-Out Mystery I tested for continuity between the head shell cartridge cables and the output terminals. At first, I got no continuity on all 4 pins. In desperation, and with the realization that everything is skewed about this particular specimen, I tested all combinations, and soon found the pin out at the collar to be all screwed up. All 4 pins have continuity, but not according to convention (that is, looking at the head shell, red is not top right). This is not a problem; I mapped it out and simply re-shuffled the cartridge clips. I know there are instances of pin out deviations, but this one matches with none I can found on the internet. Again, perhaps some reader can enlighten me.

No Connecting Cable Well, like many others I am not fond of the original SME cable anyway. With the connections sorted out, I decided to re-terminate in RCA's. I made a small board out of two small rectangular slices of expired credit cards and fixed the RCA terminals on it. It is a bit warped, emphatically not elegant but it works (see pics).

No Anti-Skating Assembly For a 12" arm, this should not be a problem. I shall do without. Note the Thomas Schick arm does not even have this feature.

Armboard for Thorens TD-124 Two years ago, I bought in the second-hand market in HK an unused acrylic armboard for the 3012, said to be from Singapore (if I remember correctly). I am not fond of acrylic, but it is better to get the job done than wait. I took it back to NYC last year but misplaced it. This year I found it and got down to work. Hell! The base plate screw holes were drilled too small for the screws to go in all the way. Anyway, the thing felt reasonably secure and I left it at that, for now. The base plate is missing one rubber grommet, so in lieu I used a little bit of paper to achieve leverage (you can see this if you enlarge the right pic). I know you are frowning!

Ditch the Plinth! Clearance Problem After all that, as I tried to affix the armboard, I realized to my great dismay that the bottom part of the arm could not clear the wooden plinth! Damn! I just had to ditch the plinth, for now. I rested the TT on a solid slice of kitchen counter top (apartment renovation leftover; IKEA; recommended for its solid sonic properties; see pic). The long screws were skewed, so I balanced the TT by putting small folds of cardboard beneath. Insecure? Not me, maybe the TT, or maybe you?

Cartridge Well, what better choice than the Denon DL-103? In the previous article, I just installed the variant DL-A100, so I decided on this most humble, and most over-performing, of cartridges. After all, this is what I am most familiar with, and still use in HK (here)

Alignment Lacking the SME protractor, and lacking the original SME head-shell, I used the Dr. Feikert protractor. I used the Stevenson favored by SME. I aligned the first point (step 1). After much fiddling, the end groove (step 3) still aligns much better than the start (step 2). Let it be!

Whew! Done!

Thorens TD-125 Rehabilitated
When I reactivated the Thorens TD-124, my SME 3009S2i, together with the Denon DL-304, was removed from my TD-125 (see link above) and so my TD-125 went MIA. Now, the 3009S2i was returned to the TD-125, together with the Denon DL-304 carrtdige. Welcome back, old friend!

Shure SC35C/Pioneer PL-10 Rehabilitated

The cause for resurrecting this first TT of mine was because of a recent Stereophile article by Herb Reichert, in which he (like others on the net) praises the evergreen $35 DJ Shure SC35C cartridge, used on a cheap Pioneer direct-drive PLX-1000 (his review of the TT here). Now, HR is a seasoned reviewer (though now on the cheap), and the Pioneer is almost the same thing as my AT-PL120. As he got curious about the Shure, I did too. I enlisted the Pioneer PL-10 for the purpose.

The PL-10 has no VTA adjustment, but it was designed in an era for Shure cartridges, and sure enough VTA looks to be correct. Alignment was easily achieved too.

Associated Gears (Reference System II):
-Preamp: Shindo Monbrisson (MC input used for Denon DL-103; MM for Shure SC35C)
-SUT: WE 285 for Denon DL-304 (into Shindo's MM input)
-Amp: Wavac MD-811
-Loudspeakers: YL 4-way horns

LP's Used for Testing Same as in my recent big phonoamp report.

