Listening #201: the Buddha Bearing Page 2

The final touch, before lowering the turntable's platter to the spindle's tapered top, is to add oil to the lubricant trough machined into the well's upper edge. The manufacturer says that the pressure from the lubricant supply maintains the appropriate rigidity without the need for even tighter machining tolerances—in which case, the bearing would require a lengthy running-in period, punctuated with many consecutive cleanings and re-oilings. No one has that kind of time!

Died of a theory
As I've already suggested, I went into this project without quite the same headlong rush I bring to such things as new amplifiers or even new tonearms, owing in part to the installation difficulties involved. But I admit having other reservations, including a sentimental attachment to my early-production Garrard's original grease bearing, which is much rarer than the oil bearing found in later samples of the 301 and all samples of the 401. I wasn't so much attached to the bearing itself as the idea of it: In theory, there must be a very good reason for its desirability on the vintage market—right?

Yes and no. I'm open to the suggestion that a perfect-condition grease bearing is superior to a perfect-condition oil bearing; at the very least, I would be surprised if the two types didn't make for slightly different-sounding turntables. But unless they've been holed up in a storage unit somewhere, perfect-condition Garrard bearings no longer exist, and common sense dictates that samples still in use are compromised by both the wear they have undergone and the practical limitations of the machine tools in use at the time of their manufacture.

Anyway, and for whatever unseeable reason, my results with the Buddha were sublime. With the new bearing in place, my Garrard-based player wasn't just the colorful, purposeful, forceful player I knew it to be: It reached, when called for, new heights in serenity and a consequent increase in sheer listenability. On the Klemperer Strauss, the sound of the massed strings was now so utterly, effortlessly, and altogether naturally beautiful that I was no longer on the edge of my seat trying to will them into sounding right—something I'm beginning to think we audiophiles do more often than we realize. Now my attention was devoted to following the nuances of Klemperer's uncommonly expressive conducting, appreciating as never before the whys and wherefores of the players' use of vibrato and portamento and the thrilling ease of their dynamic shifts.

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And now, with the Buddha Bearing installed and the 301's setup completely sorted, I heard less surface noise than ever before from this well-worn 1962 LP and from countless other records enjoyed in the days and weeks that followed. As for that: Received wisdom suggests that raising the quality of one's phonograph has the unfortunate result of telegraphing to the listener with ever greater fidelity the flaws in his or her records. I've found that to be true only with products that betray a lack of understanding of phonography—in particular, crazy modifications like stuffing the undersides of platters with modeling clay, wrapping rubber bands around tonearms, and swapping in whatever drive-belt material du jour happens to have a good story attached to it. In my experience, the very best phonographs and accessories have an innate talent for shrugging off rather than ringing in response to record-surface imperfections—and so it was with the Buddha.

The sirens of tighten
But what should I make of the unambiguous benefits of adjusting—not merely loosening, but restoring to a sane snugness—those bolts on my Garrard 301? Does this qualify as a tweak, a coincidence, or something in between?

The experience reminded me of a time many years ago when I removed for cleaning the clear acrylic front plate on my Shindo Haut-Brion amplifier. When I screwed it back in place, tightly, I wasn't as pleased with the sound as I had been before my little cleaning expedition. Realizing that absolutely nothing else about my amp had changed, I went back and slightly loosened the four screws and was utterly shocked at the degree of the change in its sound (for the better). Recently, I tried the same trick on a few other things in my system—avoiding, of course, those elements that common sense says should not be loosened, touched, or even looked at, such as the bolts that hold high-voltage power transformers in place. I loosened, very slightly, the 10 screws that hold in place the top cover of my Shindo Monbrison preamp, and I heard a tiny change for the better. Emboldened, I removed the cover altogether and heard no further change at all. And so it went.

The improvements wrought by detorqueing my turntable's mounting bolts and the screws that hold in place my amp's decorative acrylic panel were not imagined—not even close: They were conspicuously obvious and unambiguously for the better. (Near to the time when I discovered the effect, I did the Haut-Brion front panel thing for a visitor. He laughed out loud upon noticing the difference it made.) Other applications of this tweak have been less clearly effective.

This episode brings to mind one of the ideas held by Richard Hoover, a master luthier and the founder of the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. In trying to identify the differences in construction between vintage and new guitars, it occurred to Hoover that by the time an acoustic guitar reaches 50 years of age or more, its component parts have relaxed. The pieces of wood that were bent and then clamped in place for gluing are no longer likely to lose their shape once that glue joint is loosened—a crucial observation regarding an instrument in which stored energy, created by the tightening of its strings, is the source of its sound: If there are other stored energies in that instrument, it will produce a less pure and, in all probability, less clearly audible sound. (For this reason, Hoover and his luthiers shape their instruments' ostensibly flat tops with a slight arch and reinforce them with braces that have been carved with a radiused profile.)

