These would seem to be obvious objectives for any turntable designer but having tapped on my share of super lively plinths (among other sins), some either don’t pay attention to one or more, or fail to execute.
The PolyTable Signature Solution
Three thick elastomer discs separate the PolyTable’s two composite polyoxymethylene/polyvinylchloride platforms from one another, while thinner ones isolate the lower platform from the trio of three inch tall supports upon which the entire assemblage rests. An adjustable foot housed within each support allows for ‘table leveling. Sorbothane discs applied to the bottom of the three feet further isolate the ‘table from upon whatever platform you choose to place it—the better the platform the better the non-suspended ‘table will sound—especially since while Sorbothane is stable vertically, laterally it is not, so this ‘table can laterally move with ease—I’m not talking about large horizontal displacement, but considering how records play, even microscopic ones matter.
The lower base hosts the motor, which is a fluid-damped low voltage A.C. synchronous unit driven by what Gem Dandy calls “DMD”. It uses a regulated DC supply to power a microprocessor that oversees crystal controlled adjustable low distortion dual precision sine wave oscillators that drive two high power, low distortion amplifiers that energize the motor windings.
Gem Dandy claims for the drive system absolute total power line isolation plus speed accuracy of three parts per million. According to the company “the Digital Motor Drive System is the most advanced drive system available.”
Housed in a brushed black metal chassis and connected to the motor via an umbilical (and to the A.C. via a “wall wart”), the DMD features buttons for selecting 33 1/3 and 45rpm as well as adjacent potentiometers for easy speed adjustment. A handy strobe light in the form of a long, glowing red tipped umbilical exits from the DMD’s front. It makes easy setting correct speed, which is useful since bumping into and nudging the speed pots located adjacent to the “on/off” buttons is easy to do. Making the pots lockable and the strobe umbilical detachable would be nice touches but those would add to the ‘table’s cost and wouldn’t enhance the performance of a “max bang for the buck” turntable. Drive is via a flat belt on a crowned pulley machined of Delrin or a similar material.
The upper base, which holds the long spindle bearing that extends through a hole in the lower one, also serves as the arm mounting platform—a long cantilevered, spirit bubble fitted affair designed for a 12” arm.
Records spin on a two-piece decoupled platter system topped with a bonded RCC (rubber cork compound) mat that incorporates two types of rubber with differing energy absorption characteristics. The added cork is said to aid in the transmission of energy into the mat, while the bonded mat itself both damps the record while helping to decouple the platter energy. A ring of the same, or a similar RCC material damps the area surrounding where the spindle bearing attaches to the upper base.
Sorane TA-1L Tonearm
Sorane, imported to America by Mockingbird Distribution, is a brand with which I’ve had no experience. My late colleague Art Dudley reviewed the TA-1L arm (then marketed under a different name) in Stereophile.
As many of you know, Jelco, once the supplier of reliable, well-made “traditional” tonearms and a company that built OEM arms for many manufacturers shut down last spring, said to be a victim of Covid19 supply and labor issues.
Gem Dandy, one of many companies that once relied upon Jelco for arms, now packages the PolyTable Signature with Sorane’s long TA-1L arm. Like Jelco, Sorane is a Japanese company and like Jelco, its beautifully finished arms are hand-assembled by artisans.
The TA-1L is a traditional arm in every conceivable way: S-shaped arm wand of polished aluminum tubing, removable head shell, bearing assembly and other structural elements machined from aluminum with “cup and point” type vertical and miniature ball-race horizontal bearings. VTF is statically set, while anti-skating is spring-adjusted. Azimuth can be adjusted at the head shell while the main post can be raised and lowered as needed to set VTA/SRA, but not “on-the-fly”.
In other words, this arm allows you to adjust every set-up parameter. The TA-1L has an effective length of 322mm, a P2S distance of 310mm and so has a 12mm overhang. It can accommodate any weight cartridge—most with the supplied counterweight and subweight insert if needed. An optional counterweight lets you use cartridges weighing up to 55 grams. Know any? For more about Sorane, read the interview with Mr. Katsuaki Ishiyama, the arm’s designer and founder of parent company IT Industry, which he founded in 1974.
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
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.
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 potsAdd 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” ArmIf 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.
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.
The GEM Dandy PolyTable surprised me with its locked-in sound and its sure-footed operation. The high-end audio marketplace is full of outstanding performers at the $3K price point—the last three turntables I’ve reviewed cost around that much, and each one convinced me that meaningful design innovations can still occur at this level. With the Sorane arm, this package comes in under $5000, and the rig lunges over $8000 with the ZYX Ultimate Airy X. (It’s back to $6000 when you go with the ZYX Bloom 3, which is perfectly sublime as well. Heck, you can save more by going with an OEM Rega arm.) It’s a dream rig, and I’d be happy to spend a few decades with it.
“Please compare the PolyTable Signature to the 100K plus or ANY other turntable,” it says on the GEM Dandy website and sure, we see claims like that all of the time in the high-end audio industry. I’m not telling you to do that.
