Simon Yorke Designs Series 9 turntable & tonearm

Simon Yorke is an artist, a machinist, an electronics wiz, and a political idealist. He's also an analog enthusiast who melds aesthetic and technical considerations into eye-catching, densely packed, compact record-playing devices that are ruggedly built and functionally elegant. His turntables' smooth, matte-gray, metallic finishes and efficient lines make them among the most visually pleasing ever made.

But while Yorke plays up the "artisan/hand-built" aspect of his products, ir should be noted that he's also supplied the National Archives with exceedingly flexible, sophisticated, and reliable, custom-specced, high-performance, bidirectional, variable-speed record players driven by state-of-the-art electronics, which, with the helo of a colleague, he recently moved to the new Library of Congress Audio Preservation Facility in Virginia.

Nor is Yorke a Simon-come-lately to the analog party. His best-known player is probably the Series 7, which I reviewed back in the June 1998 Stereophile (Vol.21 No.6), then purchased to replace my former reference, the VPI TNT. Years earlier, Yorke had designed and manufactured the dramatic-looking Zarathustra, imported to the US by David Manley. But the name was "hijacked" by a German company, according to Yorke, and he decided to let it go.

Like the phono cartridges made by Jan Allaerts, which often appear in photos of Yorke turntables, Yorke's products—which he hand-builds with his son, Spencer—are chronically backordered. A few years ago, after he'd sold his home in the English countryside and moved to Spain, it was rumored that Yorke would retire from making record players. That period of inactivity didn't last long; soon he was once again building S7s and, more recently, the smaller, less expensive Series 9, which sells for $8250, including Yorke's "captured" unipivot tonearm.

Yorke insists on calling his designs "record players" instead of "turntables" because he sells them only as integrated tonearm-turntable systems. He grudgingly made an exception for me when I bought my S7 sans arm; for reasons that will become clear in the "Setup" section, as elegant and clever as Yorke's tonearm is, it wasn't practical for a reviewer who needs to swap out cartridges quickly and often.

Like the S7, the Yorke Series 9 is a compact, mass-loaded turntable with a circular plinth, into which is drilled a hole that contains the bearing sleeve and bushings. Like the austenitic (nonmagnetic) steel of the S7, the S9's far smaller, lighter plinth is also made of nonmagnetic stainless steel. But whereas the S7's bearing is centered in the plinth, the S9's is off-center.

The spindle bearing's shaft of hardened stainless steel rides on a hardened thrust pad. The S9's dynamically balanced weighs 8 lbs, is 113/4" in diameter, and rides on a small platform, through which the spindle protrudes. Yorke supplies a smooth-to-the-touch graphite record mat.

An outboard "wall-wart"-type regulated power supply provides +12V DC to an electronic motor controller contained within a substantial rectangular aluminum motor housing, atop which is a three-position switch: 33 1/3rpm, 45rpm, or "Off." A pair of rear-mounted potentiometers allows fine tuning of both speeds. A domed, grooved pulley drives the platter via an O-ring that rides in a groove machined into the platter's periphery.

As in the S7, the S9's cantilevered armboard is sculpted from a dense, multilayer wood laminate that's painted and then bolted to the plinth. A wooden armboard When I asked Yorke about this unusual choice while reviewing the S7, he insisted that he'd tried every likely material, from carbon fiber to a promising-looking substance he'd retrieved from a highway, only to find that the laminate provided what he felt to be the best overall sound.

Yorke's unipivot arm is unique in having no headshell. Instead, the damped, sealed, armtube terminates plainly as a tube. Yorke supplies a pair of small discs, each flat on one side and scalloped on the other to accept the tube, thus producing a flat "sandwich." Both discs are drilled to allow long screws (supplied) to pass through them and at an angle to provide the proper offset of 23.64°. The pivot-to-stylus distance, or effective length, is 233.2mm, or about 6mm less than that of Rega's cast armtube, or the tubes of the VPI JMW-9 and the Continuum Audio Labs Cobra and Copperhead, all of which share the Rega geometry with many other arms.

Yorke's tonearm is also unique in featuring a Teflon bushing fitted over the unipivot bearing shaft just below the bearing point, on which rides a U-shaped bracket attached to the bearing-cup housing. Thus, while the bearing tip is of the simple hardened-steel-point type, which usually permits a wide range of azimuth adjustment, the bracket-stabilized design permits adjustment only at the headshell. The Teflon bushing provides a virtually frictionless ride for the pivot.

The arm's main bearing shaft is held in place by a grub screw that's threaded into a collar fitted to the armboard. Loosening this screw allows the user to move the shaft up and down while setting the vertical tracking angle (VTA). Yorke supplies two counterweights, of 35gm and 50gm, for setting the vertical tracking force (VTF). Of course, if possible, to maximize the arm's performance, be sure to use the heavier weight, set closer to the pivot, rather than placing the lighter weight set out near the end of the counterweight shaft. A string, one end of which is attached to a hole drilled in the U-bracket and the other fitted with fishing-tackle "grape" split shot (!), drapes over an angled bracket to provide antiskating bias. Yorke provides additional split shot should more antiskating bias prove necessary.

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

Javier Rippes's picture

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