Garrard 301 turntable

The show wasn't open yet. The booths weren't finished being built. I was walking alone, and there were no audio people anywhere. But as soon as I saw it, I froze and pulled out my camera. It's not hammertone gray. It's not a grease-bearing. But it was here in front of me.

I'm pretty sure I got the first picture of the new SME-manufactured Garrard 301 turntable. Over the years I've owned a few of these classic British idler-drive turntables—but never one with shiny cream paint and pristine molded knobs like this. Years ago I bought several of them, straight out of broadcast studios, but those all came with sickly-brown nicotine patinas and dried-out rubber mats.

But this one practically glowed, sitting in its Loricraft plinth (made by Spendor). I pushed it to feel the air-filled decouplers. Yep—they're all there.

When I returned to my hotel, I consulted my crystal ball, wherein I saw deputy editor Art Dudley with a magnifier and a notepad, scrutinizing an upside-down turntable that looked an awful lot like a shiny cream Garrard 301 . . .

And then the image in the crystal ball changed . . . [Editor's note: This story originally reported a price, but Cadence, the parent company of SME, which is manufacturing the new Garrard 301, sent us a note insisting that no price has been set.]]

yaka24's picture

Is that plinth floating?

volvic's picture

I want to know more about what they did under the hood. SME's quality is second to none and if anyone can make this old idler function flawlessly it is SME.

Kursun's picture

A well made idler drive is actually better than flimsy belt drives.

Sister magazine Hi-Fi News recently reviewed the £15.000 SME Synergy all-in-one turntable.

It turned out its phono preamplifier section has only 8 db of extremely limited overload headroom. I wouldn't expect even a $50 phono preamplifier to have such low overload headroom.
Is this the same SME you praise so highly?

volvic's picture

SME is primarily a machinist company not an electronics company. In terms of machining they are tops and their products show it. If anyone can bring a noisy idler to the 21st century they can.

Kursun's picture

When buying my first inexpensive preamplifier as a teenager some 40-50 years ago. I remember dismissing a preamp as its phono section had “only” 20 db overload headroom.

You are forgetting that this £15.000 SME Synergy All-In-One Turntable has SME logo at its front.
They should have adhered to the "The quality goes in before the name goes on" slogan.

Now, 8 db overload margin on a £15.000 device… That is scandalous! It is trash!
Companies should be evaluated by individual products they produce, not worshipped by their names.

volvic's picture

And I am pretty certain you haven't either, they partnered with Nagra who's products I have heard many times and like. For the moment I only have David Price's review to go by and he is an excellent writer and reviewer. I do own a 10 and think properly set up it is a wonderful table. Until I hear it and will go out on a limb here and include you Kursun, the criticism is pure speculation. To say it is scandalous and trash is scandalous and irresponsible when you haven't heard it.

Kursun's picture

I am not speculating anything, just pointing out a fatal flaw that shows up in the lab test. I can assure you this type of flaw will not somehow make the outcome "more musical"

You did however speculate by stating that Garrard 301 is a noisy idler wheel drive. You also speculated by saying SME zenith of perfection.

volvic's picture

You point out the flaw then speculate that it will somehow be less musical. How do you know? Are you a designer of turntables? Are you an engineer? I will give the benefit of the doubt to the engineers of Nagra, Ortofon and SME over some hang up measurement you seem to be fixated on. Go have a listen and report back till then you are just simply speculating.

Yes, idlers are noisy, these turntables were manufactured during the mono era their bearings were not optimized for low noise and they were not designed to have low vertical vibration, since mono cartridges were not sensitive to it. There was also a reason why they had variable speed and a strobe, it was because their induction motors had poor speed control. That's not speculation that is the truth. Ask Chris Harban at Artisan Fidelity the amount of work involved to get one of these turntables to truly sing and be quiet. It requires expertise and loads of experience. Once sorted out they sound magnificent, but it costs. That is not speculation.

Yes, I own THREE SME tonearms and the quality of construction for the price is stellar and I have owned other arms that are no longer in existence. SME's longevity speaks volumes about the quality of their products. I also own one of their turntables, the quality of construction shames my LP12, in fact SME makes the Keel for Linn. None of this is speculation. You seem to try and bludgeon the point about this fatal flaw to somehow suggest SME designed a flawed turntable. I ask again Have you heard it? Do you own any of their products? Have you heard any of their turntables? If you answer no to some of my questions, I suggest you go listen before trying to judge a book by its cover. Nuff said.

