Gem Dandy's PolyTable Signature And Sorane TA-1L Tonearm Part 2

PolyTable Signature and Sorane TA-1L Easy Set-up

The ‘table comes mostly set-up but what’s not includes two unique tasks: inserting the thrust pad into the bearing well and adding to the motor 12 milliliters of special light weight damping oil. The instructions caution that some damping oil may eventually migrate from the motor housing onto your stand’s surface. That didn’t happen during the months the turntable was set up either directly on my Stillpoints SS rack or on the Isoacoustics ZaZen1 platform ($199) designed to isolate turntables or other components weighing up to 25 pounds (the ZaZen II is for up to 40 pound turntables or components).

The arm set-up was straightforward and easily accomplished. While doing so I took note of the arm’s impressive “fit’n’finish”. 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.

I used a supplied from the importer Löfgren A protractor to set overhang and zenith angle. Anti-skating is via a built in spring adjusted by a knob on the side of the arm that’s attached to a sliding pointer type gauge. VTF/SRA is the basic grub screw/post type. It’s not marked in millimeters so you’ll have to mark the post with your own reference point once you establish parallel to the record surface as a starting point (which is a good idea, even if using a digital microscope). I used a new Wallytool to do this, that I’ll soon write about. Once set up, the arm was a pleasure to use though I’m not at all a 12” arm fan. It’s like the stylus is in a different time zone than the pivot. Sorane makes a 9” version but the ‘table is built for the 12” one.

Polytable Signature and Sorane Performance

Job one is to turn at the correct and consistent speed. Here the ‘table’s performance pretty much backed up the designer’s claims for his motor controller. See for yourself:

Platterspeed app graph

Platterspeed app stats

results using a new measurement device

As you can see the low-pass filtered green line is smooth. The ‘table is running ever so slightly slow but of course that’s easily fixed and as the numbers show, it’s only 1.1Hz off as is. More importantly the relative maximum frequency deviations both relative and absolute are small. The third image is from a new device called a “shaknspin” that doesn’t require a record. This is a prototype so I won’t write further about it until the finished one arrives but the basic results match well with the platterspeed app. So the PolyTable Signature is a spinning champ.

I listened using two cartridges well-known to me: a Lyra Helikon SL and a Transfiguration Spirit Mk3 (both of which are no longer manufactured and probably on the high end of what buyers of this turntable/arm combo are likely to use with it).

For Phono preamps I used the CiAudio PEQ MKII, the Zen Phono, a new budget unit ($149.99) from iFi and the Hagerman Trumpet MC a $1099 hybrid design featuring a JFET front end for MC and an all-tube MM phono preamp following. Both will soon be reviewed.

Of course, it might seem absurd that these modestly priced components were plugged into (mostly) my reference system, with the only substitution being Wilson Audio Specialties’ XVX speakers ($329,000) currently being reviewed instead of the Alexx that I own, but as it turned out it wasn’t.

When I auditioned The Glory of Venice (Columbia M30937) with the Transfiguration Spirit plugged into the Hagerman Trumpet, it was a near religious experience (the music of Gabrieli recorded in Basilica San Marco, Venice with E. Power Biggs on a ferried in Rieger organ hauled up piece by piece to the gallery where the organ once stood in Gabrieli’s time, plud The Gregg Smith Singers, the Texas Boys Choir and The Edward Tarr Brass Ensemble didn’t hurt making it a religious experience !).

Joking aside, this combo costing $2995+ $1875+ $1099 produced an enticing combination of timbral generosity—warm but not too warm—vocal verisimilitude, three-dimensional imagery, spatial focus, stability and natural attack, sustain and especially spatial decay that backed up the super-stable measured performance.

Here: listen for yourself! (and no, the Trumpet is not the quietest phono preamp ever [blacker backgrounds are available from the solid state units] but what it offers in terms of musical pleasure for a grand is special).

Magnificat—Counter tenor, Baritone and Chorus

(BTW: Columbia M30937 is about an $8 record on Discogs. High Fidelity magazine called it “The Greatest Marriage of music and acoustics in history” and though it’s a 1971 Columbia pressing, my copy at least is dead quiet pressing perfection).

