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Producent: J. SIKORA
Price (when reviewed): 10.000 EUR

Contact: ul. Poligonowa 41
20-817 Lublin | POLSKA



Provided for test by: J. SIKORA


images Marek Dyba | J. Sikora

No 224

January 1, 2023

One of the few Polish audio brands that conquered global markets, highly acclaimed among both users and reviewers around the world, J. Sikora, after several years of consolidating its market position, prepared premiere products for the last Audio Video Show in Warsaw - new, improved versions of their fantastic tonearms. For this test, we received the first 9-inch tonearm in the history of the brand, i.e. the KV9 Max Zirconium Series.


T IS OFTEN SAID THAT THE OLDER YOU ARE, the faster (subjectively, of course) time passes. There is something to it. It would seem that only very recently I saw and listened to Janusz Sikora's first turntable in one of the rooms of the Sobieski Hotel , but it actually happened 7 years ago, in 2015. A few months later, I tested the model, which back then was called Basic, and later transformed into Standard. At that time, our designer offered it with Kuzma tonearm and that's how I tested this model back then.

After that adventure, it was clear to me that a turntable brand able to compete with the best in the world had finally been established in Poland. It gave me no choice but to order one for myself. I ended up with the Standard Max version with the top-of-the-range power supply that was originally developed for the Reference model. After testing it was clear to me how much difference the top power supply made and it was worth the extra money. (On January 12th 2016, we tested the Reference model in "High Fidelity", more → HERE).

In 2019 I got a chance to test the first tonearm in the history of the brand, the KV12 (premiere test in "High Fidelity" → HERE). Until then, I used the great Schroeder CB tonearm on my deck, but it took me all but a few days with Janusz Sikora's new product to realize that the Polish tonearm is of a different, even higher class than the German competitor. What made the Polish arm unique in terms of technical solutions was an arm’s tube made of aramid fibers, commonly known as Kevlar. It was the very first Kevlar tonearm in the world.


MOST PEOPLE ASSOCIATE KEVLAR first of all with bulletproof vests. Audiophiles may remember the yellow diaphragms of drivers that in the past were used almost exclusively by B&W, and now are more commonly found in products of many brands. For all such purposes, a selected material must be rigid, strong and also lightweight. It was these advantages that attracted the attention of Janusz Sikora. As he told me, making arm tubes from this material is not only time-consuming, but also requires great precision and patience (the fibers can fray in the process) from the person actually making it (as it is a hand-made element).

And then comes the next difficult stage - filling the tube with special damping foam and finally wiring it. The final effect, however, is delightful both visually (while people have different tastes and preferences I can't really understand those who order the black color version of the KV12) and in terms of performance. This has been and still is, and I am not the only one to make such claim, one of the best tonearms you can buy on the market today. Just look at the list of awards that both the original KV12 tonearm and all three decks by J. Sikora have collected around the world, including the super-demanding US market. It clearly shows how incredibly good they all are.

After such a great success one could only wonder what would be the next step in the development of the Lublin-based brand? Theoretically, they could have returned to the production of phono preamplifiers. There was a short period several years back when Janusz Sikora developed and manufactured in limited quantities not one, but two phonostage models. While these units were intended mostly for friends and family they did become quite popular and highly acclaimed by the lucky few. It's a pity they don’t make these anymore, because especially the top version was simply put excellent. Nevertheless, as Janusz told me once, the competition in this market segment was huge and it took a lot of work and effort to make those. So instead of taking a step back he chose to focus on developing and manufacturing even better, more advanced tonearms.

The first step was taken after starting cooperation with Julian Soja from SOYATON. Originally, the KV12 tonearms featured wiring made of mono-crystalline silver conductors made by another Polish company, namely Bydgoszcz-based Albedo (a well-known manufacturer of all kinds of audio analog cables and conductors). After trying out Julian's cables (interconnects, and speaker cables), Janusz decided to check out the conductors used by this brand in his KV12. I can reveal that when our designer prepared a custom version of the KV12 for me he wired it with conductors provided by Julian. It was a special version as I asked for a detachable interconnect so that I could use J. Sikora’s arm also to test DIN/RCA phono cables. The sonic performance of the KV12 featuring Soyaton wiring turned out to be different (to some extent, of course) than the original silver one. Whether it was better it is debatable, meaning some would surely prefer silver, some gold-plated copper wiring depending on their taste and other components in the system. Yet for me, and Janusz Sikora who also re-wired an arm in his private system, the Soyaton version seemed better, or actually it better fitted our tastes. The sound was more saturated, richer, even more fluid and natural, in a word, more "mine".

