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Garrard 301 Turntable Reviewed

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3 Stars
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3 Stars
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Under 65? A vinyl addict of the post-Linn persuasion? Then don't go poring over old hi-fi magazines, books or yearbooks. It will only aggravate your ulcer because, if the amount of wordage given to what they quaintly used to refer to as 'motor units' is any indication, they didn't think too much of turntables back then.

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In the 1950s and 1960s, audio hobbyists didn't to turntables . Hi-fi 'how to' books and yearbooks gave tens of pages to cartridges (or 'heads' or 'pick-ups') but only two or three pages for the decks themselves. They thought that the cartridge was responsible for, oh, let's say 99 percent of the job of carrying the signal from groove to phono stage. The 'motor unit' and arm? Necessary only to rotate the disc and carry the pick-up.

, all the arm had to do was allow the cartridge to traverse the disc with minimal tracking error, presenting it with a stable platform, e.g. no rattling from the bearings. Stereo changed all of that: SME, Ortofon and others proved, after the advent of two-channel playback virtually quadrupled the demands on a cartridge, that it wasn't quite so base and straightforward a task. As for the turntable itself? If you read the writings of patriarchs Wilson, Watts and Kelly, you surmise that a deck need only to rotate perfectly at the designated speeds of 33 1/3, 45 or 78rpm, without wow, flutter, rumble or cogging effects. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if the deck's motor was shielded so you could use cartridges from Decca. End of story. Stability was all, while addressing isolation was a given; microphony, for example, is not a new problem. But magical sonic properties were not attributed to the rotating portion of the equation.

Which is not to say that there wasn't a hierarchy. In the 1950s, reference- or broadcast-grade decks, referred to as 'transcription' turntables, were of idler or rim drive, with only minimal isolation afforded by the suspensions; that might mean merely something as rudimentary as rubber 'mushrooms' or leaf springs. At the pinnacle, slugging it out to this day amongst anachrophiles, were two rivals: the Switzerland's Thorens TD-124 and the UK contender, the Garrard 301.

Competition and Comparison
If you are interested in comparing the Garrad 301 turntable against other turntables, be sure to read our reviews for the Quasar LE turntable, the Linn LP12 turntable, and the Garrard 501 turnatable. You can also visit our Source Component section

They would remain at the top of the tree, from the dawn of the LP to the arrival of the AR turntable, the latter heralding the efficacy of belt-drive and a three-point suspended sub-chassis, as emulated by Thorens with the TD-150, Ariston's RD-11, then the Linn LP-12 and countless others. But there remains a diamond-hard core of 301 fans, and there's a reason why: despite the lack of suspension, despite the rim drive, a 301 can sound simply amazing.

Even with an average age of 45 years, the Garrard 301 and its replacement, the superior-in-every-way 401, still command respect. As you can imagine, they are worshipped by those sorts of audiophiles who take seriously the joke about how many of the breed are required to change a light-bulb, worshipping without irony a generation of record decks that can in no way run as quietly as a well-designed belt-drive or even certain underrated direct-drives. But nostalgia being what it is, the 301 and 401 are so adored by Japanese audiophiles in particular that they find homes in $100,000-plus systems, usually in custom-made plinths with four-figure price-tags.

Garrard itself is - technically speaking - probably the oldest name in audio because it is part of the family that gave us Garrard and Company, appointed Crown Jewellers of London in 1721. Thus, it can claim - in 16 years - that it is three centuries old. This is no more of a stretched conceit than a modern bank tracing its roots back to a shipping or trading company from the 1600s. The part of the DNA that led to turntables evolved in time for the Great War when, in 1914, Garrard was asked to manufacture precision range finders for the British Artillery, possessing as they did, both the craftsmen and the necessary machinery.

Thus, in 1915, the Garrard Engineering and Manufacturing Company Ltd was formed with Major S.H. Garrard as Chairman and Mr C.E. Newbegin as Managing Director, from a factory installed in the premises the White Heather Laundry in Willesden, London. When the war ended, Garrard segued into consumer products. Luckily for us, they took note of the boom in gramophone sales and with it a demand for spring-wound motors. (Remember: Great Britain once led the world in clock and watch manufacturing.)