Kursun's picture

- "You point out the flaw then speculate that it will somehow be less musical. How do you know? Are you a designer of turntables? Are you an engineer?"

Yes, I am an engineer.

If you don't know what phono overload is and think it may somehow be a musical experience you really don't know anything.
You are just a brand fanboy.

volvic's picture

If you're so convinced and so visceral why don't you pause and admit that maybe you should go listen first. This is why we are here to hear music through this glorious gear right? Because we love to listen. Yes, I am a fanboy, love their products just like the other products I own of which there are plenty. You on the other hand appear to have blinders on. Go hear it, you might be surprised.

jmsent's picture

...about $16,300. Nostalgia is getting rather spendy these days.

grantray's picture

The Shindo 301 is ~$24K with a sourced 301 to start as a base. The new SME/Garrard 301 will also require a completely new motor that can live up to the industrial-strength and capabilities of the original. I know a little about what it takes to manufacture a thing, and I can promise a new motor and housing wasn't cheap to get done. Much less all the engineering for the project, speccing of tolerances, and retooling for manufacturing all the parts and components. It's not like they fired up a bunch of worn machines from the 1950s and gave each other high fives.

I'm the fortunate caretaker of a 1956 grease-bearing cream Garrard 301 that I restored and built a semi-floating heavy plinth for. I've also been fortunate enough to hear new tables costing anywhere from $4K up to $35K, on the same day and with the same records. I'll refrain from naming names, but the ancient Garrard has so far bested many of them, and held its own with nearly all of them.

There's a world of turntables that are as good or better for sure, but I've learned from experience that they aren't cheap. Unless SME implemented a strategy to produce runs of parts by the thousands, a new Garrard 301 for $16K is right on the money.

volvic's picture

There are people in my Linn LP-12 group that also own Garrard 301's and 401's, people who's opinion I respect and fact, the only reason I am still on Facebook. All of them say that a properly set up Garrard can smoke a lot of turntables; a lot like the sound, while a minority does not and prefers the LP-12. Point being, if SME used their famous tooling facilities to design new parts for the table from the ground up, and will also be using their casting facilities to make new platters and plinths, then given what Shindo charged for his reworked 301, the price seems reasonable to me.

PAR's picture

I am old enough to remember the original 301 when it was available new. Yes, 50+ odd years ago. Ordinary folk couldn't afford one then. In those days it was made by guys earning less than 5.00 gbp a week. This new one is made by people on a wage maybe a 100 times that let alone the increases in material costs, UK taxes and social costs etc. on businesses.

Think also that (at current UK prices) a 50 year old sample with no pick up arm and no plintht is heading towards 2,000 gbp. Also bear in mind that the given release price in the EU of 12,500 gbp includes VAT at 20% or thereabouts. The USA price will not include tax. However the US distributor will , no doubt, want a sizeable reward.

Personally I find this repro 301 a wasted opportunity. SME have the technology and knowledge to have come up with a Garrard branded idler drive turntable way better than the best that could be done half a century ago. What they have chosen instead is what I see as a cynical pitch to the Far East enthusiast market for British retro audio . Given its old fashioned and dowdy appearance I doubt if they anticipate too many sales here in the UK, in the EU or North America.

grantray's picture

I'm not sure if the retooling is just 1950s looks with the guts below being a completely new iteration... or if its completely the same, just respecced to better tolerances.

Either way, I'm definitely curious to see what's under that faithfully vintage hood.

Ortofan's picture

... light for the strobe markings?
Do you still have to choose between platters with engraved strobe markings for either 50Hz or 60Hz?
HR can review this SME re-issue while AD will wait for the version modified by Shindo.

Anton's picture

So awesome.

volvic's picture

Happy, it is around as well and that it is in the hands of SME.

PeterPani's picture

for that money the plinth should be look more interesting...

PAR's picture

According to another online magazine this is , in fact, a refurbished original Garrard 301. Remember that SME bought Garrard restorers Loricraft at the same time as acquiring the Garrard brand. Various sources have confirmed that the plinth for the turntable shown at High End comes from Loricraft so, if correct, the whole thing appears to be Loricraft carrying on business as before but with the addition of the M2-12R arm.

A NEW Garrard turntable is scheduled by SME for the 2020 show apparently, at least according to this source.

AlexL's picture

I really think SME missed the boat here. Consider for roughly the same investment of $15k - $16k a person could buy an Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301 Classic and Reed tonearm combo instead. Better mass plinth design, miles ahead in finishing options, better restorations (imo) and vastly superior arm to boot. When you look at the whole picture, I just don't see any great value in the SME Garrard.