The turntable Renaissance that began nearly twenty years ago is as strong as ever. In fact, there are so many companies and models now fulfilling high-end sound, the analogue market may just about be at saturation point. This problem permeates much of the music business, especially the classical orchestral scene. So many great players, so few positions. But as the great Julius Baker once said, ‘there is always room for a great player’. I feel the same way about turntables. So does Touraj Moghaddam, head of the English company, Roksan.
I first heard Roksan turntables at a Toronto audio show some years past. They looked well made, and, even in show conditions, sounded really fine. The star of each Roksan room was the Xerxes, the mainstay and flagship model. Typically, the player had an Artemiz arm and the top of the line Shiraz cartridge. If set up correctly, this combo always made great music. Now over twenty years old, the Xerxes has been upgraded and is selling as well as ever. The TMS turntable held the middle ground of Roksan’s range, but they needed an ‘entry-level’ model to complete the cycle. Thus, the Radius 5 was born.
When I first saw the ‘table, I’ll admit to a little smile. It seems that every analogue company now designs a circular table. Plinth/chassis matching the platter. This style player has become the norm for inexpensive players ever since Wilson Benesch’s Circle was introduced almost ten years ago. Most look good, Roksan’s looks stunning. A postmodern, acrylic beauty with curves in all the right places. One of the problems with the circular design, however, is getting a stable platform for the motor and arm assembly. Some do not get this right. Roksan’s solution is to add ‘ears’ to the lower plinth’s ‘face’. It sets a very stable platform for the motor and arms to do their respective jobs. The player does not use any suspension
The best turntables always separate the motor from the sub chassis/plinth. Even the quietest and smoothest of motors can add minute amounts of vibration that cloud the sound or muddy the bass. With the improvement of motors, designers can attach the motor housing to the sub chassis/plinth and get amazing results. Twas so for the Radius 5. Roksan incorporates an AC synchronous motor, using the left ‘ear’ for its home. The motor’s spindle floats unencumbered from the base through a precision-drilled hole – it accepts the rubber belt, and with but a small wobble at startup, whirs quickly up to 33 (45 is maintained by lowering the belt to a larger notch on the spindle — the start toggle switch is on top of the motor). The subchassis is supported by three adjustable, spiked feet.
The sub chassis and plinth are both manufactured from acrylic (Roksan offers the sub chassis in two wood finishes, too. I’d go for the acrylic). Every listener that dropped by stared at the Radius 5 and raved about its looks.
The arm that comes with the player is Roksan’s new Nima. It is a unipivot, medium mass design. It matches the acrylic of the turntable and looks very happy on top the Radius 5. The Nima is a perfect addition to the setup. It follows form and is a knockout performer, especially at its price. It took all manner of cartridges, from entry-level magnets to quality coils. Roksan’s site describes it as “Combining solid aluminium alloy tubing, stainless steel alloy and polished acrylic this remarkable arm is made of no less than ten individual precision machined components meticulously hand assembled. Nima does not have standard internal wiring, therefore to transmit the signal from the cartridge the same flat printed circuit board cable developed for our top of the range Artemiz arm is employed. The unique design of the transit locking mechanism of the bearing assembly not only provides a safe transportation method but also avoids damage if the arm is accidentally lifted off its bearing. The counterweight is decoupled and designed to mount off-centre thus allowing easy Azimuth correction. Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) adjustment provides optimum alignment for almost any cartridge. The combination of polished acrylic headshell, silver anodised aluminium tubing and mirror chromed counterweight enhances Nima’s looks and conveys the true lightness and neutrality of this very special arm.” Special? You bet.
Setting up the turntable is a breeze (documentation is quite good) and adding a cartridge to the arm is handled easily – I just reverted to Audiophilia’s easy peazy cartridge setup. I was up and running within an hour of delivery. Price is US1895.00 (with Nima arm and Corus cartridge).
