Analog Corner #323: J.Sikora Reference turntable and KV12 VTA tonearm Page 2

With the motors running and a stethoscope in my ears, I placed the stethoscope diaphragm on the plinth, as close to each of the four motors as possible without touching and heard complete silence. No matter where I put the stethoscope on the plinth, there was absolute silence. That's impressive and unusual.

I placed the stethoscope diaphragm in the same positions with the motors off, then started them. Usually, there's a low-frequency grinding noise that smooths out as the platter achieves speed. Here, I heard only more silence.

The 'table also passed the impulse "thump test." Tapping on the plinth with the volume turned way up produced the faintest hint of a response through the speakers, and that only at a few places. When I tapped close to the bearing/platter platform, and also when I thumped the HRS platform, I heard nothing through the speakers.

With four high-torque motors, this belt-drive turntable reaches speed almost as quickly as a good direct drive. J.Sikora has created a four-motor, belt-drive turntable that's as quiet as the best single-motor belt-drive turntables that I've experienced.

J.Sikora provides a heavy record weight—they call it a clamp—made of nickel-plated bronze into which are machined "anti-resonance" grooves designed to transfer vibrational energy to a pair of O-rings that fit around the top of the weight. A heavy, nickel-plated brass insert fits within the weight's central opening. The weight can be used with or without the insert, depending upon sonic preference. (The sound was more open without it.)


Makes for easy listening
I installed the Ortofon Anna D on the SAT arm and a Lyra Etna SL Lambda on the KV12 arm and, after a long listen, swapped out the cartridges. Both arms were plugged into the CH Precision P1/X1. I also listened to the other combinations using a pair of tubed MM phono preamps: the Ypsilon VPS100 and the SW1X LPU III, both with an Ypsilon step-up transformer.

I'm very familiar with these cartridges, the SAT arm, and these phono preamplifiers, so I can confidently say that this high-mass record spinner is unusually nimble, fast, and light on its feet. The presentation was neither overdamped and "slow" nor underdamped and lightweight. Its background quiet and ability to bury impulse noise (pops and clicks) is as good as I've heard from a belt-drive turntable—or any turntable for that matter, including the OMA K3 on the stand next door and the mighty TechDAS Air Force Zero, long since returned.

I just interviewed John Burk, former president of Concord Records, who, with Glen Barros, assumed control of Concord following the death of founder Carl E. Jefferson. Barros, Burk, and two others now run Exceleration Music, which recently resurrected the eclectic Candid label; that was the original subject of the call. I got way more great stuff, including how Burk signed Ray Charles.

That prompted me to pull out the Pure Audiophile double 180gm LP reissue of the Grammy Award–winning album Genius Loves Company (PA-009), cut at half-speed by the late Stan Ricker using the "Original Analog 2 Track Tapes," according to the jacket. Three songs per side.

Burk produced much of this album. Phil Ramone produced the rest, and the late Al Schmitt mixed it, assisted by Steve Genewick and Bill Smith. It's a great production, as you'd expect considering the names, but it doesn't sound analog, and the accompanying liner notes tell a digital story, with Pro Tools on every track. Mastering was by Doug Sax and Robert Hadley at TML. If the LP was cut from tape, the tape was made using digital files.

A former bass player, Ricker liked to let you know there's a bass player on the record, whether your speakers could produce deep bass or not—that is, midbass is exaggerated.


The sound of this record transcribed by the J.Sikora Reference, via both arms, demonstrated that it's been superbly tuned to extract deep, well-controlled bass free of overhang or excess, bass that does not creep into the lower range of Charles's voice or the voices of the vocalists with whom he's singing. Ray duets live in the studio with Elton John on "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," backed by a lush string section and a powerful Nigel Olsson–like drum chart played by John Robinson and pulsing, lingering basslines by Tom Fowler, who played with Zappa and the Mothers in the early 1970s.

While the KV12's bass reproduction was clean and tight, it couldn't match the SAT arm's prodigious-yet-honest bass—bass that could overwhelm a lesser 'table. Here, both arms communicated the Reference's iron-fisted, well-tuned bottom end. Fowler's bass is even more pronounced, powerful, and extended on Ray's "Fever," a duet with Natalie Cole. I wish Stan was around to hear this track played back by the Reference in my system. It's bass I dreamed of having as a kid, the kind that kicks you in the stomach and leaves you wanting more!


Quincy Jones produced Impressions of Duke Ellington (Mercury PPS 6028), a "certified f:35d Perfect Presence Sound Recording" arranged and conducted by Billy Byers. It was brought to my attention (and the attention of AnalogPlanet readers) by contributor Joseph Washek. Yes, it's from the era of stereophonic-demo-record kitschy silliness, with all kinds of percussion zing-bam-booms typical of that era, but this one, recorded on three-track, 35mm tape by "Bob" Fine and mixed live to the lathe, has great players (Clark Terry, Milt Hinton, Jimmy Cleveland, Ed Shaughnessy, et al.), stunning arrangements, and superwide early stereo sound. I'm sure the tape had more bass than it was possible to realize on the LP.