Theoretically, the company could simply start offering two versions of the KV12, with either silver or copper (and gold-plated) wiring. However, it seems that Janusz Sikora doesn't like choosing the easy way, and introducing just one new feature to the KV12 was not enough for him. So he set to work to develop a whole range of new solutions for his arm so that it would sound not only differently (due to the alternative wiring), but also better, significantly better. All those who know how good the KV12 is realize that designing a much better arm was a real challenge. As a result of the work not one but two new tonearms were developed as part of a separate Max Zirconium Series. One of them is an absolute novelty, i.e. the first 9-inch tonearm in the history of the brand, KV9 Max, and the other is a design improved over the original 12-inch tonearm, named KV12 Max. The latter had its official premiere in Warsaw, during the AVS, while the former had its premiere in Washington at Capital AudioFest two weeks later.

KV9 Max Zirconium Series

J. SIKORA'S ORIGINAL ARM was (and still is!) offered only as a 12 inches long one. It may seem that shortening the arm’s tube to 9 inches would not be a big problem. The development of the KV9 Max, however, soon proved that it's not that simple. The tube must be not only shorter, but also, which was way more difficult to achieve (for the designer and a person who actually makes it), significantly thinner. It was the latter aspect that was much more difficult to achieve due to the shape that narrows towards the headshell. The thing is in the very making of such a tube, as well as in the subsequent stages of the construction of the arm. It took time and many trials but ultimately, they succeeded in their efforts. The arm’s tube is shorter, lighter, even better damped, and at the same time even more rigid than in the original arm.

Yet another challenge was the need to internally dampen the arm, while still leaving enough space in the now thinner tube so that the wires could be routed through there. Individual wires supplied by Soyaton are made of the highest purity, 24 carat gold-plated copper. Each individual wire is placed inside a super-thin Teflon tube, which means that you need a bit more space in the arm’s tube than just for the wires themselves, but it makes the wiring process bit easier. It doesn’t change the fact, that the wiring process is still tedious and time-consuming. However, it was possible to develop an appropriate method which allowed the people doing the job to repeat it with the same level of precision for every unit.

When developing the new tonearms, two things were certain: firstly, the arms’ tubes were still to be made of aramid fibers, after all, it is the hallmark of the brand that made it famous, plus this material works perfectly for this purpose so why change it? And secondly, they were still to be oil-damped unipivot arms. In conversations with me, Janusz Sikora has repeatedly emphasized that this is the only „right" solution, which he did not intend to give up. However, it is worth emphasizing that during these few years that I owned the KV12 I witnessed further experiments with different oils, i.e. of different density (or viscosity), which ultimately led to the choice of one that practically allows to dampen of vibrations and irregularities of a played record. Thanks to this choice it is the arm that moves up and down, and the cantilever with the stylus, which was checked under a microscope by the manufacturer, remains almost completely still. This in turn creates ideal working conditions for the stylus to precisely read all the information from the record’s groove.

One of the key components of any tonearm, including unipivots, is the bearing, so this was also the focus of the development work, the final effects of which can be found in both Max models. A number of tests led the designer to the conclusion that the use of zirconium in the bearing is the best possible choice (hence the Zirconium Series). However, this created a new challenge as zirconium is not electrically conductive, so when it was used it in the bearing, the tonearm could not be grounded the way it usually is.

I do not need to tell turntable users that the issue of dissipating static electrical charges is important for the sound quality and listening comfort (pops&cracks). In other words, an arm has to be connected to a ground. This problem was solved by running an additional wire from the aluminum headshell inside arm’s tube, but that meant adding the fifth wire in there. To make it even possible, it was necessary to find, purchase and use even thinner Teflon tubes for conductors.

