pl | en


Reference turntable

Julian Soja, owner and designer of Soyaton, a member of the Krakow Sonic Society, has just become an owner of a top-of-the-line turntable from J.Sikora, the Reference model. So we met to listen to what it has changed in his system. And for the meeting we invited Mr. Janusz and Mr. Robert Sikora, responsible for - respectively - designs and company management.

⸜ near KRAKOW/Poland


images Tomasz Lechowski

No 233

October 1, 2023

KRAKOW SONIC SOCIETY is an informal group of music lovers, audiophiles, friends, who meet regularly to learn something new about audio products, albums, music, etc. The idea for KSS was born in 2005, although its roots go back several years. This is its 141st meeting.

OU COULD FEEL IT IN THE AIR. Maybe not for a long time, but certainly for about a year. Even if we never talked about it, even if JULIAN SOJA, owner and designer of the SOYATON hadn't mentioned anything, looking back, adding a turntable by J.SIKORA to his system was a matter of time.

And there are at least two reasons for this to happen. One was given by me in my test of the latest tonearm from this Polish manufacturer, the KV12 Max. The point is that all models in its lineup have a cable, running continuously from the caps that plug into the phono cartridge pins, to the RCA plugs that are plugged into the phono preamplifier, are manufactured specifically for this purpose by Julek Soja. Gold-plated copper in the company's topology proved to be an important complementing component to Janusz Sikora’s, the owner and designer of the turntables and arms designs.

The second reason is mundane, although, I think, even more important. J.Sikora's designs are among the best in the world. The owner of Soyaton improved his VPI turntable - a very respectable design - by replacing its platter with Sikora's product, and by arming it with the KV12 arm of the same company. These changes, he said, brought important changes to the sound of his system and he was pleased with them. Only that it was still a hybrid, not a complete Made in Poland turntable.

So when Julek called me about a month ago with the information that a J.Sikora turntable was just being made, especially for him, it was new information, but also information that was somewhat expected. What came as a complete surprise, on the other hand, was what he threw in at the end: "But you know, it's going to be the Reference model". The moment of silence that followed said a lot about me, that is that I am capable of a hint of jealousy, which was followed by satisfaction and contentment.

Because lo and behold, this model is among the top five designs according to Stereophile magazine (Class A+), despite being much more affordable than others (I would say "cheaper", but we are talking about a very expensive components after all). And it was manufactured in Poland. And it will be owned by one of the members of the Krakow Sonic Society, where we hold our meetings.


ON JANUARY 1st. 2016 IN THE PREMIERE TEST of this turntable I quoted its description from manufacturer’s materials:

The Reference turntable is a development of the uncompromising and extreme assumptions attributed to the Basic line, namely: six types of materials were used in production; four DC/PAPST motors with a single controller were used; the platter is a structure composed of three materials, statically and dynamically balanced; the bearing was improved by using: steel, carbide and zirconium; three arms can be used on it; any arm model can be used. It weights - 108 kg.

⸜ J. Sikora REFERENCE, test → HERE, accessed: 13.09.2023.

It is a huge design featuring uncompromising solutions. Reference appealed to me immensely and I have been strongly rooting for its manufacturer ever since. The J.Sikora arms tested in later years only solidified this state of affairs. So let's recall the basic information about this design.

This is a mass-loader design with no suspension featuring four motors. As I wrote, it has a very "architectural" look, and that's because a tall platter base, an arm column and four motors housings are placed on a flat base. The whole thing is very impressive, including the fact that everything is perfectly made and finished; this is not another civilized DIY product. The Reference base is made of PA6 aluminum. In the tested version it was painted black, but the standard version is in the natural color of this material. Julian ordered a unique "automotive" green paint job, plus a special plaque on the front that says who owns the green dragon.

The motor housings are made of Inox steel, from a solid, hollow shaft, with a bronze base. The thing is, Inox steel is very "sticky" in machining, it's a material that doesn't "ring", as does hardened steel, for example. Its structure is pasty and is very difficult to machine, because it sticks to the knife of the machine tool. Inside the rollers, the motors are separated from the housing by silicone and fastened with Teflon screws designed to decouple them from the outer walls. The pulleys on the motor axles were CNC-machined out of aircraft-grade aluminum; this is the only part of the design that is made using CNC.

