Upgrade a Garrard turntable

How To

Upgrade a Garrard turntable

Contrary to the view that some people get, reviewing audio equipment is a ‘pastime’ that is fraught with dangers. For a start, the primary measuring ‘implement’ is a very personal, and individually flawed pair of ears. Secondly the environment varies not only with every reviewer on the planet, but also in terms of humidity, temperature, ambient noise and time of day. Added to this mix is a totally variable set of partnering equipment topped off by the mood of the reviewer when he or she is listening.

Sadly the ultimate empirical measured parameters often give very little clue as to how a piece of equipment is going to sound in any one situation, let alone as a general rule in most systems. The other aspect is that whenever a new piece of kit is substituted into a system it’s very tempting to alight upon differences rather than improvements, with first impressions sometimes colouring later conclusions if a very short reviewing period is imposed.

So it was with much interest that Longdog’s power supply for the venerable Garrard 401 arrived, securely packed in a small hard-shell case to avoid damage in transit. This contained a relatively benign black box, heatsink fins along one side, the small Longdog legend along the front plate, and connections at the rear for standard mains in, and ‘regenerated’ mains out.

This unit, like a number of others, views the household mains as a corruptible force and seeks to remove the aberrations by completely regenerating clean perfect mains from scratch. The thinking behind this relatively simple (in principle) approach is to attempt to remove electrical supply interference from the motor so that it receives a pure unadulterated 50Hz sine wave of mains. This should then allow the motor to turn at precisely the right speed to enable the idler to rotate the platter at 33 1/3, 45 or 78rpm as appropriate.

With one of Terry O’Sullivan’s rebuilt Garrard 401s to hand the auditioning began. Of course it has to be said from the outset that Loricraft does a superb job of revitalising these aged machines, with the result that they have acquired a lease of life probably far in excess of what the original manufacturers ever envisaged. My sample has at the rear the ubiquitous IEC mains socket, so direct comparisons were available to swap between the ordinary mains and the Longdog version.

In order to give things a chance to settle I used SME’s strobe test disc to do an initial speed check with the Longdog in place, and then left things running overnight to settle down before carrying out a second speed test the next morning. As I expected, no change was observed. The strobe markings held rock steady both times*.

My Garrard has always been quiet on the lead-in grooves, but now things appeared to be much quieter, somehow with a greater depth to the quietness. It felt as if more silence was being revealed. Thurston Dart’s version of Dido and Aeneas on L’Oiseau Lyre acquired a real freshness, and a fuller more coherent soundscape than before with a real feeling of stability and assuredness. It was also seemingly easier to define the location of the performers in this (now quite aged) recording. I think I had also expected an increased or heightened impression of overall dynamics, but this wasn’t quite the case. What started to become more apparent was the ability of the turntable and arm (the arm being an SME 312s with a Kondo Io cartridge) to open up the smaller, quieter details of the recording. It’s often said that the little things make the biggest difference; such was the result here, with a feeling of greater insight and involvement in the music being played.

Next up was the EMI recording of Christopher Tye’s Mass in 6 Parts (EMI ASD4104) under Philip Ledger. The acoustic of Kings College came across in a remarkably transparent way, and the feeling of space around and between the singers was quite uncanny. The echoes also seemed to be more lifelike and realistic, taking longer to decay, which added immeasurably to the overall impression of being at a live concert.

Perhaps something a little more upbeat was required. Marty Paich’s The New York Scene hit the platter, and the stylus dropped slowly. As soon as the first note sounded we were transported to a different time, a different place and the whole world was immersed in big band jazz, with all the light and shade, tonal timbres and raucous exuberance of free expression. While the performances are some of my favourite I’d not been impressed with the quality of the pressing, but here, all of a sudden, was the unveiling of all the things I’d been missing. There was a clarity not heard before, a lack of ‘muddling’, space around the performers and a sense of depth to everything that was going on. There was also more light and shade, and you could almost smell the cigarette smoke as the music weaved its way into your senses. The background noise, which sometimes I’d been overly conscious of in the past was thankfully almost absent, and the whole presentation seemed to have been cleaned up.

However, these ‘first impressions’ can be misleading. After all, having watched ‘Towering Inferno’, the first few minutes are pretty electrifying, but after that you start to lose interest, it’s difficult to be continually surprised. Your ‘shock threshold’ has risen by several factors, how does the Longdog fare in the longevity stakes?

Over time (in my case six weeks), you find yourself getting more out of each record played. Not that you have to go hunting for it, but it’s more easily accessible. Perhaps the following analogy is helpful; imagine you’re sitting in a large dimly-lit space – large concert hall or cathedral at dusk for instance. The lighting is not that good, and although it’s not foggy or smoky there’s a limit to what you can easily see. Well, in my view the Longdog allows you to see further and more clearly. It doesn’t switch the lights on, and it doesn’t lift the ‘fog’, but it most definitely does allow you to hear a huge amount more of what’s going on in the performance.

The end result is that you get far more from your recordings, listening becomes less tiring and more enjoyable, and there’s certainly more air and space around the performers. The small acoustic clues are also more obvious, or at least have greater effect because it’s far easier to identify with the acoustic space in which the recordings are being made, whether it be studio, live stage, salon or wherever.

The acid test was, of course, reverting to raw, sullied mains. Instantly presentation was less focussed, possibly even a little cloudy, and the soundstage information was less well defined making the recording space harder to engage with. Edges of transient attack also seemed less than ‘spot-on’ and focus on particular instruments was harder to maintain, making listening a more tiring experience.

I know that there are those who will argue that you can’t quantify these things – and in most cases I’d agree, but in my opinion it’s not necessarily about empirical values but entirely subjective ones. Despite the Garrard’s normally speed-stable performance the Longdog does make a definable difference (see footnote below) and in a good way. Some elements of music replay annoy some listeners’ sensitivities, and others completely pass it by unnoticed. For those (like me) who are used to both playing and listening to real live music, the acoustic space forms an integral part of the performance. In listening to recordings I struggle without that stable reference point. For others this will be less important. I am more than happy to heartily recommend the Longdog to those for whom the ‘small detail stuff’ is important, and for whom fatigue-free long-term musical enjoyment is important.

Of course, in addition there’s a price to pay for such stability. In this case it’s a shade under £900. For some people this may even be more than the price of their beloved turntable, so justification at that price might be hard. My only counter to that is that in my view the listening experience, and the ability to immerse yourself in the recording is far easier to do, with the greatly pleasing result of far greater musical satisfaction and enjoyment. Surely that alone is worth the outlay?

*Footnote: Switching to the ordinary mains revealed a drifting (both ways over time), not by much but a noticeable amount.

Type: Quartz crystal reference mains regenerator
Suitable for: rim drive turntables, eg Garrard, Lenco
Output power: up to 80 Watts (230V AC, 50Hz)
Supplied ancillaries: Isotek EVO3 Initium mains cable, Neutrik Powercon to Furutech IEC component lead
Finish: silver or black
Dimensions WxDxH: 280 x 240 x 90mm
Price: £895

T 01484 540561