That may not be germane to the point at hand: Acoustical and electronic amplifiers are not, for the most part, analogous to one another. But it's nonetheless true that, in any transducer, the deformation of parts can only inhibit performance—and the same goes for any piece of electronic gear whose enclosure has been as painstakingly tuned as all Shindo gear is purported to be. Approach your next turntable setup with ears and mind wide open (footnote 2).

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Although I never thought the day would dawn on a four-figure turntable bearing, I came away from the experience believing the Buddha Bearing is worth it. The time has come to admit that, as nice-looking as Garrard's original grease bearing may be—unlike the oil bearing that preceded it, the grease bearing's cast-aluminum housing has a hammertone finish—and as rare as it is, it is far from the turntable's best feature. (That, I believe, would be its high-torque, cast-iron–enclosed, shaded-pole AC motor.) That hammertone-finished housing was rather insubstantial for the job at hand, and in any event, a suitable non-synthetic grease for it would appear to be unavailable in 2019. The Buddha is an amazingly well-made and good-sounding thing, and I plan to keep my review sample.

Buddha postscript
Two weeks before my copy deadline, I received an email from the manufacturer of the Buddha Bearing. It seems the company has decided to abandon the lift-away spindle cap in favor of an approach in which the spindle is threaded to accept a screw-on cap— and/or an accessory record clamp. This troubles me only inasmuch as Stereophile's policy is to never review prototypes or other such things that are unavailable to the rank and 'phile. That said, in a product such as this, with an admittedly limited audience and at least some expectation of continual improvement, I'm not overly troubled, and I can't help but imagine that the core performance of future Buddhas will be on a par with mine.

News from nowhere
Because my wife works in the travel industry—there's a joke in there, for those who know me well—I often get to attend travel-industry gatherings and listen to speeches by travel-industry bigwigs, just for the fun of it. The most recent such gathering featured a presentation by the very genial and well-informed Arnie Weissmann, editor of Travel Weekly magazine, who recently visited New York's Capital Region at Janet's invitation. After his speech, Weissmann opened the floor to questions from the audience of local travel-industry professionals; one of them, a travel agent, raised a concern: What do we do about would-be clients who pump their local agents for advice and information and then book their trips online with discount vendors? This common practice amounts to little better than theft of services.

In my household, this is a touchy subject: Over the years, a few friends of ours have, pardon the expression, sucked Janet dry of information she has worked decades to gather, only to stiff her to save themselves a few bucks. You can believe me when I say that it is very difficult to remain friends with such people.

But Weissmann was equivocal, and smartly so. While endorsing the notion that the most egregious of thieves should be avoided, he cautioned the travel agents in attendance not to assume the worst whenever a client heads for the Internet: "Much of the time, people who want information really want information," he said. "Like the guy who goes to WebMD.com for advice and then brings that advice to his doctor: If that doctor just gives the patient a prescription based on the WebMD diagnosis, a smart patient will be unsatisfied." Weissmann urged the people in the audience to carry on doing what they've always done: Give the best advice based on not only many years' accumulation of knowledge but also their proven ability to communicate with clients—something that has no substitute.

There are, of course, parallels to our little corner of the world. On a personal level, I couldn't help being reminded of those brave frontiersmen who from time to time surface on Facebook—or stereophile.com—to trumpet their disdain for audio reviewers and their comparatively high regard for the advice dished out for free on the chat sites, primarily by men with concealed identities. Their cries ignore a singular truth: The consumption of advice is not a zero-sum game. People who want information really want information, and if they're smart, they'll seek it wherever they can.

Of greater consequence is a parallel to the changing ways in which audio gear is sold and consumed. As someone who worked part-time at an audio store while attending college, my heart is with the bricks-and-mortar shopkeeper—although when I worked in retail, the line between adversaries was not technological but geographical: In our tiny upstate New York store, it was common to spend several hours demonstrating gear, only to learn that the shopper intended to make his or her purchase from a New York City store that could afford to give bigger discounts. Again, theft of services.

