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Roksan Xerxes X turntable and Artemiz arm

[Italian version]

Products: Xerxes X Turntable, Artemiz Arm
Manufacturer: Roksan - UK
Cost, approx: Turntable + Power supply = 3000Euro/$, arm 1500Euro/$
Reviewer: Geoff Husband
Reviewed: November, 2002

xerxes/artemizAuthors Note

In order to understand this review it is essential that you visit the 'methodology' page that outlines how the test was done.


The year is 1985. I'm a young school teacher with all the buying power that profession usually brings to the market. But I loved music and so blew £250 on a second hand Linn LP12 - why that turntable? Because it was THE top record spinner, a beast so mighty that from it's introduction in 1972 had so dominated the British Hi-Fi scene that most foreign manufacturers of Hi-End turntables didn't even bother to import. Why bother when every review would end with "very nice but an LP12 is better and you could buy two Linn's for that money".

True a couple of other manufacturers held out - Michell and Pink Triangle, but they were bit part players, the former selling primarily on looks, the latter on sales driven by a handful of vocal reviewers and dealers. Likewise the LP12 conquered the US, though a bigger market and deeper pockets kept alternatives alive.

Then in the year in question rumours started about a new turntable, the Xerxes, from an unknown company, Roksan, that was upsetting the applecart. Not only was it said to be as good as the LP12, it was the same price and for the first time exploited the qualities of that 'wonder arm' the Rega RB300 (never happy on a Linn) to the full. So as a package it undercut the old master when fitted with the ITTOK. It was also a very different design, original and fresh - battle commenced.

And for once it seemed true and the young upstart snapped away at the old dog for the next eight years, never quite toppling it from top spot, but certainly starting the rot that led to a more realistic view of the LP12 as a competitive, well built and effective turntable rather than the be-all-and-end-all of the genre.

But in the end it could be said that the LP12 won. While both companies branched out into other components it was the Xerxes that went out of production whilst the LP12 soldiered on. In the end it wasn't just the competition that killed the Xerxes - it could always compete sonically, but that over time the armboard sagged far enough to render the turntable scrap and replacements weren't available - a far cry from the near bombproof Linn and its legendary support.

But things weren't quite as they seemed. What had actually happened was more of a tactical withdrawel than a rout, because the Xerxes was going to rise like a Pheonix from the ashes in the form of the Xerxes.X, supposedly with all the performance of the original and more, but with longevity built in. And to sugar the pill for existing 'drooping' Xerxes owners, they were offered an attractive trade in deal where they would get a 'new' Xerxes.X which used their original platter amongst other bits.

The other half of this duo is the Artemiz arm. Like the turntable it was designed to partner, it is an original, if not 'off the wall' design. It's also an arm I've owned in the past and have had a lot of time for…


Note - After writing this review I sent it off the the manufacturer to 'fact check', I always do this and it gives any manufacturer an opportunity to correct any howlers and if they wish offer a manufacturers reply, though not to change my opinion re sound quality of course. In this case the result was a half-hour long phone call from Touraj Moghaddam the designer and founder of Roksan. During this I took copeous notes which helped explain at least a few of the unusual features of the Xerxes, but I have to say that the biggest impression was of yet another manufacturer who's first love was vinyl, despite it making up only a small part of production. I'll also add that at no point did Touraj try to influence the actual content or result of the review, he just wanted to talk turntables:-)

Turntable. - As I've mentioned the Xerxes dared to be different and the first thing they threw away was the traditional suspended subchassis. Instead there is a 'sub plinth' which does much the same thing but is much more rigidly damped with polymer than the traditional sprung chassis. The idea is to overcome the problem of the platter driving or twisting the subchassis on it's springs in response to changing drag on the stylus as transients hit - a killer to timing and dynamics. But the sub plinth, being separate from the motor and damped does offer more isolation than a solid plinth, in fact a third plinth and very compliant feet give as much isolation as many suspended designs. The trademark Roksan cut-through toplate, careful positioning of the motor and armboard and understanding of the forces acting on the arm bely the simple appearance...

