„… Without music, life would be a mistake…“
Throughout history, people have constantly strived to find a way to record music and preserve it from oblivion. First, there were notes, then came devices for recording and playback. Nowadays, music playback is a separate industry and top-of-the-range audio devices can cost several dozens, or even over a hundred thousand euros. The target to be reached is such a level of high fidelity (High Fidelity – Hi-Fi) of playback that the listener feels like their favourite performers are right there with them, in the room. Our famous constructor of valve amplifiers pointed out that for him, HiFi means that, when listening to a woman’s choir, he can select a single vocal and tell her that hers is the voice he likes best. What this is worth and how much money is it reasonable to spend on a home audio system, is a relative matter for audiophiles. One of them, when asked whether it was normal that his system cost about a hundred thousand euros, asked the curious journalist if he would have asked the same question of an owner of a Mercedes Benz of an equal price. And truly, is it even possible to calculate the price of hearing, once again, and in your own home, your favourite singer – Pavarotti, Maria Callas, Presley, Johnny Cash…
However, there are exceptions to every rule and every history and even the history of music playback devices has a few legends of its own. One such example is a special audio-device, which remained at the top of all the ranks of audio playback, appearing over half a century ago and sticking around to this day – the phonograph Garrard 401.
The British company “Garrard” was famous, at the beginning of 18th century, for their high-quality, high-price jewellery. With the advent of World War One, they soon changed their activities and began working for the British military industry. After the war ended, the company realized that their top-notch craftsmen could launch them on a conquest of a new market, the development of the motor for a new device – the phonograph. At the beginning, Garrard manufactured motors for numerous phonograph manufacturers. They built their first complete phonograph in 1930. The model 401 was launched in 1965, and by 1977 – which was the end of its production, over 50,000 units were manufactured and sold around the world.
This was, first and foremost, a professional phonograph. The factory made just the base of the phonograph – the plate, motor and speed adjustment controls. As such, it was installed inside the tables of the radio stations at the time; the phonographic tonearm with a needle had to be added to the device. However, in time, many an audiophile recognized that this phonograph could also be used at home. At the beginning, phonograph boxes were built to house this device. In time, it was realized that stacking several layers of beechwood baltic plywood and creating an opening in it just large enough to house the motor, lead to extraordinary results. Today, if you search the internet for Garrard 401, it will be very difficult to find two identical phonographs, exactly because the wooden part, which is the phonograph base, can be made in such a variety of versions and sizes.
In addition, in time it transpired that tonearms of 30 cm in length produced better results when coupled with this device (the standard length was 22 cm). Many enthusiasts build large wooden stands, in order to place two or three tonearms, each with a different phono cartridge – for classical or jazz music, for stereo or mono records. The fascinating quality of the sound playback of the Garrard 401 can also be seen from the fact that the famous Japanese company Koetsu tested all of its manufactured cartridges (with prices soaring up to 20,000 euros per unit) exactly on this phonograph.
To date, the Garrard 401, together with some Koetsu magic, maintained the extraordinarily natural sound, creating the illusion of a large sound stage where you could precisely pinpoint the location of each instrument or vocal. Can the legend called Garrard 401 stand against the contemporary phonographs of 20, 50 or 100,000 euros (see Clearaudio Statement)? Of course not, but all those with phonographs that cost less than 10,000 euros always wonder, when they hear the Garrard 401 (a phonograph over a half of a century old) – how is this even possible?