Superior Audio Audiophile Equipment Review
November / December 2003

Roksan TMS2 Turntable
Artemiz Tonearm &Shiraz Cartridge

Review By Alvin Gold
Click here to e-mail reviewer.
Roksan TMS2 Turntable With Artemiz Tonearm And Shiraz Cartridge

  Without wishing to get too misty eyed about this, I remember with some fondness when Roksan was on the point of launching its first ever turntable - actually its first product - and I was sent by a magazine that I was writing for at the time to check out the story that they had a turntable design that might even challenge the established leaders of the day. This was a time when the record player was still the source of choice if you were serious about your sound (and my we were serious about sound in those days), and the established leaders at the time were of course, the Linn Sondek LP12 followed closely by the Linn Sondek LP12. That was back in 1985.

Roksan turned out to be a two-man band, by name Touraj Moghaddam and his partner Tufan Hashemi. Tufan was basically the business side of the partnership, and Touraj, in those days a rather wild eye's graduate of the UKs most prestigious engineering institution, was in charge of design. I found them ensconced in a small industrial unit quite close to the financial centre of London. Remarkably, almost two decades later, and despite having becomes a cog in larger corporate enterprises as various points in their history, Roksan remains in charge of its own destiny, and it is still led by the very same two people. Touraj you'll be glad to hear still has that slightly maniacal gleam.

High end turntables come from design teams that are engineering led, or which are driven by a love of music, well reproduced, Sometimes they are made by people laid off from engineering companies, and who bought lathes, perhaps the very ones they worked on in a previous existence, to manufacture their designs. You can recognize them, as almost all the parts will be circular. Roksan was slightly different. The company has always been music led, Touraj (my primary point of contact over the years) has always been into music in a big way, and invariably has some interesting and usually slightly idiosyncratic vinyl tucked under his arm when he visits, usually just bought from a market stall or some out of the way shop. But fundamentally he was and remains an engineer. From the start, his designs went back to fundamentals, and took different routes to the established patterns, and they have been continuously and systematically developed progressively over the years, with no sudden changes of tack with prevailing fashion.

The first Roksan turntable of course was the Xerxes, and while I preferred it to what by then had become the establishment choice, the LP12, I was probably in a minority in taking that view. But the Xerxes was still the turntable that broke the LP12's domination of the high end turntable market, and it has remained a consistently strong seller ever since, outsold so far as I know only by some much cheaper models.

The Xerxes was followed by the entry level Radius, and then in 1990 by the TMS, which stands for Touraj Moghaddam Signature, which was designed to encapsulate everything that Roksan had leaned from making its other designs, where cost was no subject. To cut a long story short, the TMS was eventually succeeded by the subject of this review, the TMS2, which has been shipping for just a few months and in limited numbers so far.

The TMS2 is a belt driven, two speed turntable, with a suspended subchassis, though it is a relatively stiffly strong and highly damped compared to its free-floating counterparts. The system includes an output power supply that supplies low voltage AC for the synchronous motor, with speed and standby switching available using a pair of small buttons on the front surface, supported by a discreet tricolor indicator LED.

The flagship Roksan turntable is a mixture of old and new. The outer platter is the same fully engineered aluminum component that was and is used in the Xerxes (now the Xerxes 10 by the way) rather than the more porous Masak that is more commonly used for the job. The inner platter, which is a self-damping interference fit, and which is dimensioned to provide a shallow label recess, is also similar to the Xerxes version, and the bearing appears to be the original one, designed all those years ago for the Xerxes. But in this case appearances are deceptive. The bearing itself is a key part of the design, and although the fundamentals are indeed unchanged, there has been significant detail development over the years. It is a long, slender self-centering, self-aligning true single point hearing with a captive tungsten carbide ball at the bottom of the bearing well taking thrust from the tungsten carbide spindle.

Parts of the bearing are made in house, but the highest precision tungsten carbide components are produced to tolerances and surface finish standards way beyond those that are normally available, and with a surface hardness much greater than the hardened steel normally used for those components, by a company (Welsh I believe) that makes bearings for space going navigation gyroscopes. As with previous designs, the top part of the spindle over which records are located is removable once the record is in place to reduce noise input, so that the only contact between the player and the record is the thin felt platter mat. According to Roksan, the bearing is now so quiet there is little to gain from this complication, and I can confirm this from my own listening. But it has been retained for the more anal listener, and a stay has been included on the top of the plinth so that it can be stored safely when it is not in use.