In addition to the visually thinner (and, in the case of the 9-inch arm, also shorter) arm’s tube, other differences visible to the naked eye are slightly different headshells on both new arms. By the way, for each version of the Max series, a separate, dedicated headshell was developed so as to obtain the appropriate balance of the entire structure in each case. After all, we are talking about unipivot arms, i.e. suspended on a bearing with one support point. They are inherently a bit wobbly (oil damping also helps to minimize this effect), so balancing them is very important.

What can also be seen with the naked eye is the replacement of the tonearm’s bearing housing elements made of aluminum in the original version with similar ones, but smaller and made of bronze. You may remember from one of the shows a few years back a special version of the J. Sikora turntable, which was made (in large part) of bronze. This material had a very good influence on the performance of otherwise identical model (and it looked fantastic too!), but the production was simply too expensive. The new Max Series arms are benefiting from the results of that experiment, as the elements made of bronze turned out, next to the Zirconium bearing, to be one of the key new features allowing manufacturer to achieve a further improvement of the arm’s performance.

The KV9 Max Zirconium Series tonearm offers all necessary settings and adjustments. The set includes a number of counterweights (also made of bronze) of different sizes and weights, which allows users to choose the right ones for any cartridge depending on its weight. The set also includes a plastic counter ring, which is to immobilize the counterweights on the arm’s tube. An improved VTA adjustment mechanism that allows operation on the fly (i.e. even during disc playback) is now a standard feature. I can say from experience that it works perfectly. Azimuth adjustment is achieved using the screw placed horizontally in the main counterweight - you just need to screw it in more to the left or to the right side. In other words, setting the arm for optimal performance with every cartridge is made easy and convenient.

Same as the original KV12, the new Max is equipped with an anti-skating in the form of a small weight suspended on the line. However, you can easily check it yourself that J. Sikora's arms do not really need this element. It is there „for show”. In practice, this function is performed by wires (wiring) coming out on the top of the back of the arm, forming a kind of loop and entering a small cube mounted on the side. From the latter comes an interconnect permanently connected to the tonearm (that’s still a standard but manufacturer is planning to offer versions with detouchable interconnect).

One of the most emphasized elements of the instruction manual for the new arms is the need to straighten this arc/loop of the wires coming out of the arm so that they are positioned vertically. This is necessary, as during transport in the wooden box this loop’s shape gets deformed and once it does it doesn’t work as intended. So after mounting the arm on a deck, one should straighten it out and the vertical position restored so that the arm behaves properly during playback.


⸜ HOW WE LISTENED THE ARM, OR ACTUALLY TWO of them, because I received both versions, nine- and twelve-inch for separate tests, the designer, Janusz Sikora, installed personally on my Standard Max. During the test I used my trusted cartridge, Air Tight PC-3 and, alternately, ESE Lab Nibiru and GrandiNote Celio mk IV phono preamplifiers powered by the top David Laboga Custom Audio cable, the 3D Connect. Then the signal was sent via the Bastanis Imperial interconnect to the GrandiNote Shinai Class A integrated amplifier, and finally via the Soyaton Benchmark speaker cable to the GrandiNote MACH4 loudspeakers.


AS I’VE ALREADY MENTIONED, JANUSZ CAME TO ME TO mount the arms on my deck and then we listened to a few tracks together using the KV9 Max. Unfortunately our designer had to quickly return to Lublin so I spent the rest of the day alone continuing my listening session. That first day was one for me, without any „review pressure”, I was just listening to what the new work of the Lublin’s master had to offer. Not having two identical cartridges, I couldn't make direct comparisons between the new ‘9’ and my old ‘12’, but after all, I've spent several years with the latter, and the wiring replacement had taken place more than half a year before this test so I was quite familiar with the original KV12’s performance and also of one with Soyaton’s wiring. Before I delve into the sonic performance of the new arm, let me just shortly describe the differences between the original KV12 wired with silver conductors, and the same arm with the wires replaced with gold-plated copper (the same one as used in the new Max series).

The sound with the Soyaton cables turned out to be a bit more weighted and fuller than with the Albedo’s silver wiring. The sound became slightly smoother, more liquid and a bit warmer. It should be noted, however, that with silver wiring the sound seemed a bit livelier, quick impulses were even more immediate. The treble in the original version offered a bit more sparkle, seems bit brighter, it pierced the ears a bit more intensely, for example with a sharp trumpet in a recording. With gold-plated copper wiring, the treble was more weighted, a bit softer, but still highly energetic and pure. These differences were by no means large. At this top level of performance the differences are simply never large, they are subtle but still allow you to decide a preferred product.