The base of the platter looks similar to the motors from the outside - a yellow stripe at the bottom and a silver superstructure above it. In fact, it is different, it was just a matter of design matching of these elements. The base on the outside has a 4mm Inox steel tee, filled (in turn) with: bronze, aluminum and gray iron.

The platter is made of highly foamed plastic called POM (Derlin), also used by German manufacturers such as Transrotor and Clearaudio. On its perimeter there is a cast iron weight collar, offset from the cartridge by 8 cm, so as not to affect its generator. A plate of graphite glass is placed on top. The glass is cut, not ground, for sonic reasons. Its center is cut out and an aluminum disc of the variety of this material used in aviation is inserted there.

And it was this beautiful device, armed with a J.Sikora KV12 Max tonearm and a cartridge from the Lithuanian company AIDAS CARTRIDGES, the Mammoth Gold model, i.e. with a body made from a mammoth tusk and with gold wiring, that arrived at Julek Soja's house. I couldn't miss this opportunity and invited both Janusz Sikora, owner and designer, Robert Sikora, managing director, and Adam Niezbecki, production manager and right hand of the boss, to the Krakow Sonic Society meeting.

This meeting was to be the 142nd, since two weeks earlier we met with MORTEN THYRRESTRUP, a representative of the Danish company AAVIK, who brought to Krakow, costing 70,000 euros, the i-880 integrated amplifier. I decided, however, that the Polish issue would blend better with a story about a Polish product. So you will read about KTS #142 meeting in the October issue of High Fidelity, along with a formal test of the i-880. The amplifier will appear on our cover, and you will receive a printed version of the test at the Audio Video Show 2023.


˻ HOW WE LISTENED ˺ The meeting, which began with a glass of champagne and/or wine outdoors in Julian's garden, took place in a perfectly acoustically prepared room. Naturally, the listening was conducted in his reference system. It took more than half a day to dismantle the VPI and assemble J.Sikora, and we didn't compare the Polish turntable with anything but "master" tapes. However, most of us have been around for years, we know the system, we know the sound, so we assumed that was enough for us.

» ALBUMS WE USED ⸜ a selection

˻ 1 ˺ BENNY CARTER, Jazz Giant, Contemporary Records/Analogue Productions AJAZ 7555, „Top 100 Jazz, 45 RPM Limited Edition #0404”, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1958/?).
˻ 2 ˺ BILL EVANS TRIO, Waltz For Debby, Riverside Records/Analogue Productions AJAZ 9399, „Top 25 Jazz, 45 RPM Limited Edition #0703”, 2 x 180 g, 45 rpm LP (1961/2002).
˻ 3a ˺ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice/Cisco Music TBM-23-45, „Limited Edition S/N: 0080/1000”, 45 rpm, 2 x 180 g LP (1974/2004), review → HERE.
˻ 3b ˺ TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO, Midnight Sugar, Three Blind Mice TBM-2523, LP (1974/1977).

˻ 4 ˺ THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO, The Spiritual, Freedom/ORG Music RGM-2121, „Record Store Day 2019”, Limited Edition, 180 g RED WAX LP (1972/2019), more → HERE.

˻ 5 ˺ DEPECHE MODE, Behind The Wheel (Remix), Mute 12 BONG 15, 45 rpm maxi-SP, LP (1987).
˻ 6 ˺ BRENDAN PERRY, Ark, Cooking Vinyl/Vinyl 180 VIN180LP040, 2 x 180 g LP (2010/2011).
˻ 7 ˺ METALLICA, Master Of Puppets, Universal 0600753101162, „Metallica 45 RPM Series”, 2 x 45 RPM, 180 g LP (1987/2008).


⸜ JANUSZ SIKORA (J.Sikora) This is the third time I've been here, I've modified Julek's equipment several times, and ended up with my turntable here, the biggest one. It is impossible to describe how huge the changes have been compared to what I heard here the first time I was here. And these were not only my impressions, because Julek himself said it, pleased with the minor modifications, and later with the replacement of the arm.

Long story short, I could live with this sound and I would be happy with it in my own room, it is just great.