Yet, in recent years, a class of e-vendor has emerged that offers something long missing from the lives of many would-be audio consumers: access. My first high-end audio purchase—a Rega Planar 2 turntable—involved a fairly long journey to a dealer who, although generous with his expertise, declined my request to swap in the cartridge of my choice for an audition. (In retrospect, given the humble stakes, I don't blame him.) Today, although the availability of customized comparisons remains in doubt, one can order a Planar 2 online, receive it the next day, and return it if it proves unsatisfactory.

Both kinds of shopping experience are worthwhile: It's my impression that perfectionist audio continues to thrive, not in spite of this dichotomy but because of it. But I'd like to hear what you think: Having now written 200 columns about hi-fi gear and records—with occasional forays into agriculture, pest removal, and condom testing—I think it's time for a closer look at how those things come into our possession. Please write: adudley@stereophile.com.


Footnote 2: Note that virtually every review I've ever read of an upgrade for the Linn LP12 turntable, and some of the ones I have written, have had at their hearts the same mistake: There's no telling whether the audible changes described can be ascribed to the product under review or to the fresh setup that was, of needs, accorded the Linn player.
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

I used to own an idler turntable; a Thorens TD-124. It was beautifully built and had a big sound that was quite addictive, but it was very capricious in how it functioned from week to week. While the bearing was well made and of high precision, it was never designed for low noise and that in the end was why I got rid of it; the TD-124 was never designed for vertical vibration because mono cartridges were not sensitive to it. I realized that too late after I got it and judging by how many TD-124's I see on the second hand market, perhaps I am not alone. To have improved the table to modern standards would have cost quite a handsome amount, especially if I was going to order parts from Schopper. I read Mr. Dudley's review and thought the same thing, although I have never owned a Garrard, I would assume it's pure idler design vs. the TD-124's hybird design might lend it to becoming quieter for a smaller cash outlay than the Thorens required. I will be interested to see what improvements SME makes with the Garrard and what parts of the table they will improve to bring it to a modern level of performance required today. I still lust after one.

On the topic of tightening, Linn used to always say "Linn tight" I always ignored them when working on my LP-12 - initially because of the stress it created on the parts, but also my firm belief that too much was simply not necessary for any sonic benefit. Glad I am not alone.

Anton's picture

It would be cool to see before and after rumble and wow/flutter data!

volvic's picture

Where's Tony Kaz? These are perfect opportunities for him to ramble about the disadvantages of vinyl ownership and he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.

rschryer's picture

...performing a Sunset Ceremony at the Venice Fl. Drum Circle.

He looked peaceful.

(Or maybe I had too much to dream that night?)

:-)

volvic's picture

The rare times when I get ten hours, reality and dreamscape seem to merge into one. I suspect the same Mr. Schryer. But if true, sounds like Tony is in a good place.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tony is also, one of the selections for the recently announced DWTS :-) .........

rschryer's picture

Dancing With The Audiophiles.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Dancing for the song .......

"Put your Records On" .......... Corinne Bailey Rae :-) .......

Anton's picture

Audiophiles dance alone in their audiophile rooms.

Ortofan's picture

... compare the effects of using purple or blue Loctite liquid threadlocker on the various mounting hardware.

That, and maybe try Valvoline VR1 40-weight racing oil in the bearing.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Racing oil? ...... Is it fully-hydrogenated oil, or partially-hydrogenated oil, or non-hydrogenated oil? ...... Just kidding :-) ..........

FredisDead's picture

I have both a heavily modified TD124 and 301 with after-market bearings.. On my Garrard, I went with the SMD brass bearing and platter. They are readily available from either Shaun at Peak HiFi or Ray of ClassicHiFi in the UK. It would be nice if Art would try them but they are only part of the process toward optimizing a 301. There is tuning involved. Plinth, footers, idler, bearing, platter, and choice of arm/cartridge all come into play. As much as I love Art, I think his tendency to stick with the same bayonet mount arm and collection of cartridges is an impediment, as are his choice of plinth, rack, and lack of top quality footers. Art would say he can't analyze a single part while changing others. While understood, he could work his way towards integrating these improvements. But at the end of the day, I don't care a bit. I don't need Art or anyone else at Stereophile to confirm what I already believe to be true.

volvic's picture

Hello FredisDead, just curious could you share how modified your TD-124 is, what you did and including the cost of the table how much do you think in total the mod's cost? Curious also for the 301. Which do you prefer?
cheers
Nick

