The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

classic analog rigs Thorens, Garrard, Lenco, EMT, etc..

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The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby polaris » Sat Jun 18, 2011 8:24 am

Okay, i have a topic to instigate the feisty discussion thread.

Let's have an intelligent, mature debate on this issue- the proposition: Vintage idler turntables sound decent but has nowhere near the sonic qualities of modern high-end designs.

I find it sometimes sickening to see an ad for a vintage Garrard fetching 2-3k USD in the used market. I think to myself; "c'mon, they can't be worth that much." I see it as nothing more that a capitalist, opportunistic sale feeding on the faddish and coolness factor of owning a vintage. Just like cars and watches. Up to what extent can we expect an idler turntable to be good? stock? modified plinth? tonearm mod? cartridge factor? At what price point of modern turntables can we reasonably expect a vintage to compete before it starts to eat dust?

Now, I have very limited exposure to these vintages and cannot make an informed evaluation. I do own a modern turntable, high-end but not uber-high-end, but sounds good enough to me.

So what say you? I will appreciate an honest discussion. Let's all be technology agnostic and just focus on the merits. Let's leave our loyalties at the door and be totally objective. No BS. No safe, "that depends on your sonic taste."

Let's nail it down guys. Let's make a well-informed, thoughtful discussion on this. All opinions will be respected, "walang personalan." :)

Fire! :devil:
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby 328gts » Sat Jun 18, 2011 1:59 pm

Hi ,

Let me relay the experience of our group here in the South regarding the comparison between high end belt drive turntables and idler drive turntables particularly the Garrard 301/401.We had in 3 occasions do a comparison test between this 2 types of turntable.

The first occasion was when read about the topic in positive feedback how the reviewer preferred the Garrard 301 over the VPI TNT.We asked one of our friend who is very much an enthusiast of Garrard 301/401 series that he owns several of this model, he brought his 401 w/ a DIY plinth w/ a SME 4.5 w/ a Denon 103R. For comparison our host had a VPI TNT jr w/c was upgraded to TNT mk3 status. It had a SME 5 and a Lyra Parnasus mounted. Associated equipment use for the test was a AHT phono stage feeding the line stage of the CAT SL1 reference preamp partnered w/ a Gryphon Reference monoblocks driving Wilson Watt 3 Puppy 2 Speakers. Regarding the sonics we were surprised how fast paced and dynamic the Garrard was compared to the TNT.We even brought out the stroboscope to check the speed of both turntables and both of them were spot on. But we noticed that the Garrard 301 was noisy or was it grainy, low level detail suffered ,image height was not as tall compared to the TNT ,it was less open, musicality & bass was more or less at par w/ the TNT. Because of this findings we were surprised why the TNT was bashed so much in some forums. I personally wanted the Garrard to beat the TNT but unfortunately the TNT performed better than the Garrard during the test.

The second occasion happened last year when we wondered how a Garrard 301 will sound in a modern system because of all the hype that it was able to slay modern high end turntables. So we asked our friend again who is a collector from Lipa to bring a Garrard 301/401. He brought his latest creation a Garrard 301 w/ a plinth made of wood and acrylic. It had a newly refurbished Odyssey RP1-XG tonearm (restoration done by the designer himself John Gordon) .The cartridge was a Denon 103R w/ Uwe body and a top of the line retip from Soundsmith. The Garrard was compared to the host turntable the Acoustic Signature Analog MK 3 equipped w/ a Kuzma 4Point tonearm and the cartridge mounted was My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent cartridge. Electronics used were the VTL TP 6.5 phono stage, VTL 7.5 linestage, VTL Siegfried monoblocks driving JM Lab Grand Utopia BE. W/ regards to sonic the Garrard did not have any advantage w/ regards to PRAT when compared to the Acoustic Signature. The belt drive turntable was not dry compared to the 301. It was clear the Acoustic Signature turntable set up sounded better overall than the Garrard. But the group noted how beautiful & gorgeous the Garrard is . We also concluded that the Garrard is good for what it is.

On the third occasion the host was the owner of the Garrard. I asked him to pick up my VPI TNT MK 2.5 w/ Kuzma Stogi Ref ,Benz Micro MC 20e2 (sold already)from our friend Hypertriode( I was keeping it from my wife that I purchased a new turntable)I asked him if we can listen to the turntable in his home. We invited several members of our group to listen to my new TNT. We had the oppurtunity to compare it to most of his turntable collection (301/401) .associated equipment used were ARC PH3, SP10MK2,D250MK2 driving Proac Response 3.8 .Sonically we cant hear what the perceived advantage of the idler drive turntable.We were really wondering how come the TNT was bashed when pitted againts the Garrard.Even our host was surprised w/regard to what we were hearing.Same conclusion as that in the first episode.

Maybe someday our group could do a comparison between a highend belt drive turntable and an idler drive turntable using the same tonearm /cartridge combo so that we can arrive to a conclusion if idler drive turntable really sounds better than a belt drive turntable.We cant conclude that highend belt drive is superior to idler drive or vise versa because of a lot of variants . This was our groups experience regarding this issue.


