Buying Classic Audio -
Perhaps this is the most involved classic audio unit to purchase, largely owing to the number of moving parts and mechanics.
There was no shortage of manufacturers producing an abundance of models with different features from the 70's onward. In a nutshell, Japanese companies concentrated on the manufacture of direct drive turntables, where the platter is effectively perched onto the motor spindle, whilst European and UK companies were producing belt drive and idler driven platters on decks. I'm still a little baffled to this day as to the universal popularity and complete dominance of new belt-drive designs, when there are so many inherent weak linkages involved compared to the direct drive option. My guess is that manufacturers can no longer afford to tool-up and develop the motors needed for DD and the know-how is probably no longer in the business anyway. After all, even with the recent resurgence of vinyl, a quality Hi-Fi turntable is still a niche product with a limited market without the sales figures to justify the enormous R & D expenditure. (I am not including USB- type players which are, of course, basically a sin and a distraction from quality sound reproduction).
Belt and idler driven decks, both new and classic, are of course capable of producing extraordinarily good results – but then so do direct drive models, often with much better motor torque. In fact, the huge advantage with direct-drives is that there is little or no servicing required – no replacement belts, bearing lubrication, suspension re-alignment (they don't generally use a sprung chassis for isolation) and so forth. On the specification front too, DD turntables usually have a better figures for “wow and flutter” (speed fluctuation) than their belt counterparts. There is the matter of more electronics inside a direct-drive deck, but this is generally serviceable by a competent engineer. If used regularly, I have found that these units will work for many years without attention or any motor lubrication necessary.
For the past few years, the price paid for a vintage quality belt or idler driven deck such as the Garrard 301/401 or Thorens 124 and125 has generally been higher than the equivalent direct-drive model. The exception to this has been Technics with their SP 10 broadcast quality turntables and some EMT models. However, this is changing rapidly as the the quality of DD decks is being recognised. Denon, Micro-Seiki and Sony spring to mind as well as the resurgence of the Technics SL1500 and SL1200 so loved by DJ's.
The Linn LP12 has had an enduring presence on the classic audio scene for decades. First introduced in 1972, it still has a loyal following after numerous modifications, including the arm-board, rubber feet, sub-platter, an on-board Power supply unit called the Valhalla and on and on. If you are buying one of these decks on the used market, ensure that it is competitively priced for the number of modifications fitted. The LP12 does require regular suspension re-alignment and can sound either tight and crisp or sluggish and overblown if attention is needed.
Other belt driven decks in their own cosmos were the Bang and Olufsen Beograms 4000, 4002, 4004 and 6000. These featured an uber-low mass tangential tracking arm, fitted with a B&O cartridge which clipped into position. These magnetic cartridges were of high quality, but it's a shame not to be able to use an alternative from a different manufacturer. Incidentally, if you have a B&O cartridge that requires re-tipping, look no further than Axel Schurholz in Germany who carries out excellent work re-tipping and repairing cartridges at reasonable prices. New versions of the B&O cartridges are available from Soundsmith,a but the character is a little “brighter” than the originals, in my view. These B & O decks, especially the Beogram 4000 are a remarkable for their complexity and a technical tour-de-force. They are repairable by a competent engineer and the service manual can be found on the excellent Vinyl Engine website, together with an encyclopedic reference for numerous other classic decks.
The Japanese Pioneer PL 12D belt-driven deck was a revelation when it hit these shores in the early 70's. The standard of engineering was excellent, it was easy to set-up and most importantly had great sound quality for an inexpensive deck. It was competitively priced and a huge leap forward from offerings by the British maker BSR and the popular SP 25 range from Garrard. In fact, the PL 12D was so good that even the prejudiced and short-sighted Hi-FI press at the time had to give it an unqualified recommendation. Incidentally, what the press failed to realize, either deliberately or otherwise, was that Japanese amplifiers and tuners could equally be a significant cut above local offerings.
The Swiss Lenco GL 75 was a finely made deck too. It was idler driven and had an infinitely variable speed facility with a cone shaped capstan. Quite why one would want the platter to rotate at 40 rpm instead of 45 rpm, I'm not too sure, but it's an interesting concept nonetheless. The arm built onto the Lenco was again nicely engineered, but the arm pivot blocks were prone to wear. It was often paired with a Shure magnetic cartridge which were real stalwarts at the time.
On the direct-drive front, as mentioned before, these decks were/are less troublesome than other types, and my strong advice is that, unless a unit is faulty, leave the insides well alone. If buying a vintage Sony deck such as the PS-X75 Biotracer, be very wary of any damage to the magnetic strip on the inside rim of the platter (in the case of the Sony TTS 8000, on the outside lower rim). This is not repairable and the speed stability of the deck will be lost if the imprint is damaged in any way. Other fine decks with direct drive motors included models from JVC, Denon and Luxman. Currently there is a vintage Nakamichi TX 1000 turntable for sale on an interesting German website selling classic audio, audioscope.net. It's priced at a staggering 30.000 Euro, but nontheless is too beautiful and interesting for words, and I have to say that I'd be in there like a shot if the money were in the bank. Who needs a car for God's sake? This deck featured a computerised self-centring platter for records that are... well, off centre, which is nearly all to some extent! The facility was not designed for discs that are hopelessly misaligned but the argument was that even the smallest amount of movement to the arm caused by by the record itself being a fraction of a millimetre off centre, coupled with the wow of the average turntable, would affect the musical integrity of the music. Believe it or not, I don't have a Nakamichi TX-1000 or it's smaller brother the” CT Dragon” at home just now, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was a marked improvement using a record self-centring deck. The ear is an outrageously sensitive device.
Really do try and audition a deck before you buy. Take a record you are familiar with - but only use it if you are reasonably confident that the stylus isn't knackered! Listen out for unwanted “rumble” from the motor and/or bearing coming through the speakers and good pitch stability on sustained notes. Piano music is particularly good for identifying wow as the instrument begins to sound like the ol' Joanna in the local pub. Mechanical isolation can be a problem with non-sprung or non-suspended designs, especially where rubber isolation pads or feet have started to disintegrate. This is not insurmountable as you can use a floating isolation platform from companies such as Townshend, but be prepared for a wallet hit.
If the Perspex cover is scratched, check out my page on lid renovation but prepared for a bit of graft. If any gouges have been taken from the surface, it won't be repairable.
Finally, from personal experience, collect the deck from the seller and give the post a miss. It could save a lot of heartache.
Smoke soon after switch on.