Turntable Heaven For A Day
by Nick Seiflow
Is there a legal limit to the amount of turntable pulchritude permissible in one room?
Here at The Turntable Shop we believe in challenging the Statutes; to boldly go where no sane vinyl spinner would – just another day at the TTS.
So, when a customer brought in a Michell Hydraulic Reference for servicing, the obvious thing to do was to scour the shelves and assemble an armada of our favourite objets de vinyl and gaze in awe at the result.
Transcriptors and Michell. The 1960s and 1970s, British style. Coveted by some; derided by others; examples of where the turntable biz was when the Mods and Rockers were battling for control of Brighton Pier (check out the movie “Quadrophenia” ), when Love was Free (all I could afford at the time…) and when Digital referred to the pointy bits at the ends of hands, these turntables, iconic to a platter, are as much a historical document as anything in vinyl history.
The story of Michell and Gammon has been recounted elsewhere: forward-looking iconoclasts both, these men redefined both the aesthetic and the physical definitions of good turntable design. Some of their work still stands, for me at least, as exemplars of what a turntable should do and should be. Ultralight arms, excellent bearings, spring suspensions, motor isolation, unipivots galore, respect for rotational inertia, but above all elegance; this series of turntables is a workbook in action, beautifully bound, and should last for ever.
1. The Transcriptors Skeleton. One of the most successful (commercially at least) of the set, the Skeleton was encased in glass (complete with the Triplex safety glass symbol) and this particular example has been upgraded with an SME 3009 with damping trough, finished of course with a Shure V15 III. Many examples came with the Vestigial Arm, a triumph, fiddly albeit, of lightness (the manual suggested playing weights of down to 1/10 of a gram!) and these arms still find favour amongst the brave, but the SME was a fine choice by any measure.
2. The Round Table. Aptly named – it is just what it says – the RT was a bit of a commercial disaster, only 300 being made. The promotional literature made much of the fact that you could paint it any colour you wished…it was designed to be cheap and cheerful. Most have died by this point, possibly from lead poisoning, but this example seems to have survived its brush with death, if you will pardon the expression. The arm is pivoted and follows a semicircular arc in the plexiglass lid. Much, much cheaper than the Skeleton, this one never caught on with the public.
3. The Transcriptors Transcriber. The most extraordinary of the crew, this table was designed to vanquish tonearm friction, and it did. How? By fixing the tonearm to the lid and by making the platter itself move from right to left. Exactly. And Why Not? Never to be repeated, the Transcriber effectively took the rule book and threw it out of the window. With its jeweled 2″ wafer of an arm the Transcriber, surprisingly or not, plays superbly. Not many of these tables have survived the last 45 years or so but their owners love them – as they should. May they spin for a long time to come!
4. The Michell Hydraulic Reference. Actually, two of them. One with the original unipivoted arm, and one again with an SME arm, it is astonishing to realise that these were designed in the early 1960s. Complete with a strobe for speed checking, this star of A Clockwork Orange, breathed on by the House of Windsor, is perhaps the most recognisable of the assemblage. The Hydraulic part of the name refers to a hidden paddle under the platter, riding in a silicone bath, which acts as an adjustable speed retarder, and which actually works. Timeless and beautiful, the HR will always be a ‘where have I seen it before?” turntable and with its gold plated weights will always be a perfect marriage of form and function.
5. The Michell Gyro Dec. A modern iteration, improved in every way with state of the art bearings and motors, the Gyro Dec owes hugely to its predecessors. With the weights now under the table, and the record firmly clamped to a solid platter, the Gyro Dec is thoroughly modern and a definitive example of the turntable maker’s art. Not a million miles from the Hydraulic Reference, but different in just about every way, the GD, and its brethren, will no doubt still be venerated in the decades to come.
Belt drives one and all, this series of turntables plays music beautifully.
And when the music ends, they’re still beautiful.
To all the innovators out there, my thanks!