The more I hear them, the more intrigued I’ve become by the growing selection of all-in-one turntable packages available. They are supplied with a preinstalled cartridge and tonearm. Some even feature a built-in phono preamplifier and require nothing more than a pair of cables (that are typically included) to hook up to your system and start spinning vinyl. They come in a range of prices, so whether you’re on a tight budget or able to invest significantly, there’s almost certainly a product for you.
My interest began when I wrote about the Pro-Ject Audio Systems T1 Phono SB turntable for this site, and shortly thereafter about its more upscale sibling, the Debut Pro with Pick it Pro cartridge (in the US, the Debut Pro ships with a Sumiko Rainier moving-magnet cartridge). Currently in my listening room and still in its box, I’ve got a Pro-Ject X2 B, as well as the new Thorens TD 1500. The subject of this review is Roksan’s latest turntable, which joined the company’s Attessa family of components last year. One thing these record players have in common is that they’re all manufactured in Europe.
All the models I’ve mentioned arrive fully assembled, with a factory-installed cartridge. They require less than 20 minutes to unbox, level, check the counterweight, and hook up. While the turntable-curious might be intimidated by the idea of mounting a cartridge themselves (particularly if that cartridge is expensive), each of these decks can be set up by someone with no experience whatsoever.
When Jeff Ginn of Kevro International (Roksan’s North American distributor) delivered the Attessa, I’ll admit to feeling embarrassed by my ignorance of the turntable manufacturer. I knew of the brand but I’d never heard one of Roksan’s components. Jeff explained to me that the company made its name building . . . wait for it . . . turntables. Launched in 1985, the Xerxes was a belt-driven model featuring a solid plinth, somewhat in contrast to the suspended subchassis designs, such as the Linn Sondek, that were ubiquitous at the time. In the nearly 40 years since, Roksan has expanded its product portfolio to include several lines of electronics, but the British company cut its teeth and launched its brand by making record players at a time when vinyl was still king. With the inclusion of a turntable in the Attessa range, Roksan has kept true to its roots.
At $1699 (all prices in USD), the belt-driven Attessa struck me as a bit of an attention-grabber when I saw it online. My review unit came in the white finish (black is also available). The plinth’s rounded sides and the high-tech, flat-top tonearm give it a distinctive look. On appearances alone, one can see that the Attessa isn’t the bargain-basement entry point for analog.
The substantial glass platter is 10mm thick and features an anodized aluminum edge. A felt record mat is included and I used it for all my listening, even though it annoyingly stuck to the underside of my records as I removed them from the deck. Fortunately, one can simply forgo using a mat or experiment with any number of the off-the-shelf options out there, so this is not a difficult issue to address.
With the lid removed, the Attessa measures 17″W × 4″H × 14″D and weighs a respectable 14 pounds (with the cover installed, its height increases by approximately half an inch). Holding it in your hands, the unit feels sturdy, exuding a level of quality one expects at this price. A built-in speed controller allows the user to toggle between 33 ⅓ and 45 rpm using buttons on the lower left side of the plinth. When a button is pressed, the motor pauses for a moment before engaging and getting up to speed. In a thoughtful functional touch, an LED beside the button flashes as the platter picks up speed, becoming steady once the target rpm is reached. The preinstalled belt that turns the platter wraps around a machined, high-grade aluminum pulley.
A new tonearm and cartridge were designed for the Attessa. The tonearm was a bit of a revelation for me. I’ve already said that I admired its high-tech appearance, but what’s especially interesting is that it’s a unipivot design. Constructed of 5052 aluminum on top and ABS on the bottom, the tonearm is balanced on a glass jewel pivot and feels considerably lighter than the Rega RB250 on my Thorens ’table. Prior to the Attessa’s arrival, I’d never used a unipivot arm and it took some getting used to. I found it difficult to place precisely above a position on the record and have it stay there, because it would move slightly to the left or right as it balanced on the single point of its pivot. Furthermore, unlike the RB250, there is no tonearm clamp to hold it in place when not in use. This was probably the biggest adjustment for me. I had to be careful putting the dust cover on the plinth after each time I used it to make sure I didn’t bump the back end of the tonearm.
