Simon Yorke Designs Series 9 turntable & tonearm Page 3

While setting up the S9 tonearm is a bit finicky compared to some other designs, once you're done, I promise that you'll appreciate this record player's elegance and ease of use. Properly set up, the S9 is as convenient and easy to use as a Rega. Finally position the motor housing about 10" from the spindle, at 3 o'clock, fit the O-ring around the motor pulley and platter circumference, and plug in the power supply. Be sure to use a strobe to check speed accuracy and adjust as needed.

Using the S9 couldn't be easier. You place an LP on the platter, put the record weight on the spindle, flip the switch to the correct speed, press your finger against the stub end of the arm, move the cartridge over the lead-in groove, and lower the cuing lever. The platter gets up to speed almost instantly and the arm behaves crisply and predictably.

Because the bottom of the S9's plinth presents a relatively large, flat surface to whatever it sits on, it makes an efficient mechanical connection; in other words, whatever you place the S9 on will significantly affect its sound. This was also true of the heavier, flat-bottomed S7, despite its thick O-ring interface. Yorke recommends you use slate under the S7, but importer Sounds of Silence sells S7s with the Vibraplane (active or passive) air stand. The S9 comes without stand, although, like the S7, it's available as a package with the Vibraplane. I first tried it atop an original Finite Elemente Pagode rack that I'd ordered from Europe after seeing it at a Frankfurt audio show, before Immedia took over FE's US distribution. I later tried a Symposium Ultra stand, which fit neatly into the FE's top tray. Later, I used a set of Harmonix feet between the Symposium and the FE's tray.

While each support system changed the sound to some degree, none prevented a finger tap on the stand from reaching the cartridge and being reproduced at relatively high volume. This is less of a problem than you might think, unless you spend time tapping on your stand while listening to music. More important is what floor- and airborne sounds (from the speakers) are transmitted; as recent accelerometer tests—see past "Analog Corners"—have indicated, the FE Pagode does an excellent job at all but the lowest frequencies.

If you're considering buying a Yorke S9, be sure to place it on a rigid stand, preferably on a nonspringy floor, and ideally on a massive, flat slab of slate or granite—unless you buy the Vibraplane.

The S9 didn't sound as detailed, resolving, or pristine on top as the S7, nor as deep and tight-fisted on bottom, nor were its backgrounds quite as black—all to be expected, given the differences in materials, masses, drive systems, and, ultimately, price. But there was a familial resemblance.

Like the S7, the S9 is a carefully "tuned" system. It may very well be that the cantilevered wooden armboard injects an element of midband richness into the sound, while the hard, metal structure of the plinth provides countering doses of slam, weight, and control on the bottom and transient resolve on top. The S9 shares the S7's midband richness, but has a bit less of the S7's resolution and control at the frequency extremes, and its reproduction of dynamic range wasn't as wide. The result was a warmer, richer, somewhat more restrained sound than with the S7—a sound that I found equally enticing and, more important, well balanced.

The Yorke S7 remained my reference turntable for almost a decade as a parade of superb other models passed through my system, many of which bettered the S7 in one or more performance parameters. The Rockport System III Sirius was better in just about every way, but in the end, I happily went back to the S7 for its impeccable overall balance of richness and resolution. I was about to pull the trigger on the aptly named Brinkmann Balance when the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn showed up, which bettered every turntable I've ever heard in every way but one: it only equaled the S7's even-keeled balance.

Despite its diminutive size, the S9 produced a big, generous picture that didn't skimp on the music's colors or textures. If anything, it was too generous, but you probably won't notice unless your system tends toward an enriched, "tubey" sound. If it does, then the S9 might provide too much of a good thing. The music I heard in my listening room was almost the cartoon opposite of the parched, thin, pinched sound of most "Red Book" CDs. It was generous, giving, and enveloping, with a reach-out-and-touch-me tactility and voluptuousness.

As with clichéd "tube-sound," the S9 excelled at reproducing instrumental touch, textures, and harmonic colors. The sound was ripe but not rotten—don't worry about double basses turning to jelly, or young sopranos suddenly sounding menopausal. The somewhat truncated transient attacks were more than compensated for by a mesmerizing sustain of notes that hovered in space and lingered long before gently dissolving. Had the top been any faster or the bottom any leaner and/or tighter, the sonic picture would have fallen apart to expose the S9's seams—but that never happened during the time the S9 was in my system. Only returning to the Continuum Caliburn fully revealed the flaws in the S9's distinctive but wholly formed personality.

The S9's arm proved capable of handling with ease a wide variety of cartridges, including the Air Tight PC-1 (which costs around half the S9's price), Helikon SL, Clearaudio Stradivari, and Koetsu Vermillion (reviews of the last two in the works). But given the S9's personality, I'd pair it with something tending toward the lean and the fast. The S9 made the Helikon SL sound more like a Lyra Skala, which proved as serendipitous a combination as the Clearaudio Stradivari, a lean, fast, transparent machine that perfectly complemented the S9.

With the Yorke S9, I'd also opt for a fast, detailed phono preamplifier, such as the Graham Slee Era Gold by Reflex—but in the end, all of these choices are system dependent.

I never thought the S9's bass lacked definition and punch, or that its timing was ragged and confused, or that its imaging and soundstaging were vague—but if all you feed your ears is rock music driven by electric guitars, you'd probably be happier with a turntable with a leaner, tighter sound.

On the other hand, if you listen to a wide variety of music, the S9's rock performance won't sound geriatric, and what it did with acoustic music and vocals will draw you in and keep you happy well into the unpleasant-sounding digital future.

While the S9 is guaranteed for two years, during which time parts will be replaced without charge, except when damaged through careless handling or operation, Simon Yorke says he'll continue to support the warranty at his discretion, if he feels he's somehow "screwed up." He also recommends against operating the S9 "whilst extremely drunk, sexually possessed or psychotic." I admit to having done so under two of those conditions without encountering any problems or causing any damage to the review sample or to myself.

Designed and hand-crafted by artisans, rugged, compact, beautiful to look at, and exceedingly pleasurable and simple to use, the Simon Yorke Series 9 record player is a highly individualistic, almost idiosyncratic, turntable, both physically and, to some degree, sonically. It will even run on a single 9V battery should you chose to remove it from the grid!

The S9's rich, generous, and enveloping sound is enticing and intoxicating, and its distinctive nature is quickly swallowed by the music, which pours forth purposefully and coherently, delivering its essence from top to bottom. However, the S9 has been designed to a price point; don't expect the considerable sonic achievements of the S7, especially at the frequency extremes. Still, this very different-sounding turntable is consistent with Simon Yorke's sonic philosophy.

I enthusiastically owned the Simon Yorke S7 for almost a decade, despite an endless parade of enticing prospective replacements. I can predict with a fairly high degree of confidence that if you like the S9 enough to buy it, you'll end up loving it—and happily spinning LPs on it for many years to come.

Simon Yorke Designs
US distributor: Sounds of Silence
14 Salmon Brook Drive
Nashua, NH 03062
(603) 888-5104