Gem Dandy's PolyTable Signature And Sorane TA-1L Tonearm

With all due respect to Gem Dandy’s new PolyTable Signature “layer cake” of a “two tiered” turntable, the bigger news here is the Sorane TA-1L tonearm George Merrill chose to package with his new turntable. Why is the Sorane news? Because it’s the possible successor to now defunct Jelco. But first, the new $2995 (not including arm) turntable, which, for sure, is also news.

Mr. Merrill says he’s spent his life “…designing for the person that has an enduring passion for music but cannot spend the cost of their car for a turntable.” Anyone familiar with Merrill’s turntable designing history, beginning in the 1970’s with his Acoustic Research mods and later his Merrill-Scillia ‘tables knows that for decades he’s worked to produce great sounding, technically sophisticated designs mostly priced affordably by applying to them a series of energy management principles intended to deal with: 1) internally generated energy produced by the motor, drive system, platter support bearing and tonearm, 2) mechanically coupled energy entering via the support feet, 3) airborne energy and 4) energy generated at the stylus/groove interface.

These would seem to be obvious objectives for any turntable designer but having tapped on my share of super lively plinths (among other sins), some either don’t pay attention to one or more, or fail to execute.

The PolyTable Signature Solution

Three thick elastomer discs separate the PolyTable’s two composite polyoxymethylene/polyvinylchloride platforms from one another, while thinner ones isolate the lower platform from the trio of three inch tall supports upon which the entire assemblage rests. An adjustable foot housed within each support allows for ‘table leveling. Sorbothane discs applied to the bottom of the three feet further isolate the ‘table from upon whatever platform you choose to place it—the better the platform the better the non-suspended ‘table will sound—especially since while Sorbothane is stable vertically, laterally it is not, so this ‘table can laterally move with ease—I’m not talking about large horizontal displacement, but considering how records play, even microscopic ones matter.

The lower base hosts the motor, which is a fluid-damped low voltage A.C. synchronous unit driven by what Gem Dandy calls “DMD”. It uses a regulated DC supply to power a microprocessor that oversees crystal controlled adjustable low distortion dual precision sine wave oscillators that drive two high power, low distortion amplifiers that energize the motor windings.

Gem Dandy claims for the drive system absolute total power line isolation plus speed accuracy of three parts per million. According to the company “the Digital Motor Drive System is the most advanced drive system available.”

Housed in a brushed black metal chassis and connected to the motor via an umbilical (and to the A.C. via a “wall wart”), the DMD features buttons for selecting 33 1/3 and 45rpm as well as adjacent potentiometers for easy speed adjustment. A handy strobe light in the form of a long, glowing red tipped umbilical exits from the DMD’s front. It makes easy setting correct speed, which is useful since bumping into and nudging the speed pots located adjacent to the “on/off” buttons is easy to do. Making the pots lockable and the strobe umbilical detachable would be nice touches but those would add to the ‘table’s cost and wouldn’t enhance the performance of a “max bang for the buck” turntable. Drive is via a flat belt on a crowned pulley machined of Delrin or a similar material.

The upper base, which holds the long spindle bearing that extends through a hole in the lower one, also serves as the arm mounting platform—a long cantilevered, spirit bubble fitted affair designed for a 12” arm.

Records spin on a two-piece decoupled platter system topped with a bonded RCC (rubber cork compound) mat that incorporates two types of rubber with differing energy absorption characteristics. The added cork is said to aid in the transmission of energy into the mat, while the bonded mat itself both damps the record while helping to decouple the platter energy. A ring of the same, or a similar RCC material damps the area surrounding where the spindle bearing attaches to the upper base.

Sorane TA-1L Tonearm

Sorane, imported to America by Mockingbird Distribution, is a brand with which I’ve had no experience. My late colleague Art Dudley reviewed the TA-1L arm (then marketed under a different name) in Stereophile.

As many of you know, Jelco, once the supplier of reliable, well-made “traditional” tonearms and a company that built OEM arms for many manufacturers shut down last spring, said to be a victim of Covid19 supply and labor issues.

Gem Dandy, one of many companies that once relied upon Jelco for arms, now packages the PolyTable Signature with Sorane’s long TA-1L arm. Like Jelco, Sorane is a Japanese company and like Jelco, its beautifully finished arms are hand-assembled by artisans.

