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Vintage review
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Rambler's Top100




It's funny how products long since departed to the great listening room in the sky are often capable of showing modem, more expensive items more than a thing or two. Garrard's 301 and 401 idler wheel drive turntables are both prime examples of the triumph of classic designs.
Born in 1953, the 301 was Garrard's first transcription turntable produced to play all three existing disc formats: 78 RPM, RCA's new 45 RPM 7" singles and 33-3 RPM 'Long Playing' microgroove discs. Hence the name three-on-one The 301 was immediately recognized as a reference class instrument.
It was to remain at the top of the market for a decade.

The earliest 301s were finished in a classy silver-grey hammertone. These early units had a grease nipple in the ride of the bearing. When the deck was installed this reservoir was filled up to the limit with lubricant. All you had to do to maintain proper lubrication of the bearing was to tighten a knurled cap slightly through the access hole on top of the motor plate, thereby forcing more grease into the business end of the assembly.
In early 1957 the finish was changed from "hammerite' silver-grey to creamy white enamel. Later in that same year the bearing assembly was modified to take oil rather than grease.

Not surprisingly, the earlier grease bearing fitted units are more sought after on the second hand market The earliest 301s have a bearing made with a phosphor bronze lining as well as thrust pad. Later oil-lubricated units have copper-sided bearings. These have a screw hole on top of the chassis instead of a side mounted grease nipple. If you are buying a 301 and are unsure of which version you are looking at, the later oil bearing units are marked "schedule two" on the name plate. Most of the grease bearings are fitted to decks finished in silver hammertone paint. Only a few specimens of the cream-coloured version had the "better" bearing.

For years, I did not realize the difference. A friend of mine exports a lot of 301s to Japan. They go potty over a grease bearing and will pay him loopy money for one. For years I thought they were crazy. However, owners of oil bearings need not despair. I personally can hear very little difference between the two bearings if they are in good condition.

The next big change occurred with the introduction of the 401 in 1964. The basic ideas were unchanged, and the 401 is essentially a 301 in a Saville Row suit The major styling rework was courtesy of Eric Marshall, who had also styled the more mass market 'Lab 80'. The 401 echoed the latter quite a bit. Standard 301 production overlapped with 401 production for a couple of years.

Garrard 301/QUAD rig in traditional overly resonant cabinet

Technically, the 401 offered better magnetic screening. This was mainly because the micro switch was mounted under the motor plate rather than on top of it as in the 301, although the motor casing was redesigned to reduce induced hum in the cartridge. The eddy current brake was more substantial and offered greater variation in speedjust over half a semitone each way father than just under a third of a semitone. A stroboscopically marked platter which was an option for the 301 came standard on the 401. And for the first time on a British-made turntable, the 401 had a neon lamp to illuminate the strobe markings.
Reading a couple of period reviews in Hi-Fi News and Gramophone I get the impression that the 401 had a bit of a frosty reception. Percy Wilson, reviewing for Gramophone, did not like the styling, complained that the 301 was no worse than the 401 as far as hum pick up is concerned with correct mounting of the arm, and he felt that the 401 offered no overall improvement in performance.

The earliest 401's strobe lamp does not operate all of the time. You had to hold the pitch knob down to activate it. Only a handful of decks were like this. A few years later, the neon lamp changed from the elaborate item mounted under the platter and reflected by a mirror to a plastic window next to the platter to an ugly, one piece thing placed in the hole left by the original's window.

Early in the 1970s, cost cutting really caught hold. The chassis was redesigned. Quality control went out the window as did the finish. Instead of elegant charcoal metallic, you get flat brown. Worst of all, the Garrard logo was changed from a superbly cast emblem to a decidedly low-rent piece of pressed steel. However, these late-model decks offer good performance, as long as everything is assembled and set up correctly.
At the same time Garrard felt the Japanese pinch. Their budget decks (SF25 anyone?) were knocked out of the sales charts by newcomers such as Pioneer's ground, breaking PL12D.

The 401 was killed off in 1976. At the same time unscrupulous dealers started flogging smaller, neater junk such as Linn LP12s. 401s came to be considered a joke. The flat earthers were about to have their few years of glory.
Eventually Garrard resorted to badge engineered Japanese garbage. Needless to say they bit the dust in 1982. Quite sad for a company that employed several thousand workers for most of its existence.

At about this time our Japanese friends were building strange tube power amplifiers with quaint tubes like 211s, 845s and 300Bs. A few of them started using older 301s and 401s in preference to some of the imposing Japanese super decks that were on the market back then.

Half a dozen companies set up shop buying unloved Garrard turntables, and other vintage kit on behalf of shops in Tokyo's 'Akihabara'. A couple of these companies are still at it. One reckons there are now more 301s in Japan than back in Blighty.