Thanks for your time,

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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby JackD201 » Sat Jun 18, 2011 3:17 pm

I respectfully disagree :)

Although I use a modern TT, Idler tables really do possess a sense of drive in the bass region that is unique. In a properly maintained unit where the idler and rims are impeccably cleaned and the idlers properly lubricated. Rumble really isn't much of a problem. I've found even more rumble in circular belts that are dirty. As for the price, it is demand driven. Will the bubble burst? Maybe but we have to take into account that these tables simply aren't made anymore. Just like NOS tubes, every year that goes by supply of well kept units get smaller and smaller. The demand exists partly because of the allure of having something rare but I suspect it is because there really are many system configurations out there that benefit from what these tables bring to the overall result of the system's output.
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby endrik35 » Sat Jun 18, 2011 3:22 pm

Bakit garrard lng ung na mention? How about the venerable Lenco L75 vs the TNT's? Any comments?

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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby Mamimili » Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:38 pm

I wonder what it would cost to design and build a modern idler TT from scratch?
As true engineers are a rare breed these days and profit comes before consumer satisfaction, it's no wonder manufacturers stayed with a simple motor and bearing connected by a belt design.

I also wonder how many owners of vinatge TT's are vintage themselves?
I prefer a vintage sound, it's my audio goal.

Somehow, i think that if i were to put my idlers up for sale they would sell quickly!
I cant even be bothered to list my (low end) belt drives in the for sale section, they are not worth enough to get me interested to clean them up and take photographs!
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby polaris » Sat Jun 18, 2011 9:26 pm

vintage idlers include lenco, thorens and other brands apart from garrard. didn't mean to exclude them. good discussion so far. 328gts, thank you for sharing a detailed account.

now apart from PRAT, in what other aspects is the idler turntable competitive? we know great sound isn't just about PRAT alone. how about transparency, resolution and all the other fancy high-end criteria?

I wonder what our WS members who own both, vintage and modern, have to say. I know we have quite a number in the forum. with modified plinths, 12" tonearms, copacetic carts, how good can it truly be?

this maybe a good subject for a comparison in the next hi-fi show. a tale of two turntables hooked up in the same system, with minimal variables. not to compete, but to enlighten.
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby 328gts » Sun Jun 19, 2011 12:06 am

[quote="endrik35"]Bakit garrard lng ung na mention? How about the venerable Lenco L75 vs the TNT's? Any comments?

[img]http://www.sixmoons.com/audioreviews/lenco/hero1.jpg[/img][/quote]


On one occassion we were able to compare the Lenco L75 to a Michell Gyrodec the full version (w/plinth and cover)w/ a hot rodded RB250 w/ a Benz ace M cartridge. Lenco had the stock arm w/ a Fidelity Research M.C. cartridge.This was in the house of our friend also from the South. Our gracious friend loaned us his Lenco ( same guy who owns /collects Garrards 301/401here in the South) and his Rogers Studio 7.Associated equipment use for the test were the ARC SP11 preamp and the D79A power amp. Same observation and result as noted in the 3 occasions . Both tables have they're merits and demerits but overall in the host 's setup the Gyrodec had the advantage. Were awaiting an invitation from our friend so we can also compare the Lenco vs. the Garrard. Maybe if one of our groupmates can persuade himself to get the EMT 927 this turntable can join the test. We did not have the chance to test the Lenco againt the TNT maybe in one of these days.


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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby jimny » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:26 am

i happen to own a stock lenco l75 w/ shure m55/new n55e stylus and all new technics sl1200mk5 w/ shure m97xe
i used a nad phone preamp, local tube amp and realistic nova8 speakers

first impression when i swap the tt - the mk5 has low volume but with more bass
- the l75 has balance audio more natural

this is just my own observation/ear experience
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby jadis » Sun Jun 19, 2011 9:47 am

Well, 'overrated' may be too strong a word, as there are MANY other audio products, or any products on earth actually, that can be called overrated.

The reason prices of old things go up is because of demand. And lots of demand of old, discontinued things may prove that people like their performance, and hence, the purchases. To say they are overrated may be quite subjective.

I have never used idler types table simply because I am happy with my belt drive table. I once used a Dual DD and it spooked me out of such designs all these years because the suspension was not isolated, it was lightweight, and I can hear the rumble going on with the music. A simple test of lightly tapping the cover or body while playing produced 'thuds' from the loudspeakers.