I was thumbing through some “abandoned” records and came upon Dub Colossus’s Dub Me Tender Vol. 1 (Real World YSC001). It’s not UB40, nor is it the heaviest dub you’ll hear but it was a fun, lightweight listen (with song titles like “Dub Me Tender” and “Stop! In the Name of Dub”, you’re not exactly expecting “heavy”) and it demonstrated the ‘table and arm’s solid bass performance: good extension, effective low frequency energy control and “tunefulness”.

Herbie Hancock’s second Blue Note album (as group leader) My Point of View (Blue Note BST 84126/B0031882-01) recently reissued in the Tone Poet series has an outstanding lineup that includes Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Grant Green, a very young (17) Tony Williams, Grachan Moncur III and Chuck Israels. Yes, “Blind Man, Blind Man” reprises the funkiness of “Watermelon Man” with less funk, but the album is worth getting just for the stunning ballad “A Tribute to Someone”, which Herbie wrote as a teenager while a student at Berklee. Aside from its musical suavity, the sound of Byrd’s “in your room” trumpet and the clarity and expressiveness of Williams’ drum kit made for mighty satisfying listening. Mobley was “in the room” too, especially via the Hagerman Trumpet. This moderately priced turntable/arm combo system delivers the full glory goods in all the ways that no digital edition can come close to providing.

Quibbles

You’ll know almost immediately upon set-up that Livio Cucuzza (Audio Research’s genius industrial designer) did not produce this ‘table! The feet are fastened down with 3 domed Philips head screws, one of which is front and center and stares you down every time you play a record, giving the turntable a not exactly elegant look. Adding to the “inelegant” looks is the tacky blue and white “Gem Dandy” badge next to said screw that for some reason says to me “I belong on an electric toothbrush”, as is the center platter’s white stick-on “badge”. It too is “appliance-like”.

There’s another one like this adjacent to the speed selection buttons and speed adjustment pots

Add the “hanging strobe umbilical” (and a few other design aspects I won’t bother to mention because I don’t want to appear to be “piling on”) and you have a turntable best seen in a “bachelor pad” and not one to bring home to wifey’s living room (unless she’s super tolerant).

The only other issue with the ‘table I’ll mention is the lateral instability caused by the multiple Sorbothane pucks, both separating the two bases and used as feet. The slightest lateral “bump” will produce major “stylus jump”. Not a problem if you’re careful and actually the ‘table’s sonic stability is a testament to the excellent machining execution and build quality.

The Sorane TA-1L 12” Arm

If you’re wondering if this arm is a suitable Jelco replacement, the answer is “yes”. The construction quality, “fit’n’finish” and complete set of user adjustable features plus what feel and sound like high quality bearings (low frequency excellence) make it so. The only issue I had was the ‘slippery’ counterweight. The spirals appear to be machined into the counterweight but it too easily slide fore and aft making turning it all but impossible to turn to make small VTF adjustments—and don’t even attempt to turn the front gauge piece because the entire counterweight will slide. I’m not sure if this is a sample or design issue. However, with an MSRP of $1875 dollars it’s best to put aside this quibble. This is a seriously fine arm at a seriously reasonable price.

Conclusion

I reviewed the basic GemDandy PolyTable in Stereophile (Vol. 39 No.8) and gave it an enthusiastic write-up. The bottom end shortfall there (not a problem really, unless you have full range speakers) was not an issue here (within reason: I’m not here to tell you the PolyTable Signature has the brute force bottom end produced by the “mega-tables”) but it’s definitely got “testicular bass” as my mentor Harry Pearson liked to refer to it.

The PolyTable Signature’s speed accuracy and consistency are definitely competitive with the best turntables regardless of price as you can see for yourself and its freedom from obvious timbral colorations and effective rejection of unwanted energy input per Mr. Merrill’s design goals were clear with every record played.

There’s serious competition at the circa $5000 price-point (for ‘table and arm) so you have many choices. If you are shopping in that range (and the utilitarian looks don’t bother you) make sure Gem Dandy’s smartly designed, well-constructed, fine sounding PolyTable Signature turntable (and Sorane arm) is on your short list.

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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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