But I will say this. I kept having one thought, over and over, with the GEM Dandy PolyTable while I used it: “I can’t believe it’s only $3000.” That’s why I’m giving it my Best Value Award.
GEM DANDY TURNTABLE REVIEW SPECIFICATIONSDESIGN:Non-suspended, belt drivenSPEEDS:33.3 or 45 RPM via manual belt adjustment, or push button on optional Digital Motor DriveTONEARM:9” Jelco SA-250 (9” Jelco SA-750D and 10” Jelco SA-750E are optional at extra cost). All include Audioquest Wildcat tonearm cable.DIMENSIONS:7” H x 18” W x 12” DWEIGHT:12 lbsGEM DANDY POLYTABLE TURNTABLE MSRP:$1595COMPANY:GEM Dandy ProductsSECRETS TAGS:Turntable, Record Player, Vinyl, PRaT, GEM, PolyTable, GEMDandy, Turntable Reviews 2017There is also an outboard Digital Motor Drive (“DMD”) upgrade available for $690. For ultimate performance, Merrill offers the PolyTable Super12, which features a 12-inch Jelco tonearm, a fluid-damped motor system, and the Digital Motor Drive for $2995. All PolyTables are designed and manufactured in the USA. The PolyTable version under review features the optional Jelco SA-750E and Digital Motor Drive, which brings the retail price to $2685.
DesignMerrill believes form should follow function and the PolyTable’s design reflects an emphasis on performance, not aesthetics. The engineering goal was a chassis resonance frequency below that of recorded sound. To achieve that, the PolyTable is constructed primarily of a matte gray, plastic-like material which is both solid-feeling yet lightweight. It reminds me of plastic pipe. The non-suspended design features three adjustable legs, which themselves sit on energy-absorbing, sorbothane dampers. The PolyTable does not resemble other turntables, instead channeling works of architecture such as the space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport. The PolyTable also features an integrated bubble level on the plinth to aid in necessary adjustments. The platter is a two-piece affair. The spindle is attached to the smaller, lower platter which rides on top of a small thrust bearing in an oil-filled well. A second platter, on top of which the record sits, rides atop the smaller platter. In order to achieve the desired energy absorption and damping, both platters feature Merrill’s Rubber Cork Compound (“RCC”) mats bonded to the top surfaces. I for one will take cork over felt any day. SetupDespite my best efforts not to bore you to death, being a turntable review, this section will be longer than usual. Let me first try to encourage you. If you’ve never put a turntable together, you really should try it. The experience connects you to the hardware in a way that’s fundamentally different from popping a ready-made out of its box. I’ve done both, so I can tell you that what the actual assembly does for you is make the turntable feel more like a creation than a product. I had only put together one turntable previously, a Well Tempered Labs Simplex, so I am far from an expert, but getting the Simplex up and running was an immensely rewarding experience. In fact, once I finally heard music, I channeled Patrick Bateman from American Psycho: “I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I’m positive we won’t have a decent table. But we do, and relief washes over me in an awesome wave.” Enough said about that experience.
The PolyTable itself is simple to assemble and the thorough instructions make quick work of that task. It goes basically like this: get it level, drop in the bearing, add some oil, pop on the lower platter, fit the belt, and top it off with the upper platter. You’ll still have to assemble the Jelco tonearm, which isn’t horrible, but the ability to infinitely adjustable tonearm height is as much a blessing as a curse. In the end, the stylus tip barely hovers over the record surface when the tonearm is lifted. This allows the cartridge to track amazingly well and the sound strikes a good balance between detail and body, so I’m leaving it alone for the time being. Okay, okay, okay. There’s a small part of me that wants to raise the tonearm . . . ever so slightly. f you’ve never aligned a cartridge, prepare to get intimately in touch with your obsessive-compulsive side before you even attempt it. That might sound ominous, but if you live to bathe yourself in the most minute of details, you have found your sandbox. Alignment protractors were new to me and this was truly a case in which I vastly, and I mean vastly, overestimated my skill, intelligence, and/or patience. I could be wrong, and so often am, but I think it would be unfair to call me stupid. The thing is, I take to detail- obsession quite easily-if something can be done correctly, I’m happy to hunt for the rest of my life for it. Before I go too far with this, it must be noted that the difficulty with alignment really depends on the shape of the cartridge. For example, if you get one that has parallel sides, your degree of difficulty will be infinitely lower. In case I have not intimated it clearly enough, I highly recommend going that route. Get something that looks like a rectangle. Genius that I am, however, I selected what is widely considered the highest-performing cartridge in its price range, the Charisma MC-1 Moving Coil (MSRP $1095), without regard to logical considerations such as alignment.