Sonic Impressions/Comments
  • Thorens TD124/SME 3012/Denon DL-103 I bet the SME 3012/Denon DL-103 combo is seen on as many decent TT's (certainly Garrard's and Thorens) as anything else! Tried and true, for sure. On the TD-124, compared to the SME 3009S2i/Denon DL-304 (see link above), the sound is richer, and background is darker. Compared to my Thorens TD-309/Denon DL-A100 (cartridge also new; see here), the sound is more solid and effortless. From memory, compared to my Garrard 301/Thomas Schick 12"/Denon DL-103 "Midas" (see here), the sound is crispier, with faster transient, but here I think the characteristics of the TT influence the sound greatly. However I look at it, even in barely restored condition, the venerable arm is a winner and deserves its reputation. Although I am not necessarily a fan of 12" arms, considering that I have used a large number of SME arms in the past, including the 3009, 3009R, 3009S2i, 3010R etc, this fills in the gap and is long due! Even if the arm is incomplete, I am a happy man! Andy L though does not think too highly of SME and uses none on any of his many TT's.
  • Thorens TD-125/SME3009S2i/Denon DL-304 Given my long familiarity with the Denon DL-304 on the SME 3009S2i, would this return to ground zero disappoint? Not at all! The SME3009S2i/Denon DL-304 gives a slightly lighter sound on the TD-125 than on the TD-124, but it is more similar than different. Excellent by any means, and welcome back! This also re-affirms what a great TT the TD-125 is!
  • Denon DL-103 I have continuously used this cartridge for almost 2 decades, and can claim long familiarity. On the Rega RB250/300 arm it has always sounded very good (I know there are detractors). For my priorities, it has almost always performed miraculously on innumerable combos. It is the drama queen, and even much more expensive cartridges usually fail to approach its human touch. On a 12" arm, it certainly has more composure, but even if you only have a shorter/medium mass arm, you should still try out this classic. Like it or not, one of a kind. I should tell you Andy L thinks the cartridge, though otherwise fine, to be lacking in full range deep bass.
  • Denon DL-304 Despite being from the same family, this cartridge is way different from the DL-103. Its low output demands the best from partnering gears. Optimally set up, the sound is very different from the DL-103. It has less drama, more refinement. The DL-304 is cheaper than a decent Ortofon MC, but I think just as good (if you can handle it), and this is coming from a long time Ortofon MC user. Given its low output, SUT's are recommended as an option.
  • Shure SC35C In the 70's and 80's, I have used almost all incarnations of the V15, from the II to the V. I have always liked their neutral and natural sound. Alas, the V15 is no more (I seriously don't understand why), and the closest you can get is a 97ED, which is a damn fine MM too. I had used the V15 to fine effect on the Pioneer PL-10, but the SC35C disappoints. It is not run-in, but the performance was so bad I was literally taken aback. The sound is veiled, without resolution at either end of the frequency spectrum. Never had I tried something praised in the mainstream press to such dire results. In desperation, I substituted the transistor iFi iPhono or Nagra BPA (report here) and the result was better than the tubed MM of the Shindo due to more extended frequency extremes. This kind of result was completely out of my expectation, and has never happened before! Still, despite the improvement the result was not what you'd call great. I also briefly tried the SC35C on my AT-PL120 direct drive, to better but still not great effect. Failure, round one. Maybe it takes a long time to run in?
  • Setup Precision We try, but we don't always achieve precision. Sometimes, it is not our fault and it is ridiculous to lose sleep over it. A great setup (such as the TD-124/3012/DL-103) will triumph no matter what. The corollary is something inferior will still be inferior even if perfectly set up. Andy L seems to share my kind of philosophy. No matter how much you align, adjust SRA, VTA etc, analog is still inexact. As Andy says, setting up for a given LP doesn't mean the next one will sound as good. Sleep well! I do.
Now, in NYC I have 7 turntables running, rivaling Andy L in quantity, but perhaps not in quality (his are the likes of Goldmund and Versa Dynamics)!

Article finished in HK

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