The chassis however is different, and although many of the ideas that informed the original TMS are also to be found in the new model in one form or another, the execution is rather more sophisticated, and the suspension design has come a long way. Each of the four chassis tiers (the original TMS had three) are separated and mutually suspended isolated with four complex adjustable suspension pillars (known as BLOBs) whose mounting points define the suspension compliances. The top layer of the plinth is divided in to sections, an inner one which is not visible unless the outer player is removed anchoring the interchangeable arm bases (available uncut, or pre-cut for the Naim Aro and SME, as well as Roksan's own arm base fitting) and the solid phosphor bronze main bearing housing. The 24 pole synchronous motor is mounted on a separate chassis layer, and uses Roksan favored suspension design in which the motor is limited to rotation in the horizontal plane in response to torque variations on the flat rubber belt that drives the inner platter. In practice it acts rather like a clutch when starting up. The base layer, which is made from MDF though the surface finish is the same as the rest of the plinth, acts as a mechanical ground.

Although many vinyl users take to take an almost masochistic delight in players that look like an infernal contraption from a mad boffins lair, Roksan clearly take a different view, and have provided an aesthetic design which has real stature and presence in the flesh. But in this area as in others, the key decision are related to function. The main chassis material is a composite of polymers and fillers, with a hard outer shell, which was developed specifically for the TMS2. The original choice, Corian, a dense polymer, was rejected because the sound of turntables made using it turned out to be rather sluggish and over damped. Because the material is proprietary, Roksan had a free choice of finish, and decided on what you see pictured, which uses tiny flecks of metal embedded in the surface layer, hand finished to give the lively and completely unique appearance you see. There is even a touch of individuality as each sample differs slightly from the next. Roksan tells me that the manufacturing processes involved in the plinth were full of pitfalls, It took a long time to get it right, which significantly delayed the introduction of the player onto the market.

The partnering DX2 power supply is housed in a standard width housing of the kind normally used for Caspian series amplifiers and CD players, and so will need its own shelf on the equipment support. The supply powers the motor drive electronics housed in the player itself.

 

Sound Quality

The dealer should normally undertake turntable setup, but it presents no special difficulties. The Artemiz arm, which is likely to be the most common partner, has solid bearings and is quite easy to adjust, and the arm leadouts are taken to sockets on the back of the player, which means the arm cable choice is left to the user, which allowed to use Nordost Valhalla interconnects for the test. The suspension has to be centered and leveled, but little adjustment will be needed in practice thanks to the relatively low compliance springing, unless an unusually heavy arm is used.

Many of the aural features of the TMS2 derive directly from the way it has been constructed, though it would take an engineer to make all the appropriate connections. Certain points however are obvious even to the uninitiated, especially in the way that performance steers a rather different path to those belonging to the main alternative schools of turntable design, those with freely suspended subchassis, and those which use high mass major components to damp down the main modes of misbehavior. Having spent a couple of days in turntable heaven, namely the Frankfurt hi-fi show a few months ago where there must have been hundreds of turntables on demonstration, it was even clearer to me that it had been in the past that these approaches have what may be intrinsic limitations. Generalizing like mad, the mass loaded designs generally sound over damped and leaden, and frequently appear to suffer from poor timing. Of course the devil is always in the detail, and individual designs can and sometimes do defy expectations, but I was shocked and even a tad depressed by the poor standard of vinyl sound quality at the show, though in retrospect it did tend to confirm prior experience. Lighter, fully suspended turntables often perform much better, but are often prone to more subtle problems, sometimes pitch related, and sometimes linked to susceptibility to footfall and other environmental mechanical noise.

The TMS2 seems to me to represents a true third path, a turntable capable of the kind of sound quality expected of a high end turntable, yet which somehow manages to sidestep the usual problems. Pitch integrity is particularly good. Without resorting to an enormous flywheel platter, the Roksan solution is fundamentally stable. There is none of the almost subliminal slowing through heavily modulated passages that is often heard. There's certainly nothing that can be identified more crudely as wow and flutter. At the same time, noise normally attributable to bearing rumble is noticeable by its absence. In practice of course this is dependant on the record, some of which have quite high levels of rumble-like low frequency noise embedded on them at the cutting or pressing stage, but the best records reproduced with an almost uncanny absence of unwanted low frequency noise. High frequency noise (surface hiss, and impulsive noise from specs of dust and grit) is also low, though this is partly function of the arm and (in particular) the cartridge. The Artemiz arm behaves well in this respect, and from prior experience the lean, clean Shiraz cartridge is characteristically well behaved too.