I’m not going to spend a ton of time talking about the Charisma MC-1, but it’s worth noting here that the observations and impressions that follow are the result of the cartridge as much as the PolyTable itself. The Charisma is a great tracker and has a punchy, fluid presentation which reminded me quite a lot of my Dynavector DV-20X2L, but as well as the Dynavector tracks, the Charisma seemed to track even better, with less surface noise. Many thanks to Bernard Li at Charisma Audio for supplying the very special MC-1, which I also regard as a terrific bargain and a great match with the PolyTable. George Merrill spoke highly of the Hana line of cartridges and one of those would have been my choice had I not received the Charisma. George will even align the Hana for you if you buy it (or any other cartridge) from him! The PolyTable is supplied with an Audioquest Wildcat tonearm cable. At less than $100, it’s probably not reference quality, but it’s nice that it’s included for free. Unfortunately, I could not use it because it’s designed as a single-strand that only terminates into a left and right channel in the last three inches. The problem using a cable like that in my system is that my Sutherland 20/20 phono pre-amp has the left and right inputs at opposite ends of the chassis, so the Wildcat leads don’t come close to reaching their intended targets. That was annoying. Luckily, I called Nordost and they were happy to supply a Heimdall 2 tonearm cable (MSRP $659), which is what I used throughout the review. It’s a worthy feature of the PolyTable that you can upgrade the tonearm cable should you so desire.
I had become used to having push-button control over 33 and 45 RPM with Rega RP6, so the idea of moving a belt to do so was a non-starter for me. Sure, $690 for the PolyTable’s Digital Motor Drive is a lot relative to the base cost of the table, but convenience, performance gains, and peace of mind never come cheap in audio. Unlike most speed control boxes, the PolyTable’s allows minute trim adjustments to get the speed exactly right. It also comes with its own strobe light and mini strobe disc, yet another area to indulge your detail obsession. To orient you to my prism of reference, I have owned the Clearaudio Concept, the Well Tempered Labs Simplex, and the Rega RP6. The Clearaudio and Rega were clearly held back by their MM cartridges because once I heard the Simplex with the Dynavector MC; I stopped thinking of analog as a fad. And I can tell you now, as I listen to an ancient copy of Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis (Columbia CL 1480); you absolutely need to invest in a good cartridge and a high-quality phono pre-amp. You will reap great rewards. Before I did that, vinyl seemed merely cute and sometimes interesting. Now it seems definitive. Miles Davis “Sketches of Spain”Sketches of Spain is as explosive and fresh as anything you will ever hear and I can’t remember it so flush with detail and weight. It’s quiet, quiet, quiet, then bang! It jumps all over you. One track in, the sound from Miles’ trumpet slithers like a snake, undulating back and forth on “Will O’ The Wisp.” Breathtaking stuff. Jim Sullivan “U.F.O.”Switching over to some vocals, I put on Jim Sullivan’s U.F.O. (Light in the Attic 054). This is like a happier, more upbeat Nick Drake with a dash of psychedelia. Vocals are admirably clear and center-focused with a lot of confidence and weight to them. BookendsSimon and Garfunkel BookendsI somehow transition to wondering what Simon and Garfunkel sounds like, so I put on Bookends. More goodness! Tons of guitar detail, deep, deep soundstage (“At the Zoo”), and a surprising amount of lower midrange energy. This is a record seemingly without surface noise. Nice pressing, Sundazed (5233)! ConclusionsWhile there are several fine turntables around the $1595 price point, THE GEM DANDY POLYTABLE TURNTABLE meets or beats all of them for overall performanceLIKESEasy to assembleAccepts a wide variety of cartridgesÀ la carte upgrade optionsAffordableWOULD LIKE TO SEEAdditional colorsA more universal tonearm cableA full-size, rigid strobe discAs you can imagine, it’s very difficult to parse the respective contributions of the turntable, the cartridge, the phono pre-amp and the recording, but having owned turntables and cartridge combinations around this price point, and having revisited many records I know well, I can say with confidence that the GEM Dandy PolyTable Turntable has seemingly outdone all its competitors. It’s all-around, consistently great performance places it firmly in rarefied air.
About the PolyTable’s design: It avoids fuss and frills, and though it has a small footprint—another plus for those with less-than-palatial living spaces—to a large extent its form follows its function. Its trio of sturdy, knob-like, adjustable feet gives it a sort of spaceship vibe. Of course, beauty is famously in the eye of the beholder, but I find the PolyTable to have a certain spare, straightforward appeal that is also kind of sleek and modern. Moreover, its streamlined look befits its streamlined operation, suitable for both budding and more experienced audiophiles. It’s as if this little “gem” of a turntable has nothing to hide.
The PolyTable’s unsuspended plinth, sub-platter, and platter are made of polyvinyl-chloride synthetic plastic, which is produced by polymerization of vinyl-chloride monomer.
