Sorane tonearms ZA12 transcription tonearm

Reviewed by for Stereophile, February 2019

In "Opus 57," from The David Grisman Quintet (LP, Kaleidoscope F-5), Grisman's second mandolin solo in particular fairly leaped from the speaker—a sound not only spatially forward, but one that carried with it a generous suggestion of the player's force and sheer attitude.

Bill Amatneek's double bass could not have been temporally tighter, clearer of pitch, or, again, more naturally forceful, its level in perfect balance with the other instruments. With the Sorane arm in my system, it was also easy to hear and enjoy the chording of second mandolinist Todd Phillips (who would go on to become a noted bassist), and Tony Rice's guitar solo in the same album's "Blue Midnite" sounded especially tactile—at one point, he pauses in his line of notes and rakes his pick across the strings to produce a subtly stunning effect that through this tonearm sounded all the more so.

Good overall tonal balance—great tonal balance, really—was also the order of the day when I played my nice original copy of Doc Watson's third album, from 1966: Southbound (LP, Vanguard VSD 79213). Double bass, played here by Russ Savakus, again sounded just right: tonally richer and more plummy than on the Grisman record, but no less tight and quick, with superb pitch definition and in fine balance with everything else. Watson's guitar lines—especially his quick runs in "Call of the Road"—sounded wonderful, as did his gorgeous baritone voice: spatially front and center, and imbued with just the right amount of natural texture. Perfect playback of a perfect record, one that I did not want to end.

I spent a few days with the EMT-Sorane combination, which I thoroughly loved for its superb balance, punchy yet natural-sounding dynamic nuances, overall spatial forwardness, and timbral and textural vividness. Tics and pops were never brought to the fore or exaggerated—though the combination of EMT 997 and Shindo SPU proves even more imperturbable—and a wide variety of music styles was served.
In all, the Sorane ZA-12 is a lot like the Sorane née Abis SA-1.2, only more: more effective length, more mass, and more of the up-front, colorful, substantial, impactful, downright chunky playback qualities that endeared to me this company's earlier products. And the ZA-12 is beautifully built, with bearings that exhibit among the lowest friction I've observed in a tonearm of any price.

Setting aside the Sorane ZA-12's height limitations, it seems to be a tonearm lacking in flaws but abundant in point of view.

With the right cartridge, this thing made music like crazy. I hope to keep my review loaner for a while longer, to hear what other standard-mount cartridges might prove suitable (I ran out of time before I could try my Miyajima Laboratory Premium BE Mono II, which, owing to its lowish compliance, seems a likely candidate.)

Read the full review here.

View product on Air Audio Distribution here.