As I’ve mentioned, the choice between the two came down (in my opinion, of course) more to individual preference, or simply to which one better fitted into a given system rather than to actual class differences. In warmer, more weighted, and more saturated systems, the KV12 with silver wiring may be a better choice offering a more balanced final sonic result. Among those who are looking for a way to slightly weigh down, fill in the sound, who prefer fluidity and smoothness over sharpness and immediacy, most will probably reach for the gold-plated copper version. I am writing about this because the new arms are wired with Soyaton’s gold-plated copper as well, which by the way indicates (I believe) also personal preferences of the designer. In addition, my experience with the KV12 made it easier for me to determine which features of the new tonearm may result from the choice of cabling, and which are due to the new elements of the design.

All right, so how did J. Sikora's new arm perform? Still when Janusz was at my place, we listened to one of my favorite double bass players, RAY BROWN from Soular Energy. Let me add for those who don’t know this record that it is an excellent recording and release. Janusz obviously had already known the sound of KV9 Max perfectly well, so it was no surprise to him, for me, however, after a few short minutes (to my surprise) it became clear that the new proposal of the Polish brand raised the bar of sound quality even higher. And by that I mean, continuing the use of sports terminology, it raised it not by a centimeter or two, but by a dozen (let me stress again - a dozen of centimeters, not several classes up, as that would not have been possible considering how good the original KV12 was).

If I had to point out the most important or outstanding features of the KV12, I would mention dynamics, energy and resolution. Of course, there are some tonearms that I have never had the opportunity to seriously listen to, so I am not willing to use the term "the best in the world" in these respects in relation to the J. Sikora tonearm, but I am sure that it has its place among a very few of the very best money can buy (it is worth emphasizing that among them the KV12 is also the cheapest one). As it turned out, KV9 Max offers even better resolution, even better differentiation, even better insight into the smallest details and subtleties of every recording, or into even the most delicate tonal shifts, texture changes, and so on. And the advantage of the new arm is not quite one I would describe as subtle - it delivers yet another, higher level of performance compared to the already fantastic KV12!

If I had to point out the most important or outstanding features of the KV12, I would mention dynamics, energy and resolution. Of course, there are some tonearms that I have never had the opportunity to seriously listen to, so I am not willing to use the term "the best in the world" in these respects in relation to the J. Sikora tonearm, but I am sure that it has its place among a very few of the very best money can buy (it is worth emphasizing that among them the KV12 is also the cheapest one). As it turned out, KV9 Max offers even better resolution, even better differentiation, even better insight into the smallest details and subtleties of every recording, or into even the most delicate tonal shifts, texture changes, and so on. And the advantage of the new arm is not quite one I would describe as subtle - it delivers yet another, higher level of performance compared to the already fantastic KV12!

The next element, i.e. dynamics in the macro scale, remains debatable for me even after several days of listening. Actually, not so much the dynamics as such, because it is fantastic, explosive, even momentarily overwhelming in both cases, but rather the question of whether the "old" 12" or the new 9" comes on top in this respect, as it changed from album to album or even from track to track (to my ears). Spoiler alert - the KV12 Max is the clear winner when it comes to macro-dynamics. But on a micro scale, the KV9 Max Zirconium Series is without a shadow of a doubt, an even better performer than the original KV12. I would like to point out that all my experiences so far shows that such excellent dynamics and energy of playing on a macro scale should be credited mostly to the rock-stable J. Sikora Standard Max deck, which I used with all three arms.

Nevertheless, such a clear improvement on a micro scale compared to the KV12 had to be credited to the KV9 Max. It was a result, I believe, of both the shorter length, increased rigidness, lower mass of the arm’s tube, better properties of all the elements made of bronze, which probably dampen micro-resonances even more effectively, and the new Zirconium bearing. Let me emphasize, even though it is probably clear to fans of the vinyl records, that all these enhancements compared to the original arm translate into providing even better working conditions for the cartridge/stylus. After all, it is the stylus that must read the information stored in the grooves of the records with the highest possible precision.

