26 March, 2011

Talk Vinyl: Garrard 301 Reborn Part I

Return of the prodigal son. Click on pic to enlarge.

Talk Vinyl: Garrard 301 Reborn Part I

Talk Vinyl: Technics SP-10 MkII Part II
The Yumcha Diaries: 12-03-11

It was always a delight to have the company of feikeung, who is one of the rare people who has a view of the Internet that is close to mine. After yumcha, he and davwong (a fellow Garrard user) went with me to Robin's place to pick up my Garrard.

After I removed the platter i put it in my tote bag, we packed up the TT and it was actually not heavy, just bulky. I managed to get it home safely, horizontally. Here thanks davwong for his help in packing.

The Second Advent, or Return of the Prodigal Son

The return of the Garrard heralds the beginning of a Second Age for me. Remember previously I had the oil-bearing cream-colored Garrard as a reference? It is now with my friend whlee. To make room for all my new turntables I recently sold my Clearaudio Champion as well as, regrettably, my Audio Note TT1/Arm 2, which I had used in the interim. As I have always thought the Systemdek-based TT1 to be better sounding and balanced than the LP12, I regret I never got a chance to compare the two. That may yet happen as the person I sold it to planned to do that! :-)

This was just a test-drive before even starting to ponder about the final form the 301 should take. As it is one of my reference TT's and shall always be so, I am sure we'll grow together. And the current plinth is certainly not the last word on isolation (it is rather light in mass). When I say return of the prodigal son, I mean ME, not Garrard. :-)

I decided to install the very arm that I used with the previous Garrard, the RB250 with Origin Live structural mod (only) that has served me so well for so long, so as to connect with past aural memory. It is strange audiophiles so distrust their impressions, on which everything cognitive is based. While one must be objective, even ready to re-evaluate old presumptions, one must also not do so lightly without serious trials, for the present is nothing without a past.

For a cartridge I finally decided on the humble Ortofon Kontrapunkt H. One of the reasons I chose the Ortofon is for its neutrality, perhaps even its tendency towards starkness. Also, on this very arm I had spent years with my old and trusty Ortofon MC-15 MkII, which is recently sadly defunct.

Grease Bearing or just Greasy?
To be honest, the first few tracks I played had me a little non-plussed. After coming off a period of listening to the crisp and take-no-prisoner approach of the SP-10 (even with the Benz-Micro!), the smooth Garrard inevitably seemed just a little slow on the transients, and image also seemed not as focused. Dylan's record lost a bit of its bite.

However, after a while I started to get used to the sound and heard things differently. While the rhythms were not as superficially sharp, the Garrard delivered more subtle rhythmic felicities. The players in the band seemed to have their own takes on the rhythm (while keeping time). The bass was also more elastic and fulsome, more tuneful. The violin also seems to be more sinuous with the 301, and massed strings more full-bodied.

In comparison, the admittedly exciting SP-10 seemed to be have a pervasive insistent quality that likely does not belong to the musicians, sort of like a controlling master clock at work (but less than the lesser, but still over-achieving SP-1200). This makes me ponder. In digitals, can all the hooplahs in jitter and clock be at least just a bit overblown? I think so, and I am being kind. While I am convinced keeping jitter low is generally good, I am not convinced all these "state-of-the-art" clocking and jitter-reduction has brought forth more music. In having masters and slaves (as in clocking), are we sure the mysterious minutiae (not details) in music (which vinyl conveys so well) have not been smoothed out too much? It would not be the first time babies have been thrown out with the bath water. Have you ever have your doubts about dCS and the likes? Do you like the way these supercomputers make music? Do they give you more of the illusion of live music? Truth be told, I am not impressed.

I am not at all knocking the SP-10. It has its own enticing features and shall likely remain as one of my references. Like the Garrard, I doubt most of today's megadollar TTs can beat it in any all-around way. When I'd like a little more excitement I shall reach for it.

Preview: Arm Swaps and the Bottlehead Eros Tube Tape Head Preamp
Next step would be to swap arms, to have the presumably better max'ed out RB250 on the Technics transplanted to the Garrard. Later would be the Ortofon AS-212S 9" arm. Stay tuned.

Let me digress. Robin spent the last weekend building this Tape Head preamp for his R2R. He just hooked it up. We didn't listen to it. Robin said sound was a little too bass-heavy. We'll let it run-in and tube-roll a little later, but that has to wait till May I think.

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