The main reason these decks were ditched in the trash can was because of incorrect installation. Both decks are fitted with motors of monster proportions. Forget farty Philips VCR motors (as fitted to the LPl 2) or even the beefy unit fitted to the TD 124. Garrard went well over the top. When the 301 was introduced, 78 rpm records were the norm. This plus the fact that very few pick ups tracked at much less than 10 grams meant that the motor needed to be big.


Garrard 401 motor unit with FR-64 and SPU Gold Reference

The problem is that it's a wild and untamed thing. It tends to shake the hell out of the rest of the chassis. Not a problem if your plinth is very heavy and can 'sink' the unwanted energy. Problem was that no one recognized it as a problem at the time. When the 401 was new, only one company in England offered a suitably heavy plinth (it was actually made out of slate). In most installations, the poor old 301 had to make do with plywood or worse.

In short, the problem with the 301 was a plinth problem and nobody realized it at the time. The popular 'radiogram' console cabinets of the day were great resonators for the 301's vibrations. The classy hardbound Garrard instruction manual was way offtrack as well. The makers recommended a sprung motor board, a recipe for disaster. A popular plinth was made by S.M.E. that applied the same theory. One would have thought they knew better.

A solid, heavy plinth cures 95% of all unwanted motor noise. Half a dozen kitchen table outfits have recently popped up offering suitable items. Most of them are pretty good, if a little on the expensive side. Just remember the more mass you provide, the more you banish noise.

Another reason these units throw out so much vibration is due to the eddy current brake system. This awful device labours the


huge shaded pole motor slightly, to allow adjustments in turntable speed and to adjust for slight variations in the size of the idler wheel.

Garrard's pre war turntable, the 201 (two speed, 78 rpm and 80 rpm), was even harder on the motor. This system used a centrifugal governor working against a felt pad. It's no wonder the motors are always burnt out on pre WWII radiograms.

Anyway, back to the eddy current brake. Through a series of levers, turning the pitch control knob slides a magnet over an alloy disc fitted to the shaft of the motor. With the knob turned fully counter clockwise the magnet is positioned over the disc and slows the poor old motor down, resulting in the deck running 2 1/2% slow (just 1 1/2% for the 301). Turning the knob clockwise positions the magnet off the disc, allowing the motor to run at its normal mains electric frequency. 2 1/2% fast of course! Normal operation is with the brake half applied. And that is the problem, the brake is always, in operation.

To make matters worse, on the last 401s the alloy disc was very badly positioned, and tended to oscillate on its axis. The nearer the magnet to the disc, the more it labours the motor and slows it down. The further away, the less the effect. Now imagine our poor motor having the above applied 50 or 60 times a second. You have to bear this to believe how bad it is.

The 301 has a slimmer disc which is easily dented in transit if someone forgets to tighten the transit clamp. On the plus side, the magnet itself is not positioned over the disc. Instead, two 'arms' are positioned on either side of the disc. These connect to the magnet and allow the eddy currents to be 'steered'. This system is an advantage over the 401 because the disc is within a field between the two arms, and thus the speed is not affected as much.

A simple tweak is to reduce the voltage to the motor 20% is about the right reduction. There are two ways of doing this: using a transformer or by wiring a light bulb in series with the motor. On UK supplies a 40 or 60 watt light bulb gave best results. Once you have a bulb socket wired up it is easy to try different wattage bulbs. Remember the lower the wattage the higher the resistance and the less voltage the motor gets. Therefore, the less noise the brute puts out.


Loosening the wiring harness from the 401 motor can reduce rumble

A major upgrade is to remove the eddy current brake completely and fit a dedicated variable frequency power supply. The problem is that there are not too many power supplies capable of supplying on 80-90 volt sine wave variable between 45 and 60 hz at a power of over 12 watts. Reducing motor voltage means the deck takes a second or so longer to reach full speed. Big deal, in practice this is just not that serious an inconvenience.

One point to watch on all 401s is the power harness. Half a dozen wires hang out of the motor. These go to the double pole mains switch and the neon lamp at the front Halfway along the journey to the switch, the wires are secured to the chassis by a link spring. Since this is too close to the motor, it acts as a path for the energy from the motor to travel down to shake the rest of the chassis. I usually remove the spring and simply let the wires dangle.


 

The main bearing has come in for a lot of hammer recently. Unless your original one is damaged, leave it alone. I have tried four different bearing mods and all of them except one produced more background noise. The other one provided a marginal improvement at first, but became noisy after a couple of weeks' use. At the moment, I am still waiting for the guy to return it to me. I think it is all a load of cobblers! The only bearing mod not tried is by a guy called Shindo.

Apparently he Is a major guru in the Japanese hi-fi scene. If anyone has any experience of Shindo's 301 mod, let us know the story.

