The ‘Scale Model Equipment Company Ltd’ was formed in 1946 to make parts for the model engineering trade, and by the fifties it was manufacturing bits for aircraft instruments and business machines. But it wasn’t until 1959 that SME’s first ‘precision pick-up arm’ appeared. By the agricultural standards of the day it was a revelation, and soon won many admirers and awards. SME designer and founder Alastair Robertson-Aikman subsequently refined it, producing several versions including the 3012 12” version for superior tracking accuracy. The last 3009 S2 is ubiquitous, and was never adequately replaced by the 1978 Series 3. Before the Rega RB300 of 1983, it was the best selling tonearm of its generation.
In production for over four decades, its heyday was the 1970s when it was the arm to fit to turntable motor units, making it readily and cheaply available second-hand. It’s nicely engineered, using a combination of precision ballrace and knife-edge bearings, friction is low and the arm is easily adjustable for tilt, overhang and height. It’s best suited to lowish mass cartridges, although the optional FD200 fluid damper makes the 3009 happier with heavier designs. The trick is using highish compliance magnetic cartridges like the classic Shures of yore as well as the excellent modern Goldring G1042. Also, buyers should look for fixed headshell versions which sound better than the ‘improved’ detachable shell model.
Unfortunately the 3009S2 is out of fashion these days, but still sounds surprisingly good in its own way. Of course, compared to the latest Series V it’s a crude device, but is still lively and fun. Despite far less detail, curtailed low bass, rough, shut-in treble and a misty midband, it still manages an engagingly musical performance. Never one to let the recording’s nuances get in the way of the big picture, the S2 just bounces along with a fluid midrange and plenty of vim.
For best results, the arm should be returned to SME for a full service. It’s also a good idea to use SME’s hard mounting washers rather than the stock rubber grommets, especially when affixing the arm to a wooden armboard. All plugs and connectors should be carefully cleaned with Kontak, and if you have one of the earlier versions with edge connectors they can be updated at the factory to gold-plated phono sockets. Always use SME’s latest LC-OFC arm leads and headshell wires, and SME’s double pin type headshells, again available from the factory.
Rough around the edges but satisfying nonetheless, the 3009S2’s low second-hand prices make it a good used buy – although they’re beginning to climb now. Expect to pay between £50 and £250 depending on condition.