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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Vinyl: Garrard 301, Cain & Cain plinth, Denon 103 MC cartridge, Pete Riggle Audio VTAF, Fi Yph phono stage, Auditorium 23 moving coil step-up transformer, Origin Live Silver Mk 1 & Mk 2 tonearms [this review]; Miyabi 47 MC cartridge [in for review], SME 3012 tonearm [this review], The Cartridge Man Isolator [this review]
FM source: Vintage early 1960s Scott 370 FM vacuum tube tuner, Magnum Dynalab ST-2 vertical omnidirectional FM antenna
Digital sources: Meridian 508.20 CD player, Audio Logic 2400 DAC, Superscope PSD340 Music Practice Tool & CD recording system
Preamplifiers: Tom Evans Audio Design Lithos 7 Vibe with optional Pulse power supply
Integrated amplifiers: Almarro A205A Mk1, Leben CS600 [in for review]
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monoblocks; Tom Evans Audio Design Linear A
Speakers: Avantgarde Duo 2.1, Omega Super 3 (Skylan Stands); Omega Super 3 XRS [in for review]
Cables: 47 Laboratory OTA cable kit; Nirvana S-L & S-X interconnects, S-L speaker cables, Duo wiring harness, and Transmission Digital Interface; Cardas Neutral Reference digital cable, Auditorium 23 speaker cable; Tom Evans Audio Design interconnects.
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony media cabinet
Room size: 20' L x 17' W x 17' H
Review component retail: SME 3012 tonearm is out of production, review loaner courtesy of Jonathan Halpern at Tone Imports; the Origin Live Silver Mk II tonearm £599 UK, $1099 US; the Cartridge Man Isolator £85 UK, $156 US

In case you're new to the Garrard Project, let me do a brief recap for you. The Garrard Project series of articles is about buying, restoring, hot-rodding and in general having a ball with a 50-year old Garrard 301 transcription turntable. In Part 1, I did a brief overview of the history of Garrard, described what to look for when buying a Garrard 301 on eBay, advised you to read the manual and do all the recommended maintenance, and went over the basics of the different types of plinths you can build.

In Part 2, I described how Terry Cain of Cain & Cain loudspeakers helped me with a plinth design for my 301. Its cool looks and fine performance so intrigued readers that they pestered Terry to make them one too. In fact, so many people wanted one that Terry ended up putting it into production to become part of the Cain & Cain lineup .

"Why all the fuss over these ancient Garrards?" you ask. I'll let you in on a little secret: More than a few audio insiders believe that a fully restored and hot-rodded vintage Garrard 301 transcription turntable is the ultimate analog front end. For example, Don Garber of Fi fame owns the vintage Garrard 301 that Julius Futterman used in his studio. Tone Imports' Jonathan Halpern is a big fan of Garrard 301s and imports the fully tricked-out 301s of Ken Shindo in Japan, which Jonathan considers to be the best of the best when it comes to Garrard 301s. Terry O'Sullivan of Loricraft Audio in the UK likes Garrards so much that he bought the rights to the name, refurbishes old Garrards and even makes a new iteration of the classic Garrards called the 501. Frank Schröder, who makes some of audio's most highly regarded tonearms, listens to a Garrard 301 at home.

Garrardissimos claim that the solidity, presence, body, speed, dynamics, soundstaging, noise floor and low-level detail retrieval of a fully restored and properly hot-rodded vintage Garrard 301 transcription turntable are equal to what super tables of today can muster - and the Mighty G smokes those über tables in overall musical involvement. I certainly don't have the experience with über tables necessary to validate those claims. But I sure do know what I like - and I like what I'm hearing from my Garrard 301. Here's what a couple of other folks found when comparing their Garrards to other widely respected turntables:

6moons reader Lee from the UK e-mailed me about his experiences comparing his Garrard 401 with a Loricraft plinth, Hadcock GH242 arm and Cartridge Man Music Maker III cartridge to his Nottingham Analogue Dais with Moerch UP-4 arm and Ortofon Jubilee cartridge: "Given the cost and seriously heavy engineering that went into the Nottingham, plus their reputation as some of the best decks available, you'd think that the Dais setup would be ahead of the Garrard by a country mile, but provided the Hadcock arm is used on the Garrard, this just isn't the case. The Nottingham might (it's close) have a slight edge in separation but the Garrard is somehow a whole lot more involving. This is leading me to think that I ought to abandon belt drive altogether and go the whole hog with idler-drive ... Mounting the Hadcock proved to be a revelation because the ball-bearings in the pivot seem to act as an isolator, meaning that rumble levels are massively reduced. It is now silent, and the result is quite simply astounding."