The preinstalled Dana cartridge is a moving-magnet design that Kevro told me can be purchased separately for $419. I was impressed that, at 25% of the cost of the whole package, Roksan clearly hasn’t skimped on this critical component. Featuring a bonded elliptical diamond/titanium stylus, the Dana has an output voltage of 3.5mV and requires a load impedance of 47k ohms. The stylus is easily replaceable, so the cartridge can have a long service life. Roksan specifies a tracking force of 1.8–2.2gm for the Dana; a basic tracking-weight scale is included and can be used to dial in the force to the recommended 2.0gm. However, I used my Shure stylus gauge to check the setting as I adjusted it by turning the counterweight at the end of the tonearm. After tightening the counterweight’s locking screw, I put a record on the platter to check the azimuth. Fortunately, the review sample was already squarely aligned and required no adjustment. The phono stage is active by default (but can be bypassed by toggling a switch on the back adjacent to the RCA connectors), so I plugged in the power supply and was ready to go.
Setup and sound
The Roksan Attessa was linked by generic RCA cables to a Bryston B135 SST2 integrated amplifier, which was connected to KEF R11 speakers using Nirvana Audio Royale speaker wires, terminated in spades. I also compared the Roksan’s onboard phono stage to the Saturn Audio 401 outboard phono preamplifier. For this task, I used the Roksan-supplied RCA cables between the turntable and the Saturn, while the same generic RCA cables as before connected the Saturn with the Bryston. The electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner/regenerator.
Unless specified otherwise, all my listening was done using the Attessa’s own built-in phono stage. I suspect most people that buy the Attessa will use it this way. Still, I contacted Sheldon Ginn, Kevro’s president, to ask if the company expected that buyers would just use the onboard phono stage, or if it was intended as a stepping-stone to an outboard unit. Ginn told me that Roksan wanted to provide a good-quality onboard phono stage that would be comparable to the one in its K3 integrated amplifier ($2299). This way, potential owners could feel confident that they wouldn’t need an external unit unless they wanted to invest in a significant upgrade. He also pointed out that a built-in phono stage better suits consumers looking to reduce the number of components in their systems. Furthermore, an integrated phono stage allows the Attessa to be connected directly to powered speakers for a truly minimalist analog system.
So how does Roksan’s newest vinyl spinner sound straight out of the box? Pretty darn good. It’s commendably transparent and offers a high level of resolution, all for well under $2000. The fact that it’s manufactured in the UK only adds to its appeal. One of the first albums I played on it was Michael Hedges’s Aerial Boundaries (Windham Hill Records WH-91032). On the title track, the Attessa sounded impressively lucid, allowing for a clear view into his playing. The strings of his acoustic guitar were incisive, with precise leading edges and clean transients. While the resonance of the wood was palpable, it wasn’t overly warm. If anything, the recording had me paying more attention to the tempo of his playing and appreciating the way the notes popped from the strings. Aerial Boundaries is well recorded—the kind of album you pull out to demonstrate the quality of your system—and it sounded intimate and engaging through the Roksan.
On Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (Fat Possum Records FP1753-1), “Cop Shoot Cop . . .” opens with a memorable line that will be easily recognizable to anyone familiar with John Prine’s work. The soundstage on this track had a perceptible sense of depth, particularly with respect to the piano. The song builds, eventually peaking at a frantic and seemingly chaotic crescendo, before smoothly dissolving back into the melody. The crashing of the drum kit and distortion of the guitars work to create an anxiety-inducing mania that was well communicated by the Roksan. Listening to this English rock band on a deck manufactured in the UK seemed fitting. Ladies and Gentlemen features vocal accompaniment courtesy of the London Community Gospel Choir, and their well-outlined voices occupied a broad presence behind the main vocal on “Cop Shoot Cop . . .” A trumpet added a greater sense of depth to the stage, sounding not only distant but distinct.