The motor, an AC synchronous type, is mounted in such a way as to allow it to move towards the platter in response to changing torque demands, again addressing the problem of the motor driving the chassis. Roksan believe that the platter should control the speed, the motor only adding a 'top-up' to keep the thing spinning. The problem is that when a synchronous motor is put under load it can cog or stall, with the Xerxes this situation causes the motor to move towards the platter to reduce drag and so keep the motor operating at optimum torque at all times. It also means that the belt is kept at constant tension rather than being tugged-and-released a situation that means the belt stores then releases energy in an uncontrolled manner.

The motor is powered by an offboard crystal locked power supply, in this case the more expensive DS1.5 with XPS5 module in a Caspian box - a very smart looking combo that matches other Caspian kit.

The platter itself is about half the weight of an LP12 platter, but because it has it's mass concentrated at its edge the total inertia that the record sees is actually higher whilst giving the bearing less mass to cope with. It's split into inner and outer platter and each is tuned to different frequencies.

Then the bearing, instead of the usual massive affairs, here we have a long fine bearing, conventionally orientated. It's claimed to be a true single point bearing though it must of course have a retaining sleeve unlike a unipivot arm, otherwise the platter would fall over. Another quirk being that at the end of the bearing at the spindle the diameter is much smaller than a standard record centre hole. To bring it up to size, a small plastic cap is popped over the end when the record it placed on the platter and then its centreing duties done, the plastic cap is removed thus meaning that the record sits on the felt mat and touches nothing else.

As for appearance, I've seen the Xerxes looking very good in various natural wood finishes, sadly the review sample was in 'Black Ash' (real wood though)which looked like some refugee from the 80's - go for another wood. Otherwise build quality was very good, but I'd have to give the old LP12 the edge here, if you want a classic looking turntable it's still is the one to beat for me.


The Artemiz is dark and mysterious. Coated in a matt resonant damping finish like some stealth fighter, it doesn't match the polish and gloss of the SME but looks like it means business. The Artemiz headshell is made in such a way that it is supported with a shelf-like brace formed when the tube is flattened. The massive bearing housings are at either side and the vertical bearings are above and below the armtube (as opposed to just below as with Regas/SME's/Linns etc). These bearing housings are machined from solid, a chunky square extending right down in one CNC machined piece to form the mount. Thus the part count must be one of the very lowest of any gimballed arm - generally a good thing.

And those bearings are odd (Roksan call them "Pyramid Bearings") - because they have deliberate play in them. They consist of three 2mm balls with the bearing point being a 1.5mm ball in the centre. At rest the three balls support the arm loosly, however drop the stylus onto a record and the arm is drawn forward fractionally to be supported by just two of the three 2 mm balls. The greater the drag, such as on transients, the more rigidly the arm is held on those two balls and the stiffer the whole structure. The result is the highest resonance point (1400 Hz) of any arm. Beyond this they offer little more friction than a unipivot. The aim is to give the advantages of a gimballed arm - ease of use, stiffness and stability, along with the lack of bearing chatter, the problems of wear or the sound of bearing 'slide' noise that bearing races suffer from. The arms ability to work with the tricky Music Maker as well as high-end moving coils suggest that the idea works...

The nutty stuff continues with an 'intelligent' counterweight which just hangs under the armtube - the idea being that when the cartridge rises over a warp the weight swings away from the centre of gravity so reducing the tracking force just when the stylus needs that help, the opposite happening on the way down, in effect the cartridge sees a lower effective mass than is actually the case (again explaining it's love of the Music Maker). It also decouples the weight from the arm. Normally vibrations travel from the stylus into the arm and then down the armtube to the counterweight. This big mass then just reflects the vibrations back down to the cartridge - many counterweights have rubber decoupling to reduce this but such damping is inevitably frequency dependent. With the Artemiz the vibration doesn't see the counterweight and travels instead down into the plinth which is much better able to deal with it. The pendulum effect of the counterweight is tuned to around 2Hz, between that of record warps and footfalls so should cause no problems, though bouncy suspended decks might interfere.

