What does the Transcriptors Hydraulic Reference and the new Zontek turntables have in common? Very little, apart from large round belt traversing the platter – or in the case of the Zontek, two of them. The reason I decided to get out and rebuild my aged Michell built icon from Stanley Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange will become clearer as I delve into the music. Initially it was appearance of the circular anti-magnetic steel weights etched into the aluminium platter for additional suppression of resonances that made me think of my dusty Transcriptors (as well as the JBE Series 3 and even a Strathearn turntable, if my memory goes back that far) with the strobe on the edges perhaps more akin to a Technics. This increased total diameter is intended to provide additional stability and applying a greater gyroscopic effect. This was a very retro design from Mr Pawel Zontek made from solid mahogany, matching well with the art-deco design of the Zontek phonostage which I was also honoured to have a chance to play with.gp_11

With the Transcriptors and Zontek turntables I couldn’t have gone further in opposite directions; the Transcriptors relying on minimal contact between record, platter and plinth and with an anorexic ‘S’ shaped titanium arm with knife edged balanced high-compliance (20-30µm/mN) SME arm, compared with a 14½ inch magnetically supported ebony arm with compliance down to between 5 – 9 µm/mN on the Zontek with the record held down firmly on a magnetic suspension floating 35kg platter. At its launch in 1964 the elder would have set you back £69 and 6shillings, compared with an average of £2,400 for a new house. In 2015 this Zontek will cost €11,990 with an average new house price of £286,000. If you get where I am going here, the similarity of perspective is uncanny. But in the changing perspective in today’s hi-fi world is this turntable worth that price? We’ll find out more on that later.gp_35

Where the Transcriptors won the London Design Award in 1971, I have to admit the Zontek, with its highly original twin-triangle solid mahogany design with chrome plated trim forming a middle layer(more about this later) and adjustable feet, which allow for a further two arms, could easily deserve a place in Tate Modern.  The Delta Arm which comes with it is equally magnificent, and I loved the side facing Neutrik RCA sockets allowing me to choose my own cable, and incidentally not having to delve up its backside to prod in my cables, as is the case in many others.  My biggest problem in reviewing this behemoth was its sheer weight! Greg Drygala, from GPoint Audio, turned up with two massive aluminium boxes on a trolley; one containing the turntable and another containing a phonostage and power supply (more on these later). With such heavy hi-fi, it is not only necessary to have aluminium boxes to help protect the equipment, but because it is so heavy you really do need metal handles each end to lift it. Oh, and give it that professional touch. A very good selling ploy, though I’m not sure where I would be able to store these boxes.  Greg spent an hour lovingly setting up his baby, something that again gives this product a sense of worth and desire. The instruction manual on the website was very much better than many, though in places somewhat hard to understand.

“For experts only. The tonearm suspension is able to adjust the magnetic slot. That impacts tonearm rigid and can be helpful with too high or too low resonances.”

Luckily there was no need to read it as Greg is part of the purchase. gp_06

All in at 60kg including platter my poor back and hi-fi racks found this all very, very hard work. Did this excessive weight give for a deeper bass, well actually no. Bass was there, but my Transcriptors (yes, I know, different type of cartridge and arm) actually gave a weightier though much more vague bottom end, and for a product originally designed as a stage prop was quite musical, if not obviously worth a Zontek. What all this weight did help, though, was in giving as good a wow and flutter as I had ever experienced from the infamous Swiss Papst motor in my review sample. The latest version of this turntable will use an equally acceptable Premotec DC 7W motor. Greg told me that the extra plinth weight gives “perfect quiet background and stability”. The platter levitates above the stainless steel middle filling to the sandwich, but the wooden plinth around it acts as dampers and provides extra weight as well as being aesthetically pleasing.gp_30

The turntable comes as standard with one armboard complete with the Delta arm (incidentally designed before the turntable). This armboard itself allows using almost any tonearm of any length and is equipped with a micrometry transmission engine VTA adjustments in steps of 0.01mm up to 15mm.  The Delta arm is an engineering marvel, and as complicated to set up as my aged SME3.  Having a magnetic suspension does mean that setting up tracking force has to be done at the record height, meaning that if you play an aged wafer-thin LP  and then a 225g obesity the cartridge mass will be different, something I recently mentioned in my ClearAudio review. The Delta is made from ebony, just as the wood of my oboe and indeed most other woodwind instruments, chosen because of its sonic qualities and because of its high density; it features in most violin fingerboards and piano black notes. For Zontek, the ebony arm was decided because it gave better bass and less vibration. Indeed each arm is individually designed with extra holes in the wood to aid balancing rather than a home for woodworm. The weight is two-tear-drop design, each at a different angle so that it aids bias compensation. The Delta arm itself takes some 6-weeks to make, using the black ebony for the wand and sandwiches of ebony and bronze for the main column, though 24 carat gold or rhodium coated bronze can be fitted to special order. As in the platter, it uses a one-sided magnetic suspension system, which magically holds the arm in place and means there is no resistance to arm movement, unlike the aged nylon knife edge bearings on the SME3, which can be heard to ‘grind’ when playing less than helpful LPs. It also provides exacting control on anti-skating. The surprisingly heavy Zontek Delta is cleverly thought out and uses miniature worm gear to exert torsional force to the lower part of the arm’s suspension, and each arm is individually tuned and adjusted to meet customer requirements, for example the cartridge mass by added weights. Indeed the arm can work with cartridges from 14g to 22g effective weight. I loved this novel arm design. No friction, and very stable in operation, with ingenious headshell allowing perfect alignment with the record groove. It didn’t take me a long time to get used to it being made of ebony, and it did not look or feel feeble, though I did wonder if it might grow leaves if I watered it.  Where my titanium SME3 arm was filled with damping material inside, the use of ebony here reduced any subsonic vibration from the record and the magnetic suspension stopped any motor noise getting as far as the speakers.  The idea of a wooden arm isn’t new, though. Grace amongst others did so in the 80’s (their 747) and even NAD brought out a flat ‘plastic ruler’ arm in their 5120 turntable, which always made me laugh. This mammoth 14½ inch arm really was serious stuff and worked well for me and its novel design was soon forgotten as I delved deeper into the music.gp_51