Garrard's audio output started off with the Garrard Number 1 Spring Wound Gramaphone Motor. In 1919, they moved to new premises in Swindon, making motors for Columbia, Decca, HMV, Lugton, Selecta, Coppock and many others. In 1930, though, with electric motors replacing the wind-ups, the first Garrard-branded record-player appeared.

Garrard decided to make a top-quality AC motor as a prestige model, a direct-drive motor for the heart of what became the Garrard Model 201. (Yes: .) It found success quickly, being adopted by the BBC and other broadcasters, by cinemas and by those protean creatures who would later be called audiophiles. Designed originally for 78rpm records, it was later modified to play the 33 1/3rpm LPs and 45s, and was the first of what were later to be called transcription turntables. It featured a 32-pole induction motor designed by Monty Mortimer, mounted in a pressed steel chassis. Being direct drive, it featured a complex mechanical speed governor.

The 201 remained the flagship model through the Second World War years, during which Garrard, naturally, helped the war effort with military work. In 1945, after the death of Major Garrard, all links with the jewellery strand of the brand were severed, and The Garrard Engineering and Manufacturing Company Ltd. became a separate entity with Mr H.V. Slade as Managing Director. By this time, with the war over, the public wanted a change from austerity, so gramophone sales escalated. A couple of interim models would appear to exploit the new 10in and 12in, 33 1/3rpm and 7in 45rpm vinyl records, as well as 78s. They need, too, to accommodate a new generation of lightweight pick-ups, including magnetic cartridges.

Then, in October 1954, on the eve of the dawn of stereo and thus concurrent with the global explosion in interest in 'high fidelity', Garrard unleashed the 301. Robust, minimalist, beautifully-built, it featured a massive motor driving an idler, which drover the platter via its rim. The unit consisted of a die-cast aluminium base, enamelled in grey (later changed to a creamy white) and featured grease bearings, changed to oil bearings in 1957. And, yes, there are those who prefer the former to the latter. As the grease bearing models are much more rare, the prices are commensurately higher. Best estimates for sales of the 301, according to the archive material in the possession of Loricraft - the keepers of the Garrard flame - suggest circa 65,000.

In 1965, Garrard launched the 401 to replace the 301. In addition to Eric Marshall's styling makeover, a more severe look in metallic charcoal with chrome details, much was changed underneath though the deck remained, fundamentally, the same rim-drive behemoth. Most notably, the motor had increased shielding to allow it to be used with Deccas, Grados and other cartridges susceptible to hum, and so was de-rated from 16W to 12W. The 301's motor had aluminium endplates and was ventilated, while the 401 had iron endplates and was not ventilated. In place of the 301's flat thrust pad, the 401 featured a raised phosphor bronze thrust pad, while the variable speed range increased from the 301's +/-2% to +/-3%. By 1977, when the 401 was put out to pasture, approximately 74,000 had been sold.

ANORAKIA
Garrard 301s and 401s are amongst the easiest vintage turntables to run in the 21st Century, thanks to the efforts of Loricraft. This company - also known for a superb record cleaning machine - buys and sells used decks, refurbishes them to any level you require, provides power supplies, idler wheels and arm-boards, and even produces the 501 with official permission to call it a Garrard. Along with companies such as Shindo, Zenn and others, Loricraft also produces plinths; my own 401 resides in a magnificent Slate Audio plinth, but Slate Audio seems to now be inactive. Shindo also manufactures ultra-high-quality bearings and replacement platters.

Amusingly, mods and accessories for Garrards have been around for decades. The original SME 2000 plinth featured the necessary hardware to provide a suspension for the Garrard (or the TD-124), while the Black Knight Rumble Cure, circa 1973, was shown with a foam mat, record weight and other accoutrements on a 401. The turntables, however, are fundamentally robust and good-sounding, so major surgery needn't be part of your agenda.

Read more about the Garrard 301 on Page 2.
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