Garrard 401 revived

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from Hi-Fi World, April 1993






Spurred by growing interest in the Garrard 401 turntable, Noel Keywood dusts the cobwebs off his own and brings it up to date.


I once bought a gorgeous new hi-fi turntable, the best there was - and it rumbled. I remember the disappointment now and I never quite accepted that this wonderfully built machine, a Garrard 401, could really rumble so badly. It had an excellent reputation even then, back in the early Seventies, and boy did I ever want to own one. The massive cast platter with its machined-in strobe markings was incomparable and it has never really been bettered even now. 


I collected a 'solid wood' plinth from a company in Peterborough. This, I was told, would cure the rumble. It didn't. That massive motor and the huge rubber idler wheel looked far too purposeful to be compromised in their activities by a few bits of real wood, I remember thinking - and so it was. All that was back in prehistory, when, in the naivety of youth, I thought that life had just started when I got a job on Hi-Fi Answers magazine.I could not bring myself to give up on that Garrard; it really was so beautifully engineered. Only years earlier I had been crawling around the spectacular frame of Concorde, immersed in the finest engineering anyone could hope to see, and even with that as a contrast the 401 didn't look like the duffer it turned out to be.


For some reason, I never did contact Garrard to tell them my 401 rumbled like an express train. I'm not sure I wanted to believe it myself so hoping that one I might learn how to suppress the huge 25Hz tone it produced, I carefully put it up into the loft.It only just survived. Reaching the loft is preparatory to life in another world. When, after a few years, something has sat there unwanted and unused, it eventually goes to the great tip in the sky. Then another item takes its place. Even in my most brutal and heartless of moments, the Garrard survived, sitting there quietly gathering dust - wanted, but only just. One day, I thought, I'll find time to fix that turntable, then it'll take pride of place.It didn't quite turn out like that.


As Hi-Fi World got underway I began to find others who thought the 301 and 401 were under-rated. Then I saw a  warehouse full of them awaiting export to Japan; then I heard that Loricraft restored and built plinths for these turntables; then I was told that if I phoned a number a man called Martin Bastin would be able to help me with a new, even heavier plinth for my 401 and - amazingly - an improved main bearing. Together, they might just cure the rumble. Would that be possible? I doubted it; mine was too badly afflicted. All the same, I decided I was prepared to spend quite a lot of money on the off-chance that my 401 would at least become useable. No one, I noted, actually made any firm promises about this, but then it isn't something that you can promise. Off went the 401 for major surgery, on a prayer that it would return in full health .



During our visit to the SME factory some months ago I spotted an awesome looking 12in arm. It wasn't the lightweight classic 3012 used by jocks at radio stations, but a new 312 with tapered arm tube and solid headshell. But surely, I thought to myself, no one is interested in vinyl any more, so it'll never see the light of day. People wouldn't even know why you might want a 12in arm these days. Even SME seemed a little non- committal about this fine looking piece of engineering.


Rather than let it get passed over by progress, I thought the 312 would be in a perfect setting if paired with the upgraded Garrard before being exposed in a review.After all, both are part of an old technology, yet both also incorporate modern ideas in an effort to advance that technology. Neither unit has turned its back on development; neither is an anachronism, nor a worthy veteran. Together, I suspected, these two components, made for each other a long time ago, might show just how well they can perform together today.

A massive drawback of the 12in SME always was that - it's massive! Awesome it may well appear to be, but then so is any plinth big enough to accommodate an arm so long. Martin Bastin had to make a specially large plinth and he brought the arm forward (clockwise around the Garrard in effect) in order to limit front-rear depth. This means the arm sits at an angle when in its rest and the plinth is wider than it might be, but it is more likely to fit onto a shelf or wall bracket. I have a bay window, with a firm and wide sill. It just manages to accommodate this 52lb plinth, offering a firm, vibration- free horizontal location for it.


Did the 401 work after being tuned by Martin Bastin and mounted on a heavy weight plinth? Yes - and better than I dared imagine. I admit to fitting a Goldring 1042 cartridge in some haste, bothering little with fine alignment, just to test for rumble. I thought it unlikely that the mods that had been performed would be adequate. It seemed more likely that the motor or idler wheel of my unit were at fault, meaning a new main bearing and plinth might have precious little effect.


It was great to be proved wrong. The Garrard had miraculously become very quiet. Even vinyl roar seemed in good check At enormous volume I could hear the speaker cones flapping, stimulated by record warps, but there was no sign of feedback into the plinth, from loudspeakers about six feet away. Only the spectrum analyser could tell whether a hint of that 25Hz rumble remained, but it did not.  I wasn't expecting miracles, and certainly not this degree of improvement. My 401 hasn't just been rejuvenated; it has been transformed, entering the mainstream of hi-fi life splendidly after twenty years of idleness. It is effectively new, having never been used in earnest before, of course. But from the moment I found it fully useable all this changed. The cartridge was installed, the arm carefully set up and LPs started to build up in little, vertical groups around the lounge as I set about enjoying them again.It's not that I haven't been able to enjoy them before, but solid-plinth turntables are very easy to use, especially if you hand-cue, like me; I just cannot use a lift/lower. With a rock-solid plinth offering a firm foundation, and with a beautifully machined, magic-wand of an arm from SME, the 401 finally proved what I had always suspected: it is a superb machine to own and use.



I'm not going to claim at this point that, with the improved bearing, it is unequivocally better in its sound than good, suspended sub-chassis turntables, although I believe it has firmer, more tuneful and better resolved bass than most of them. What I would say is that, when mounted properly and fitted with a good arm it is up amongst the best, with a good raft of strengths, some of which are quite a surprise, subjectively. The huge, high torque motor and no-slip idler drive give it some impressive advantages. There are also a few small blemishes, minor colourations we might say, that could usefully be expunged, but then this is always the case. A perfect hi-fi product hasn't been invented.Such a beautifully engineered turntable was built to have a use in this life, and now it has. Not only does it sound superb but it is a delight to use. The gorgeous new turntable I once bought has finally entered my hi-fi system after twenty years - and it was worth the wait.



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