Srajan hipped me to Roger Gordon's recent article in Positive Feedback that describes Roger's impressions of his fully tricked-out Garrard 401 going up against his own VPI TNT-5. Roger said "... the Garrard was sounding very good. To my ears, it now sounded significantly better than my VPI TNT-5 ... Who would have thought that a 35 year old idler-wheel turntable could not only run with pack, but could best one of the previous top dogs?" Give Roger's article a read - it's excellent.

I could quote other examples but I think you get the idea. There's magic in them old Garrards! When you own a Garrard, you not only get to own something from audio's Golden Age -- a true historical audio treasure -- but there's the icing on the cake of the Garrard performing at a level that still sets a standard in this age. One of the nice things about Garrards is that they are very non-fussy and easy to use. There are no dental floss thin belts to worry about keeping at the right tension. There are no fussy setup rituals. Even the most non-technically inclined person can set up a Garrard and get it running as easy as one-two-three - or more properly three-oh-one. Garrard's have even appreciated in value over time. There are not too many pieces of audio gear you can say that about! The Garrards are easy to use too: all you do is select the speed for the album you want to listen to -- I've been listening to a lot of 45s lately -- then dial in the speed with the transcription motor knob, drop the stylus and enjoy the music.

I've learned a few things since the last two articles. I've also had readers share some good ideas and Garrard success stories. First, a Loricraft update: In Part 1, I described difficulties contacting Loricraft via e-mail from North America. Roger Trobridge, Terry O'Sullivan's friend and Loricraft webmaster, contacted me with a mea culpa after Loricraft customers told him about the Garrard Project Part 1 article: "Some of our (satisfied) customers have asked us if we had seen the comments in your review, and once I had read them and checked my email backup files, I cannot disagree with what you wrote." Roger assured me they were going to work on their e-mail communications. A 6moons reader later e-mailed me and told me of his success in reaching Loricraft and was also concerned that I had not followed up with an update that Loricraft had resolved its e-mail communication issues. So I contacted Terry O'Sullivan at Loricraft via e-mail and he responded to my e-mail inquiry immediately - problem solved! Terry said of my Part 1 comments: "In fact, you did me a favor, as we have sorted out our office work. Normally I am around in the office for around two hours every morning and that includes answering e-mails. After that, telephone contact is difficult as I have to do hands on work, and at the end of the day I spend about an hour on e-mails again."

So Loricraft is solidly online once again should you want to contact them. That's great news for Garrard fans everywhere as Loricraft is certainly one of the premiere Garrard resources in the world. Terry also told me that the Loricraft record cleaning machines are being imported to the US by Smart Devices, so you might want to check in with Smart if you want to add one of the excellent Loricraft record cleaners to your audio stable. More directly relevant to the Garrard Project, the Loricraft rebuilds of vintage Garrards have a reputation for being the best in the business. When Loricraft rebuilds your Garrard for you, what you get back from Terry will be better than new. Better than what you would get even if you were lucky enough to find a New Old Stock Garrard out on eBay. 6moons reader Tom told me about his experience having Terry rebuild his Garrard 301: "It looked absolutely phenomenal! It looked like art. It had been re-painted grey hammertone and completely re-built." If you think you'd like a premium better-than-new rebuild of your cherished 301, you might follow Tom's lead and get in touch with Terry at Loricraft and reserve a slot for a rebuild.

Postcards from the edge
To continue the tradition I started in Part 2 of the Garrard Project, I want to share with you several of the Garrard projects that readers have shared with me. Parisian Anthony Hind sent me a note saying "You may be interested in this slightly unusual Garrard plinth which was largely inspired by your articles." Anthony's Garrard Project came out beautifully. The arm that you see to the right in the photo is made by German audio artisan Robert Fuchs. You can read all about Anthony's Garrard Project here. Well done, Anthony!