But boy does this record have precise high-frequency transients and transparency to spare—essential attributes of the era's stereophonic demo discs. The 'table delivered the record's percussive transients with sparkling, effervescent clarity, with both tonearms.


By the time you read this, Concord Records will have released a reissue of Bill Evans's You Must Believe in Spring (CR00455), a posthumous 1981 release featuring Eddie Gómez on bass and Eliot Zigmund on drums, originally on Warner Bros. (HS 3508). It came and went when originally issued, and many Evans fans aren't aware of it, but it's essential Evans, produced by his manager Helen Kean and Tommy LiPuma and recorded at Capitol Studios in August 1977, three years before his death.

The original is a sonic stunner, engineered and mixed by Al Schmitt at Capitol. (The title tune was remixed and edited by Columbia Records' great Frank Laico.) Doug Sax mastered the original.

It usually doesn't get much better than that, but in this case it does. This double-45rpm reissue, cut by Kevin Gray from the original tapes, improves on the original. The presentation is bigger, more authoritative, and more transparent. The quiet behind the music is more intensely not there. Dynamics and timbral and textural verisimilitude are much improved, and the mastering and RTI pressing lay out the basslines with a vigor the original lacks.

Comparing the SAT/Reference playback with the far more expensive Schröder OMA arm/OMA 'table was as instructive as it was pleasurable. Beginning with the tight, insistent impulse produced by the stylus touching the record, both presentations make clear that you're listening to big, high-mass turntables that are carefully damped and tuned. But the presentations differed.

The 1/5th-the-price, belt-driven turntable produced a somewhat more insistent attack, a thicker, more viscous sustain, and a somewhat less detailed decay that got caught up in the sustain. The upper-keyboard notes had more "tinkle" on the attack. The direct-drive's presentation was faster, more effervescent, with a lighter, more nimble attack, a gossamer sustain, and precise decay. The low bass extension was equally deep but not as thick. The high notes didn't tinkle but felt more of a coherent piece.

Many listeners would prefer the more showy, dramatic, and "stickier" presentation the J.Sikora Reference produced. About the OMA direct-drive's presentation, they might remark, "Where's the bass? It's kind of recessed and less dramatic. Where's the sustain? It falls off a cliff. Where are those upper-note harmonics? They are MIA." Some might say that. I wouldn't.

On the other hand, direct-drive advocates would say those are all impossible-to-prevent belt-flexing artifacts, which cause micro-speed changes resulting in cornstarch thickening on bottom and tinkly disintegration on top. They'd say that one sounds more like hi-fi and the other one sounds more like live music.

I wouldn't say either of those things. To me, they both sound great, each in its own way.

$47,000 is a lot of money to spend on a turntable. Here, you get a lot for your money. For those willing to make the expenditure, add the J.Sikora Reference to the list of great mass-loaded turntables at this price. Though I'm skeptical of four-motor drive, the Reference gives you high torque and fast-to-reach-speed performance without adding noise of any kind to the system; that conclusion is based on a stethoscope once-over and a long time spent listening. This J.Sikora Reference 'table is very quiet. Its measured speed accuracy (using the Shaknspin app) was equally impressive, as was its isolation from the outside world. I could not find fault with any aspect of the J.Sikora Reference turntable's sonic performance or in its machining and physical presentation.

The $8995 KV12 VTA is a well-designed, fine-performing arm that sets up easily, feels stable, and sounds very well-balanced and free of resonant colorations. I didn't have an armboard to mount my Kuzma 4 Point on the J.Sikora Reference, but based on the KV12/SAT comparisons I did, I'd say the KV12 hasn't got the 4 Point's bottom end "womp" and authority, but its timbral balance and everything else about it produced nothing but sonic pleasure. The Lyra Etna SL Lambda with the KV12 was a great pairing. In some systems, with certain cartridges, the KV12's low-frequency performance might be a better match for the Reference.

Everything about the J.Sikora Reference—its well-tuned design and construction, its outstanding instruction manual, its fine power supply and 40lb, multimaterial platter, and of course the sound—make it a "must audition" turntable at and well above its price.


bhkat's picture

I hope they do well. I have a warm spot in my heart for Poland.

volvic's picture

Have seen their other models where the tonearm pod is secured to the chassis. I preferred that model to this, but wish this company lots of success. Impressed that it is so silent. Great read from Fremer.

Glotz's picture

is incredibly impressive. MF's comparisons to the best resolve itself as an near-equal.

ok's picture

..I didn't see any portion of that sorrow headed towards iraqi hifi community; nor even a portion of MF's hi-end system donated to his beloved ucrainian suicide armed forces.

mp's picture

I don't recall reading in the text & can't see in the images how the pods are kept in their correct positions. Are their positions secured by anything other than their mass & friction?


otaku's picture

I don't know about the tonearm pod, but the motor on my Marantz TT15-S1 is in a similar pod and the pod positioning has never been an issue. I think Mikey and/or Art have reviewed several other turntables or tonearms with similar freestanding pods.