Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus Turntable Review
When you name something after a king, it better be good
What is the Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus?The Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus is an unsuspended, belt driven turntable. The more regular readers of turntable reviews will note that this is exactly the same basic layout as the Pro-Ject Essential III – a device that at the time of writing (October 2017) costs £240. You can also order it with a phono stage on board for £280 which – as we shall come to – more closely mirrors the spec of the Xerxes. Why then, can you have 25 Essential III Phonos for the price of the Xerxes (and in the case of the Pro-Ject that includes a cartridge too)? This is not the sort of discrepancy that can be attributed to a rounding error.
Why then, does the Xerxes cost what it does? What does the most expensive turntable we have ever tested (by some margin) do to justify its existence and why could I possibly claim that this is in any way a convenience item? To answer this, we’ll need to have a look at how the Xerxes came to be in the first place and then look at what has shaped the design into its current form – one that is subtly different from almost any record player on sale.
Finally, we need to establish if the Xerxes is worth the asking price – which is effectively equivalent to a LG 65” W7 OLED – and does it do anything over and above the fearsomely capable VPI Prime, recipient of a Reference badge and all round audio sculpture. Can this handsome but relatively conventional looking beast really be worth getting on for twice as much? There’s only one way to find out and the good news is that it involves playing plenty of records.
SpecificationsKey to the whole functionality of the Xerxes is a system that we first encountered in the Radius turntable we reviewed recently. When it was launched in 1985, the Roksan was a direct response to a design process that was present in many of the most highly regarded turntables of the time. This was a suspension system that was an evolution on one that had first appeared in the 1960s as a result of the work of a man called Edgar Villchur. This suspended the arm and platter on a three point suspension system to isolate the playing surface from the wider world. Perhaps the most well-known turntable to use this system is the Linn LP12.
The designer of the Xerxes, Touraj Moghaddam felt that the drawbacks of this system were considerable. As the surface is itself floating and decoupled, it can’t be read correctly. He therefore developed a system that isolated the arm and platter in such a way as the isolation was a consistent and static value. The Xerxes uses a trio of rubber mounts that have a degree of ‘give’ to them (and prevent vibrations making it to the playing surface) but don’t have the bounce of a fully suspended turntable. These ‘blobs’ have been integral to every Xerxes ever made and are also part of the Radius.
The Xerxes therefore is effectively built in three levels. There is the lower plinth which mounts the feet that the deck stands on. Then, separated by the blobs, is the upper plinth that houses the bearing and motor assembly. On top of this it supports a sub chassis that supports the platter and tonearm. The platter is a two piece alloy device that is intriguing for two reasons. The first is that they use a system of cumulative damping that means that each individual section will ‘ring’ if tapped but are inert when placed together. The second is that when combined, there is a significant section of the inner platter that is recessed away from the playing surface. Between this and the record, a special mat is screwed onto the spindle that means that only the stylus and mat centre are in direct contact with the record during playback.
There are springs at work in the Xerxes though but these are present in the motor housing and serve to act as a sink for any energy that results from it rotating, rather than sending it down the belt to the sub platter. As a result of this less… bouncy… construction, a Xerxes is something that can be assembled by its owner without recourse to special tools or a vast reserve of experience. The feet and bearing assembly can all be adjusted for levelling purposes with the deck in situ and with the smaller range of permissible movement, the amount of adjustment involved is also smaller.
These basic design fields have been evolved over the ensuing 32 years, resulting in the Xerxes 20 Plus that you see here. Many of the improvements are back compatible, allowing an original model to be brought up to a standard similar to a new one. The most recent innovation to the design is perhaps the most interesting though and it isn’t on the deck itself. When you purchase a Xerxes in 2017, the object described as the ‘Xerxes 20 Plus’ comprises the plinth assembly, motor and platter. It will additionally need a power supply, tonearm and cartridge to function.
Roksan makes two power supplies for the Xerxes, the ‘basic’ XPS-7 and the higher specification RPM unit. As a company that also produces a full range of electronics, they also make phono stages. As neither the RPM supply nor the RPP phono stage actually fills the casework that they reside in, Roksan has combined them into a single chassis. Called the VSC (Vinyl System Control) it means that you can buy a Xerxes that is completely self-contained – presenting a single pair of line level RCA connections like any other piece of source equipment. It also means that the whole assembly only needs a single mains socket to function. The VSC allows for selection of 33 or 45 rpm via the front panel and the loading for different cartridges is selected via dip switches on the underside.