⸜ ADAM NIEZBECKI (J.Sikora) This is a very pleasant sounding system, quite analytical one. Although I was completely disappointed with ˻ 7 ˺ METALLICA - which, by the way, seems to be one of the main topics of KSS discussions. I couldn’t bear listening to it. But on the other hand, ˻ 6 ˺ BRENDAN PERRY sounded fantastic, it was an excellent presentation - Julian, congratulations!

⸜ ROBERT SIKORA (J.Sikora) This is my second visit to Julian, from that first one I don't remember much, so it's hard for me to compare the two sounds. On the other hand, I have no problem evaluating this system as a whole, with our Reference. It's a great system.

Brendan Perry was the most memorable presentation, and I think we ended listening to him too soon. On the other hand, when it comes to Metallica - and I guess when in KSS meeting one has to say something about it - I found that this system heavily emphasizes what sound well and what doesn’t. It didn't quite sound the way it should. These recordings are a bit lacking to be listenable in this type of system. The DEPECHE MODE’S maxi-single ˻ 5 ˺ sounded very well - I'm a fan of the band, I like this track, and it played superbly here. So I am very impressed with this system.

⸜ RYSIEK B. (KTS) I'm here for maybe the tenth time, and I can say with satisfaction that today’s presentation was the best one, in every possible way. And I am not saying it for Julian’s satisfaction. I believe that the system is almost complete with this turntable. On some records I thought the bass was slightly out of control, but aspects such as transparency, holography, rendering of room and studio acoustics - it was fantastic. So I wanted to congratulate the new owner of the Reference, and I can say that I envy him.

And if I were to say a few words about the comparison of the 2009 reissue of the TSUYOSHI YAMAMOTO TRIO’S Midnight Sugar on two 45 RPM discs 3a ˺ and the 1977 reissue ˻ 3b ˺, there is nothing to talk about, I liked the 45 rpm version. And I would add that I suffered less listening to the Metallica we also listened to at Tomek’s once - here it sounded tolerably. And this is a plus of that system.

⸜ DAMIAN I, again, slept through the first albums a bit, because I was waiting for Metallica, which we also listened to at Tomek's. I was hoping to hear something better here, and I was wrong. Apparently, this realization is just that. It played differently, it was more "listenable", perhaps with better sound separation, but it still wasn’t quite what I used to hear from CD.

Here, however, I liked the Depeche Mode. At Tomek's I was somehow not grabbed by the sound of this album, and here it was very cool.

⸜ PIOTR SUSUŁ ( I once said about my Sikora Standard Max turntable that it is 83 kilos of analog heroin, and here we have 108 kilos. I liked both Brendan Perry and Depeche Mode, with Metallica dropping out, it was unlistenable. Midnight Sugar sounded really well but in the Cisco edition, not TBM. The piano here was phenomenal - but that's how that instrument is presented on Sikora's turntables.

⸜ WALDEMAR ŁUCZKOŚ I know the room because I've been here many times and I've also peaked under the hoods of some of the devices we listened to, so I know what kind of shortcomings the system has. And with Reference it sounds great. I have to take back some things I said before about 5 ˺ Depeche Mode - the album performed exemplarily, as did Brendan Perry. I am sensitive to acoustics and I couldn't ind anything wrong with these albums. These are phenomenal productions and the holography was incredible with them. These are the records that others should look up to. I think this turntable prefers this type of music.

Looking from the stage side, because I also had contact with it, acoustic cues come out harder here, and electronic elements come out easiest. On the other hand, many audiophile systems fall apart with electronics, and here it sounded beautifully. These are two items from the list without any artifacts, and although I looked at them suspiciously, they turned out to be the best. On the other hand, as for the two Midnight Sugar releases ˻ 3a & 3b ˺ I liked them both. On 45 rpm records it sounded downright spectacular. But the Japanese reissue is more enjoyable, it doesn't rub against the limit, it's accurate. It's indicative of a very transparent system, and the arm must be working really well with this cartridge.

I don't know these earlier albums, there were some artifacts that I noticed, but the turntable coped with it, as it differentiates releases very well. And it is able to extract the maximum from spatiality and stereophony. Besides, the room helps in achieving it. A very successful presentation.

