Fidelity Magazine

Sorane tonearms ZA12 transcription tonearm

Reviewed by for Fidelity Magazine, July 2019

Sorane ZA-12 review copy in ‘Fidelity’ magazine (Germany)  2019.Jul.01

Translated from the German text. 

The Sorane Tone-arm family consists of the classic S-shaped TA-1 and TA-1L and the J-shaped SA-1.2 and SA-1.2B. The subject of this report however is  the dead straight and 12.7 inches long ZA-12, recently added to Sorane’s range.

Because of the tonearm length,almost nothing would have come of the article because neither the Editors nor my (the Reviewers) turntable could fit the Sorane ZA-12. This state of helplessness was finally resolved when a Transrotor Alto with Reference power supply we lent to us. (test in FIDELITY42) and this delivered the correct size base-board, with the ZA-12 tone-arm already correctly pre-adjusted. Thank you from my side for this great support! Also because of the really ingenious height adjustable tonearm base of the Alto, it made changing the pickups a real pleasure. With the ZA12’s contemporary design and classic operation, you can of course adjust it without a special drive base in height.  

You have the choice between three different tone-arm baseboard fastening systems. Standard is an installation according to the newer Rega standard, or at additional cost, the company's own flange system; or an SME slide ("slider") is optionally available. In any case, simply loosen and tighten two small setscrews on the tonearm shaft at the side to adjust the correct Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) for the pickup of your choice. The most appealing design feature is the Tonearm itself. This is no tube, but rather a milled channel manufactured from aluminum, the sides of which become flatter towards the head-shell end in two stages. The necessary cartridge offset angle is realized by an "oblique" arrangement of half-inch slots. On the underside of the channel, several circular and oval recesses are milled, the main purpose of which is probably to reduce weight. To the left and right of these recesses run grooves in which the Tone-arm cables run. 

Under the large circular bearing housing, the hidden vertical bearings reside. According to the manufacturer, these consist of a unique combination of point and ball bearings. For the lateral movement however, a classic ball bearing is hidden in the tonearm shaft. The anti-skating force is provided by a spring that is biased by a scaled knob and pointer. The lift works sensitively and gives the listener enough time to take his listening position while lowering.  

It should be noted that the accessories included with the tonearm includes tools, installation and adjustment templates as well as an excellent tonearm cable. However, you need a cartridge downforce measurement device, because this is set on the two-part unscaled counterweight. Otherwise, the assembly of the Sorane ZA-12 is anything but rocket science. Even inexperienced people will be able to complete the setup and adjustment within an hour.  

This tonearm (has been designed for and) is especially suitable for moving coil cartridges. No value for the effective mass is given but by means of resonant frequency measurements with the three pickups I use, it can roughly be estimated that it must be in the range of 25 grams (± 3 g) so the ZA-12 is clearly in the heavy tonearm camp. For this reason, preference should be given to cartridges with a pitch compliance of less than 15 μm / mN. In addition to the immortal Denon DL-103, the excellent Ortofon Anna and exotic Allnic Puritas come in mind. But I can also recommend the cheaper Dynavector DV-10X5 Mk II (neo) and Ortofon Quintet Black that I use with a clear conscience. The Goldring G-2200 which I also used is not recommended, as it has too much needle compliance for the Sorane ZA-12. This is not necessarily noticed, so long as you play completely flat records. But even with slight warps in the vinyl it can show nasty low-pitched resonances that could damage the amplifier and speakers in the worst case. The combination of the ZA-12 with the Goldring is therefore a very clear case of a technical mismatch - but that's just the technical side of the coin, with good flat pressings, the Goldring G-2200 sounded at least as good as I am used to from other lighter tonearms: Alive and with a terrific bass end and very committed to the music. This speaks well for the Sorane ZA12 because I have heard the same Goldring G-2200 in a different set-up sounding very unbalanced, so in addition to the powerful bass, there was a somewhat too high energy so that one almost has the impression that a loudness correction has been activated. This cannot be the case in the ZA-12, which is always harmonious and ‘well educated’ in all matters.  

This tonearm never sounds unnatural. The combinations using the Dynavector DV-10X5 MkII (neo) which is my favorite cartridge and the Ortofon Quintet Black showed this. This is always a balanced system with a warm-neutral voice. In the Sorane ZA12, they play lively and open, but never tilts into the frenetic pace or deviates from its pleasantly homogeneous side. No frequency range is unnaturally prominent. If that were not so, I could not enjoy Chie Ayado's "Love" LP which presents us with over-emphasized sibilants from the barely acceptable to the annoying on lesser systems. Instead, the Sorane ZA-12 now rewards me with a realistic powerful sound impression of the piano played by the Japanese. You literally think the grand piano would be in the room.  

A completely different musical genre served The Art Of Noise in the 1980s. With the newly invented method of sampling combined with danceable rhythms, the English band managed by the famous music producer Trevor Horn inspired many other musicians. The Art of Noise surprised then as now, with a mélange of mostly instrumental pieces, which are partially over-dubbed with soundscapes. The Sorane ZA12 guides the listener through this acoustic adventure with a never boring serenity and skillfully offers the sound in all tonal colours, with spatial and rhythmic precision.  

If you have space for a really big twelve-inch tonearm on your turntable and a cartridge with medium to high low needle compliance (most Moving Coil cartridges), then the Sorane ZA-12 with its unique design is a real alternative to consider. Just the good workmanship and ‘adult’ sound character alone justify the price. If one then considers that the price includes a really good phono cable, this Japanese tone-arm can only be offered with the term "cheap"!  Highly recommended.


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