This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Reporter: Michael Lavorgna
Financial Interests: click
Analog: Garrard 301 with LignoLab plinth, EMT 997 tonearm, Auditorium 23 arm board, Shindo SPU and Auditorium 23 Standard stepup transformer
Preamplifier: Shindo Monbrison
Amplifier: Radford STA-15
Speakers: Quad ESl-57 rebuilt by Wayne Picquet
Cables: Shindo ICs and Auditorium 23 speaker cable
Console HiFi: Westinghouse
Listeners: Michael Lavorgna, Andrew Klein, Stephen Mejias and Patrick Amory

The Grande Unfolding
If the thought of people living above and around me ever crosses my mind while walking down any street in New York City, I'm tempted to picture cubes - simple boxes containing people. I don't try to comprehend the kind of stuff that fills their apartments and lives with meaning. I can't. There's too much information, too much stuff, too many people to fathom. Too much I don't know. So I sketch a rough draft and move on. Today's RoadTour finds us in the home of Patrick Amory amid the crowds and lives of Manhattan where we will be drawn into a life filled with music.

The Turntable
In a way, we could call this 'table setup the Tone Imports Special, at least here in the US of A. In the EU, the Auditorium 23 would be more accurate. You see, this rig is the product of a few minds -- some older, some newer -- who've come together around a classic, the Garrard 301 transcription turntable, to create a contemporary classic. Produced from 1954 to 1964, the Garrard 301 is one classy piece of hifi. Anyone looking for more information on the specifics of the 301, Google is your friend though I recommend utilizing their Advanced Search feature to filter out dogmatic, argumentative bullshit. You should still get lots of useful information. In brief, let's point out that the 301 is idler driven (a hard rubber disk, the idler wheel is directly connected to the motor through a series of pulleys and is also in direct contact with the platter); grease or oil bearing depending on year of production (Patrick's 301 is a cream-colored oil bearing model); can play at 33 1/3, 45 and 78 RPM; and was originally sold sans plinth destined for built-in console playback. But why, with all the 'tables floating around, should the Garrard 301 be one of a select few snatched from the historical dust bin for the full revival treatment? Ultimately, what seems most relevant is how the Garrard 301 offers a potential platform for great vinyl playback.

Jeff Day's article for 6moons on a 301 re-build from way back in 2004 is still a popular read and here the lineage of inspiration is very straight forward; "Jules Coleman sent me a photograph of a classic 1950/60s vintage Garrard 301 transcription turntable motor assembly housed in an absolutely gorgeous cherry Shindo plinth partnered with a Shindo tonearm, cartridge and platter which Jonathan Halpern of Shindo USA had imported from the Shindo Masters of Japan." Although the initial intent for Jeff to "...describe the results of a step-by-step progression to the full Shindo/Garrard player setup" mistracked, there's no doubt that this article brought a bunch of new eyes and interests to bear on the 301.

From the Loricraft website FAQ section:
Q. "Why do 301s and 401s rumble?"
A. "They don't. The main reason for rumble is poor quality plinth design, sorry to say, this is the majority of plinth designs..."

Michael & Patrick

Patrick's 301 setup includes the beautiful and rumble-free veneered plinth from LignoLab of Germany which has been in production since 1992. The arm board is from Auditorium 23 (A23) and made of cast metal. And let me just point out that those two seemingly simple sentences represent years of research and labor to arrive at what remains unsaid; exact materials, their composition and construction. We're not talking NASA engineering in underground clean rooms or super-computed formulae; we're talking trial, error and lots of listening combined with applied skilled craft. If anyone is interested in getting plans and exact details of the construction of the Lignolab plinth and A23 arm board, I'd be happy to make something up. I've always loved those lines from the Strawberry Alarm Clock so I'd say you should start with some incense and peppermints...

That graceful arc of a tonearm is the EMT 997, another piece of no longer rarefied history. Thanks to the efforts of Keith Aschenbrenner of A23 among others, EMT re-introduced their classic 12" banana arm in 2005 by using the original tooling and consulting directly with the retired EMT employee responsible for production of the original version. While we can all appreciate the obvious benefits of the foot-long hotdog over the standard and wimpy 7-incher (and please feel free to honk, giggle, whistle the Enzyte tune or any number of size matters equivalent), the benefits of a 12" tonearm are another point of contention among contentious audiophiles. Since I am not a tonearm designer nor play one on TV, what matters most to me is the fact that the vinyl rigs I've heard which employ a 12" arm, including my own, sound wonderful. That's not to say non-12" arms don't. I'm only pointing out that 12-inchers do.

The cartridge in use is the Shindo Super SPU-A which is a re-build of the classic Ortofon SPU-A. The SPU-A, a low output, low impedance moving coil cartridge, was in production from the 1950s until 2007 when Ortofon discontinued this lovely music-maker due to compliance issues with the EU's RoHS, the latter clearly intended to make our hifis sound worse. The SPU-A also employs a conical stylus which some experts will tell you is the best stylus shape while others will tell you it's the worst. Thankfully I'm no expert but my ears tell me all I need to know. I'm also fortunate enough to have direct experience with both the standard SPU-A and the Shindo Super version as I've owned and listened to both in my system.

Before we get to the Shindo Monbrison preamplifier, we pass through the Auditorium 23 Standard stepup transformer which was designed specifically for the SPU-A. Its benefits are also directly related to what it does to your music, which I hear as everything right. I've also owned the A23 Standard stepup and now own the Hommage T1 which itself is a step up from the Standard. In terms of audiophile-specific fascination, I have to say that living through the changes from the standard SPU-A to the Shindo-ized version and the A23 Standard to the Hommage stepup was an education in expectation expansion. Prior to the changes, I would not have pointed to an area where I felt the musical presentation of my system was lacking. However, with each of these changes, I heard deeper into recordings (which is perhaps better stated as, they were allowed to more fully develop), was better able to follow subtle cues that exist in moments, shifts in inflection and color while getting a fitful dose of macro slam that all add up to a more convincingly emotional presentation. Damn near as big as music itself.