|Rocksan burst on the high-end scene in the mid 80s with the Xerxes, a turntable that went against a number of accepted principles of turntable design and achieved sound that was state of the art in some areas for a reasonably sane price. While the company, like Linn and Naim, has gone on to specialize in electronics (and like Linn and Naim, cute little holistic systems), the turntable continues to be sold in the newer "X" version and has a lively cult status in the used market. Recently flame wars on Audio Asylum's analog forum about the problem of "plinth sag" have made this deck controversial. Needlessly so, in my opinion since the problem is easy to fix. In every other respect the deck is solid as a rock and built to last.|
The Xerxes sought lightness and balance in the effort to provide freedom from vibration and rumble and pitch solidity, where other decks used mass and force. For example, where the Sota Sapphire (around the same price at the time) used loosey goosey springs under the plinth and a heavy sub-chassis and vacuum hold down of the record on a compliant platter top; the Xerxes had a comparatively light sub-chassis, firm sorbothane-like pods holding the plinth, a ridgid aluminum heavily peripherally weighted aluminum two-piece platter with a thin felt mat. There were a couple of special tweaks that caused a lot of debate at the time (and going on still):
- the plinth around the motor and under the platter was isolated from the part of the plinth that held the tonearm by a big arcing groove cut through the plinth in a broad "C" shape. The idea was that the sympathetic vibration from motor and platter in the plinth would be isolated from the tonearm area by physical isolation.
- The second tweak was the spindle: it was removeable. The idea was that you'd put the record on with the spindle in place to center the record, and then remove it to prevent vibration in the platter from transmitting through the spindle into the record.
I never really found the spindle tweak to be consistently audible. Some people swear by it, but the effect is certainly very small in anybody's book. As for the slot, its effectiveness is academic. The Gene Rubin recommended fix for plinth sag is to bolt a metal bracket across the bottom of this slot (to physically bolt the sagging plinth up to the rest of the plinth) which I've done without dramatic sonic affect. You could argue that the slot is still 95% present, despite the bracket, so I'd say the mod neither proves nor disproves the effectiveness of the slot.
I acquired my mid '80s vintage Xerxes in '92. I was looking for a big spacious sound and good tweakability (i.e. legs - to keep me interested a long time). I really got it because this rig still makes me happy and keeps my busy 11 years later. At the time of purchase, I purchased a new plinth since the previous owner had used a SME V arm and I wanted to go with an Eminent Technology 2 air bearing arm. The new plinth was considered a good thing because it would eliminate an plinth sag issues (even then it was an issue!). The big competition at the time was the VPI HW-19 MK-III, the Linn LP12, and the Well Tempered Turntable. The VPI was typically mated with a Riga, AudioQuest, or SME 309 arm. The Linn sported the Ittok or kin, and the Well Tempered table was always just a way of getting the amazing well tempered arm (prefereably liberally tweaked). I wasn't into the darker Sota sound, and could afford the killer Goldmund rigs. Oracle and other motor isolated designs were out there, but they looked too scary to set up for me so I stuck with the Linn, VPI III, Well Tempered, Xerxes shootout. All these tables are tweakable to high-heaven and the affect of arms, cartridges, and racks/footers is so great it hard to isolate the sound of the tables per se - but here goes: The VPI and Linn went for dynamic and balanced sound - grounded with good bass, moderate amount of air and grounded soundstaging. The Xerxes and Well Tempered were more brazen - with soaring billowing soundstages and giant air. Bass might suffer at the expense of exciting treble registers. At the time I was dragging around a vinyl kit that contained such classics as Dire Straights 1, Joni Mitchell Kinda Blue, Don Cherry's Art Deco, some Trent Reznor, some string quartet classical, some Sonny Rollins (sorry for the lack of specificity - we're talking ten years ago)- you get the picture: typical audiophile mix of classical, jazz, rock, and female voice. The Well Tempered had killer boogie factor and a huge exciting soundstage with lots of space and action. At times it might exagerate sibilance in a way the Linn and VPI did not, but it got you on your feet. Well the Xerxes did that too. With the ET2 arm flowing like hot 'buddah' via the compressed air from the Wisa pump, the airy and luminous Monster Sigma Gensis 2k could strut its stuff: huge billowing sound stage, excellent delineation of space. Wonderful pace with good snap and rhythm, if not ultimate slam or solidity in the bass. A big factor was this ET2 arm - I was so impressed with the design and value of this arm I was determined to own it. Prevailing wisdom at the time said "Linn goes with Linn - don't go too astray trying to stick a down Louisiana tonearm on a "family" deck like a Linn". The air bearing linear tracking design of the ET2 required a stable armboard. Oscillation would be deadly, so the Sota / Oracle loose spring design were right out. The firmer VPI Jr. puck design or firm coil Mark III were cool, and so were the compliant pod suspension of the Xerxes. 'Matter of fact, the Xerxes/ET2 combo was specifically named by Stereophile at the time. This was enough for me. The Well Tempered rig was a unit. Almost nobody was putting anything else on that table (except the Wheaton Tri-Planar which sounded awesome but was too rich for my blood) - so the Xerxes it was.
Over the years I've had to re-oil the spindle (twice), but after a period of storage, plinth-sag came upon me. the cut out interior section of the plinth sagged below the level of the rest of the plinth. In extreme cases this can cause the platter to physically touch the plinth and make a grinding or groaning sound. This was never me (it seems that it's gone way too far if the owner let it get this bad). I heard about the Gene Rubin mod on-line and did it. You take the top plinth off, put a metal bracket (the rectangle of metal with 6-8 screw holes in it you get at home depot for $1.79) and bolt that sucker in tightly. I chisled the area of the bracket so the bracket wouldn't stick down it's 1/8" (but I'm crazy). This did the trick just fine. More problematic has been keeping the ET2 clean of interior dust and grit, but no one said geometric perfection would be simple. You could argue the geometry is better on the Souther type linear tracking arms (like from Clear Audio), and you could argue the basic geometry of the ET2's arm is copied from the Goldmund. There's little doubt that the ET2's implementation is a success and has been closely copied on such giants as the Vyger Indian and the Walker Proscenium. Anyway - that's for another review. The other big arms with the Roksan Xerxes (other than Roksan's own well reguarded arms) are the SME 309, IV, and V; and the Naim Aro. It's a stable table with great specs and a live lively sound whose primary weaknesses are said to be a tendency towards dryness and light bass.
Tweaking? Glad you asked. I initally used the table with great success on the tall Roksan custom stand. This triangular steel 30" (more or less) stand is light and ridgid (just like the Xerxes!) and allows easy access to the pod levelling screws underneath. With the advent of small children in my life I've moved to a Townshend Seismic Sink up on a shelf. The sink audibly deadened the sound - although it did make things quietier and helped the bass a bit. Using the triangular footboard from the Roksan stand and a trio of Black Diamond Racing cones (#4s for neutrality, please) brightened things up and gave me the best of both worlds, except the whole assembly is teeteringly tall on the shelf and sometimes makes me fear for the deck when it's in a slidey mood.
The orignal Xerxes is frequently available in the $500-$600 range used without arm. At this price it is, no doubt, a great value. With the right arm and platform it's right up there with some of the great tables. Highly recommended.
Arm: ET2 w/Wisa Pump and Surge Tank
Cartridge: Monster Sigma Genesis 2000
IC: MIT MI-330 and Zu Cable OxyFuel
Amp: ARC Classic 60
Pre-Amp: ARC SP-14
Speakers: ProAc Response 2
VPI HW-19 MK-III
Linn Sondek LP12
Well Tempered Turntable
by Newyorkjosh on 12-30-02