George Merrill, who has been designing and building turntables for more than three decades, pioneered the use of such materials and holds related patents (applicable to some of his other turntables). “These polymers manage energy to an overwhelmingly better degree then any metal can,” he says. “None of the turntables since my first Heirloom design (1979) has had any metal in the critical signal path.” The catchy PolyTable name—and those of its PolyCover and PolyWeight accessories—comes from the use of polymer plastics.Arrival and AssemblyMy PolyTable review sample arrived in a larger box than I expected; it was well packed and included a helpful, four-page, color instruction manual. The PolyTable turntables are shipped with Japanese-made Jelco tonearms; upon ordering you can choose from one of three models at tiered prices: the entry-level SA-250 (which was supplied with my sample), the SA-750D, or the 10″ SA-750E. The PolyTables do not come bundled with a cartridge, so you’ll have to buy one for yourself, although a range of Ortofon models is available through Merrill’s store online.Assembly instructions for the ’table and tonearm—and assembly itself—were simple. The aforementioned brief guide contains photos that make setup even easier. The PolyTable is a subplatter/platter design that uses an oil-well bearing and shaft that require the addition of about 10 drops of oil (included) when you fit the platters together. There are three leveling feet (adjustable via internal screws) on the bottom of the plinth. The platter is lined on its surface with a rubber and cork compound, and there’s a small bubble level built into the plinth. I moved house partway through the audition period, so that little level came in handy for readjusting the feet to compensate for my new home’s not-quite-level hardwood floors. Like any ’table worth its salt, the PolyTable allows for VTF, VTA, and azimuth adjustments to enable optimization of a wide range of cartridges.Spinning and ListeningNow for the fun part: spinning vinyl. I began auditioning the PolyTable with the supplied Jelco tonearm and a Shelter 201 moving-magnet cartridge during the review period for the PS Audio Sprout (another affordable Product of the Year winner). For a time, I used it as a source for HiFiMan 400S headphones, listening to LPs ranging from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite in Analogue Productions’ marvelous Living Stereo reissue to the energetic Mobile Fidelity-remastered Special Beat Service by The English Beat. The former shone with powerful climaxes that exceeded my expectations. The latter, a recording that’s prone to sounding slightly bright on a few systems, was reproduced quite cleanly, with its midrange-centric instrumentation and percussive punches rendered intact. In general, timbre veered somewhat towards the warmish side—certainly one of the Shelter mm cartridge’s characteristics—though realism on voices was untouched. (In my Sprout review, I described how, when I was using the PolyTable as a source for the HiFiMan cans, a layered-in backup vocal—which seemed to come out of nowhere from right behind me—actually made me jump and turn around to see who had crept up. How’s that for realistic reproduction of a voice?)Once I switched to a moving-coil cartridge, namely the entry-level PS-7 from Air Tight, the sense of realism only increased. My setup at this time included a Walker Procession phonostage and a NuPrime IDA-8 integrated driving Raidho D-1 two-way loudspeakers and a pair of JLAudio e-110 subs. “Dance Me to the End of Love” from Leonard Cohen’s wonderful Live in London album filled the room with his smooth, smoky baritone and the powerful swells of Neil Larsen’s accordion. With this setup, I spun so many records across so many genres that I have a hard time culling examples.To take in a true “gold standard” reference system, I spent a great deal of time listening to LPs at JV’s house in the room with the Magico M-Pros and JLAudio Gotham subs, driven by Soulution’s 725 preamp and 711 stereo amp. The source? The new, massive, and enormous Invictus turntable from Acoustic Signature. For reference purposes, I listened to recordings that I was very familiar with and that were, naturally, great-sounding across various criteria.I’d brought Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True—which I happen to own in an original 1977 Stiff Records pressing. Quite the well-recorded gem, its unabashed attack and slam blew us both away on JV’s reference system (not surprisingly), but wow, did it also rock my new home! No, it didn’t have all the grip and definition of JV’s super-system, or the resolution, transient speed, dimensionality, and color. But, honestly, it wasn’t utterly embarrassed by the comparison. “Welcome to the Working Week” delivered impressive drive and percussive energy. The transient attack of Costello’s Fender guitar strums resonated and decayed with far greater impact and realism than I would have expected. On “No Dancing,” the kickdrum beats and tambourine strikes were similarly satisfying. No, you don’t get all the low-end texture that you do on JV’s reference systems, but the bass seldom went muzzy, and by and large had respectable definition—thanks in part to the JL subs. Costello’s raw vocal emotion was powerfully rendered on the melancholy ballad “Alison,” while “Sneaky Feelings” boasted detailed, rapid-fire cymbal taps that were as crisp and clean as you please.I also cross-compared the excellent live LP Lost and Found from Buena Vista Social Club on World Circuit Records, which Greg Cahill reviewed favorably in TAS, and the GEM PolyTable once again held up quite well. JV’s reference system captured the magic of the ensemble’s live performance with spectacular imaging and finesse. The snap and speed across a plethora of percussion were thrilling. The delicacy and power of Ibrahim Ferrer’s tenor