The TA-1L is a traditional arm in every conceivable way: S-shaped arm wand of polished aluminum tubing, removable head shell, bearing assembly and other structural elements machined from aluminum with “cup and point” type vertical and miniature ball-race horizontal bearings. VTF is statically set, while anti-skating is spring-adjusted. Azimuth can be adjusted at the head shell while the main post can be raised and lowered as needed to set VTA/SRA, but not “on-the-fly”.

In other words, this arm allows you to adjust every set-up parameter. The TA-1L has an effective length of 322mm, a P2S distance of 310mm and so has a 12mm overhang. It can accommodate any weight cartridge—most with the supplied counterweight and subweight insert if needed. An optional counterweight lets you use cartridges weighing up to 55 grams. Know any? For more about Sorane, read the interview with Mr. Katsuaki Ishiyama, the arm’s designer and founder of parent company IT Industry, which he founded in 1974.

COMPANY INFO
Gem Dandy Products, Inc.
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
marmaduke's picture

That pretty much sums it up. I would often frequent a hi fi salon to actually buy gear. At one point the owner exclaimed that I actually must listen to music.
I asked why else would you spend this kind of money?
He replied that his lawyer, doctor, accountant customers bought it for the bling to impress their friends.
You go Gem Dandy

Ivan Lietaert's picture

"The only glitch I encountered with the arm was the too loose counterweight. Once engaged on the shaft it should only be moveable by rotating its spiraled inner channel on the counterweight shaft but this counterweight could be easily slid fore and aft making difficult setting VTF especially when I tried using the circular gauge at the counterweight’s front."

My Pro-ject Essential III also has a loose counterweight. It is not an glitch/issue... but a feature that allows for calibration, essential when you want to use a heavier (optional) counterweight. I remember when I set up my turntable, I also found it annoying. Therefore, I looked up the setup details in instruction manual (of the pro-ject tt).
This is what it says:
The counterweight supplied is suitable for cartridges weighing between 3,5 - 5,5g (weight no. 00). An alternative counterweight for cartridges weighing between 6 - 9g (weight no. 01) is available as an accessory part.
Pushing carefully, turn the counterweight onto the rear end of the tonearm tube, so that the downforce scale shows towards the front of the player. Lower the armlift and position the cartridge in the space between arm rest and platter. Carefully rotate the counterweight until the armtube balances out. The arm should return to the balanced position if it is moved up or down. This adjustment must be done carefully. Do not forget to remove the cartridge protection cap if fitted. Once the arm is correctly balanced return it to the rest. Hold the counterweight without moving it, and gently revolve the downforce scale ring until the zero is in line with the anti-skating stub. Check whether the arm still balances out.
Rotate the counterweight counter clockwise (seen from the front) to adjust the downforce according to the cartridge manufacturer's recommendations. One mark on the scale represents 1 mN (= 0,1g / 0,1 Pond) of downforce.

Ivan Lietaert's picture

I've just re-calibrated my pro-ject turntable, and I must say the counterweight is *not* loose, contrary to what I wrote above. But the tracking force ring (or: front scale counterweight) *must* be loose.

Mr Fremer must have set up a thousand tonearms in his life (or more), so when he says this Sorane tonearm has a glitch/fault, it must be so.
All I want to say is that for a beginner like me, when I first set up my turntable tonearm, I found it quite confusing. Example: turning the tracking force ring (or: front scale counterweight) does *not* affect the position of the counterweight but simply allows to set it to zero. To move the counterweight, one must turn the counterweight itself (and the scale will turn with it). At the time, that was my mistake, I guess. Of course, once you know this, it is actually quite straighforward.