⸜ MAREK DYBA (, „High Fidelity”) Let me start with a general remark, related not to the system, but to you guys: you are the first audiophile masochist group I know. Usually at such meetings you play music that is pleasant to listen to. From my perspective we started nicely but then it got worse and worse :) I prefer to listen to the music, to enjoy, not to get tired by it.

As for the turntable, I am also, like Piotr, not quite objective, because I have been a user of Janusz turntable for several years. And not just because they are Janusz creations, but because they are among the best I have had the opportunity to listen to. They differentiate recordings brilliantly, they are neutral, but at the same time natural. It's a matter of the system, but the acoustic source should reproduce as well as possible what is recorded on the album. And Janusz's products do it perfectly.

Speaking of TBM albums. I preferred the Japanese edition, although I own the Cisco reissues (a few of them). The piano on this album is (almost) exaggerated and it takes a great system to show what it really sounds like. The American release is borderline. The Japanese version, on the other hand, is more natural. The same goes for the double bass. And on the TBM release it came out more natural and true. Mr. Julian, congrats, acquiring the Reference is the move in the right direction.

⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA („High Fidelity”, KTS) So you’re still on Mr. bases? You’ve known Julian for some time, haven’t you?

⸜ WICIU (KTS) It’s such a solemn moment that he couldn’t address our host in any other way :)

⸜ MAREK Exactly, since this is about serious congratulations, I have to be official.

⸜ JULIAN SOJA (Soyaton, KTS) Marek realized that he was at the KSS meeting for the last time, because of his critique of your DEPECHE MODE and Metallica, so he officially said goodbye to us :)

⸜ MARCIN OLEŚ (Oleś Brothers, KTS) I just wanted to say to the two, maybe four people involved in the preparation of this system: my congratulations! From the bottom of my heart. This is probably the best turntable sound I have ever heard. And I envy you very much, Julek, because it seems to me that Reference is the proverbial dot over the "i" for your system. I've also been here several times before and have learned the room, so I think I can objectively assess what this machine does.

It is very dangerous for all those who produce records, because it shows perfectly how the master is done, how the record is pressed - in a fast and accurate way. I don't know if this is your favorite cartridge, but here, together with the arm and turntable, it makes one think of nothing else but to cue the next record. I know these first albums by heart, especially ˻ 2 ˺ BILL EVANS, and the turntable showed with absolute precision how it was recorded, where it was recorded, and transported us to that place. Scott LaFarro's double bass, despite the fact that this system likes to "have" bass, was precisely drawn. Anyway, there's no need to talk about details, because it was exceptional.

I think it's the first time I'm so appreciative on KSS meeting, but - sincere congratulations! Mr. J.Sikora, Julek, the system with Reference sound fantastic!.

⸜ TOMASZ KURSA (Audioform) Everything have already been said. Nothing in this presentation irritates, if anything, it’s poor recordings that irritate. The turntable is simply superb. I liked Midnight Sugar best, but the Japanese one. Cisco's version seems exaggerated to me. It was a great experience.

⸜ WICIU I'll also start in the middle. I, too, liked the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio album better in the Japanese version. The American one was spectacular, and thus less natural. The piano was too glassy, and the double bass descended down to hell and there were some negative hertz, I think. The Japanese version sounded better.

Joining the previous voices, I will say that the system sounds excellent. I really liked the stage, both in width and depth. The naturalness of the presentation and its effortlessness was fantastic. I wish we listened to some classical music.

⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA We did listen to some classics - that’s why I brought Metallica's Master of Puppets, a heavy metal classic.

⸜ WICIU (KTS) Speaking of the metal classics, I would be more interested in Black Sabbath's third album. We listened to Led Zeppelin's II here once and if you remember that try and compare it to how Metallica sounded, the difference was huge. Having said that, I would like to congratulate Mr. Janusz Sikora for such a fantastic product, and Julek for making such good cables. We don’t listen to enough Polish products at our KSS meetings. I am proud, as a Pole, as an audiophile, that we are able to conquer world markets - congratulations!

