Listening #98 Page 2
That grease bearing is an astoundingly well-made thing in its own right: an alloy well, enduringly hammertoned, fitted with two phosphor-bronze sleeves designed to accommodate an astoundingly well-machined spindle about 0.5" in diameter and 5" long. The grease fitting itselfa technical detail of no small nostalgia for those of us who have owned automobiles made before the days of "permanently lubricated" ball jointssports an extra-long cap intended to be tightened gradually, over time, thus squishing ever more grease into the bearing, as needed. Interestingly, the flat bottom of the spindle is mated to a flat bronze thrust paditself a three-piece assembly, with a brass collar and a molded basewith nary a thrust ball in sight.
Impressive though that bearing may be, the real heart of the Garrard 301 is its motor: a massive, high-torque induction design, in comparison to which all others seem smalleven the sizable motor in my Thorens TD 124. Apparently in deference to the sheer groove-driving power of this beast, Garrard's engineers designed for it a remarkable cast-aluminum cradle, bolted to the chassis proper, from which the motor is suspended by three pairs of springs, each damped with a rubber sleeve. With few exceptionsthe enduringly excellent Thorens, of course, as well as various clever Roksans and pod-pioneering Well TemperedsI now find it impossible to behold the motor-mount schemes in other turntables, let alone the motors themselves, without snorting in derision (at least inwardly).
Nor is the 301's aluminum platter an underachiever: 12 lbs of gravity-cast goodness precisely machined to eliminate runout error, then individually balanced. The hub of the platter is reamed with a shallow (4°) taper, matching that of the spindle with evident perfection. The Garrard's platter brake, too, is both simple and cleverly effective: When the motor is switched offwhich, by the way, must be done before the separate speed-selection switch can be operated, thus preserving the idler wheel from needless weara pill-sized nub of compressed fiber is automatically pressed against the platter's inner rim. Contrast that with the Thorens's two-piece arrangement of iron lower platter and "declutchable" aluminum upper platter: slightly better for back-cueing by broadcast professionals, but slightly worse for being difficult to adjust, let alone for the iron's incompatibility with magnetically affectionate phono pickups.
In the rotisserie-league manner of most audiophiles, once I've started, I find it hard to stop making Thorens/Garrard comparisonsso here goes: The Garrard 301 uses a magnetic eddy brake to slow the motor for fine speed adjustments, as does the Thorens TD 124, but the movable "shield" approach of the Thorens is more elegant, and less likely to be damaged in transit. The control linkages for the Garrard are smoother, simpler, and less fussy. By relying more on machine screws and less on rivets, cotter pins, and other fasteners dating from the Bronze Age, the Thorens is the easier of the two to maintain and repair. The 301's user manual kicks sand in the face of the TD 124's, and steals its girlfriend, too: The former is, quite literally, a hardcover book, with bound-in mounting templates and exploded diagrams, and a pouch inside the front cover that holds an inspection card and a strobe disc. (Wes Phillips found one of those original manuals a few years ago and gave it to me: I think he knew I'd own a 301 some day.) The Thorens manual is . . . well, just paper and words.
But the biggest difference of all, apart from the small matter of large motors, is that the Thorens TD 124 incorporates its own tonearm-mount board, whereas the Garrard 301 is indeed just a motor unit, with no surface on which to plunk an arm base, and thus no direct mechanical connection between platter and arm. Flat-earthers would say that such a link is necessary in order for a turntable to play music; Garrard fans would say no such rigid a chassis could avoid contamination from motor vibrations, so it's more sensible to keep motor unit and tonearm somewhat separate. You are free to investigate and act on your own inclinations, this being a free country and all.
In any event, the Garrard and the Thorens are equally well madeastoundingly so, in comparison to the wares of todayand equally beautifully styled. In my years as an audio writer, I've watched as a great many contemporary productsmostly silly-big, overstyled turntables and similarly adolescent-looking loudspeakershave elicited ridicule from non-audiophile houseguests. I have yet to meet the person who isn't impressed with the timeless, purposeful look of a vintage Thorens TD 124 or Garrard 301.
Are you going to finish that?
A brief, off-topic interruption: Since we're now past the halfway point of this month's column, it seems safe to assume that you're going to read the whole thingperhaps even before the next calendar day. Please accept my sincere thanks for doing so. Whether or not you find this column useful, whether or not you agree with any or all of my observations, I'm grateful to think you'll have consumed all of it before judging me: something that I used to take for granted. Unfortunately, when a few sentences from my November 2010 column were quoted recently on Audio Asylum by an honorable reader, they were seized on by what I can describe only as a small band of serial masturbators, who, having relieved themselves of the drudgery of reading an essay longer or more complex than CAUTION: FILLING MAY BE HOT, set about to attack me for an opinion that I don't actually hold. Sad, isn't it?