At present, the Xerxes has three Roksan arms available for it and the basic geometry of the turntable will work with a considerable number of others. The review sample has been supplied with a Nima arm that is the same basic design that we saw on the Radius so a full description is available there. This is the most affordable arm that Roksan currently makes but it appears to be a popular choice with Xerxes owners. Roksan makes two cartridges – the moving magnet Corus and moving coil (and somewhat pricey) Shiraz. For the purposes of the review however, neither of these have been fitted.
A minor but notable point of the original design of the Xerxes is that the arm and cartridge were intended to be a single object. The body of the cartridge would be a single piece section with the armtube with the generator and stylus inserted inside. This represents a notional ideal – there would be no ‘relationship’ between the two devices because they weren’t two devices. The catch is that making such an object would be incredibly expensive and once the stylus and cantilever were worn, a considerable amount of it would require replacement. With the ongoing resurgence in vinyl, it remains to be seen if someone is prepared to try it.
DesignAt first glance, the Xerxes has more than a passing similarity to the Linn LP12 – something that has become more pronounced over time. If you take the time to look at their construction methods though, the Roksan reveals itself to be a rather different beast in both design and execution. Where the assembly of the LP12 has an almost ritualistic quality to it, the Xerxes is rather more matter of fact. Follow the entirely logical instruction booklet and don’t rush and the vast majority of people can get one up and running.
That doesn’t prevent the Xerxes having a unique feel to it though. All record players are a response to the design requirements and limitations of the format and the solutions present in the Xerxes feel different to those used almost everywhere else. These are tied together in a way that feels beautifully engineered and very carefully thought out. Nothing here is outrageously complicated and in a time where carbon fibre and other 21st century materials are routinely worked into turntables, it has a traditional air to it as well. You get the feeling that the Roksan achieves what it does through care and attention to detail rather than yoking exotic ends of the periodic table to its whim.
It’s also exceptionally pretty. I lavished a considerable amount of time on the pictures but still don’t really feel I’ve done it justice. I love the wood veneered upper plinth but if it’s not your thing, you have the opportunity to choose a white or black piano lacquer but above the specific colour you choose, there is a sense of proportion to the Xerxes that makes many rivals look like they’re trying a bit hard. The triangular slots in the mat are an instant visual cue that the turntable in question is a Xerxes and helps give the Roksan its own design theme.
The VSC is only fractionally less distinctive. Built in Roksan’s ‘Caspian’ casework, it feels solid and well-engineered. Combining the phono stage and power supply is not unknown – Linn does something similar with versions of the LP12 where the phono stage is in the player itself – but the quality of the execution here is deeply impressive.
Against this, there aren’t many things to complain about. The Nima tonearm is a flexible and capable device but can feel a little weird to the uninitiated as it tends to wobble around a fair bit. This particular example has upgraded internal wiring which put up quite a fight before having a cartridge attached to it. The Xerxes has a lid but it’s a dustcover which is physically removed from the player rather than hinged and it also has gaps in the corners allowing for some material to creep in when the device is not in use. On a more basic level, if you can happily use a Pro-ject Essential III, nothing about the Roksan will be terribly alarming.
You get the feeling that the Roksan achieves what it does through care and attention to detail rather than yoking exotic ends of the periodic table to its whim
How was the Xerxes 20 Plus tested?The Roksan and VSC was installed and tested with both Goldring Legacy and a Van den Hul DDT II moving coil cartridges. A limited amount of testing was undertaken with my Cyrus Phono signature running instead of the phono stage section of the VSC. All equipment was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. Partnering equipment was mainly focussed around a Naim Supernait2 integrated amp and Neat Momentum 4i speakers although some testing overlapped the testing of the Monitor Audio Silver 100s. The test material was vinyl.
Sound QualityHaving installed the Xerxes, I made a point of connecting the Van den Hul cartridge to the Nima and initially using my own Cyrus phono stage. The reason for this is that the replay chain would be the exactly the same as the Radius that passed through with the only the physical difference of the Xerxes and its PSU to make the difference. And make no mistake, the Xerxes makes a difference. Given that with the Van den Hul in situ, the price of this ensemble rises to eight grand, we should expect nothing less but nonetheless it is still noteworthy how much of a difference you experience.