Australian Jacob Fischer put together a beautiful Thorens 124 Project after reading the Garrard Project here on the moons. Jacob told me that "In the end, I mitered a box out of four bits of 125mm by 65mm Sassafras (a native Tasmanian hardwood), which has given the plinth plenty of mass. I did not add a bottom plate. For a finish I went with French polish (slow work but worth it I think). The arm is a second-hand RB300 which I rewired with Cardas 33awg tonearm wire and terminated in a pair of Cardas silver/rhodium female RCAs. The Cartridge is a new Audio Technica AT440ml. Final cost is either side of $500 AUS." All I can say is "Wow!"

Chris from the UK has both Garrard & Thorens projects up and running. Chris' Garrard is a cream oil-bearing 301 like mine, with a Martin Bastin plinth and bearing mod. The tonearm is an SME 3009 with a Denon DL 304 cartridge. Chris' Thorens 124 is the MkI model with an alloy platter. The arm is a Rega 250 with a Denon DL304 cartridge. Nice work Chris!

Gene Poon from the US sent me a photo of his Garrard 301 Project. Gene said "The arm is a Rabco SL-8E, another old classic piece, about half the age of the Garrard 301. The cartridge is a Decca Mk VI Gold." Wonderful!

Kohjin Yamada from Japan sent me the following photos - wow! What a beautiful system! Kohjin has a beautiful Garrard 301 that was completely overhauled by 'Shokunin' Taro Shindo at Electro Art in Japan, resting in a Cain & Cain plinth, with a Sonic Lab Eminent cartridge and Tri-Planar tonearm. The signal feeds a gorgeous Zanden 1200 phono stage and ultimately ends up at the Oris Reference loudspeakers. Being a true music lover, Kohjin San enjoys watching music on his home theater system too. I nearly shorted out my keyboard drooling over Kohjin San's beautiful system!

Third time's the charm
It's time for the third -- and probably final -- installment of the Garrard Project. This time I'm going to tell you about tonearms. I thought it would be fun to compare that renowned vintage standard, the SME 3012, to one of the young lions like the popular Origin Live Silver. Many thanks to Jonathan Halpern for loaning me his personal SME 3012 for the Garrard Project series, and being so patient while waiting for me to get caught up enough to write this final article.

Also many thanks to the guys at Origin Live who too have been the model of patience in letting me hang onto their Silver tonearms long enough to finish up the Garrard Project. It turns out that a new version of the Origin Live Silver -- the Mark II -- has been released to waiting fans and the Origin Live guys were kind enough to send that along for a listen as well. I'll tease you with the Origin Live Silver Mk II to SME 3012 comparison in this article and then I'll give you the full scoop on the Mk II and how it compares to the Mk I version in a dedicated review to follow.

As a little extra treat, I'm also going to describe the effects of the Cartridge Man Isolator -- which isolates the cartridge from the tonearm -- a product which is generating a lot of buzz in the underground audio scene and is beloved by fellow mooner Edward Barker in the UK who put me on to it. Edward has got an eye (and ear) for great audio gear so be sure to keep an eye on his spot for upcoming audio treasures.

The Origin Live Silver Mk II
The Silver Mk II tonearm
is one step above the entry-level OL1 tonearm in the Origin Live lineup. The Origin Live OL1 tonearm builds upon the already quite good performance of the budget Rega RB250 arm by replacing the stock stub and counterweight with a new one that is reportedly both more rigid and "semi-decoupled". Origin Live also machines a slot into the bottom of the Rega arm tube to minimize ringing, which is claimed to provide a more natural decay of notes. They then remove the paint from the arm tube and polish it. The arm is then rewired with a high quality Litz wire and a dedicated ground wire is attached to the head shell, running through the tonearm with enough length to attach to an external ground point (the blue wire in the photograph). The stock Rega cartridge connections are replaced with gold-plated, copper/beryllium connectors and the head shell wires are replaced with silver-plated, PTFE insulated wire. The stock Rega cables are replaced with low resistance cables better suited to analog's low cartridge outputs. Origin Live then replaces the stock brass RCA plugs with aluminum RCA plugs with twice the conductivity of the brass ones. My buddy Pete has the OL1. It's a honey of an arm that we use as a reference for entry-level arms. Its forgivingly musical nature and richly colorful tonal palette make it a shoo-in if you're looking for a new budget arm.

