Or how Michael Plessmann of the SoundSpace Systems decided to re-visit J.Sikora in Lublin for yet another installment of Mini High End Show to see, how his precious Pirols are doing.
You may or may not remember my coverage of a trip to Berlin that took place little over a year ago (you can find my coverage HERE). Accompanied by Janusz and Robert Sikora and their fantastic J.SIKORA Standard Max turntable with their very own stellar KV12 tonearm I visited another friend, Michael Plessmann, the guy behind remarkable SOUNDSPACE SYSTEMS speakers (you can find reviews of the middle – Pirol, HERE, and smallest – Robin, HERE). The idea was simple – I’d owned J.Sikora turntable and tonearm for quite some time and recognized their exquisite value. I also reviewed SoundSpace System speakers and visited Michael at his place a year earlier, so I realized how special his products were. Plus, I knew that all three gentlemen were true music lovers and simply put, good, friendly and worth knowing guys. So I thought it could be at least interesting if not beneficial for both sides to get to know first of all each other, and secondly to learn what their respective components had to offer.
Janusz Sikora’s own “man’s cave”
You can read about details of that trip (if you haven’t already) using the link provided above. Long story short – as a result of this trip Michael bought two J.Sikora turntables – the Reference and Standard Max, both with KV12 tonearms and top power supplies. Janusz and Robert Sikora on the other hand, decided to purchase a pair of Pirols for their soon to be ready showroom in Lublin. I was really happy to see that both parties recognized the unique value of products offered by the other one, as I had before. In case of Micheal, his home system is the one used for presentations of his speakers (obviously his dealers do it as well in their showrooms), so in his case he got J.Sikora to both, enjoy premium sound for his pleasure and to use it to present Aidoni, Pirol and Robin to potential customers using a top-high-end analog source. Janusz and Robert have been working for some time on a showroom in their headquarters and Pirols were to be used these as a worthy partner for their products.
A piece of art exactly where it belongs
Another year of the Covid-19 pandemic passed since we met in Berlin but as we had so much fun there we decided to meet again. This time it was Michael who took a trip to Poland. First, he visited a customer in Warsaw, who bought one of the first pairs of Pirols, to personally implement upgrades he came up for this model with since. The next day in the morning he picked me up and we drove together to Lublin to visit J.Sikora’s headquarters. As it turned out in the back of his car Michael had a pair of Robins (also slightly upgraded since my review) in hope that we could listen to them at Sikora’s. If you follow J.Sikora na social media you may have seen photos of a huge crane that was needed to move the creates with Pirols, via balcony window, to Janusz Sikora’s private listening room. Ever since he’s been listening to them instead of his own ASW huge speakers benefiting from some delays with showroom’s preparation (caused by pandemic and shortages of materials, obviously). This listening room is not that big – just around 20 sqm so Michael thought, that Robins could actually be a better fit there.
The beautiful semi-active beasts – Pirols
The trip from Warsaw to Lublin took less than two hours so we arrived there before noon. Our hosts gave us a tour around the workshop where „the magic happens”. It was really interesting to see (actually not to see, as it didn’t happen in front of our eyes, but rather to fully realize) how huge chunks of ugly metals turn into ones of the best made, finished and looking (not to mention performing) turntables in the world. It’s a painstaking, time-consuming process involving lot of heavy lifting, but the results are stunning. A lot has changed since Janusz and Robert took on manufacturing of turntables and tonearms full time. Not only have they invested a lot of money in all the machinery and equipment they needed, but in fact even more parts for their products are now made in-house, even such small details as lifts for tonearms. I must say that I was truly impressed by the skills of all these guys carefully, precisely cutting, machining, polishing all the metal parts, as well as patience and utmost precision of those involved in tonearms making.
And another look…
Those of you who read the coverage of our visit in Berlin may remember, that Michael showed us a pre-production version of his (back then) latest product – Robins and I was able to share it with you. This time, while visiting J.Sikora’s workshop, we had a chance to sneak-peek not one, but two new tonearms. Actually, the first to come to the market (some time next year) is a new, premium version of the highly acclaimed KV12. I’ve been using it for year and a half (give or take) now, and it’s a brilliant performer that continuously keeps me in owe. It wand is made of Kevlar and it is probably still the only tonearm made of this material in the world. The highest quality silver cabling comes from another Polish manufacturer, Albedo and it complements the KV12’s top performance beautifully.
