Don’t let its unusual looks fool you. Ditto its odd name. Deceptively simple in design and eminently user-friendly, this belt-driven turntable was created for those who want to purchase a quality analog source without breaking the bank. GEM Dandy company founder George Merrill—whose initials make up the “GEM” part of the ’table’s name—designed the GEM Dandy PolyTable especially for analog fans seeking a high-performance unit that is a cut above mass-market offerings. I found that the GEM did, indeed, deliver solid sound and a positive user experience—from basic assembly and setup to hours of listening enjoyment. Made in the U.S. (in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee), this ’table is, in fact, so good it won our 2015 Product of the Year Award in the Affordable Analog category.
About the PolyTable’s design: It avoids fuss and frills, and though it has a small footprint—another plus for those with less-than-palatial living spaces—to a large extent its form follows its function. Its trio of sturdy, knob-like, adjustable feet gives it a sort of spaceship vibe. Of course, beauty is famously in the eye of the beholder, but I find the PolyTable to have a certain spare, straightforward appeal that is also kind of sleek and modern. Moreover, its streamlined look befits its streamlined operation, suitable for both budding and more experienced audiophiles. It’s as if this little “gem” of a turntable has nothing to hide.
The PolyTable’s unsuspended plinth, sub-platter, and platter are made of polyvinyl-chloride synthetic plastic, which is produced by polymerization of vinyl-chloride monomer.
George Merrill, who has been designing and building turntables for more than three decades, pioneered the use of such materials and holds related patents (applicable to some of his other turntables). “These polymers manage energy to an overwhelmingly better degree then any metal can,” he says. “None of the turntables since my first Heirloom design (1979) has had any metal in the critical signal path.” The catchy PolyTable name—and those of its PolyCover and PolyWeight accessories—comes from the use of polymer plastics.
Arrival and Assembly
My PolyTable review sample arrived in a larger box than I expected; it was well packed and included a helpful, four-page, color instruction manual. The PolyTable turntables are shipped with Japanese-made Jelco tonearms; upon ordering you can choose from one of three models at tiered prices: the entry-level SA-250 (which was supplied with my sample), the SA-750D, or the 10″ SA-750E. The PolyTables do not come bundled with a cartridge, so you’ll have to buy one for yourself, although a range of Ortofon models is available through Merrill’s store online.
Assembly instructions for the ’table and tonearm—and assembly itself—were simple. The aforementioned brief guide contains photos that make setup even easier. The PolyTable is a subplatter/platter design that uses an oil-well bearing and shaft that require the addition of about 10 drops of oil (included) when you fit the platters together. There are three leveling feet (adjustable via internal screws) on the bottom of the plinth. The platter is lined on its surface with a rubber and cork compound, and there’s a small bubble level built into the plinth. I moved house partway through the audition period, so that little level came in handy for readjusting the feet to compensate for my new home’s not-quite-level hardwood floors. Like any ’table worth its salt, the PolyTable allows for VTF, VTA, and azimuth adjustments to enable optimization of a wide range of cartridges.
Spinning and Listening
Now for the fun part: spinning vinyl. I began auditioning the PolyTable with the supplied Jelco tonearm and a Shelter 201 moving-magnet cartridge during the review period for the PS Audio Sprout (another affordable Product of the Year winner). For a time, I used it as a source for HiFiMan 400S headphones, listening to LPs ranging from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite in Analogue Productions’ marvelous Living Stereo reissue to the energetic Mobile Fidelity-remastered Special Beat Service by The English Beat. The former shone with powerful climaxes that exceeded my expectations. The latter, a recording that’s prone to sounding slightly bright on a few systems, was reproduced quite cleanly, with its midrange-centric instrumentation and percussive punches rendered intact. In general, timbre veered somewhat towards the warmish side—certainly one of the Shelter mm cartridge’s characteristics—though realism on voices was untouched. (In my Sprout review, I described how, when I was using the PolyTable as a source for the HiFiMan cans, a layered-in backup vocal—which seemed to come out of nowhere from right behind me—actually made me jump and turn around to see who had crept up. How’s that for realistic reproduction of a voice?)
Once I switched to a moving-coil cartridge, namely the entry-level PS-7 from Air Tight, the sense of realism only increased. My setup at this time included a Walker Procession phonostage and a NuPrime IDA-8 integrated driving Raidho D-1 two-way loudspeakers and a pair of JLAudio e-110 subs. “Dance Me to the End of Love” from Leonard Cohen’s wonderful Live in London album filled the room with his smooth, smoky baritone and the powerful swells of Neil Larsen’s accordion. With this setup, I spun so many records across so many genres that I have a hard time culling examples.
To take in a true “gold standard” reference system, I spent a great deal of time listening to LPs at JV’s house in the room with the Magico M-Pros and JLAudio Gotham subs, driven by Soulution’s 725 preamp and 711 stereo amp. The source? The new, massive, and enormous Invictus turntable from Acoustic Signature. For reference purposes, I listened to recordings that I was very familiar with and that were, naturally, great-sounding across various criteria.