The turntable is another clever design. Instead of the popular idea of square turntable and separate motor unit, or both built into the same wood structure, Mr Paweł  decided to make the whole affair out of two separate triangular shapes, with smaller hidden feet underneath to keep it magically suspended. What looks like a single conventional looking plinth is actually two separate parts. What’s more, the plinths are actually a sandwich of two layers of wood and a special steel plate between, which also isolates the electronic speed regulation circuitry from the platter above. The motor itself is also decoupled from the housing, as one would expect from any decent turntable design. With such a heavy platter and massive gear ratio between it and the motor pulley, two belts works better than one, and a stable speed was achieved within 3 seconds of pressing the illuminating green button on the front. Speed regulation is on the side, with (in the production model) two speed adjustment silver pots on the left side and a 33⅓/45 switch underneath. In the older review model there was only one pot and no switch, so speed change was done by adjustment of the pot and looking at the strobe on the platter. Whilst I had no problems in having to do this, customer requests forced Mr Powell’s hand to redesign this function to the two pots and switch.

For my review Greg set up an Ortofon MC2000ii, a cartridge I have always loved, so I could compare with the Kontrapunkt b on my trusted Townshend Rock. I used the Manley Steelhead phonostage in this review, though did use the accompanying Art Deco phonostage as well, and will give a separate review on that later.okladka7

The sound from the Zontek/Delta/Ortofon was easy to listen to; very musical but with a clarity that an SME3/V15iv could never compete with, and more relaxed than my Townshend. However, I felt that the clarity came at the expense of personality, something which was even more noticeable with the valve 5636 pentode 6N16 dual triode design of the matching Zontek phonostage. The sound was as clear as 24/192, and for me that was a disappointment. The definition and naturalness from the Zontek was absolutely marvellous, and so stable that imperfections and scratches on the records paled into insignificance, but for me it was like choosing between a Ferrari F12 and an Alfa Romeo 4C. OK, the latter is cheaper and probably not as good, but it has a personality that suits me better. Playing my aged 1982 Rachmaninov Piano Concerto 2  (Philharmonia Orchestra) the deep breathes from the Cypriot pianist Martino Tirimo, as he got engrossed in his music, was more real for me on my Transcriptors even though the music was far less accurate. The detail, depth and stereo spread from the Polish turntable was tops. No record I put on the platter phased it. It could cope with anything I played, and for a new company’s first foray into vinyl this was epic.

Typical of David Gilmour, ‘Castellonizon’ (from ‘On an Island’) with its introductory musique concrete assortment of church bells, fireworks and country village greens, had the Zontek organize them into their individual components rather than being a mishmash of unrelated soundbites. Where the Townshend Rock gave a more forward and faster rendition, the Zontek was very relaxed and open, giving me more time to understand why the soundbites were there in the first place. The sound was further back in the soundstage and with an equally wide stereo spread. This was damn good. This heavyweight was as nimble as the diet coke in my empty glass. Only the bass wasn’t quite as tight as I would have liked for €11,990, but I began enjoying vinyl more than I thought I’d ever be able to. You see, all the imperfections and personality from my aged Transcriptors got in the way of the recording, and now I could see why things have moved on in half a century. Where so many turntables, even today, add their own idiocentricities, this Zontek was neutral, clear and articulate. The sound was relaxed but no slower, and the bass did go down as far as my Torus infrasonic generator could go, just not quite as perfect as I hoped. The high inertia Papst motor on the review sample was perfect for the job giving a stability of speed that 50 years ago would have been impossible. Only the motor noise could be heard very slightly on the machine, though not through the speakers. Patricia Barber sang “Gotcha” (from ‘Live in Paris’) in the room in front of me, with the clarity from cymbals and tightness of bass the cleanest I had heard through my ScanSpeak tweeters and Townshend Supertweeters. Ray Davies’s lisp was clearer and therefore more noticeable in ‘Sunrise in the City’ (from ‘Working Man’s Café’), which made me wonder if the accuracy was a good thing or not.okladka5

Conclusion

So, was this all worth €11,990. Well, compared with a number of other turntables this is a small price to pay for the experience I had with my music, especially considering it includes the lovely arm and looks worthy of a place in Tate Modern. It also comes complete with a styling wood/metal record clamp as standard, unlike most. If you would like to sit in the best seat in the house then expect to pay for it, and boy, did I have a good seat here. It extrapolated every detail from the music with not one frequency sounding out of place, whatever genre of music I presented it with. It was so good, particularly at mid and top frequencies with only the lowest frequencies not quite clear enough for me. Perhaps the front damper on my Townshend Rock was too good. But, would I give up my hard earned cash, well, that depends on how much I would really want it. This is a no-expense-spared design created to get the very best out of your polyvinyl chloride plastic disc, but I guess I will need to keep my bank polyvinyl chloride card in my purse until they bring out something a bit cheaper. Shame.

Sound Quality – 9.1/10 ZONTEK TT

Value for Money – 8.4/10

Build Quality – 8.6/10 (Beautiful Delta arm)

Overall – 8.7/10

Janine Elliot

 

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