vocals emerged in incredibly lifelike detail. On my setup with the PolyTable, perhaps the most noticeable differences were the degree of transient response, bass definition, and overall resolution. The GEM sounded rather polite by comparison.The point I’m making here is one of scale—of cost-to-performance ratios. We know JV’s reference system—hell, just his turntable, tonearm, and cartridge—costs upwards of 120 times the price of the PolyTable. The point is that the performance it provides, as great as it is, is not 100 times better than that of the PolyTable. Overall, the system with the PolyTable delivered a very solid, very musical presentation, albeit with a midrange emphasis, across a broad spectrum of instruments. Although it might not have been the last word in any single audiophile criterion, it offered an impressive degree of detail and a quite respectable sense of verisimilitude. I kept on wanting to listen—and listen more. And isn’t that what this hobby is about?Regarding any downsides, I have only a few nits to pick with the PolyTable. One concern arose after I had borrowed the stellar Constellation Perseus phonostage preamp from JV. As it turned out, I could not actually connect the PolyTable and the Perseus because the RCA plugs of the Jelco ’arm would not separate far enough to span the distance between the preamp’s widely spaced right and left-channel inputs. Obviously, this would not be a real-world pairing anyway, but I wanted to mention this just in case folks at home have phonostages with inputs that aren’t positioned in a close side-by-side configuration.On the aesthetic front, some might find the GEM a little too light and stripped-down-looking. Personally, as noted, I think it has its charms. The PolyTable is actually more substantial and somewhat heavier that photos of it suggest. In keeping with its minimalist overall design, changing speeds from 33 1/3 to 45rpm involves removing the top platter, lifting the little rubber belt, and moving it from the smaller sheave on the pulley to the larger one beneath it. Talk about hands-on! A certain analog-hound audiophile I know (who shall remain nameless) was vaguely appalled by this, but I didn’t mind it at all. I felt more “in touch” with the ’table—kind of like my preference for cars with manual transmissions. I feel like I’m actually driving the thing.Of course, keeping an eye on belt or general mechanical/motor wear-and-tear is part of belt-driven-turntable ownership. Listening will inform you of any major problems. Not that I foresee a problem with the GEM. Even though we’re talking about a ’table that’s intended to be fairly entry-level and basic, it has still been designed and built with a care and quality that should keep it running happily (and keep you listening happily) for years and years to come.ConclusionIf you’re an analog lover who doesn’t have a big living space and/or a big budget, this high-value, small-footprint, belt-driven turntable could be just your ticket. From setup to playback to overall musical enjoyment, I found the PolyTable to be a delight in every way. It avoids fuss and frills, boasting a sleek, modern form, while its sturdy, two-piece platter, easy-to-install bearing, and adjustable feet make for easy assembly and operation. Additional optional accessories include a clear PolyCover ($49) and a PolyWeight ($59). If you’re seeking more features and flexibility than a typical mass-market turntable offers, give this rather unique-looking number a look—and a listen. With both the mm and mc cartridges I tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks. A gem, indeed.
The Polytable Signature was a revelation for me. The improvement in sound quality in every facet of performance was truly stunning. There’s not a single drawback I can point at. For the very reasonable price that both the Polytable Signature and the Sorane TA-1L go for, I can’t quite understand why you’d want to spend more. As long as you care more about how your turntable sounds rather than how it looks and what brand name it has on it.
Highlights GEM Dandy Polytable Signature Turntable and Sorane TA-1L TonearmSuperb sound quality everywhere, all the timeClever, simple design with everything you need and nothing you don’tCan accommodate virtually any tonearm including the 12.7” long Sorane TA-1LExceptional isolation from the environment, even better than suspended turntables I’ve had aroundCan play 33s and 45sThe Sorane TA-1L offers excellent performance, fit and finish for a reasonable price IntroductionGeorge Merrill has been designing and modifying turntables since the mid-1970s, almost as long as I’ve been alive. He has forgotten more than most people will ever know about the extraction of audio information from the vinyl groove. His company, GEM Dandy Products Inc. (from now on referred to as GEM Dandy) makes its name selling cleverly designed products with high value in mind. They are the antithesis of luxury high-end items that seem to be designed first as pieces of jewelry to look at and second as tools to reproduce sound. I have a great deal of respect for this approach. His latest design, the Polytable Signature, is the most recent refinement of the well-respected Polytable reviewed here at Secrets in the past.
The Polytable Signature is optimally combined with a 12” tonearm for best performance. Few turntables can easily accommodate long tonearms, but the Polytable Signature can with ease, and while still fitting on your equipment rack. Before their untimely demise, George equipped his turntables with Jelco arms. Now, George recommends the excellent Sorane TA-1L tonearm with the Polytable Signature. This tonearm picks up the mantle of Jelco effectively, offering a well-engineered, well-made tonearm blessedly free of exotic materials and manufacturing methods and the nosebleed-inducing prices that come along with those design choices.
