Analog Corner #323: J.Sikora Reference turntable and KV12 VTA tonearm
Lublin, Poland, is about 130 miles from Lviv, Ukraine, a town that has been in the news lately. That’s about the same distance as Hershey, Pennsylvania, is from my desk in northern New Jersey, where I’m writing this. They are close. Russian missiles struck Lviv on March 18, 2022, and as I write these words Lviv is preparing for more intense bombardment.
J.Sikora manufactures turntables and tonearms in Lublin, Poland. Concentrating on something as frivolous as audio reviewing and not thinking about what’s happening in Ukraine is difficult enough. Lowering the stylus onto a record spinning on J.Sikora’s top-of-the-line Reference turntable, manufactured in the Allmet metal fabrication factory, which is so close to the mayhem, amplifies feelings of helplessness.
Those feelings are further intensified by having met and spent time at more than one Warsaw Audio Video Show with Mr. Janusz Sikora and his son Robert. (Robert is also a musician, in the band Crab Invasion, with his brother Jakub. I’m itching to hear their record.)
The Sikoras are the nicest people. In fact, so were most of the Poles I met at the show and around town. It doesn’t surprise me at all that so many Poles welcomed millions of displaced Ukrainians into their homes.
I was happy to welcome into mine the $47,000 J.Sikora Reference turntable, having heard the J.Sikora Initial Max turntable at the Capital Audiofest and, at a friend’s home, the company’s $21,500 Standard Max turntable (footnote 1).
I’ve done my research on Mr. Sikora. I learned that as a young man he was a rock guitarist. Later, he was a locksmith. He was also involved in tube-amplifier manufacturing. But metalwork is his main skillset, and once analog staged its comeback, he set his sights on making turntables.
The Reference is a superhigh-mass design, weighing 253lb. The dynamically and statically balanced platter alone weighs 40lb; it’s the same one used on the Standard Max. Fabricated from a combination of Delrin and cast iron, with a subplatter of copper, aluminum, and stainless steel, and topped by a glass-crystal mat, the tall platter rides on an inverted ceramic ball bearing that also makes use of steel, cemented carbides, and zirconium, set within a circular machined aluminum platform.
The platter is driven by a quartet of rubber belts set in motion by multigrooved Delrin pulleys, those spun by four Papst DC motors enclosed in heavy Inox steel capsules set equidistant from one other. The bearing platform and motor housings incorporate thick bronze bases.
Any conceptual and/or visual similarity between the Reference and the Kuzma XL is strictly intentional. Mr. Sikora is a Franc Kuzma fan. That makes two of us.
Setup takes balls
Notable Audio’s Jeff Fox drove up from Falls Church, Virginia, to install the Reference. However, the Reference comes with among the best setup manuals I’ve ever received with a turntable, and I’m sure that with the help of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, anyone reading this could easily assemble it.
The normal isolation footers on the HRS base couldn’t handle the high mass, so HRS kindly lent me four special footers that could handle it, along with a set of washers for each footer, calculated to level the large Sikora aluminum plinth upon which the turntable components sit. Two high-mass arm towers located at the plinth’s rear produce a weight imbalance that would otherwise cause the platform to go out of level, though Sikora does provide an independent leveling system consisting of three feet that screw into the bottom of the plinth on large-diameter machined, threaded brass bolts. You won’t see this detail once it’s assembled, so I’ve provided a photo on the following page. The Reference comes standard with one armpod, but the turntable can accommodate three.
The instructions suggest putting the very heavy plinth on a perfectly level platform, then, if necessary, using the feet for a leveling fine-tune. The approximately 1.5″-tall platform also incorporates the motor controller and a five-pushbutton panel with an LCD screen for speed selection and trim: 33 1/3, 45, Off, +, and .
Sikora provides four leather coasters, three of which you place under the three feet to avoid scratching your support shelf. Once the plinth is in the approximately correct location, sliding it on the leather coasters to the precise, final location is easy. Once that’s done, you replace the leather coasters with indented aluminum discs. Ceramic balls placed into the indents fit into indents on the bottom of each foot, producing a secure, efficient ceramic isolation sandwich. An Allen key inserted into each of the three feet can rotate and fine-tune the platform level.