It is worth remembering that although I consider my cartridge to be an excellent model, there are even better, even more refined ones available on the market. The new Janusz Sikora’s tonearm will also provide them with even better working conditions, and thus allow you to achieve an even more refined, more complete, simply higher quality sound. Judging by what I heard coming from the speakers, the KV9 Max was able to create even better operating conditions for the very same Air Tight PC-3 in the very same same drive (deck), as my cartridge responded with the best performance I’d ever heard with it.

So the sound was fast, dynamic, highly energetic, sometimes even explosive, which worked great both on the aforementioned Soular energy, percussion performance of CHAD WACKERMAN from Dreams Nightmares And Improvisations, as well as the good, but not so perfect, new releases of Dżem’s Najemnik, or the double album Wszystkie oblicza Jana Borysewicza.

Both, the great drums recordings, as well as blues and rock sounds from Polish albums clearly benefited from the perfectly controlled tempo, rhythm, and fantastic timing (or PRAT if you will), as well as from the ability to deliver a balanced (but not exaggerated) rendering of a certain rawness of the sound, necessary for the electric guitars to sound real. The sound, although, as I mentioned, a bit fuller, smoother and even a bit warmer due to the cabling, when needed was still "dirty" and aggressive enough for the heavy rock and blues tracks to sound real.

These, emphasized by me every now and then, high energy, and great dynamics, caused these particular qualities of such music, also of its a bit heavier kind played by AC/DC on Highway to Hell, or from the METALLICA’s black album (double 45 r.p.m. edition), to grab my attention and engage my limbs in tapping the rhythm, while pushing aside the imperfections of these recordings/releases. And this was true despite the fact that the Janusz Sikora's new arm didn't hide anything. Every weakness of production/pressing was clearly shown, but they were never central elements of the presentation. Only when I finally played a really poor release of a live performance of my favorite duo RODRIGO Y GABRIELA, I couldn’t ignore how bad it was. The whole thing was too "dirty", dynamically flat, it lacked the fire that these fantastic musicians are known for. That's why I quickly returned to the studio version of the same album (Mettavolution), which sounded way better, reminding me of what I remembered from the Warsaw concert of the RyG even despite the fact, that it was not a live recording, and by no means was it a technical masterpiece.

So far, my attention has been focused on all the impressive elements of the sound described above, those that easily attract attention. Listening to the RyG album, especially their interpretation of Pink Floyd's Echoes, I finally noticed how perfectly the KV9 Max rendered the atmosphere of all the recordings, not only those hot rock ones, but also the relaxed, slower ones. That's why, right after this album, I played Spirit of Nadir by the OLES brothers and after that, for a change, MOZART’S The Marriage of Figaro under CURRENTZIS. Each of these three albums has its own unique immersive atmosphere and each was presented by KV9 Max in a fabulously realistic, convincing and completely engaging way.

What you need to know about J. Sikora KV9 Max Zirconium Series tonearm is that it belongs to the not so common type of audio components that capture listeners’ attention from the first to the last note, regardless of the musical genre or even the quality of the recording ( except, as I mentioned, actually very poor ones). It is precise, detailed, perfectly differentiates the whole recordings as well as their individual aspects, and yet music and emotions are always in the center of the presentation and grab listeners’ attention absolutely and completely.

This is because the above-mentioned features are perfectly combined with brilliant coherence and perfect flow of the sound, with its fullness and saturation, with almost velvety smoothness, but one that is never artificial or forced, but natural, which can temporarily disappear when necessary, to play a "dirty" guitar or a sharp sounding trumpet, or to reproduce an immediate, powerful, sparkling impulse of a drumstick hitting a cymbal fast and hard. As I mentioned, the silver wiring in the original arm conveyed these aspects in an even better, more convincing way than the same arm after re-wiring. It’s just that, as it turned out, when comparing the KV9 Max with my KV12 with the same gold-plated copper wiring, it was the ‘9’ that was closer (let me emphasize again - in these aspects) to the original silver-wired tonearm.