I had previously thought that I would keep my vintage Linn LP-12 forever. But the Polytable Signature has changed that thought. It’s one of those audio components that instantly changed my thinking in the first few minutes of listening. It’s not leaving my house. TurntableTwo-tier energy management designFluid damped motor with 3 ppm digital motor driveAccommodates up to 325mm length tonearms19.2 Hz resonant frequencyMSRP:$2995TonearmOVERALL LENGTH:380mmEFFECTIVE LENGTH (TONEARM PIVOT – STYLUS)322mmPRACTICAL LENGTH (TONEARM PIVOT – SPINDLE)310mmOVERHANG12mmOFFSET ANGLE16.5°HORIZONTAL MOVING SENSITIVITY30mgVERTICAL MOVING SENSITIVITY20mgVERTICAL TRACKING FORCE (VTF) RANGE0 – 5gCARTRIDGE + HEADSHELL WEIGHT RANGE15 – 24g (30g* Option)HEIGHT ADJUSTMENT (PLINTH TO ARM CENTERLINE)15 – 55mmVERTICAL BEARINGPivot miniature bearing (Not Pivot Contact)HORIZONTAL BEARINGMiniature Radial BearingOUTPUT PLUGRCA (XLR: Option)OUTPUT CABLESingle core shielded copperTONEARM AUDIO LEAD WIREOFC 4N CopperHEADSHELL LEAD WIRECopper with gold plated terminalsHEADSHELLMachine tooled AluminumTONEARM NET WEIGHT61gATTACHED STANDARD HEADSHELL NET WEIGHT17gMSRP:$1875 (if purchased with the turntable)Design and SetupThe GEM Dandy Polytable Signature is a refinement of the venerable Polytable and Polytable Super turntables reviewed here at Secrets in the past. These turntables are all made almost entirely from a machinable polymer plastic (something like Delrin, but the exact material used is proprietary). They use George’s “Energy Management” concept, where design and materials are optimized to maximize the transfer of mechanical energy from the record groove to the cartridge while minimizing the reflection of this energy back into the cartridge from the tonearm and tonearm-turntable interface and minimizing any intrusion of energy (e.g., vibrations) from the turntable motor drive and bearing and any vibrations from outside the turntable. The Polytable series uses the vibration damping characteristics of the polymer material, combined with Sorbothane isolation pucks and cork, to rigidly connect the turntable platter and bearing, tonearm, and cartridge while isolating that assembly from the motor drive and environment. The refinement made in the Polytable Signature is to implement a two-tier plinth to improve this isolation. The lower plinth mounts the fluid-damped motor unit. It sits on three turned polymer legs with height-adjustable feet that in turn sit on 60 durometer soft Sorbothane pucks to further isolate the turntable from the equipment rack. These very soft pucks have felt bases to avoid sticking to the rack, and thin stainless-steel platforms on top for the turntable to sit on. Three large Sorbothane pucks couple the top plinth to the bottom plinth, with integrated metal thread inserts. The inserts for the top and bottom screws are completely separate, so there is no rigid path through these pucks. The one-piece polymer top plinth has the integrated armboard extension for the tonearm and mounts the oil-well turntable spindle bearing on a cork plate in the center. A built-in bubble level allows you to perfectly level this top plinth. Since that’s the part with the bearing and the tonearm, leveling that plinth is what matters. Because of the softness of both the feet and the Sorbothane pucks, and the offset mass from the tonearm, there can be a significant difference in the orientation of the lower and upper plinths. The motor drive box is a separate piece that connects to the motor with an umbilical. That motor drive has buttons for 33 and 45 rpm operation and two potentiometer knobs to adjust the turntable speed for each setting. The box has a built-in strobe light on another umbilical cord to be used along with the included strobe disc to precisely adjust the turntable speed.
The design of the Polytable signature is first and foremost about the sound quality, not about looks. There are plenty of exposed screw heads and decal-type labels. The cables from the motor drive to the motor and for the strobe are not fancy. I think some reviewers at other publications found this to be a negative. I do not. I want all my money going towards performance, not to looks. I do not buy audio equipment to show off to my friends. I buy it to listen to it. The design of the Polytable Signature is very clearly for those who listen to their gear, not use it as a means to show off their wealth. The Sorane TA-1L reminds me very much of the Jelco TK-850 MKII I tested a couple of years ago. The Sorane is a well-engineered, straightforward tonearm made with aluminum and stainless steel. No exotic armtube materials or bearings here. It’s a well-made tonearm with no fancy bells and whistles.
The TA-1L is classified as a “medium mass” tonearm, although the effective mass is not published. It’s probably something like 15g. It uses a detachable headshell for easy cartridge changes on the end of a long armwand with a 322mm (12.7”) effective length. It’s a two-axis gimbal design with separate vertical and horizontal bearings. Tracking force is adjusted with a moving counterweight, coarsely adjusted by sliding back and forth, and finely adjusted by turning. A relatively standard spring-based anti-skate mechanism is adjusted with a small knob on the side. VTA is just a post and setscrew arrangement. And there’s a locking tonearm holder and an adjustable tonearm lift. And that’s it. And honestly, that’s all there should be.
