Garrard 501 Time machine by Joachim Pfeiffer
Let’s get musically conveyed to other times – with Garrard 501 turntable. You won’t recognize Your vinyl treasures.
How long haven’t I been listening to this? The so called double Blue Album by the Beatles, side A. „Strawberry Fields Forever” flows from loudspeakers – and I remember the day when I heard this song on the radio, for the first time. How incredible it seemed, and how I was thrilled by the appearance of side A of „Penny Lane”. My parents had no Hi-Fi equipment, we occupied a tube radio with the magic eye and the full range driver by Philips. And then in broadcasting radio stations turned not just any turntables but powerful EMTs with neither direct drive nor belt drive, but idler drive.
This is a daring thought that I cannot prove with any concrete evidence: with Garrard 501 I experience this music emotionally close to the way I sang their songs as a 13-year-old boy. Later on, when first of all stereo became household, it evolved from first-steps in HiFi up to expensive High End equipment, and in that period for example the Beatles had been fading ever more. Thanks to Garrard 501, the turntable with the idler drive just like the former exemplary radio station EMT, I swung back to 1967. Or perhaps I imagine it all?
The story of Garrard 501 differs from all stories known in the world of High Fidelity. Garrard was once a local company from England hiring in its peak period 4000 employees. The beginning of the 80’s brought the renowned enterprise bankruptcy. What were left were ultra hearty turntables 301 and 401 – both with the idler wheel drive. And here enters a Mr Terry O’Sullivan.
Idler wheel – craziness?
The man is undeniably an enthusiast, and he found Nigel Pearson a genial comrade-in-arms. O’Sullivan personally secured the brand name Garrard from inheritors and restored in his – let’s be honest – completely manageable workshop old 301s and 401s. He is doing it still. The willing person can start with a purchase of Garrard 301 (3850 Euro) thoroughly restored – with a three-year warranty.
Those who are willing for more – with the newly constructed 501 with a twenty-year warranty – after reaching adequately deeper into a pouch. The pleasure begins with 14 500 Euro – without a tonearm and a system. The motor and the chassis of regular models are traditionally made with aluminium. When all parts crucial for the sound – including the motor – are made with high-grade steel the 501 is additionally named Inspiration and costs 17 500 Euro. In the tested version it was equipped with a tonearm Conquerer Origin Live (4500 Euro) and a cartridge Lyra Argo (1350 Euro).
This lovely antiquarian gear with a charm of the 50’s is modern indeed. One contemplates how would today Garrard reconcile building turntables without yet another company, meaning Martina Schöner, the third in the Loricraft league, as Terry O’Sullivan calls his small smithy. Martina Schöner (firstname.lastname@example.org) not only manages distribution in this country but also contributes her analytic expertise and leisure in perfecting the turning mechanism.
The idea to build the new Garrard originated in the 90’s and as early as in 1999 a colleague from AUDIO, Bernhard Rietschel, reviews the early 501 in AUDIOphile magazine (issue 2/99). It was a potent gear already, however the then drive could not be placed on top: the weaknesses of the idler drive were all too audible. Just 69 dB rumbling separation distance measured with Koppler was not „State of the Art”. The challenge consists in driving the platter with a belt simultaneously achieving extremely good measured values without a bigger problem. The belt, either round or flat, leaves over tiny inaccuracies in musical texture. Whereas idler wheel explores uncompromisingly deeper into the vinyl record. A man has in mind only the dual-turner as a familiar popular variant of a drive in a cheap version (then, see the beginning, the radio sounded better). I am saying: with the idler drive the utmost precision is absolutely a must.
Precision has it all
Nothing in the world meets the requirements of O’Sullivan and Pearson. So, they built their own, with record-breaking engine smoothness. No less precise is the proper idler wheel that transmits revolutions from the motor onto the inner edge of the platter. O’Sullivan and Pearson employ a handful of experts to have this job done with the utmost care.
A power supply and a separate steering unit are among the finest, they were also critically examined in a laboratory. Before Peter Schüller, a lab specialist, placed the 501 on the measurement desk, he had listened first. „That’s the way a turntable should sound”, judges the man who has scrutinized every turntable with a magnifying glass for over 20 years. Several hours later he adds: „That’s the way a turntable should accomplish in a lab.” Unlike with the primary 501 here the rumbling-signal to noise ratio reaches significant 79 dB (measured with Koppler) – one of the best results. What fascinates technicians the most is a glance at a laboratory record of the measurement. It was proved by not just a single diagram but by a full dozen of synchronous runs drawn up by Peter Schüller. All of them exactly alike – as peas in a pod.
A prize winner – also in a laboratory
Measurements of the speed of a belt drive are similar only in their characteristics. You may say: a fully conventional turntable is turning always with a little fun – after one minute it offers You 33 and 1/3 turns. But in this timespan the speed fluctuates. The main feature, when modulation of a vinyl comes in.
The old, precise disc cut („Super Touch”, JVC) with mercifully low tones of the piano hits left the statement about the stability of Garrard untouched. All other sources known to me whine with this sort of passages – this 501 doesn’t. The precision results in experiencing music newly. Put the LPs You though You were befriended with – I have reached into archives for “Heavy Weather” of Weather Report and placed a needle into a groove on „Teen Town”. Jaco Pastorius plays E-Bass and drums here – it is incredible how accurately the 501 reproduces multifaceted bass. I did not know it like that. What we get in every other turntable are rudiments of what Garrard offers with implicitness: exactly how Joe Zawinul uses his synthesizer in this piece. A small example – the one You may find on any disc from Your or my shelf. You will not need to apply at once the high-grade steel finish of the „Inspiration”, the simpler aluminium version will do. It distances all that has been invented about turntables in the past.
Just one but, this Inspiration. It reaches even deeper, is more sovereign, closer to the original. New reference.
Conclusion Joachim Pfeiffer
Much has changed since Garrard 501 took its place in the AUDIO listening room. Before we used to sit with colleagues on common test days just musing over the CD-player performance, the event brought LP listening test back to main focus. Via Garrard 501 one can not only listen with more volume but also in a more detailed manner than with a CD. You do not have to connect expensive superloudspeakers with a powerful amplifier. This dramatic difference in laboratory measurements will get revealed with every true acoustic reliable loudspeaker, with a better electronic gear. Ambitious High End lovers are hereby invited to listen to the 501 at least once. Many would wait gladly the three months of the delivery period.
Distributor Loricraft Audio
0174/30 18 81 3
Price from 14500 Euro
Warranty 20 years
Dimention (W x H x D) 56 x 15 x 48 cm
Garrard 501 Inspiration
Modestly speaking the best turntable AUDIO has known. In addition, totally user friendly.
Sound outstanding 120
Maintenance user friendly
Courtesy of: www.audio.de