Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101.3 turntable |

April 9th, 2020



Record players and the average consumer enjoy an on-again/off-again relationship—happily, at this moment in time, it is very much on—but to high-end audio enthusiasts, the turntable has endured as an object of near-talismanic importance. I think that’s not only because the turntable continues to give us so much pleasure, but also because it seems so understandable—at its simplest, it’s just a motor and a rotatable platter, attached to a board that also has some provisions for fastening a tonearm. End of story. Who among us has not, at one time or another, considered the lot of the turntable designer and thought, I could do that?

Trouble is, such presumptions are usually ill-founded. Like the trout, the subtlest nuances of the modulated record groove are often coaxed out of hiding in ways that seem to make little sense—all the while, any number of engineering solutions for doing so have fallen flat: turntables that actively compensate for out-of-round records, tonearms that actively compensate for unflat records, even a very curious record player that lacked a platter. Forget that there may once have seemed technically sound reasons that those products would survive. They did not.

Yet survival seems to be a specialty of Memphis native George Merrill, whose phono career began in the 1970s, when he owned a hi-fi shop that sold the Acoustic Research XA turntable—which, when introduced in 1966, sold for the paltry sum of $78, tonearm included. Like other things that are made to a price, the AR XA responded well to third-party improvements, many of which Merrill devised himself, and eventually sold to enthusiasts the world over.

After a while, Merrill set about creating original turntable designs—sometimes on his own, sometimes with a collaborating designer. When reviews appeared, they were positive, but large-scale success remained elusive. Now, in light of the word of mouth surrounding the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101.3 turntable ($7995)—a very credible buzz from music lovers whose opinions I tend to share—that may be about to change.