FredisDead's picture

My TD124 was modified by Greg Metz of classicthorens.com and I can not recommend him highly enough. He is meticulous about rebuilding the motor and stripping down the chassis to the bare metal and then restoration to better than new condition with new paint and new parts that are up to you but include an audiosilente idler, new custom designed ball-on-ball bearing and super heavy duty platter. Granted, the last time I traded email with him he mentioned that he was no longer stocking the custom bearing but that was six months ago and I would be shocked if he does not have a far superior custom main bearing to offer. He supplied the plinth to my TD124 too and though it looks very nice, it is NOT the high mass huge plinth one sees with many TD124's and Garrard 301's. Greg went to Switzerland to study with one of Thorens' chief design engineers and is of the mindset that unlike Garrard 301s/401's, the TD124 sounds better with a low mass plinth. Again, a matter of tuning. My 124 has a 12" Reed 3P Cocobolo mounted. To accommodate the very tall platter (unlike the very low profile OEM platter), Greg had a custom machined alloy disc that perfectly matches the base of the Reed 3P to elevate it sufficiently for suitable VTA adjustment. If you go to Audiogon and look for me under Fsonicsmith you can see photos of my two turntables.
My Garrard 301 is a mint early grease bearing that I again had heavily modified with the above referenced SMD solid brass bearing and platter and Ray of Classic HiFi's matching speed control unit with a monster sized cocobolo veneered plinth built by Russ Collinson of Layers of Beauty in the UK. It has a 10" Reed 3P mounted. I have Stillpoints Ultra SS footers under the LoB plinth on the Garrard.
Confession of sorts-before I added the solid brass SMD platter and instead had the SMD brass bearing with the far-lighter OEM 301 platter, the two decks sounded markedly different. Now that both the TD124 and the 301 have high-mass platters, their sound signatures have largely converged and seem to depend more on the cartridge mounted. Prior to the solid brass platter being added to the 301, the sound was livelier/punchier at the expense of the sound floor/blackness between tracks. Frankly, I might play around with replacing the solid brass platter with the OEM from time to time. I love both decks and love the Garrard with both platters.
When it comes to tuning the Garrard 301, there is-imho-no better expert than Steve Dobbins of Xact Audio in Idaho. Steve gave me the hint that the Garrard 301 with Reed 3P loves the VdH Crimson Strad.
Hope that helps.

volvic's picture

That is where I got my Thorens from as well, Greg was super, I did the Audiosilente idler and the spring mount for the motor. I believe the reason he no longer stocks those long bearings is that the machinist was less than consistent in his delivery times, so perhaps that partnership fell through. I agree about Greg, cannot speak highly of him, if you want a TD-124, he's the man. I just decided to go a different route and happy I did. Yes, I have seen your turntables and they are absolutely magnificent. Cheers and thanks for the info.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AD is the 'Man in Tights' :-) ........

rockdc's picture

Hopefully this is not a catastrophe like the aftermarket bearing sold several years ago by a vendor on the Lenco Heaven forum ; looks very very similar. Super tight tolerances, highly polished, and a round spindle end in a round housing; no bushing. And, proprietary lube.....
Many buyers lost substantial money when the designer failed to stand behind his defective design, or in many cases, failed to deliver after pre payment. Mine, and others quickly wore in a very interesting manner and became unusable. We then found the designer became combative on the forum, and was unwilling or unable to stand behind his warranty or deliver pre paid bearings, so I was out 6 or 700 dollars, as were many other Lenco folks.

Anton's picture

Art said he's keeping this bearing, so we will get perfect feedback about its performance over time.

He's the perfect guy for this.

dial's picture

For this price, get a turntable with tonearm and cartridge and buy some Mofi or classic records !

Ortofan's picture

... Technics SL-1500C, complete with cartridge and built-in phono preamp.
https://www.whathifi.com/us/reviews/technics-sl-1500c

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Check-out the Fluance Audio sweepstakes, turntable + powered speakers bundle for $400, at the S&V magazine website :-) ..........

jimtavegia's picture

own complete turntables or tonearms that are less than just this bearing. I guess many of us are truly missing sonic bliss. I don't even own a cartridge that is close to the price of this bearing. I'll just have to go off and cry in my bottle of Deer Park.

Oliver A.'s picture

The in-text link to the Buddha Bearing at Robyatt audio isn't working; in fact, they don't even offer the bearing on their website. Any ideas where to buy?

wer's picture

This may be because Robyatt was alerted that the likely manufacturer had not only cheated a number of people but also produced bearings that were so badly done that they should never have been sold.
Possibly you are better off not finding one.

robyattaudio's picture

I still sell the Buddha Bearing. I stand by each and every bearing I sell. My reputation speaks for itself so purchasing one should be a worry free experience. I use mine on a daily basis with zero issues. There are many of these bearings in the field working brilliantly for their happy owners.

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