Good lubrication is important. If the bearing has been neglected, then the copper sides will have worn quite badly. You can check for this by gently rocking the platter from side to side. Any play means a new bearing housing, or trying to find someone to remanufacture yours. It only takes a few minutes to remove the entire shooting match, so take it out, clean it, check for wear and then rebuild it with a good oil If your deck is the grease bearing type, the original Garrard stuff seems about best None of that in stock? Then fill it with Castrol Cl, (chassis lubrication) grease.

Remember to oil the shaft as you refit it to the housing. Oil as you go. Never, ever have a good grease bearing modified.

While you have the bearing apart check the thrust pad for wear. Note that someone at Garrard chose to change the shape of the thrust pad from the original flat surface to a convex shape in the 401. In my opinion, this is not quite as good as the original 301 design. It might be worth considering a modified bearing for your 401 because of this factor.

Same applies to the motor. Strip, clean and rebuild applying oil as you go. The motor runs fast and gets hot. I tried using good quality car engine oil which worked quite well. The best was a dedicated motor oil designed for VCR motors made by Hitachi. Frankly, even old 3 in 1 is better than nothing, so don't lose sleep if you cannot find anything exotic to lube your table with.

The poor old idler wheel tends to come in for a lot of unfair stick. Everyone blames it for producing rumble noises. Completely wrong, of course. An idler only needs replacing if it has developed a flat spot, usually the result of leaving the deck in the on position while no power is being applied. Just to prove the point, my 401 is on its original idler! A couple of drops of oil on the idler bearing helps keep it sweet.
One subtle difference between the two decks is the shape of the platter. On the 301 it is totally flat The 401 platter was designed together with its mat to have a "hollow" in the centre, while the edge of the mat is very slightly undersized.

Records are supposed to be 'dish' shaped. That is, the outer edge and centre are raised compared to the middle where the grooves are. This is still recommended by the E.E.C. Most modem decks have a dish shaped mat or platter. The problem is not all record manufacturers follow standard practice. If you go through your record collection it will more than likely be a fifty-fifty split.

After exhaustive listening tests and half a brewery of beer consumed, I settled for the 'flat' platter as the best option. To be truthful, mine is a little more complicated than that.
Mats serve two functions. One is to dampen out platter resonances, and to protect the record from trapped dirt Some may argue that it serves to 'couple' the record and platter together. Personally, I think the latter is horse shit

I tried all sorts of things to stop platter resonances. Slightly filling the underside with shellac, plaster of Paris, concrete, blu-tak, plasticine. None of them worked very well, although they did help a bit After deciding several years ago that most mats are designed to smear dynamics and take the edge off detail, I wondered how I could do without it.

By pore accident a glass platter was popped on top of a 401's bare metal platter. Rapping them with my knuckles produced very little noise. The two materials had damped each other out So that is what I now use. A slim glass platter on top of the original item. The glass is easy to keep clean and is flat.
With warped discs a Mitchell clamp holds the ensemble together. Normally the clamp stays in its box.
All of my listening these days is with an Or-tofon SPU cartridge. Without doubt one of the most underrated pieces of vintage hi fi. It deserves an article of its own- One problem with the brute is that it weighs nearly 40 grams! Only one or two arms can balance it, let alone match its compliance. Personally, 1 cannot manage without it Every time 1 listen, it sends shivers up my spine. 1 have tried others, but I'm hooked. Forget drugs score on SPU, its more mellow.
Contrary to popular belief, Ortofon still makes SPUs. At least two versions are available in the European market: Original and Gold Reference. Only the Gold Reference is imported to the UK, although I have sourced the other from Italy and Germany. This must make it the longest production run of any stereo hi fi component!

The best am I have tried with an SPU is a Fidelity Research FR64S. Possibly the first "tweaky1 arm to use silver wire. (I would love to get hold of the 12" FR66, has anyone ever seen one?)

Arm and cartridge choice is not critical on either of the Garrards. Just make sure your arm matches your cartridge. Since they offer totally uncoloured sound and have no suspension system to upset, virtually anything goes.

When set up correctly, with a decent high mass plinth, and a good arm and cartridge, I know of no deck that conveys such speed and authority. On upbeat rock music everything is in control. Bass notes seem so much tighter than any belt-driven deck I have ever heard. With classical you appreciate the deck's totally silent background; nothing is added, and nothing taken away. Ella never sounded so good (except live at Albert Hall).

Quite a lot of manufacturers use vintage Garrards. 401 users include Glen Croft (Croft Acoustics), Ok Moller (Copland), and Yoshiaki Sugano (Koetsu). Even Tim de Paravicini of famed Esoteric Audio Research uses 301.

With Dr. Digital now peddling even worse new medicine in the form of DCC and minidisc, you should rescue an old Garrard before it is too late. You owe it to yourself.
 

SOUND PRACTICES - Spring 1994

 
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