The new Silver Mk II has all the modifications indicated above for the OL1, and improves upon the OL1 by adding higher quality RCA plugs, better horizontal bearings located in the yoke instead of the arm, and a higher performing arm tube. Origin Live says that the Silver Mk II arm differs from the Mk I arm primarily due to having a new arm tube of different material with a different diameter and no slot (the Mk II has a 10mm diameter arm tube instead of the Mk I's 11mm). Owners of the Mk I arms can update their arms to Mk II status for £150 if they wish. The intent of the total package of Origin Live upgrades to the Silver Mk II tonearm is to provide an arm that has comparable performance to reference arms like the Linn Ekos, Naim Aro or SME V at a more consumer-friendly price. In voicing the Silver Mk II, Origin Live's goal was to provide a very transparent device with lots of low level detail, exceptional dynamics and tight and tuneful bass response while still providing a natural tonal balance.

The SME 3012
SME was originally called the Scale Model Equipment Company Limited and later changed its name to SME Limited, now known in the audio community as simply SME. SME got its start in 1946 by building precision scale models and parts for the engineering community, later expanding to building parts for aircraft instruments and business machines. In 1959 SME's founder, Alastair Robertson-Aikman, had his company build him a tonearm for personal use. When Alastair's friends in the music industry heard his new tonearm and unanimously praised its performance, Alastair decided to put it into production and offer it to the public - thus the first SME tonearms were born. Arm production began in 1959 with the SI 3009 and 3012. In 1962 the SI models were replaced by the 3009 and 3012 SII which were in production for ten years. In 1972 those models were replaced with the SII Improved 3009 and the 12" arm was phased out. Due to renewed demand for 12" arms, production was once again resumed in 1980 with the introduction of the 'R' series tonearms that were available in 9, 10 and 12" models.

The SME 3012 that Jonathan Halpern of Tone Imports loaned me for the Garrard Project uses a 12-inch arm (the '12' in the 3012) with a curved shape and a detachable headshell. The 3012 uses knife-edge bearings and has adjustments for arm height, tracking force and anti-skate. The SME 3012 tonearm is a highly regarded vintage tonearm beloved by many today, particularly in the underground audio scene. If SME were to produce a special batch of 50th Anniversary 3012 tonearms for 2009 (say 3,012 of them just for kicks), I think they could start taking deposits now and sell out the entire production run before the first one came off the assembly line. Sign me up for serial # 3012.

The Cartridge Man Isolator
Len Gregory is The Cartridge Man. You wouldn't really be amiss if you called Len The Analog Man because Len does a lot more than cartridges. He's been involved in everything from record production to cartridge manufacturing for over 30 years. From his location in Croydon, Surrey, Len offers a cartridge rebuilding service; analogue accessories such as the HiFi News test record; a digital stylus force gauge and a digital leveling gauge; interconnects and speaker cables; a new parallel tracking air bearing tonearm called The Conductor; and Len's most famous product, the highly regarded MusicMaker Mk III phono cartridge. However, the object of my attention today is the Isolator which has created a fair amount of buzz in the underground audio scene. Mysteriously, Len doesn't even mention the Isolator on his website and hardly anyone would even know about it had it not created a fair amount of waves through the ether of the Internet.

The idea behind the Isolator is to minimize the degrading effects of transmitted arm resonances, motor vibration and the like through the mechanical link between turntable and tonearm to the phono cartridge, allowing the intended performance of the cartridge to be fully realized. The Isolator is a sandwich of two thin sheets of stainless steel around an elastic polymer material that breaks the mechanical (and vibratory) link. On one side of the sandwich are two protruding bolts that allow the Isolator sandwich to be attached to the tonearm's headshell. On the other side of the sandwich are two locating pins for the cartridge and an adhesive that the cartridge sticks to in place. The adhesive is a little bit like the adhesive on 3M Post-It® notes but stickier. It allows you to remove your cartridge from the Isolator without damaging it if you should wish to