I began the auditioning with Roksan’s own Corus cartridge. It’s a journeyman Moving Magnet and has sound commensurate with its inexpensive price. However, what the Corus did deliver, in concert with the Nima and Radius, was outstanding dynamics, good soundstage depth and fairly good imaging. Sound was superior to the Rega 3, even the Rega 25, if truth be told. I spent quite some time with the Corus and enjoyed the musical way it presented performances of many genres.
When I review analogue components, I always like to ‘max’ out the arm with the best cartridge (while not being stupid about it – no Clearaudio Insider on a Rega!). I was lucky to have a Koetsu Rosewood Signature on hand. It was used for the bulk of the listening period (the Radius 5 had an extensive stay courtesy of Roksan’s Canadian distributor). When this well-worn cartridge was added to the mix, the sound was elevated significantly. Bass was deeper and much richer (but not bloated), midrange was cleared up, soundstage was very deep and wide, imaging was significantly improved, and the vocal and instrumental timbres promoted into a different league. Flutes were harmonically rich, strings had sheen, percussion shimmered rather than jarred, pianos had weight and solid hammer attacks, and chords were blended beautifully. As such, the midpriced Roksan was in no way embarrassed by expensive add ons.
The great LSC 2285 recording of Walton’s Facade demonstrated the essence of the Radius’ sound. The upper strings on this LP can sound a little shrill on budget/midprice setups, but here sounded smooth and delineated. The bass drum emphasizes climaxes throughout the piece, and sometimes very quietly. I always heard the instrument in its own space, and separated from the rest of the orchestra. The same experience was heard from the castanets (not a good set — not enough body), triangle and cymbals. The struck instruments were not ‘splashy’, but under excellent control by the Nima arm and the Radius 5.
This sound was typical on all the fine recordings. The lesser LPs (lots of run-of-the-mill CBS and reissues) could sound good, too. The low noise floor and retrieval excellence of the setup helped in getting the most out of the vinyl.
What amazed me about the Radius 5 and the Nima was the low noise floor attained from such an inexpensive setup. Only when compared to far more expensive rigs (like a full blown VPI Aries), did the Roksan seem a little overawed – it did not quite plumb the depths of the VPI. I always use a beaten up Deutsche Gramophone LP of Rostropovich playing the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations to hear if a low noise floor has been achieved. During the piece’s introduction, Gerd Seifert’s horn is a hair sharp, the notes articulated very cleanly, and the ambient space is a little murky (Berlin’s Jesus Christ Church). The pitch and tonguing as heard on Regas, Michells, Kuzmas, Projects, etc., ranges from overly blended to fairly clear. The Radius/Nima combo bettered many of the budget and mid priced analogue setups I have reviewed in house. Only the mighty Aries, with it’s outboard Synchronous Drive System, superb JMW Memorial arm and with a Frog attached, got deeper into the horn, music and soundstage. Of course, it is four times Roksan’s price.
A little gripe. I like an arm lock. I am also a record clamp kind of guy. The arm lock does not alter the sound a jot, but a dedicated record clamp may improve the sound even more. I chose not to listen with a record weight of any kind. From the Roksan web site, it looks like a clampless universe, just like English compatriot Rega. I’ll try and get the goods as to why they eschew clamps from Mr. Moghaddam.
I did have a chat with Moghaddam at this year’s CES. What a pleasant fellow. He was very enthusiastic about his products and we discussed the Radius 5 in detail. He is aware of the limitations of price points in relation to manufacturing, but has hit a home run with the Radius and Nima. He will be offering an upgrade to the phono cable, which he says results in an even lower noise floor, better dynamics and instrumental timbre. I’m hoping to hear this Radius upgrade in the near future and report my findings to you.
In the meantime, for those of you interested in purchasing your first analogue setup, a listen to the Roksan is a must. There are other fine midprice turntables and arms out there, but few with the premier sound of the Radius 5 and Nima. That it looks like a masterpiece, is a cool plus. The combination that Moghaddam has produced will also fare favorably against many more expensive combos. Analog is my preference, so I want each setup I review/listen to dig into the music as far as my prospective dollars will allow. With the Radius 5, both my wallet and soul would be very happy. Very highly recommended.
Further information: Roksan Audio Limited