Listening #204: the New Garrard 301

June 1st, 2020

Some loss of innocence is expected with both age and experience. Because I tick both boxes, and in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, I’m often a bit blasé in the face of new review samples. I wasn’t with this one.


A brief recap: At the 2018 High End show in Munich, UK-based SME announced that they had taken steps to reintroduce the classic Garrard 301, a transcription turntable that’s been out of production for more than half a century (footnote 1). At the time of its introduction—production began in 1953—success for the British-built 301 was instant. It was also enduring; it stayed in production through 1965. Its high-torque AC motor and idler-wheel drive ensured the fast startups required by broadcasters, and its timeless styling and obviously high-quality construction earned it a place of honor among the hi-fi perfectionists of its day.


But when belt-drive turntables, which are cheaper to build, came into vogue, idler-drive models lost their luster—albeit not before Garrard sold an estimated 65,000 301s. (Its mechanically similar replacement, the 401, was even more popular.)


Then something happened: Audio enthusiasts with a taste for vintage gear—those willfully ignorant fools who prefer cleanly designed low-power tube amplifiers, built without a cylinder head’s worth of aluminum, and very efficient, low-distortion loudspeakers—discovered that idler-drive turntables were virtually unique in their ability to reproduce music with its sense of drive and impact still intact—surely a product of those generally high-torque motors—and decided that the Garrard 301 was one of the best, if not thebest, of the breed. Prices of old 301s began to poke through the cloud cover, and a cottage industry formed around the restoration of old 301s and the making of compatible plinths.