I love the original AR turntable's design in that it was simple, sturdy, and well isolated. It was sold back then in the late 80s here brand new but I chose to get a 'supposed' better one in the VPI 19 MKII which I have used till now. I can only say that my inherent dislike for physical vibration to reach the TT and the cart had cause me to rule out tables that lay flat on a plinth without suspension, whether they are belt, direct or idler types. I still have my eyes set on the venerable Linn Sondek one day.
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby setup1 » Sun Jun 19, 2011 11:46 am

Back in 1987 I picked up a TD124 MkII for $75 at Cosmophonic Sound, NYC. I mounted an AR arm bought from Sam Tellig (80s AR TT reissue, probably a Jelco OEM ? not the funky but good sounding 60s higher mass Vilchur original) + Grado GTE+1. At that time I had a heavily modified Merrill/AR - Narra plinth damped with clay, acrylic sub-chassis, upgraded bearing, lead damped/balanced platter + Merrill/Hurst motor, SOTA acrylic mat and reflex clamp, Sumiko FT3 arm on VTA-16 base/Grado Signature 8MX, feeding a conrad-johnson PV2aR preamp---> Berning EA230---> Magnepan SMGa or Rogers LS3/5A wrapped up with Straightwire cables and VPI bricks on preamp and amp. The humble TD124II/AR arm/GTE+1 played a lot more records than the AR/Merrill. The plinth was just a simple wooden box but I purchased NOS mushrooms...

As a musician, the one thing the AR/Merrill/FT3/8mx could not match was speed stability. I was about to purchase a Merrill external power supply when I read a DIY article that it is basically a powerful amplifier driven by a 60hz oscillator. Driven by a 60hz signal I bridged my back up Hafler DH120 amp, the Merrill/Hurst motor was driven from the speaker terminals...still could not match the TD124II in terms of absolute pitch stability. Wow on sustained piano chords on the AR/Merrill still bothered me :(

Being an avid TAS/Stereophile subscriber/reader then, I was in denial that the TD124II was the superior turntable. :( I came home in '88 with all my audio equipment. I kept using the TD124II for LPs I collect for musical reasons while the AR/Merrill played audiophile discs....by 1992 I was back in the USA and setting up another audio system. I won an older cream TD124 + Ortofon arm for $1 at an antique auction. While working for Steve M. at Angela Instruments, I met Joe Roberts and read his premiere issue of Sound Practices. In his WE91A article he was using a TD124...I was no longer a closet idler drive user.... :lol:

Years passed and I wondered whatever happened to my first TD124II, when I came home in '08 I discovered it is now in the possession of a very good friend :rock: :rock: :rock:
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby alexg » Sun Jun 19, 2011 5:09 pm

I owned direct drive Denon, Technics, Yamaha and Sony, belt driven Luxman, and an idler driven Lenco L75.

Now I only have two Lenco L75, one with a busted motor. 8)
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby hypertriode » Sun Jun 19, 2011 8:06 pm

jadis wrote:And lots of demand of old, discontinued things may prove that people like their performance, and hence, the purchases.


Amen to this Jadis 8)
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby detubo » Sun Jun 19, 2011 10:17 pm

i agree with hyper. the rise in price can't be due to purely collectability. like collectable vacuum tubes they should excel or provide a certain Je ne sais quoi that makes them stand out. i did the high end WAF turnable bit with matching flavor of the month tonearm and cart but i couldn't get myself to listen to any of my records. may denial factor na yan pa. then one day i took the plunge and got a 301 after hearing one i don't remember where. damn ang ganda! someone said it in this thread. it just sounded natural to my ears. like that the way records were meant to be played. i got a second one later as back up or if i decide to spin in a club someday. its probably not for everyone. its a preference thing. hey, the germans listen to their horn speaker with high powered solid state amps! different strokes for different folks. if you can't decide, the hifi show this november will provide you with both so you can compare. so, choose what you like. not what the industry rags tell you as i would say.
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby polaris » Mon Jun 20, 2011 4:46 am

thanks guys for the inputs. setup1, jadis, hpyer,alex and detubs, jimny--your long experience is very much valued.

detubs, a comparison set-up in the forthcoming hi-fi show will be a good educational experience, great to know there will be one.

i know we have other members with idler tables sitting alongside more modern designs from nottingham, vpi et al....thoughts please. :)
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby JackD201 » Mon Jun 20, 2011 9:23 am

In one HiFi show, we hosted 3 TTs a Direct Drive from Doc Lito, A DIY Belt Drive from ArnoldC and an Idler from Joey for a shoot out. What year was that? Dang I'm getting old!
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Re: The sonic merits of vintage idler turntables are OVERRATED

Postby jadis » Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:39 am

JackD201 wrote: I've found even more rumble in circular belts that are dirty. `


I must admit that forgetfulness and laziness are among the culprits that prevent my system from performing to its fullest. Though in my entire audio life I had done general cleaning from time to time - from cleaning RCA plugs to speaker binding posts to yes, cleaning the round o-ring belts of my VPI - I had just about neglected doing these things for the past few years. (It's more of laziness). Binding posts and RCAs were cleaned again a few months ago but it was only yesterday that I cleaned my turntable belt again. And lo and behold, the sound was cleaned as well, and I'm quite sure it's not a psychosomatic thing. The improved clarity is actually startling, and soundstage and separation of instruments is improved as well. The cheapest tweak one can do really ( a few ml of alcohol was all I used) and what I did was to clean both 33 and 45 canals of the pulley plus the side of the platter on which the belt rides on. I begin to believe in the saying 'cleanliness is next to Godliness'. :)
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