There’s nothing new under the sun: get yourself a classic turntable and rediscover your parents’ youth. By Anthony Doman.
People who seem to have no problem collecting coasters, shoes, vintage motorbikes or steam engines seem to be puzzled when I say that the turntables in my possession number… er… “several”.
All of my decks are classics from the hi- boom of the 1970s and 1980s, all acquired second-hand. Retro models may not have high fashion contemporary looks, but what they lack in funkiness they often more than make up for in superb engineering, the potential for tweaking and unbeatable value for money. There are likely to be millions of them still out there, many just a quick dust-off away from sonic nirvana.
Fact is, by haunting secondhand outlets – online and brick-and-mortar – you can set yourself up with a serious front-end for what is, in effect, small change. Not that the prices are always favourable, particularly given that sellers are more and more aware of the upsurge of interest in vinyl. For instance, just the other day, I saw a decent-looking upgraded Linn Sondek LP12 priced at R8 000. On the same day, an SME 20/2 appeared on Gumtree at R58 000, which some cognoscenti described as a bargain.
Then again, you could also have bought a mint Thorens 160 for R1 600, a Thorens 150 for R1 500 or a Thorens 124 for R4 500.
So, in your quest for a classic spinner, what should you look for?
Turntables come in one of three main types:
Belt drive: At heart, this consists of a simple synchronous motor driving a platter by means of a rubber belt; its speed accuracy is dependent on motor torque, the platter’s flywheel effect, a superbly engineered bearing and, in advanced models, a complex power supply. My fleet includes decks from Linn and Thorens, notable for their restrained styling, with woodgrain plinths offset by the bright-work of often fiendishly complex tonearms. Old-fashioned, yes, but fans would call it timeless. Some enthusiasts have even taken to reinventing the older models by creating new plinths in vibrant designs and colours.
High end: Linn Sondek LP12, Thorens 125.
Best buy: Thorens 150.
Direct drive: The approach adopted by contemporary alternatives from the Far East, which combined complex technology with styling that now can look dated. Though the lightweight cheaper models are often decried by the purists, flagship models with a weight, size and complexity fully deserving of the description “dreadnaught” are highly prized.
High end: Technics SP10.
Best buy: Kenwood KD500.
Idler wheel: An earlier system, with the motor’s pinion wheel set-up bearing on the platter rim. Aficionados will insist that there is no better system for conveying a massively solid sonic picture and unequalled dynamics. It can need significant work to get the best out of it, though, particularly with ageing componentry, some of which may have to be built from scratch.
High end: Thorens 124, Garrard 301 and 401.
Best buy: Lenco/Goldring L75.
And let’s not even get started on mixing and matching tonearms, whether a vintage stylus is still worth using, and just what type of platter mat is best…