One of the aspects of Julian Soja's (Soyaton) cabling, i.e. the interconnect, and especially of the speaker cable, that delighted me and strongly contributed to the decision of adding them to my reference system, is the absolutely brilliant presentation of spatial aspects of the sound. Even if this is primarily a feature of the speaker cable, this advantage can also be heard in the KV9 Max to some extent. With this tonearm I listened to several live recordings, several operas, including the uniquely spatial Carmen with LEONTYNE PRICE, or PINK FLOYD’s albums full of spatial effects produced in studio. On each of them, the presentation of the soundstage and imaging was outstanding. Most importantly, also natural!

This uniqueness of the Soyaton cabling in the J. Sikora tonearm is not based on any sort of artificial spatial effects or adding three-dimensionality to phantom images if that’s not what is recorded on the album. It rather seems that the KV9 Max is capable of using the information from the recording to the maximum and creating on its basis an exceptionally convincing, multi-layered musical image in front of a listener. An image that differed from album to album, let me add, which only confirmed the tonearm’s ability to accurately present all the information read by stylus from record’s groove.

Let me emphasize once more that I also used the Soyaton speaker cable in this setup (but not the interconnect, because I do not have a long enough Benchmark to connect my phono preamplifier to the amplifier, so the excellent Bastanis Imperial played this role). Still, it was another of the advantages of my KV12 after rewiring it from silver to copper wires. Long story short, it seems that Julian Soja's cabling in any form has a positive influence on this aspect of the sound to a greater or lesser extend.

Does the ‘old’ KV12 have any advantage over the new KV9 Max? After listening to some recordings with powerful, deep bass notes playing a significant role in them, I would say that the 12-inch tonearm retained a minimal, but still, advantage in these aspects of the presentation. For example on the DEAD CAN DANCE’S Spiritchaser what the KV9 Max did with the powerful, deep, almost subsonic electronic bass was brilliant, truly impressive, but the KV12 added even more mass and powerful slam to these deepest, lowest sounds. It is also true, however, that it is the only advantage of the "old" 12-inch I can point out. Although I should emphasize that I am talking about the KV12 wired with the same way gold-plated cabling as the Max series. The version with silver wiring offered even more focused, precise bass but with a bit less slam. When on the other hand on the MILES DAVIS’ TuTu not only the power and weight of Marcus Miller's bass were important, but also the speed, immediacy and tightness of its attack, the shorter ‘9’ was able to render them even more faithfully than my KV12 tonearm.


AFTER SO MANY YEARS OF PLAYING WITH AUDIO COMPONENTS and reviewing hundreds, maybe even over a thousand of them, getting truly excited about any of them becomes a rarer and rarer event. I really get that delighted and excited with a tested component only once in a while. Especially if it is "only" an improved successor to another well-known model, and in this particular case it was not only one I knew very well but also one of the best components of its kind available on the market. The KV12 is still a unique, excellent, outstanding product, and nothing will change that, and just a few weeks ago I could have said that I wouldn't trade it for any other. Yet, after the experience with the KV9 Max I know that having a chance (which will be a problem as it is significantly more expensive) I would trade the former for the latter without even thinking twice about it.

So what can I say about J. Sikora KV9 Max Zirconium Series? It is better! It clearly, indisputably, sounds better in (almost) every aspect! It is brilliant, remarkable! It offers (of course in the company of a proper class system - the company's turntable is highly recommended!) a fantastic resolution. The sound is detailed, perfectly differentiated, dense, rich, saturated, but at the same time open, full of air, extremely fast, dynamic and compact, and at the same time spatial, full of energy and emotions so much so that it quickly becomes addictive. It does serve the MUSIC in the best possible, natural, immersive way.

So, as it was the case with only very few other audio components I reviewed, let me warn you that you better not give it a try unless you can afford it. Returning that tonearm after some time without hope of purchasing it will hurt! Believe me, I know... This is the absolutely best tonearm I've ever listened to in my system (although I'm about to test the KV12 Max...), so it deserves every possible award, including the "High Fidelity’s" Award Best Sound of the 2022 and the ˻GOLD Fingerprint ˺ distinction!

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Available finishes: (natural) yellow or (painted) black mat
Type: oil-damped unipivot
Mass: 245 g
VTA mass: 225 g
Effective length: 9”/228.6 mm
Pivot-to-spindle distance: 8.35”/212 mm
Effective mass: 10.7 g
Cabling: 24-carat gold-plated 6N OCC (Soyaton)