Vinyl Revival – part 1

Today we start a series of blogs celebrating the vinyl revival. It isn’t just younger audiophiles rediscovering the tactile pleasures of the LP, more experienced enthusiasts are getting back into the format after decades of digital.

The series will look at some of the classic turntables available on the secondhand market – what is worth investigating, what should be avoided and, crucially, what do you need to get the best out of them?

The series is written by a longtime turntable expert and ex-industry vinyl retrophile:

I’ll begin by describing some of the turntables I’ve used over the years: At school I discovered Garrard turntables, first via the TA2 deck and later the SP25 mk 1, which really did have a ‘laboratory standard’ vibe about it to my young eyes; I briefly owned later SP25s and still have the SP60 autochanger version of the SP25 mk2.

For my eighteenth birthday, I had a Lenco GL75 and loved it until I had the funds to get my own direct drive deck, a wonderful ‘mean looking’ Technics SL110. By this time, a springy, belt drive deck made in Scotland was gaining headway and a demonstration was booked to hear one. Yes, the Linn LP12 really DID make records sound better and clearer back then (it got rather worse sonically in subsequent years before it started to get better again in the early 90s, but I digress). When I began working in hi-fi retail in the 1970s, I was trained well to set up the LP12. No two were ever quite the same back then – they needed experience and skill to get them stable long term. I thought I got pretty good at it. We also sold many Rega decks and I have great fondness for them, as well as the excellent UK after-care they offer. 

In the late 1980s, I heard how badly high-end vinyl usully sounds compared to master recordings and how very close domestic CD replay was getting. That was until I heard a Nottingham Analogue record deck and realised how much closer one of these decks (with retipped Decca cartridge) could sound to the master recording. 

I’m a confirmed Dual turntable fan and own several, in addition to Lencos awaiting some servicing and use. I’ve had fun lately with a Thorens 160 mk2 which I’ve almost turned into a ‘Super’ and fitted a Linn Basik Plus arm which works well. 

So many decks, so little time … Among my favourites have been:

Garrard Lab 80 mk2 and my current AP76 and Zero 100.

Dual decks, of which the 1229 and 701 stand out. A Sony PS8750 was so good, but to many it was just another Japanese direct drive and didn’t last long on the market. The Pioneer PL-71 suffered a similar fate.

Lenco GL75/78 – endearing and delightful decks that don’t need carving up, double or triple platters, just some careful thought and a set of modern V-blocks for the arm.

The AR XB – the arm looks crap but in reality it’s very, very good indeed if the main bearing hasn’t gone wobbly or worn out.

Thorens TD150 mk2 – the direct parent of the Linn LP12 which underneath all the expensive add-ons is a TD150 on steroids! The Thorens TD125 mk1, with original tight-fitting main bearing, is an excellent deck too I feel. They need some gentle restoration now though.

I have to say the Linn ‘fruitbox’ LP12, but you HAVE to get a suitable arm for old ones and check for wear as parts cost the earth and forty years is a long time on sometimes suspect main bearings.

Garrard 401 – the supreme 60s ‘rumble box,’ but I love ’em! Lesser Garrards endear themselves to me. The top one, I suppose, is the Zero 100, which is a conversation piece but plays records rather well with the right cartridge.

Bang & Olufsen Beograms – loads of models often based on a common chassis. Potentially very good indeed but a specialist thing now as the hardened lube syndrome is an issue on many and cartridges cost a king’s ransom to either re-tip or replace (Soundsmith in the US re-manufacture them at various high prices).

My favourite, favourite turntable is the Nottingham Analogue Mentor (now replaced by the Dias model) with a Decca Garrott Microscanner cartridge. I had a high speed Revox B77 (IEC eq) with which to compare and the Notts Analogue was the best sound I’d EVER heard from vinyl. Lack of funds all round and not liking cheaper cartridges in it when the Decca failed caused me to all but give it away in pre-internet days and I bitterly regret it now. The 32 kg graphite top platter as still used in today’s models, with unipivot arm and stabilisers – as Stax did in the UA7 – so the arm doesn’t wobble. My parents’ house had engineering-grade bricks in the wall which were very difficult to drill into but held the 45+ kg mass of the deck and concrete base. It was a brilliant deck.

On Wednesday, our expert will begin delving deeper into the second-hand record deck market.

Vinyl Revival – part 1

Vinyl Revival – part 3