These are the instructions from the Sorane Tonearm setup pdf:
4) Cartridge tracking force adjustment
4-a) Ensure that the tracking force adjustment knob is set to the zero position.
4-b) With the cartridge permanently fitted in the correct position, adjust the counterweight so that the arm is floating with the stylus approximately 3–5mm above a vinyl record. (This
adjustment should be made with the anti-skating knob to zero.)
4-c) Rotate the counterweight and move it forward. Each graduation is equivalent to 0.25 grams
tracking force.
* The applied range of weight of headshell with cartridge is from 15grams - 29grams (including
headshell).
(source: http://www.youtek.jp/pdf/manual/manual_sorane_ta1_201705.pdf)

Michael Fremer's picture
The problem I encountered is a "glitch' of some kind. The counterweight should "spiral" in and out but doesn't. It's too loose on the shaft as I wrote.
Ivan Lietaert's picture

I would never doubt your expertise, Mr Fremer! But to me, calling this a 'glitch' is very forgiving. I'm a bit surprised you didn't contact the company about this issue and ask for another tone arm. As a reader, I'm not impressed by the quality control of this 'high end' tone arm.

patagent's picture

Hi Michael,

Thank you for the great review. I always enjoy your needledrops but wonder if the ones posted here do not give justice to the Polytable. The background noise is high and the perhaps the recording isn't in the best condition. Would you consider redoing the needledrops with a lower noise preamp and possibly a different recording? I own the 10 inch version of the Polytable so I know firsthand that this table is capable of so much more.

Happy New Year!

Michael Fremer's picture
The record was pristine. You are hearing some noise from the phono preamp. However, I think the needle drop for what it is sounds glorious. If noise is an issue, there's always CDs (lol)
Ortofan's picture

the Digital Motor Drive System is the most advanced drive system available.”

Ortofan's picture

... "the most advanced drive system available”, then why does it not outperform the Technics SL-1210GAE?
https://www.analogplanet.com/content/new-limited-edition-technics-sl-121...

Michael Fremer's picture
You are comparing a DD system with a belt system. Not fair. As you know each has its strengths and weaknesses that don't necessarily show up in a graphic or numerical presentation.
swimming1's picture

Who buys $3000 TTs? You can get a vintage rig with similar ,if not better sonics ,for much less.

DietChapstick's picture

Hopefully that was a dud and not representative of the product one would get when purchasing one of these tonearms. That kind of thing is not acceptable at any price point. I would have shipped it back immediately.

Oilman's picture

The platterspeed app has been unavailable from the app store for several years now. Any recommendations on a substitute? I’m not very impressed by any of these apps that require you to set your phone on the platter. For one, this changes the mass and creates an unequal weight distribution of the platter. You also then lose the drag from the stylus and whatever degree that slows the rpm. Really wish an app developer would bring back a frequency based rpm app.

Balle Clorin's picture

Use a record camp and place the phone On top in center. Then speed variation results are good and consistent. The best one is Philip Broders “w/f wow flutter “ It showns a detailed plot of the last 10 revolutions that is very useful. But you still need to use a stroboscope for absolute speed, on my phone the app is 0.24% off on average speed. If you have a test record you can use WFGUI a software based wow and flutter meter that matches a real wf meter. I found it on a ReelToReel and Tapehead forum. Or use Audacity with the wow&flutter add-in (only works on mono/ single channel)

bpw's picture

I think at this price point the quibbles about cosmetics are moot. Merrill focused on performance. I recently set up a cartridge on one of these tables fitted with a 12" Jelco arm during a recent trip, and it measured well, especially speed accuracy which had less wow and flutter than many tables I encounter. The client has been extremely happy.

Brian Walsh

Andrei's picture

I wish someone would step in and buy Jelco.

PAR's picture

...except for the brand name. If you read the closing down notice from Mr. Ichikawa of Jelco the reason for shutting was their obsolete production machinery which could not be maintained and, most essentially , health issues with their elderly engineering staff whose skills apparently had not been passed to a younger generation. Production levels had therefore declined and it seems that the company could simply no longer continue.

dial's picture

This'll increase their prices, recently seen a 12" for 500$ on epay.

Balle Clorin's picture

The Dr. Feickert platterspeed records seems to be quite eccentric and contribute to the once per revolution speed variation in the Platterspeed results. Are you using Dr.Feickert record or some other test record ? I find Clearaudios Trackability test very good. But record eccentricity is always a factor. It will be very interesting to learn more about the alternative speed measurement method you mention. The Phone app from Philip Broder “w/f wow and flutter” are quite good I think, even if the absolute speed is a a bit off (Accurate 33 1/3 is shown as +0,24% on my IPhone 8) The speed plot is very useful and matches The shape and form of my 3150hz results test record results.

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