Who’s that gentleman lurking in the reflection?
It’s just that… some time ago Janusz Sikora got a chance to check out another conductor – a 24 carat gold-plated 6N OCC copper. He has been using one of his own tonearms wired using this particular conductor and already some time ago he told me over the phone, that the performance is even superior to the standard (silver) version. We actually got to listen to it later, so I’ll get back to it in a moment. As a result of this experiment, a new, premium version of the KV12 will be available (most likely) beginning next year with copper/gold instead of silver wiring (including interconnect). Obviously both will be available for the customers to choose preferred version, and the former’s price will most likely reflect superior performance.
There is one more novelty that’s been in the works already for a while. The plan is to present it some time next year. What is it? Another tonearm, this time a 9 inch one, that will complement the two 12 inch ones. Generally speaking, it will be a similar design, but shorter. The change in length should result in some sonic differences, although as Janusz assured me, its performance should be nothing less of amazing. The hope is also, obviously, that it will cost somewhat less than the KV12, which may open a door for even more customers. Fingers crossed for a successful completion of the project!
Among others, remarkably well sounding line & phono stage by J.Sikora
The tour included also a visit to the future showroom. It is still a few months away from completion, but several elements, such as special sound-proof windows, super-quiet air-conditioning or power distribution system have already been installed. Robert showed us also a visualization of the whole project on his laptop, and it seems that it will not only be a great looking, but also truly friendly space for music lovers. When it’s done, I am definitely going to visit Lublin again. Actually, I may become a frequent visitor if they let me… The plan for the showroom’s system includes all J.Sikora’s products, obviously, and SoundSpace Systems Pirol semi-active speakers. J.Sikora already cooperates to some extend with another renown Polish manufacturer – LAMPIZATOR (who uses Sikora’s deck in their listening room), so there is chance that it will be this brand’s phonostage that will become part of Sikora’s reference system in the showroom.
There is still a question of all other electronic components necessary for the setup, as unfortunately there are no plans for ever again making neither tube amplifiers, nor preamplifier, nor phonostage you will see on pictures from Janusz’ own room. The amps come from the „old times”, or Janusz’ first venture into the audio world. Several years ago he combined his efforts with a Ukrainian designer, Burdiak, to develop and manufacturer fantastic tube amplifiers (Burdiak-Sikora). Later, on his own, he also designed remarkably good phonostages, but ultimately decided to focus all the efforts on turntables and tonearms so only a few lucky ones (mostly friends) had a chance to purchase one. That’s a real shame, as the listening session in Janusz’ private room clearly proved.
One of two beasts delivering remarkable performance – Burdiak-Sikora amplifier
After the tour we moved for a (long) time to Janusz’ „man’s cave”. One may expect to find J.Sikora’s top products there. In fact, both the deck and tonearms (two of them) are prototypes. The deck is one from times when they still experimented with various materials, and this particular unit features elements made of bronze. One of the tonearms is a prototype of the original KV12 (the one with an Audiotechnica mono cartridge you’ll find on one of the photos), and the other is a prototype with the new, copper/gold wiring. It doesn’t seem to matter, as the sound was stunning. But let’s put a pin in that for a moment and continue with the setup. The turntable is supported with the aforementioned Burdiak-Sikora mono amplifiers using 6S33S (or 6C33C) tubes in the output stage, a Supermalloy Transformer Preamplifier and Stereo Phono Preamplifier (the latter two developed by Janusz himself).
Cables used in the system come from another Polish manufacturer – Julian Soja (SOYATON), who is actually the one who recommended and provided Janusz with the 24 carat gold-plated 6N OCC copper conductors. During this session we actually used Van den Hul speakers cables, as our host borrowed Soyaton speaker cables to a friend. The large speakers (that you may see in fabric covers in the corners of the room) that Janusz normally uses come from the ASW. But ever since the Pirols, intended for the showroom, arrived, Janusz had been using them in his room, and as he says, he’s not even sure he will be able to let go of them, when the showroom is ready. Which proves again the unique value of Michael Plessmann’s speakers. The KV12 was „armed” with the excellent Murasakino Sumile MC cartridge (you can find my review HERE), in my humble opinion, one of the best cartridges money can buy. The other arm featured an inexpensive mono cartridge from Audiotechnica and we used it to play two or three mono records. To provide this setup with pure current, Janusz uses a huge isolation transformer (the big device in the front of the rack), as well as Gigawatt’s top conditioner.