This is a turntable that delivers a performance that is at times utterly imperious. It reproduces Leftfield’s Melt in a manner that pretty much removes all sense of there being any mechanical reproduction of the music altogether. That electronic bass riff is delivered with subterranean impact but total control. Indeed the bass response of the Xerxes is utterly exceptional, whether you ask it to deliver the huge impacts of the Prodigy or the plucked strings of a double bass. Great analogue bass can at times seem like a unicorn but when you do get to experience it, it has few equals. The Xerxes manages to be both exceptionally deep but never becomes overblown or unnatural. Going back to pretty much anything else afterwards feels like someone has hobbled your speakers.
Making the call on the tonality of a turntable less the cartridge and the phono stage is tricky because those two components play such a key role in determining it. Regardless of these items though – one of the reasons why the Goldring has also been used in testing – the Roksan has a presentation that is admirably consistent. This is not a bright or attention grabbing turntable. It delivers voices and instruments in a manner that is consistently ‘right.’ I’m sure that there is a cartridge on sale somewhere that would tip the Xerxes over into sounding bright but you’ll have to go some way to find it. The weightiness of the presentation coupled with the upper frequency refinement lends the Xerxes a slightly dark overall balance which I am a huge fan of but I can envisage some people finding it a little restrained.
One of the reasons why I like it is that when you combine it with the metronomic pitch stability that the VSC imparts to the Xerxes, you have a device that is one of the most compelling partners for beat driven music I’ve had the pleasure to listen to. Shortly after I got it up and running, I listened to the first White Lies album To Lose My Life. The result was so singularly outstanding that I proceeded to listen to the following three albums (and get very little else done while I did so). The Xerxes has the ability to open out dense material and make sense of it without ruining the overall balance of the music. Compared to some turntables I’ve listened to around this lofty price point, the Roksan doesn’t sound quite as vast or open but it tends to be almost exactly the amount that rock and dance material needs – and given this makes up a goodly chunk of my listening preferences, it means that the Xerxes has been a very happy partner indeed.
Finding fault with the Roksan is tricky and in part comes down to subjectivity. If you are looking for the smooth, full bodied stereotypical vinyl sound, this isn’t (at least with most cartridges) going to be the device for you. The Xerxes is a device for telling you what is on a record in the same way that any good piece of source equipment should strive to tell you what is in the content being played. It also means that if you give it a poor pressing, one of the things the Xerxes will do is tell you it’s a poor pressing. It’s not ruthless but neither is it endlessly forgiving. For classical and very simple recordings, there is also the slightest sense that the Roksan’s underlying rhythmic drive makes itself felt.
What is interesting for me is how well the Nima arm works in this context. The value ratio of the two components is heavily skewed to the turntable but it never feels out of whack. Dare I say it, I prefer the Nima equipped Xerxes to the one I tested some time back with the more expensive PUG arm. As a pair, you’d never guess this cost imbalance is present. The VSC is also free of any real vices. It is fractionally less three dimensional in its presentation than my resident Cyrus but it manages to sound slightly more forceful and engaging at the same time. It lacks some of the adjustment range of some rivals but its low output moving coil setting looks like it will handle most cartridges without issue.
This is a turntable that delivers a performance that is at times utterly imperious
- Outstandingly accurate and musical performance
- Beautifully made
- Compact and convenient
- Won't flatter poor recordings
- Arm is quite involved to use
- Not cheap
Roksan Xerxes 20 Plus Turntable ReviewFirst things first – is the Xerxes £2,800 better than the VPI Prime? This in part comes down to how much £2,800 means to you but after some extended testing, I am content for the VPI to retain its Reference badge. It is not that the Roksan isn’t great – it is – but more that the VPI is still outlandishly good for its asking price.
Make no mistake though, the Xerxes is better judged in absolute terms – especially when you consider that its asking price includes that superb phono stage. This is an almost viceless piece of equipment to live with. It doesn’t take up much space, it is easy enough to set up and use and it looks and feels superbly well engineered. Above all, it sounds sensational. I would be amazed if even the most fervent advocate of digital didn’t at least raise a smile at a piece of music they know well being played on the Xerxes. As far as I am concerned, this is everything that vinyl replay has the potential to be, condensed into something that provides endless pleasure of ownership at the same time. For these reasons, the Roksan Xerxes comes Highly Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,199.00
Ease of Use8
Value for Money8
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