Vinyl Shootout

Copyright 2010 Troels Gravesen

Garrard 401/LINN ITTOK LVII vs Thorens TD124-mkII/Jelko 750D


May-09
A shootout does not necessarily mean casualties, but the comparison made here may possibly cause changes to both decks, because eventually I ended up wanting the best of both worlds, which may not be possible at all, but let's see. I never really thought of writing about comparing turntables, but the differences between these two decks are so obvious I'll give it a try.

Having had the 401/LINN ITTOK LVII running for a considerable length of time, it was time to get the TD124 mkII up running again. The motor was totally disassembled and renovated according to the excellent procedure described here. A new tonearm was purchased to replace the SME following the deck, the Jelko 750D. The Jelko company has made and makes a lot of the better tonearms seen around and this is their best model under the Jelko brand name. I'm sure the new Ortofon arms are pretty much the same as this Jelko 750D, only at 3 times the price.
The Dynavector XX2-mkII cartridge has been the best investment I've ever made in hifi and from the 401/LINN set-up I've been enjoying my vinyl collection more than ever.

To cut a long story short: With the XX2 cartridge and a homemade silver cable, the 401/LINN delivers a firm and punchy bass, vivid midrange and a slightly forward treble response, where the 124/Jelko presents a slightly less precise bass, but... a midrange to die for and a delicate treble.

The weird thing about the comparison made here is that it's so well in accordance with the few basic characteristics applied to the 401 and TD124 decks, which can be read - over and over again - in HiFiWorld's "classics" section.
401: "- tremendously strong and articulate with only a veiled treble to let it down."
TD124: "- it was sweeter (compared to 301-401) and more lyrical, yet lighter and less impactful in the bass".
And, by the way, in the same section the LINN LVII tonearm has these comments: "- design to LINN specs for a muscular, rhythmic sound with real dynamics". Couldn't agree more, not only with the XX2 in front, but also the DV20X (high output).
Well, I'll be damned if this isn't exactly the thing I've been experiencing going from the 401 to the 124. The midrange clarity from the XX2/TD124/Jelko has made me put on more classical recordings than I usually do.

Now, let's be clear on what we're dealing with here, because I'm comparing apples and pears, and nothing wrong with that, we only have to know what we're doing.
The two things that have been then same are the XX2 mkII cartridge and the homemade silver cable. Everything else is different, so I'm comparing a lot of things at the same time, but I can't have two decks on the same type of plinth, the same tonearm, the exact same wiring, etc., etc. Well, this could be done, but I'm not the one to set it up. Would take ages.
And how can I know that I have adjusted VTA, azimuth, etc. exactly the same? I can't, so I can only do my best and listen.

July 09
So, after some 1 month with the TD124 mkII/Jelko/Dyna XX2 mkII on the shelf, it was time to reinstall the XX2 on the 401/LINN deck. The 401 had two hours running before I started listening.
Hmm.... The 401/LINN rock solid bass was back, but the midrange....bad! Well, bad may be too strong, only the TD124/Jelko is significantly better. Classical , pop, rock, jazz; all had a turn on the spinner and the midrange just simply couldn't match the TD124/Jelko. Cartridge alignment was checked once more, but nothing helped. So, after only an hour the XX2 was back on the TD124/Jelko again and ooohhh.....the midrange was back and I can live with the less punchy bass for the sweet, transparent midrange. It's not that the bass on the TD124 is bad, not at all, it's deep and powerful and possibly more true to the recording. On the 401/LINN the midrange sounds slightly distorted compared to the TD124/Jelko.

Well, well, well..... Is it the 401 deck or the LINN arm that just can't match the TD124/Jelko combo? Hard to tell, so only thing to do is making a plinth for the Jelko arm on the 401 deck - or take the LINN arm to the TD124 - and hear what happens. Summer holiday project.
And the holidays are soon :-)

Reading Stereophile, Art Dudley's enthusiasm about his restored TD124 can't go unpassed and I was keen to see if the TD124 motor suspension kit would make the same difference to my TD124 mkII as it did to his TD124. So, the kit was ordered together with a set of rubber "mushrooms" meant for decoupling the chassis from the plinth. These mushrooms never followed the deck I bought. Last but not least I ordered a new rubber belt. Now, I didn't change these things one by one, rather the whole lot at once. What did emerge from this investment - 200 USD, TD124 spare parts are quite expensive - was better immunity of support vibrations and an overall more tight bass, the one parameter where the 401 excelled over the TD124. Not sure the difference is noticeable any more.

November, 09
The 401 has been on the shelf for some months and a mail from Geoff, got me back to the 401. I bought a new thrust plate from
ANALOG TUBE AUDIO:

The Kokomo kit is a bronze thrust plate with a soft ceramic bearing. The material is a bronze alloy and it use a custom made soft ceramic bearing. It’s a one piece design, that means the bottom plate and the dome with the bearing is made in one solid piece. I worked since 3 years about these bearing and mainly the special soft ceramic ball brought a big step of sound performance. Soft ceramic means the ceramic ball is a little bit softer as the steel axis, it’s a matched choice.
Near to all 401s and some 301s have a flat top worn out thrustplate, this is like brake and some Garrards have problems with the speed control and can't hold the speed. Those flat bearings avoid the full performance, the Kokomo kit fix these problems and the Garrard can run again with outstanding performance. The installing is an easy job, all screws and parts fit with this new part.

- All internal wires go to a box mounted directly on the 401 motor. Not an ideal situation, thus the mounting plate was removed and the small box was moved to the plinth allowing the motor to move more freely.
- Next I inserted a 40 watts light bulb in series with the power supply. This reduces voltage to 200 volts.
- Last but not least, I made a new arm plinth for the Jelko arm.

Result:
The 401 is certainly back in line - and I'm afraid the 124 will be on the shelf for some time. The most noticeable improvement came from changing the spindle thrust plate. The residual tweaks came in a bundle and hard to tell which did the most. I'm afraid the Jelko beats the LINN arm by a comfortable margin. I don't think the Dyna XX2 mkII has ever sounded better.


Left: New thrust plate (upper left) and wires detached from motor. Right: New plinth for Jelko arm.