A supplied template makes it reasonably easy to precisely position the spindle assembly/platter platform and around it the four high-torque motors. The instructions include a link to a video showing how to add oil to the spindle shaft and how to place the small ceramic ball in the indentation on top of the hefty bearing.
Properly aligning and lowering the plinth onto the feet is the trickiest setup step, requiring two people operating in perfect synch. If it’s not lowered carefully, the ceramic ball can pop out of its perch and fly across the room, never to be seen again. (You will not have to grow a pair; J.Sikora provides extras.) The second most difficult part is aligning the square belts so that they lay flat against the platter’s side, untwisted.
Finally, you connect the cables from the four motors to the DIN jacks on the back of the plinth, followed by the cable that connects the turntable to the large, capacitor-packed outboard power supply that monitors on its front panel the incoming AC and the 24V DC it sends to the turntable motors, regardless of line fluctuations.
The high-mass armpods with their brass bases are height-adjustable and of course can easily be moved toward or away from the platter to accommodate 912″ armsthough the 9″ SAT arm’s correct pivot-to-spindle distance produced an extremely close encounter with the platter side: There was just enough room not to touch. I mounted the SAT CF1-09 arm on the main pod and the J.Sikora KV12 arm on the rear one.
The J.Sikora KV12 VTA tonearm
“KV” stands for Kevlar, aka polyparaphenylene terephthalamide. The $8995 KV12 (discounted 10% if bought with a J.Sikora ‘table) is the first tonearm to use an armtube made of Kevlar, a relatively light, superstiff synthetic fiber best known for its use in bulletproof vests and Bowers & Wilkins midrange drivers (footnote 2); it is also used in America’s Cupstyle racing sails and high-end bicycle tires. Turning it into an armtube or a tube of any kind was a challenge, Mr. Sikora told me through a translator a few years ago at the Warsaw show. At the time, he was walking around with a sample armtube not yet attached to a completed tonearm.
In the finished oil-damped unipivot arm, a removable slotted metal headshell attached to the Kevlar tube forms an arm with a 304.8mm effective length and an effective mass of 13gm. Pivot-to-spindle distance is 291mm, which sets the overhang at 13.8mm. You’ll notice design elements reminiscent of both Kuzma and VPI arms, including the tonearm wire exiting atop the bearing housing and a long, threaded counterweight stub, both of which Mr. Sikora has neatly incorporated into his unique, ingeniously compact original design.
Especially notable is his precision, on-the-fly VTA adjustment: Note the knurled knob at the base of the arm. Rotating it raises and lowers the arm smoothly and securely, though in back of the arm, access is made awkward by the termination block, where the thin, flexible tonearm wire turns into a generous length of thick interconnect wrapped with a ground wire and terminating in RCA plugs. The 24k gold-plated 6N OCC copper wire, from Soyaton High End Audio Cables, runs from cartridge clips to RCA jacks.
Steadied in an oil trough, the unipivot arm has a secure, not-tipsy feel. J.Sikora does not specify the bearing interface (sapphire cup, etc.). The long counter-weight stub incorporates a hanging block of a counter-weight that can slide fore and aft to set approximate tracking force and be rotated to set azimuth. There are also secondary threaded discs for VTF fine-tuning. Here, though, the interface between the disc and the threaded stub was loose and sloppy: I don’t like things that rattle on any part of a tonearm. This was the only thing I was able to criticize about this turntable/tonearm combo.
Footnote 1: J.Sikora, ul. Poligonowa 41 20-817 Lublin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: jsikora.pl. US distributor: Notable Audio Products 115 Park Ave. Suite 2, Falls Church, VA 22046. Tel: (855) 966-8225. Email: email@example.com Web: notableaudio.com
Footnote 2: Other loudspeakers use a similar material, generically referred to as “aramid fiber,” in their driver cones. I just learned from Wikipedia that it is also used in the “tailcords” of bowed string instruments, which connect the tailpiece to the endpin.Jim Austin
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