Changing it up (literally and stylistically), I put Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Deutsche Grammophon 138804) onto the platter. The Attessa created an expansive sound, with the Berlin Philharmonic spread across a wide stage that impressed me again by its depth. The opening movement is dynamic, and the vigor of the orchestra is expressed by the vitality of their playing. The horns in the third movement blare as if to celebrate some great triumph, and are accompanied by vibrant and often frenzied strings that elevate the tempo and magnify the sense of exhilaration; this is a lively piece of music at times, and the Attessa was a wonderful conduit for communicating this energy. Fantastic stuff.
On Tom Waits’s Alice (Anti- 86632-1), the rich tone of the saxophone on the title track and the sweep of the brushes against the cymbals were rendered with pristine clarity behind Waits’s raspy, spitty baritone. His voice, sounding like a road-weary serpent, was commendably clear through the Attessa, taking on the sort of immediacy and presence that I’ve come to expect from his catalog. This is absolutely a good thing; while Waits’s voice can be divisive for some listeners, his recordings are so well engineered that it is often portrayed in the listening room with incredible presence. The Attessa had no issue projecting the sounds captured on this track to create the illusion of Waits and his band performing right in front of me.
Phono stage swap
I was having fun pulling out records to hear how they sounded through the Roksan turntable, but eventually I decided to experiment with another phono stage to further evaluate the quality of the basic platform (i.e., deck, tonearm, and cartridge) and see how much more performance could be squeezed from it. I was fortunate to have the exceptional 401 phono stage from hi-fi newcomer Saturn Audio for this task. The Saturn costs $2900, 70% more than the entire Attessa package, just for a phono stage. While I wouldn’t expect anyone to partner these two components, I simply wanted to hear what the pairing could do.
Bypassing the Attessa’s onboard phono stage was extraordinarily annoying. It’s difficult to fathom why, but the engineers at Roksan clearly did not design the phono preamplifier bypass switch with equipment reviewers in mind. Shocking, I know. This seemingly simple task required use of a screwdriver small enough to insert into a tiny opening on the backside of the unit and slide the switch from one side to the other. I have no idea why it was designed so the job could only be completed with a tool. For the normal user who doesn’t switch back and forth to compare products, this shouldn’t be a problem, but swapping phono stages was a hassle for me.
Grievances aside, I cued up Tom Waits again and instantly realized that as much as I’d enjoyed hearing Alice through the Attessa’s built-in phono stage, playing it through the Saturn brought the sound quality into another league. The stage expanded, not by putting the musicians further apart, but rather by creating a greater sense of the space around them. A drop in the noise floor was also immediately apparent, which naturally had the effect of revealing more detail and nuance in the music. In its basic configuration, the Attessa provides a high level of performance, but this ’table has even more to offer when paired with a high-quality external phono stage.
I swapped back to the Attessa’s internal phono stage and listened to “Limit to Your Love” from James Blake’s self-titled debut (Universal Republic Records B0015443-01). On this track, the clarity of Blake’s voice is not matched by the sound of his piano, which seems more veiled and less prevalent in the mix. However, when the bass enters, the front of my room filled out as the low frequencies expanded the stage, creating a sense of grandeur through the Roksan. This song has become my litmus test for how well a cartridge tracks such deep bass passages. In the past, I’ve heard distortions in these sections of the song that reveal themselves with a static-like character that is terribly distracting. The Dana cartridge had no such issues, and sailed through the grooves as smoothly as my own Sumiko Songbird cartridge, which costs more than twice as much as the Dana.
Listening to the same tune again through the Saturn phono stage, the first thing I heard was the drop in the noise floor—a vacuum that was filled with an increase in detail retrieval and a wider dynamic envelope. Suddenly, the lower registers of the piano had more body, and the instrument sounded more open and spacious. The music in general just seemed to “pop” from a stage that was more voluminous. Through the onboard phono stage, Blake’s voice was a bit smaller and less rounded than through the Saturn, which added to the latter’s sense of presence in the listening room.
