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Auction room find with genuine decks appeal; audiophiles in a spin over this royally good record player.

AUDIOPHILE Shaun Daniels tells an amusing story: watching a certain TV antiques programme one day - the one where experts go through a house picking out hidden treasures that might earn some cash in the saleroom - one of his customers spotted a skip in the background. Discarded on top of the pile of unwanted junk was an old record player.

The house clearer had better luck when he unearthed the battered old player pictured here, knocked up perhaps by a DIYer on a tight budget.

Consigned to his local saleroom, it sold for a sweet-sounding PS780.

Its buyer will doubtless put the old cabinet in a skip but unlike the one on the telly, he will have removed the record turntable first. Both housed the magical Garrard 301, a name that turns audiophiles worldwide to jelly.

Shaun, who owns Peak HiFi in Sheffield, just shipped a 301 to a collector in Singapore.

Only an estimated 65,000 were ever made, but with numbers being depleted by neglect, digital "progress" in the audio world and the inevitable junking by the uninitiated, how many remain is pure speculation.

Asian buyers, particularly the Japanese, want the 301 at the centre of their music systems, but with the current vinyl revival coupled with the fashion for anything retro, anachrophiles - collectors of vintage audio, film cameras, wind-up watches, dial telephones, typewriters and other mechanical bygones - are sending demand far beyond supply.

"The fact that something introduced in 1954, at the dawn of stereo sound, is still spinning 62 years later tells you something about old technology," Shaun said.

"Their success was based on their drive system in which the motor comes into direct contract with the platter you put the record on.

"Other turntables use belts to drive the turntable, but these can stretch or contract or simply break.

"This means they cannot give the same grip on the turntable or the same level of control as Garrard's direct drive system."

What I hadn't realised is that turntables are made by same company as the crown jewellers, which was founded in 1735. They made Princess Diana's sapphire engagement ring, given by her son, Prince William, to his bride, Catherine Duchess of Cambridge.

In the First World War, Garrard were tasked by the MoD with putting factory in premises set up, presumably for secrecy, inside the White Heather Laundry in Willesden, NW10.

The end of hostilities in 1918 might have seen the end of the business, but a combination of the end of austerity and the appearance on the market of innovative wind-up gramophones presented chairman Major S.H. Garrard with an opportunity: making the springdriven motors that powered them. The first Garrard Number 1 motor appeared in 1919, the company moving to a factory in Swindon to produce it.

The motor's quality was quickly recognised and soon many of the major gramophone companies were beating a path to its door.

If you own an antique wind-up by Decca, Columbia or HMV - His Master's Voice - chances are it is powered, and still works thanks to its Garrard spring.

The company went public in 1926 to finance growth to keep up with demand and to develop the next big thing: the electric motor, which began to replace the spring-driven turntable in about 1930.

The first Garrard belt-driven electric motor was called the Model E, which appeared the same year.

This motor powered the first Garrard gramophone, the Model 201, which proved successful with the audiophiles at the BBC. Stereo sound production was in its infancy at the time, but the 201 was the gramophone of choice, so long as your records played at 78rpm.

The Second World War saw production given over to the war effort, during which time Garrard springs were used in the timing mechanisms for mines.

However, gramophone sales surged again after VE-Day, prompting modifications to be made to the flagship 201 to play at 33?, introduced by Columbia in 1948, and 45rpm (by RCA in 1949) as well as the 16-inch records used in cinemas.

By then, the 201 boasted record changers capable of playing records of all sizes and lightweight pickup arms, the first to use magnetic cartridges.

The iconic Garrard 301, designed by the firm's maestro Edmund W. Mortimer, was launched in September 1954, specifically for the perfectionist, music buff who wanted the best the market could offer.

It was based on a robust diecast aluminium base enamelled in silvery grey, later changed to white, with simple switches, appreciated so much by today's lovers of minimalism.

At its heart was a huge motor driving an idler wheel, which presses against the rim of the record platter. This enables the record to reach running speed almost instantly, although the pickiest maintain this causes a low frequency rumble when not set up correctly.

Since this is apparently most noticeable when a stethoscope is placed on the deck, it is unlikely to be annoying under normal playing circumstances.

The motor of the earliest grey enamelled 301s had a grease-packed main bearing but in 1957, a few months after the colour change to white, this was changed to one filled with oil.

A simple modification, you might say, but along with the debate about rumble, stereophiles are still arguing over which lubrication system is best in terms of sound reproduction. The greased motor makes a darker sound, it is said.

I have no idea, but that's the anorak-like detail at which vintage equipment at this level is discussed.

When it was new in 1954, the 301 was sold as a bare chassis and retailed at PS19 plus purchase tax. Today they can cost well add two noughts on the end. Or you could buy a Garrard 401.

Launched to supersede the 301 in 1965, it cost PS27-19s plus tax and around 50,000 were sold before production ceased in 1977. To buy one today, fully serviced and in good condition would cost around PS900-PS1,000.

Audiophiles say the 301 looks better, while the 401 sounds better. It's all subjective but try to listen to each of them.

You will be impressed.

CAPTION(S):

The Garrard 301 set into a custom-made plinth. Far Left, the turntable as it was found and, inset, details of the turntable's classic design. Photographs: Peak HiFi
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Sep 3, 2016
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