I’d brought Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True—which I happen to own in an original 1977 Stiff Records pressing. Quite the well-recorded gem, its unabashed attack and slam blew us both away on JV’s reference system (not surprisingly), but wow, did it also rock my new home! No, it didn’t have all the grip and definition of JV’s super-system, or the resolution, transient speed, dimensionality, and color. But, honestly, it wasn’t utterly embarrassed by the comparison. “Welcome to the Working Week” delivered impressive drive and percussive energy. The transient attack of Costello’s Fender guitar strums resonated and decayed with far greater impact and realism than I would have expected. On “No Dancing,” the kickdrum beats and tambourine strikes were similarly satisfying. No, you don’t get all the low-end texture that you do on JV’s reference systems, but the bass seldom went muzzy, and by and large had respectable definition—thanks in part to the JL subs. Costello’s raw vocal emotion was powerfully rendered on the melancholy ballad “Alison,” while “Sneaky Feelings” boasted detailed, rapid-fire cymbal taps that were as crisp and clean as you please.
I also cross-compared the excellent live LP Lost and Found from Buena Vista Social Club on World Circuit Records, which Greg Cahill reviewed favorably in TAS, and the GEM PolyTable once again held up quite well. JV’s reference system captured the magic of the ensemble’s live performance with spectacular imaging and finesse. The snap and speed across a plethora of percussion were thrilling. The delicacy and power of Ibrahim Ferrer’s tenor vocals emerged in incredibly lifelike detail. On my setup with the PolyTable, perhaps the most noticeable differences were the degree of transient response, bass definition, and overall resolution. The GEM sounded rather polite by comparison.
The point I’m making here is one of scale—of cost-to-performance ratios. We know JV’s reference system—hell, just his turntable, tonearm, and cartridge—costs upwards of 120 times the price of the PolyTable. The point is that the performance it provides, as great as it is, is not 100 times better than that of the PolyTable. Overall, the system with the PolyTable delivered a very solid, very musical presentation, albeit with a midrange emphasis, across a broad spectrum of instruments. Although it might not have been the last word in any single audiophile criterion, it offered an impressive degree of detail and a quite respectable sense of verisimilitude. I kept on wanting to listen—and listen more. And isn’t that what this hobby is about?
Regarding any downsides, I have only a few nits to pick with the PolyTable. One concern arose after I had borrowed the stellar Constellation Perseus phonostage preamp from JV. As it turned out, I could not actually connect the PolyTable and the Perseus because the RCA plugs of the Jelco ’arm would not separate far enough to span the distance between the preamp’s widely spaced right and left-channel inputs. Obviously, this would not be a real-world pairing anyway, but I wanted to mention this just in case folks at home have phonostages with inputs that aren’t positioned in a close side-by-side configuration.
On the aesthetic front, some might find the GEM a little too light and stripped-down-looking. Personally, as noted, I think it has its charms. The PolyTable is actually more substantial and somewhat heavier that photos of it suggest. In keeping with its minimalist overall design, changing speeds from 33 1/3 to 45rpm involves removing the top platter, lifting the little rubber belt, and moving it from the smaller sheave on the pulley to the larger one beneath it. Talk about hands-on! A certain analog-hound audiophile I know (who shall remain nameless) was vaguely appalled by this, but I didn’t mind it at all. I felt more “in touch” with the ’table—kind of like my preference for cars with manual transmissions. I feel like I’m actually driving the thing.
Of course, keeping an eye on belt or general mechanical/motor wear-and-tear is part of belt-driven-turntable ownership. Listening will inform you of any major problems. Not that I foresee a problem with the GEM. Even though we’re talking about a ’table that’s intended to be fairly entry-level and basic, it has still been designed and built with a care and quality that should keep it running happily (and keep you listening happily) for years and years to come.
If you’re an analog lover who doesn’t have a big living space and/or a big budget, this high-value, small-footprint, belt-driven turntable could be just your ticket. From setup to playback to overall musical enjoyment, I found the PolyTable to be a delight in every way. It avoids fuss and frills, boasting a sleek, modern form, while its sturdy, two-piece platter, easy-to-install bearing, and adjustable feet make for easy assembly and operation. Additional optional accessories include a clear PolyCover ($49) and a PolyWeight ($59). If you’re seeking more features and flexibility than a typical mass-market turntable offers, give this rather unique-looking number a look—and a listen. With both the mm and mc cartridges I tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks. A gem, indeed.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Belt-driven turntable with two platters
Tonearm: Jelco SA-250 (SA-750D or SA-750E can be specified)
Speeds: 33rpm and 45rpm
Dimensions: 18″ x 7″ x 12″ (18.5″ with SA-750E 10″ tonearm)
Weight: 12 lbs.
GEM DANDY PRODUCTS, INC.
820 Herbert Rd.
Cordova, TN 38018