I received the Polytable Signature from GEM Dandy separately from the Sorane TA-1L tonearm provided by the US importer Mockingbird Distribution and assembled the turntable myself. George had already drilled the armboard for the tonearm, so installation was quick and easy. The armboard of the Polytable Signature is not a separate piece, so if you ever want to change tonearms to something different you may need to send the turntable back to George for a new upper plinth depending on the details of the tonearm you choose.
I set up the turntable in a manner identical to the way I have in my previous reviews of the Audio Technica ART9 cartridges and Jelco TK-850MKII tonearm. Rather than regurgitate that method again, go take a look at those reviews here and here if you’re interested. Turntable setup is not hard if you have the right tools but does require a bit of patience. The Polytable Signature was particularly easy to set up because the tonearm is so easy to access.
The built-in bubble level made it quick and easy to level the upper plinth, although I did have to make adjustments with time initially as the soft feet and the Sorbothane isolation pucks compressed. It’s particularly important to exactly center the turntable legs on the soft rubber feet so they stay relatively flat.
The built-in strobe allowed me to dial in the turntable speed in seconds, although the fact that it’s not detachable means you always have it hanging off your rack.
The design also requires the tonearm to be set relatively high to achieve the proper VTA. Some tonearms may require a spacer, which will be provided with the turntable. The post of the TA-1L is high enough to achieve the proper height with no spacer but will require a straight plug phono cable rather than a right-angle plug. The Sorane tonearm came supplied with a nice Sorane tonearm cable ready to go.
There are p-clips on the armboard to dress the tonearm cable if you desire, but I didn’t use them. The design of the plinth allows the use of the long tonearm while still keeping the base relatively small. While the tonearm may stick out past the edge of your rack, the legs will fit without any trouble. The tonearm is left out in the breeze without any covering or protection around it, so take care if you have kids or pets who might go poking or sniffing where they shouldn’t. There is no provision for a dust cover for the whole unit, but GEM Dandy sells a separate platter cover if you desire. I simply flipped the top platter over record mat side down while not using it to prevent any dust buildup.
Overall, I found the design to be rather pleasing and space-age in an industrial sort of way. Exposed fasteners and decals notwithstanding, the actual fit and finish of the turntable are excellent.
Every part is machined precisely from polymer, metal or cork and screwed together with solid fasteners with steel inserts. It’s built like a tank. Yes, it uses standard screws, simple decal labels, off the shelf leveling feet, and so forth, but I would gladly have all of that and save a thousand dollars (or more!) compared to what it would cost to have all the bespoke hardware provided on some audio jewelry I’ve seen. All that fancy mechanical stuff and posh styling end up costing a tremendous amount of money. In a typical audio component, the case is by far the most expensive part. Even more so if it’s lovingly machined and engine turned by Swiss artisans out of Grade 5 unobtainium. I’ll happily keep my exposed Philips head screws and some change in my bank account, thank you very much.
The turntable is rather tall when up on all the legs and feet. I had to tweak the screen of my home theater up a bit to get out of the way. I was worried about isolation from bumps and vibration because of the height and only rubber-based suspension, but that turned out to be excellent. I could give the rack a good thump with my fist without any audible impact at all, as long as the bump was straight up and down. Sideways, not so much. But in operation, the setup was far less susceptible to vibration and bumps than my LP-12 on the same rack.
After listening to the turntable with the recommended arm, I drilled another set of holes to try the turntable with my Jelco TK850S MKII. Since it’s a 9” arm, I had no problem drilling a second set of mounting holes on the armboard without interfering with the holes for the longer arm. I wanted to compare the long versus short arm for those people who may have a standard-length arm they like and want to keep.