⸜ MARCIN I'll take this opportunity to seize the recorder and add that we haven't yet talked about the excellent presentation of the 4 ˺ THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO The Spiritual album. It's brilliant, and the system showed it. Even if you don't listen to this kind of music, you must have it, because it's a wonderful recording.

⸜ RYSIEK B. OK, while we're at it, I will say that I liked this album better in Tomek's system .

⸜ DOMINIKA I would like to refer to these "plumbers", as you call this record. But first I will refer to the earlier statement, namely that we are masochists because we listen to such badly recorded albums, but to me this is a great test for the equipment. Listening only to jazz, which is so beautifully recorded and always plays well, is not an authoritative test.

⸜ WICIU I agree, it is good to show something in contrast every now and then.

⸜ DOMINIKA It's a good thing that these are the same records as at the previous KSS, because I'm at Julian's for the first time and don't know the system, the room, etc. But this way I can relate to what I heard at the last meeting.

The first track ˻ 1 ˺ shocked me with its power and incredible space. But the longer I listened, the more I noticed a "negative" tendency in my evaluation. Back to "Plumbers": when commenting on how this album sounded like at Tomek's, I used to say that it was like arguments and chatter at a construction site, and here I had the impression that a construction had really started and bags of cement were seriously moving, and although the music is unlistenable to me, the sound made a huge impression on me.

I rated the ˻ 6 ˺ Ark by Brendan Perry slightly lower. I had the impression that something disturbing happened in the upper band, as if the system could not handle it, which was not the case at Tomek’s. The conclusion is that overall the sound is very cool, I was only disappointed with the Ark because the magic I heard before was not there. I also liked the vocals from DEPECHE MODE’s album. As for Metallica, it was still impossible to listen to, although it's nice that we don't listen to jazz alone. By the way, the very good acoustics meant that even though I was sitting in the back, I didn't miss anything in the sound.

⸜ TOMEK F. (KTS) Dominica and I are sitting in the worst place, but I think this is where I sat some time ago when we listened to a German turntable (Thiele Audio TT01 - ed. ⸜ more → HERE).

Therefore, I can honestly join in congratulating both the manufacturer and the owner. The system sounds spectacularly. The stage was absolutely exceptional, and the "uniqueness" of the speakers was phenomenal, and everything came together in a fantastic way. Each disc sounded outstanding, and the differences between records and releases were incredibly clear. At least until ˻ 5 ˺ Depeche Mode came in.

This will not be a comment on the turntable, but on the whole system, namely that - for me - it has too little drive for the needs of this type of music. Particularly in the low end of the band, so it doesn't play it with equal energy as it does jazz. And so, for example, with Perry I did not hear that phenomenal black background that was there in my system. But other than that - it was great. On the other hand, ˻ 7 ˺ Metallica was very interesting.

When we listened to this album at my place, with an Aavik i-880 amplifier, it occurred to me that I need to change something in my system. It so happens that 80% of the music I listen to for pleasure is heavy metal. On the other hand, I don't listen to it in my system, but in my car and using headphones and Bluetooth speakers. As it happens, I have never built a system for this type of music, although it is the most important for me.

Anyway, listening to Aavik showed me that perhaps I should swap my Japanese Accuphase amplifier for something that plays fast and analytical and that makes metal sound cool. Here Metallica sounded softer, it was listenable, but - for me - it is supposed to sound fast and sharp. Here it played like in a lab, diminished, sterile. And this is not the aesthetics of this music. That's why both with Depeche Mode and Metallica I missed the drive, and power. But to show this album in such an analytical way is also a skill. And the first few albums were outstanding. Congratulations and respect, a beautiful device.

⸜ TOMEK L. Like Dominica, this is the first time I've been here, so I can't say how this listening experience compares to previous ones here. What I liked here is that, despite sitting in front of the speaker, and therefore on the side, the first two ˻ 1 & 2 ˺ albums were rendered in a spectacular way, with such an amazing stage - amazing! Of the top systems I've had a chance to listen to in my life, this is one of the best three. So respect.

The Depeche Mode album sounded good, but - like Dominica and Tomek - I would have liked even more power and drive, as I found them a bit lacking. This system plays jazz and blues music best, and electronic and rock music not quite as good. As for Metallica, in Tomek's case after replacing Accuphase with Aavik this music was easier to digest, it didn't hurt the ears. But for it to still be metal you need more power than here.