Anti-skate is adjusted using a thread and spring and locked with a hair thin Allen key.

Lastly VTA. You might read (as I have) that the Artemiz has a fixed VTA like a Rega. Not so, but it's an absolute bitch to do. Basically the arm mount is a threaded shaft like a Rega but there are two 'nuts' which sandwich the armboard - there's also a bit of jiggery pokery with threaded spikes from one nut to a washer but you really don't want to know about that. Suffice to say that to change VTA requires removing the armboard and a lot of swearing - if you're a VTA obsessive and swap cartridges often, the Artemiz will drive you nuts. The result though is claimed to be a much stiffer armbase, so you pays your money and takes your choice…

In Use

Set-up is simpler than with most suspended designs and the power supply gives 33 or 45 at the touch of the button, start up being pretty quick. The arm's idiosyncrasies have been mentioned, hopefully your dealer will set it up, but apart from VTA it's no easier or worse than many arms. After which you just put the little plastic cap on the spindle and place the record on the mat. Remove the cap (which will then fall on the floor and be instantly lost - Roksan should supply a pack of ten) and listen.

Stage one

Sometimes a component creeps up on you, you begin to realise it's doing something different, for better or worse, over a period of acquaintance. Other times one aspect will leap out at you the second the music starts, and colour everything else about that component. The Xerxes/Artemiz come in the latter category and the instant, stand-out characteristic was an incredible PACE. The turntable seemed to be running through everything at breakneck speed, dragging you along. In comparison the Orbe/SME trundled along in its wake. I immediately smelt a rat and checking the speed showed the Roksan to be running over 1% faster than the Orbe (which runs slow). This variation is inevitable with power supplies that don't offer speed control (e.g. Orbe and Xerxes) because of tiny variations in manufacturing tolerances - the same limitations apply to the original lathes too... This accounted for some of the effect, but certainly not all. This kind of false pace (a common 'cheat' used by some turntable manufacturers) really only shows up in back-to-back tests (unless you have perfect pitch) as I was doing, but the effect had hit me between the eyes without the benefit of the Orbe as comparison. No the Roksan doesn't need any artificial aids to be the fastest thing I've ever heard.

The Artemiz also proved to be more than happy with the Music Maker, in fact if you want to use a Music Maker with a gimballed arm, then those loose, free bearings certainly make the Artemiz a fine match. In fact I'd go so far as to say it was very close to matching the Hadcock in this respect - it again left the SME sounding a little 'dirty' and 'sat on'.

As well as pace the Roksan combination pulled a lot of detail off the disc, especially good with leading edges, another sure way of producing a pacey well timed performance, Los Lobos' 'Be Still' hurtling along at manic speed and yet timing perfectly.

Stage two

The Artemiz wouldn't balance the DRT-1 (heavier counterweights are available) so the XX-2 it was, a design not a million miles away in concept from Roksan's own Shiraz. The SME was much happier wired into a top MC and now the relative strengths and weaknesses of the combination became clearer. The Black Cube Twin provided the 'back to back' switching of sources as brilliantly as you'd expect.

I felt the Roksan had a slight edge when it came to fine detail, but the Orbe/SME gave everything a little more soul and texture - as always female vocals, Rikki Lee Jones, Tracy Chapmen, Joni Mitchell all had more body and organic quality. The Roksan hit back with lightening fast percussion and a cleaner drier presentation lacking the slight Orbe/SME bloom (see the cheap fix). Though R.L. Jones lost some warmth her bassist gained bounce and punch. You got the feeling that while the Orbe majored on the texture of the piece the Roksan cut to the core. The bass power of the Orbe pulled ahead but the Roksan's lower register was sharper and faster.