This is how fast Janusz is, when it comes to flipping a record to the other side
From the moment I entered the room I thought, that it was a bit too small for Pirols. Yet, when we started to listen to the music it turned out, that, same as in my room (which is 24 sqm, although higher), they performed wonderfully, delivering powerful, deep, tuneful, well-textured, yet crystal-clear, tight and fast bass. Importantly, despite such a remarkable bass performance it did not dominate midrange and treble, that beautifully build upon such a powerful, solid foundation to deliver an immersive, top notch sound regardless of music genre. It seemed to me that the copper/gold wiring enriched the sound, created a slightly warmer/denser/darker vibe, but the longer I listened to it, the more sure I was, that it was at least as resolving, as precise and open as the silver one.
Yet another feature we all love tubes for
Neither Janusz, nor Michael belong to those manufacturers who use only premium quality recording for their presentations or limit themselves to jazz, classical music and vocals. They both love music and believe that the tools for listening to it that they build, should offer a realistic, highly engaging performance no matter whether one likes jazz, classical music or more (dirty) genres, such as blues, rock, even metal. And so we listened to a few top Impex releases („Friday night in San Francisco” or Patricia Barber’s „Cafe blue”), but also to some old Polish releases (which are not considered to offer particularly good sound), for example a live performance of the SBB. While the former were presented in all their perfectly produced and pressed glory, the latter still sounded so good, so dynamic, so energetic, so true, that some technical flows of the release, pressing and caused by wear off from 30 or so years of listening to it, didn’t matter. We did push the volume really high from time to time, as neither Pirols not J.Sikora’s turntable didn’t mind. The speakers seem to be able to handle any volume level without the quality of sound being hindered in any way, and the deck supported by a custom rack, seemed „unmoved” matter how loud we played. It’s quite an achievement on both designers’ parts, as many speakers, when pushed really hard, start to compress or otherwise distort the sound, and many turntables are much more sensitive to vibration introduced by speakers and sound-waves bouncing around the room, than Sikora’s.
I’d say, the gentlemen are enjoying themselves
While the Pirols didn’t seem to mind the size of the room, Michael still suggested some physical activity involving picking the Robins from a car parked outside and bringing them up. The Pirols had to be put inside the room (actually over a balcony window) using a crane, as they (particularly in their crates) were too big and too heavy to get them up there through a narrow and quite low staircase. Carrying Robins up (without crates!) turned out to be a challenge, but not one Michael and Robert couldn’t overcome. Obviously these smaller speakers needed time to accommodate to the room temperature, to the system, and as Michael said, they would actually perform optimally only after a day or two after the trip from Berlin. Yet, already after an hour or so, their class started showing. After another hour of us having fun listening to various artists and music genres, we all agreed that this model was probably even better suited for a room of this size.
That’s actually a good news for potential customers as Robins cost significantly less than Pirols while offering same, in terms of character, and not that much inferior, in terms of quality and scale, performance as the latter. After this part of the listening session Janusz himself said that after he would have to give up Pirols in favor of the showroom, he would spend some time with his ASW to evaluate, how much would he miss the SoundSpace Systems speakers and than, if needed, maybe consider purchasing Robins. Long story short – the significantly smaller Robins performed with similar authority, delivering tight, but deep bass, palpable, colorful midrange and wonderfully open, crisp treble. All these features, and many more, beautifully came together to deliver a coherent, resolving, open and highly enjoyable musical experience, one that we truly wanted to last.
The inexpensive, but good enough according to our host, Audiotechnica mono cartridge
Unfortunately, time flies quickly when spent in a great company with wonderful music presented in such a convincing, refined way, so much sooner than any of us would have wanted it to, the session came to an end. After that our hosts took us first for a short night stroll around center of the beautiful Lublin’s Old Town. It was a bit cold, but the views and unique atmosphere of the old part of the city were definitely worth it. We finished this wonderful day, filled with unique musical experiences and interesting conversations, in a restaurant, having the best duck I’d ever eaten.
The very next day Janusz Sikora visited me in Warsaw, as he came to replace my KV12 with the new one using the gold-plated copper conductors. It’s to early for conclusions, but the first days (with cabling still breaking-in) turned out to be quite promising. So stay tuned for the review.
I’d like to thank our hosts, Janusz and Robert for an invitation, as well as Michael for a company. I hope to see you all again soon – maybe for the J.Sikora’s showroom grand opening?