The lack of noise in all its usual manifestations and the unusually secure timing are perhaps the reasons for the TMS2's ability to reproduce low level detail clearly that through other players is often at or below the threshold of perception. It also improves the sense of agility. Typically, across a broad spectrum of recordings, instrumental separation is good, and it is easy to follow single instruments and voices. Rhythmic elements are propulsive and appear to time well, with groups of players clearly working in unison, with a common purpose and a real sense of interaction and involvement. The deck works also well across the frequency band. The bass is a long way from the rather heavy handed excess you'll often hear from lesser designs.

In the best sense, this is an easy player to listen to, and curiously it is rather compact disc like in the specific sense that detail is very clearly presented, and there is no undue emphasis or loss of presence in particular frequency bands. Specifically, the frequency extremes are well integrated, the bass deep, but light and agile when called for, and the treble open and extended, with negligible treble roll off when used with the Shiraz cartridge. Sometimes I felt that the TMS2 lacked the power of some of its more prominent adversaries, but again there is a parallel with compact disc, where the bass is tends to be lean and dry, but very well disciplined, with a real sense of power limited to those occasions where the musical content warrants it. Imagery tends to be close, and although image depth is well articulated, with a excellent sense of layering, and well resolved ambience, it all tends to happen a little closer to the listening seat than some. Again, this could be described (perhaps misleadingly) as a rather CD like quality.

 

Conclusions

There are real problems when attempting to describe the sound of a component that is so intimately dependent on the performance of other system components. The interactions are generally at a higher level with turntables than they are with, say, CD players, which have a relatively simple interface with the system amplifier, and where the recorded material tend to be relatively clean and well behaved, at least by vinyl standards. Here the voicing is determined by the cartridge and by the phono step-up, and to a lesser but significant extent by the arm. But if the arm and cartridge are doing their job properly, the turntable has a low level, but fundamental impact effect on the way that music is reproduced, though untangling cause from effect is no trivial undertaking.

So having made all necessary excuses in advance, the TMS2 seems to me to be in the front rank of turntables, whose particular strengths are its articulation, clarity and pitch integrity. This is by any measure a high-resolution turntable, full of life and vitality, and one with superb timing, stability and a wide operating dynamic range. It is not always as visceral as some designs, but there is real architecture in the music when the recording allows, and the lack an obvious voice or character makes it very easy to listen to, and a particularly good platform for quality arms and cartridges. The TMS2 is as good a candidate for state of the art as any I know, and in this context, and taking engineering and finish into account, pricing is far from excessive.

 

Specifications

Unique Roksan self centering & aligning true single point bearing:
Main bearing spindle - tungsten carbide
Roundness & concentricity < 1 micron
Length to diameter ratio 11:1
Main bearing ball - tungsten carbide
Roundness < 1 micron
Diameter 2mm

Main bearing housing solid phosphor bronze
Clearance 0.002"

Inner platter two-piece solid aluminum alloy
Interference fitted, non-resonant
Outer platter two piece solid aluminum alloy
Interference fitted non-resonant

Plinth structure - four-plinth design

Suspension six level decoupling

Motor custom made 24 pole sync.

Pulley solid aluminum alloy

Belt precision ground

Motor mount unique synchronizing bearing

Motor drive super XPS.V (internal)

Wow & Flutter <0.02%

Rumble <80dB

Dimensions 450 x 370 x135(WxDxH in mm)

Weight 18kg

Prices:
TMS2 + DX2 Box $9,595
Artemiz Tonearm  $1,800
Shiraz Cartridge $1,600

 

Company Information

Roksan Audio Limited
Unit 6, Northfield Industrial Estate
Beresford Avenue, Alperton
Middlesex HA0 1NW

Voice: +44 (0)20 8900 6801/6802
Fax: +44 (0)20 8900 0734
E-mail: info@roksan.co.uk
Website: www.roksan.co.uk

 

North American distribution
May Audio Marketing, Inc.
2150 Liberty Dr. Unit 7
Niagara Falls, NY 14304

Voice: 716-283-4434
Fax: 716-283-6264
Email: mayaudio1@aol.com
Website: www.mayaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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