I liked the first two albums the most, which made an electrifying impression on me. The best thing would be to turn off the lights and feel like you were at a concert in a club, it was crazy good. ˻ 4 ˺ "Plumbers" also appealed to me, but I am not sure if it didn't sound better at Tomek’s. On the other hand, as for the ˻ 3a & 3b ˺ Midnight Sugar I definitely liked the 45 rpm version better.

⸜ JULIAN SOJA (Soyaton, KTS) I am biased, but I must say that I am delighted with this turntable. I am amazed that no one has mentioned it, but after all, it looks insane in this color :) It is a work of art and a modern sculpture. It is a Jaguar color, specifically British Racing Green.

As for the sound, I think my VPI HRX with J.Sikora platter and arm is a great turntable. But what happened after installing the Reference is, for me, an amazing experience. My system, my room and my records, yet the difference between the two is incredible. What is there now is plastic, dynamic and resolving. I think it will take me a few months to understand what I have at home. I am overjoyed. I'm also proud of the fact that the arm is wired with my cables.

The first two records made an incredible impression on me - so incredible that I began to wonder if these were discs so brilliantly recorded, or if they were slightly exaggerated so that they would also play impressively in an average system. Because the impression of being transported to the acoustics of the room, to the holography is extraordinary. I liked "Plumbers" at Tomek's, it was nice sounding, but when I heard it here, I thought I had to buy it. So it would be the opposite of what Rysiek said, which rarely happens to me. I freaked out when I heard this album playing at my place.

With ˻ 6 ˺ Perry I was under the impression that for some reason I had a problem with the right speaker, because it was "not keeping up". Maybe one of the tubes is nearing the end of its life? I'm used to this system and for me the drive was not lacking. As for Midnight Sugar I have mixed feelings. I have a hybrid impression, which is that I liked the piano better on the Japanese reissue, and the double bass better on the Cisco version.

⸜ WOJCIECH So, can we assume you’re happy with your new turntable?

⸜ JULIAN Ooo, yes - it's a remarkable device I would like to thus thank Mr. Janusz and Mr. Robert - but also, from the bottom of my heart, Adam, who put it together so beautifully at my place - I am incredibly grateful.

Side B

JUST AS JULIAN FINISHED TALKING his wife, Małgosia, stood in the doorway, inviting us in for a break. Timing was thus perfect. After a few glasses of wine and refreshments, we returned to listening, but in a much more relaxed atmosphere. We listened to several direct-to-disc recordings, since Janusz Sikora is a fan of them, but we also compared the Nagra 70th Anniversary Collection (Deluxe 2 Tape Edition) tape, on which René Laflamme has mastered recordings from years ago, as well as new ones, all from the original "master" tapes, to the LP of the same title.

We've listened to tapes many times at Julian's, and it's always been the case that whether we compared them to LPs or files, the conclusion has always been the same: tape rules. This time was different. It was still an excellent sound, but the difference was slight, and sometimes even in favor of the Reference turntable. Perhaps Julian now has an analog source that only the best and most expensive studio tape recorders could beat. I know he loves his Technics and is very happy with it, but the sound we heard spoke for itself.

It was an excellent meeting, and the Reference turntable is indeed one of the few best of its kind in the world.

The setup

• turntable: J.Sikora Reference + KV12 Max
• reel-to-reel tape recorder: Technics RS-1500 (modified by dc-components)
• step-up: Lyra Erodion,
• phonostage: ART AUDIO VINYL ONE REFRENCE SILVER, puristic version prepared by ART AUDIO upon order by Polish distributor (Hi-End Studio Pełne Brzmienie) without MC stage, no switches, no controls, with internal silver cabling,
• preamplifier: VAC (Valve Amplification Company), model Vintage Line Amplifier (modified by dc-components),
• power amplifier: VAC (Valve Amplification Company) model PA 80/80 (modified by Audio Azyl),
• loudspeakers: Wilson Benesch, model A.C.T.,
• cables: Soyaton,
• room treatment → AUDIOFORM.