In UseAs I said in my last review, the reason to listen to analog is because it sounds alive. That’s the currency of the realm, and at least as far as I know, isn’t a quality anyone has figured out how to measure (although I have my suspicions that it lies in the ability of analog to preserve microdynamics, small changes in volume, better than digital). While it doesn’t show up in a spec sheet, I guarantee everyone who has spent any time in this hobby has heard it. And you definitely know it when you hear it. It’s those times when your brain gets momentarily tricked into thinking the sounds you’re hearing really are live, and not recorded. I’ve never heard of a system that does this all the time every time. But the good ones do it more often than the bad ones. Well really, the bad ones never do it. When I put on the first record after I set up the Polytable Signature and Sorane arm, I heard it immediately. I listened to the late Mark Lanegan’s album, “Whiskey for the Holy Ghost”. When the vocals kicked in on Kingdom of Rain, I immediately got the proverbial goosebumps. The improvement in detail extraction, richness, and accuracy of timbre, imaging, and soundstaging were all very significant over what I was used to with my old LP-12. And this was with the same Audio Technica cartridge, electronics, and speakers. The change was all due to the turntable and tonearm. This is one of my go-to albums because it’s recorded so simply, and the songs themselves are focused on Lanegan’s voice and supporting guitar with a minimum of other highly produced add-ons. One drawback of my LP-12/Jelco setup was always bass impact and extension. Digital always won there. The Polytable Signature pulled much closer. The bass extension, impact, and weight were dramatically improved. Listening to my new MoFi vinyl pressings of The B-52s Cosmic Dream, Wild Planet, and their eponymous debut album really brought the energy and drive I was missing to go along with the otherwise superior sound. Digital recordings of these albums sound one-dimensional and clinical by comparison to analog, but the better low-frequency performance my Chord Mojo delivered with high-res digital recordings definitely had the edge in bass drive, at least before. The Polytable/Sorane combo eliminated this issue. One drawback of my LP-12/Jelco setup was always bass impact and extension. Digital always won there. The Polytable Signature pulled much closer. The bass extension, impact, and weight were dramatically improved. Listening to my new MoFi vinyl pressings of The B-52s Cosmic Dream, Wild Planet, and their eponymous debut album really brought the energy and drive I was missing to go along with the otherwise superior sound. Digital recordings of these albums sound one-dimensional and clinical by comparison to analog, but the better low-frequency performance my Chord Mojo delivered with high-res digital recordings definitely had the edge in bass drive, at least before. The Polytable/Sorane combo eliminated this issue. The main reason to get a 12” tonearm is reduced distortion. I could definitely hear reduced harshness on the inner tracks of all albums. For the most part, all albums sounded great throughout with only a hint of harshness left on albums where the tracks were pressed way too close to the center anyway to squeeze more onto the LP. This was most obvious on many of my old, used jazz LPs, like my original recording of Duke Ellington’s “Live at Newport”. This record really would push my desire to listen to the final tracks because of groove distortion no doubt significantly magnified by age and previous mistreatment. But the 12” Sorane tonearm helped out a lot. Did it entirely fix the problem? No. But it made things better. My copy of J.J. Johnson’s “Proof Positive” has some really bad inner groove distortion, probably from some previous owner playing it over and over with tracking force way too low. Some tracks are just awful. With the Sorane, they were still awful, but at least less awful. Which is a shame, because as a former trombone player, I love that album. But am too cheap to buy a pristine copy, as they’re quite collectible and not available on vinyl new.
I have given some specific examples, but the sound of the Polytable Signature and Sorane arm was vastly superior to my previous setup on every album, every track all the time. When my listening started to come to an end, I removed the Sorane Tonearm and drilled a second set of holes for my Jelco TK-850SMKII. This is a 9” arm. I wanted to know how much magic was arm and arm length versus the tonearm itself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the magic I heard with the Sorane arm was basically all still there. However, the obvious difference was definitely present. The Sorane arm definitely had the edge in lower inner groove distortion. While the Polytable signature and Jelco still sounded great, the presence of harshness at the end of LP sides definitely came back to some degree. Tired albums that the Polytable Signature and Sorane made more listenable were less so with the shorter arm. But the Jelco still sounded great.
If you are considering buying a Polytable Signature and need to also buy an arm, you’d be crazy not to buy the Sorane TA-1L with it. You can accommodate a long arm with the deck and it’s not all that much more expensive than the same arm in the shorter size. There’s no drawback. But if you already own an arm you absolutely love and just want to upgrade the deck, that is definitely possible. Just remember, the armboard of the Polytable Signature is not a separate, detachable piece. As I did, you can definitely drill for a 9” and a 12” arm on the same armboard and not have the holes interfere. But if you start with a 9” arm and switch to a 12” later, you will have to live with that extra set of holes staring at you. Or send the deck back to George and pay to have a new top plinth switched in.
ConclusionsThe Polytable Signature is an excellent value for a turntable that is getting way, way up there in sound quality. The Sorane TA-1L is an excellent match to the deck, taking advantage of the ability to accommodate 12” tonearms, providing all the sound quality and features you need without being silly.LIKESSuperb bang for the buck; Every dollar you spend on this turntable and tonearm is about sound quality, not looking fancyExcellent build quality on both the turntable and tonearmExcellent bass extension, detail extraction, and very low inner groove distortionExcellent environmental isolation far better than I was expectingWOULD LIKE TO SEERemovable strobe cable, so it’s not always hanging out the power supplyA user-replaceable top plinth for tonearm changesShorter legs so the turntable isn’t so tallThe Polytable Signature is $2995, and the tonearm is $1875 if purchased with the turntable for a package price of $4870. This is not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. Get ready to spend double if you want something that sounds as good, but with audio jewelry looks. Even more, if you want it to sound better.
This is an excellent turntable and tonearm combo. I really wonder why 99% of audiophiles would ever consider spending more unless impressing their friends is a major factor in their purchasing decisions. If you’re Elon Musk rich, (well maybe a milli-Elon would do) you can run off and buy something from some uber-turntable manufacturer that costs as much as a new luxury car. But for audiophiles who aren’t one-percenters, the Polytable Signature with the Sorane TA-1L is already at the peak of the price to performance curve in my opinion.