SME Under New Ownership

by Roy Gregory | September 9, 2016

very industry has its crown jewels, and in an increasingly global environment those key companies often become synonymous with national identity. This is why the news that SME has been sold will send emotional if not financial shock waves through the UK audio industry.

Founded in 1946, Scale Model Engineering started out building small-scale engineering replicas. What is a toy train to some is quite literally a model of precision engineering to others, and the intricate manufacturing and assembly required provided the perfect skill set when, in 1959, company owner Alistair Robertson-Aikman needed a tonearm and decided to build his own. Word quickly got round and by 1961 the Model 3009 (now in Series II form) was in production, rapidly becoming a worldwide hit. Indeed, SME tonearms soon dominated the market and continued to do so well into the 1970s. The Series II, in all its various guises, went on to sell over a million units and remained in production into the early 21st century.

Despite that, by the early 1980s, SME’s star was beginning to wane, with the increasing popularity of the low-compliance moving-coil cartridges associated with the Linn revolution demanding heavier and more rigid tonearms. But just as it seemed safe to consign SME to history, in 1986 they shocked the world and again set new standards of fit and finish with the introduction of the SME Series V, followed six years later in 1991 by the first SME turntable, the Model 30.

Alistair Robertson-Aikman died in October 2006, and his were always going to be big shoes to fill. Although his wife Marion continued in the role of company secretary and his son Cameron stepped up to the helm, it was increasingly the precision engineering, defense and aerospace side of the business that accounted for the lion’s share of the work, with advances and new models on the audio side becoming ever fewer and further between. In fact, it’s not generally known, but SME carried out considerable OEM work for other audio manufacturers, producing CD-player parts and the Keel subchassis for Linn.

Now, a search of Companies House reveals that SME has been sold and the Robertson-Aikmans have stepped aside. The new owner? None other than Ajay Shirke, who is already a major shareholder in Siltech/Crystal Cable and Spendor. With no plans announced and even the change of ownership very much on the QT, it is impossible to say what the future might hold, although the company’s line is very much business as usual. It seems extremely unlikely that continued production and servicing of tonearms and turntables is anything less than secure.

But one thing is certain: with Quad, KEF, B&W and now SME all held in overseas ownership, the first generation of UK audio pioneers has well and truly passed.

The Audio Beat • Nothing on this site may be reprinted or reused without permission.