Listening #99 Page 3

A mix of bar, spool, and cam clamps worked well around the perimeter, while a trio of very deep-throated (no jokes) C-clamps did the trick from inside the motor-unit cutout. (Of course, that no longer proved viable when I added the solid layer 7.) Round scraps of plywood created by the hole saws were useful as clamping cauls, to protect the top surface from dents. Although I used the glue sparingly, a soft rag dampened with warm water helped clean up the inevitable squeeze-out.

And then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, the construction phase of my project was over: I now had a 4½"-thick plinth, massive but not stupid-massive, that actually looked rather nice, even without the sanding, grain-filling, staining, and lacquering that I intend to do when the snow really hits.

I'm especially proud that, even without taking special pains to keep my plywood sheets from warping—I did, after all, clamp them in free air, and not against a known level surface—my completed 301 plinth is perfectly flat. And that's a good thing, because literally none of the accessory feet and isolation products I've tried so far sounds quite as good as when my plinth simply rests directly on the very solid Box Furniture stand beneath it. But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

Flat is good
On the last day of November, I fastened the Garrard 301's motor unit to its new home, then mounted the EMT 997 tonearm's output jacks in place and soldered their contacts to the tonearm's lead wires. After some coarse adjustments, I selected Frank Sinatra's recording of "Oh, You Crazy Moon" as the first record to play on my new combination—using an Ortofon SPU pickup head, of course: nothing else will do.

Clichés abound that describe good impressions: Minds and even entire selves have been blown. Socks are knocked and gobs are smacked by forces unseen. The poorest wretches regain consciousness only to find their jaws on the floor ("literally!"), without benefit of yoga or tropical diseases.

None of those things happened to me. Rather, the first two things I met in this sonic heaven were a complete absence of rumble—it wasn't reduced, it was eliminated—and the fact that musical nuances were explosively more dramatic. Like the trumpet obbligato throughout the song. Like the jabs of vocal power Sinatra otherwise holds in reserve, themselves a product of the man's nearly operatic breath control. Like the uncanny force behind a drumstick hitting the bell of a cymbal near the end.

Another thing, which also can't help stinking of cliché: Even though my schedule was tight and I had an appointment elsewhere that day, I couldn't resist sitting down and playing more records: not to hear the bass on this or the imaging on that, but because the newly increased emotional wallop of every song brought to mind a connection to yet another, and a greedy need to hear it.

On one or two occasions I've wondered whether my Thorens TD 124—the older one, with the iron platter—has a little more texture than the Garrard 301. My Linn Sondek LP12 can sound cleaner and more transparent, and though the Linn doesn't surpass the 301 in terms of momentum and flow—quite the opposite, in fact—it does have a nice way with melodies carried by softer instruments in orchestral settings. I remember the Roksan Xerxes having an even surer sense of melody than that, and better stereo imaging. And the Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn, which I've heard only once, had at least as much crazy presence.

But this 301, in this plinth, whomps every other turntable I've heard in terms of spatial wholeness, the realism with which individual voices pop out of the sonic whole, explosively real nuances, timing, momentum, and sheer force. That last one is it, really: force. In a way, that word sums up all the others: No other turntable of my acquaintance sounds anywhere near as forceful. And I like that.

Some people select a turntable—or an amp, or a preamp, or a cable, or whatever—because they don't hear anything wrong with it. I prefer to select a product because I hear a lot of things that are right with it. The Garrard 301 fits that bill perfectly well.

E.W. Mortimer is dead. Most of the people presumed to have made my 301 are dead. Garrard is dead. But my 301 will live on.


volvic's picture

What a brilliant article! Really enjoyed the Feb edition as well as this one.

OneMic's picture

Bang up job on that table! I am revving up my table saw in anticipation that I can get my hands on one of these jems.

robertbadcock's picture

Seeing the concept of a plinth broken down like that; or rather seeing it constructed like that... I feel like I've been reading/viewing post-grad philosophy material.

Outstanding stuff; and big kudos for doing the work yourself... so few can actually craft anymore.


V96GLF's picture

What a fascinating project, very well executed!

I had a 301 in the 70s, when I was a budget-constrained student. I paid £10 for it!

My plinth was a single piece of plywood, supported by a fiberglass base. I had a summer job in a fiberglass factory, so that part was easy enough to have manufactured at zero cost to me.

Yes, it rumbled! But what I discovered was that the rumble was coming from mechanical transmission through the plinth to the tone-arm. I solved it by removing the turntable-to-plinth bolts, and instead resting the turntable on foam pads. The foam I used was the type used for bicycle handlebar padding (I happened to have some offcuts). Pipe lagging foam has a similar density, and would probably also work.

In addition I used the fairly well-known trick of wiring a light bulb in series with the motor, to reduce the motor torque. Experimentation is required, but I think I ended up with a 60W tungsten light bulb.

With these two fixes in place, the rumble was cured.

Stupidly, I got rid of the turntable about 20 years ago, when it seemed that vinyl was dead. What a fool! I wish I could have it back, but I doubt I’ll find another for £10.