These observations are not intended as a criticism of the Attessa’s built-in phono stage. On the contrary, it sounds incredibly good and comes as part of an entire turntable package that costs $1200 less than the Saturn 401 on its own. Rather, I see this as a testament to the quality of the Roksan deck/tonearm/cartridge combination, which clearly has an even higher performance ceiling. While the number of people on this planet that would use these two components together can be counted on the fingers of one of Homer Simpson’s hands, my point is that someone buying an Attessa may eventually want to upgrade (a rare occurrence among audiophiles, I know, but not unheard of) and the Attessa provides a great platform to enable this.
I used my reference Thorens TD 160 HD turntable ($2900) and low-output, moving-coil Sumiko Songbird cartridge ($899) to compare with the British deck. At twice the price, the Thorens/Sumiko combo is hardly a natural competitor for the Attessa, but its sound is the one with which I’m most familiar.
Initially I’d planned to compare the two turntables using the Lehmannaudio Black Cube phono stage I normally use with my setup. However, since I still had the Saturn 401, I decided to treat myself to its superior sound and give both decks the chance to perform their best. Besides, so long as both turntables were paired with the same phono stage, it didn’t matter which one I chose.
Returning to Aerial Boundaries, the acoustic guitar was fuller through the Thorens, as some of the lower notes Hedges coaxed from the instrument possessed additional body and weight. The difference wasn’t night-and-day, but there’s no question the German-made deck conveyed a bigger sound, while still maintaining the Attessa’s grip on transient attack that allowed notes to pop from the strings. Both turntables boasted a clean, clear character, and captured plenty of detail in the recording, and in this regard there was no obvious winner. That the British deck held its own so well against its pricier counterpart is a testament to its quality.
With the TD 160 HD, Blake’s voice on “Limit to Your Love,” which is already the focal point of the track, was more holographic than through the Roksan. The notes from his piano were a touch more distinct from one another, as they appeared to be better separated in space. Furthermore, the bass had a bit more impact and weight, and the sound was altogether more powerful through the Thorens. Re-reading those last two sentences, you’d think the Attessa was embarrassed by its more expensive competition, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, at less than half the price, the Roksan more than held its ground, and still allowed me to revel in its clean, detailed delivery. Given its much higher asking price, one would expect the Thorens/Sumiko setup to outperform the Attessa in some areas, and that’s what I heard. However, in some ways (particularly in terms of resolution and clarity), the two analog setups were much closer than the discrepancy in their prices would suggest. As is so often the case in this hobby, the law of diminishing returns was certainly in play.
Prior to this review I knew embarrassingly little about Roksan, a company with a well-established pedigree in the industry. Furthermore, when I requested the Attessa turntable for review, it had as much to do with my interest in its design aesthetics as it did in hearing something from the brand. However, as much as I appreciated how it looked sitting at the front of my room, my enduring memory of the Attessa won’t be nearly so superficial. This is a fine-sounding deck, and for a listener like me that gravitates toward components that are transparent, it’s an easy recommendation. The Attessa is a well-executed design both in terms of its engineering and its appearance. Regarding the latter, I found it simultaneously subtle and striking; particularly in the white finish, I think it could add a touch of flair to somebody’s décor. More importantly, the Attessa delivers great sonics. Whether used in its basic configuration or as a platform for upgrading, Roksan’s newest turntable is an excellent option for a no-fuss setup that can also be a long-term investment.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers: KEF R11.
- Phono stage: Lehmannaudio Black Cube.
- Integrated amplifier: Bryston B135 SST2.
- Analog source: Thorens TD 160 HD turntable, Rega Research RB250 tonearm, Sumiko Songbird moving-coil cartridge.
- Speaker cables: UltraLink, Nirvana Audio Royale.
- Power conditioner: ExactPower EP15A.
Roksan Attessa Turntable
Warranty: Five years, parts and labor.
24 Brook Road
Rayleigh, Essex SS6 7XJ
Phone: +44 1268 78900
North American distributor:
902 McKay Road #4
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3X8
Phone: (800) 667-6065, (905) 428-2800
Fax: (905) 428-0004