I know this is all presented as very clear cut, but in truth, with the exception of the Roksan's pace the two turntables were not a million miles apart, so much so that each would dovetail with the same system rather than needing different ancillaries to give of their best. However their characters were sufficiently different for them to be spotted blind, and which you might prefer might have as much to do with what you listen to as to what you listen through… Though each does well with any music the Roksan just has to be the rockers choice - that pace, the great percussion the lightening bass with little overhang - the Orbe seduces with female vocal, draws the subtle textures out of a classical performance or sleepy jazz.

Stage three

And so the Orbe is packed away and I play for two weeks with the Roksan - the result? I like it a lot. With either the almost CD like cleanliness of the Music Maker or the lusher Dynavector it makes music fun, certainly the sort I listen to. At times its pace can become breathless and even a little wearing, but it's a rare occurrence and if the quid-pro-quo is the ability to piece together impossible rhythms then so-be-it. On the other hand it's easy to use (once set-up it doesn't drift), a point emphasised by how willing Kate was to use it (she hates unipivots:-) and attractive if you avoid black ash... Roksan also supplied their Reference phono stage which was used throughout stage three, and proved a fine performer, and one which followed similar priorities to the turntable, a review as a stand alone stage will follow so I won't add any more beyond that.

And so to the marks...




Beauty tt/arm


Sort of classic with modern touches

Fit and Finish tt/arm


I didn't like the black and the arm isn't finished to SME standards

Engineering tt/arm


Hard to compare, both look conventional but arn't.

Compatibility tt/arm


The turntable will take most 9" arms. The arm needs a heavier counterweight to cope with monster cartridges but otherwise is happy with all

Speed Stability


excellent but a little fast



best so far and a tour-de-force



very good but the Orbe's bass weight pulls it ahead fractionally.

Stage Width


broad and natural

Stage Depth


Bass Depth



Bass control/speed


very fast, tuneful and punchy with no apparent overhang

Detail retrieval


Midrange clarity


open clean and fast

Treble extension


Treble Quality


more clearly defined or harder edged depending on your own bias

Overall colouration


Both Orbe and Roksan have character, the Orbe's being warmth the Roksan's being pace



different but equally valid depending on system/music

'Miss you' factor


Very tough to split and in my case the 'look' of the Orbe would be the final arbitor


The Xerxes/Artemiz isn't mankinds salvation, but just like its predecessor 18 years ago it, offers a very good performance in all areas and exceptional ones in others, it's also as individual and original as when it first surfaced. It is highly competitive with the other tables at the price point and must be a strong candidate for audition next to other established favourites such as the Orbe and dare I say it - the LP12. The one point advantage I give the Orbe over the Xerxes is down to appearance alone, if that dents my audiophile cred then fair enough, but in sound terms it's a close call and blind I'd probably give the Roksan the edge overall.

The arm is the forgotten part of the pair, even extending to Roksan owners specifying SME's rather than the Artemiz. The fact is that the SME looks better and is much easier to set up - on the other hand in purely sonic terms the Artemiz is an easy match. It's demonstrably superior with higher compliance designs like the Music Maker, and the equal of the big SME with high-end MC's, trading a little bass weight for detail, speed and midband clarity. I owned one myself a couple of years ago, and the move to my current SME was driven primarily by its ease of set-up as I was doing a series of cartridge tests, sonically it was a sideways move at best. Personally I think the Artemiz deserves to be seen on a lot more decks, especially as a painless upgrade to any Rega (it uses the same board).


After reading this test I hope it is evident that without the following companies this series of reviews would have been impossible - thanks from me to them :-)

Michell engineering - http://www.Michell-Engineering.co.uk

'The Cartridge Man' - http://www.thecartridgeman.com

Graham Slee - http://www.gspaudio.co.uk/

Clearlight - http://www.clearlight-audio.de

AudioNote UK - http://www.audionote.co.uk

Dynavector Japan - http://www.dynavector.co.jp

Lehmann Germany - http://www.lehmannaudio.de

Systems used

© Copyright 2002 Geoff Husband - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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