Transcriptors and Michell: Hydraulic Reference to Gyro Dec

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 J.A. Michell Day at The Turntable Shop

Transcriptors and J.A. Michell Day at The Turntable Shop

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and when Digital referred to the pointy bits at the ends of hands, these turntables, iconic to a platter, are as much a historical document as anything in vinyl history.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.

Transcriptors Skeleton Turntable

Transcriptors Skeleton Turntable

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.

Transcriptors Round Table Turntable

Transcriptors Round Table Turntable

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.

Transcriptors Transcriber Turntable

Transcriptors Transcriber Turntable

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!

J A Michell Hydraulic Reference Turntable

J A Michell Hydraulic Reference Turntable with Original Unipivoted Arm

J.A. Michell Hydraulic Reference Turntable with SME Tonearm

J.A. Michell Hydraulic Reference Turntable with SME Tonearm

Original Unipivot Tonearm

Original Unipivot Tonearm

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.

Michell Gyro Dec Turntable

Michell Gyro Dec Turntable

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!

15 thoughts on “Transcriptors and Michell: Hydraulic Reference to Gyro Dec

  1. Aloha and Happy Sunday! Love your display of turntables. We have probably the last Transciptors Transcriber that David Gammon built and was shipped to us in 1980. I was in hi-fi business and have owned every Transcriptors except the Round, and would love to have a Round just for fun. I love our Transcriber and like all other Transcriber owners we will own it forever. Not only is it a beautiful work of art, you can even play those flat black things on it. Records, I think they are called! :):):)
    All the best for a rockin’ 2015!

    • Hi John,

      And our greetings to you! Thanks so much for your kind words; it’s’ a huge pleasure to hear from fellow black frisbee lovers, and especially the Transcripting variety….:-)
      Hmmm, the Round Table…I wonder why it didn’t do better in the marketplace? Ours looks like it’s never been played, and maybe one day just for fun I’ll put a good cartridge on it and see what it can do – wouldn’t surprise me if it was better than decent. If I do I’ll be sure to post the results.

      Have a great 2015!
      All the best,

  2. Hi, can anyone tell me how much a J A Michelle reference hydraulic turntable is worth as I have been left one by my dad when he passed a few years back and I know it was his pride and joy, thanks

  3. I have just bought a turntable and had it repaired by michael Gammon. He took ages finally have it but have a problem figuring out how to set it up. Can anyone help? Happy to repay in gratitude and anything I can!

    Thanks, Tina
    [email protected]

    • Hi Tina,

      I’m guessing you’re not in Vancouver? What seems to be the problem with set-up?


      • Ahh just saw this response! Thank you. It doesnt seem to be turning the platter. Is there anyway you– or anyone engineer minded mind getting in touch to troubleshoot? I am not built for such endeavours.

        Many thanks, T

        PS email is best [email protected]

        • Hi Tina,

          This will be difficult – I think getting in touch with Michael will be the best thing – you’ll need to be on the phone as you’re doing the setup and troubleshooting.
          I’m sure the problem will be an easy one to solve:-)

          Best again,

  4. I need new pads for my J.A. Mitchell Hydraulic Reference that I bought in the early 80’s. The pads seemed to have dried up and collapsed into themselves. Do you have any idea where I can get them. Can they be fabricated?


    • Hello Dave,

      Are we talking about the footpads or the record support pads? If the latter the easiest place to buy them is on Ebay. Hope this helps!


    • Just ring up the company, they will send them out to you. I had the same problem.

  5. Hi I’m the youngest son of David Gammon the designer and inventor of all of the Transcriptors products.
    I own all of my fathers original turntable and the very last transcriber he never sold and kept until the day he died
    In my collection I have many of each of every turntable he made also I own the speakers my dad built for the factory which if your a Hifi person they are amazing and totally my father
    I would be happy to show all
    Many thanks

    Bentley gammon

    • hi Ben
      i am repairing a transciptors skeleton for my father at the moment, the only major issue i am having is the base glass plate has broken. is there any information you can provide on the base glass plate (e.g. dimensions, including hole placement). any information would be greatly appreciated.

  6. Hi there,

    I happen to have acquired a transcriptor skeleton turntable gathering dust and attempting to restore it. Original owner has long since passed away so I am puzzled as to why a very heavy SME 3009 tone arm is attached to it, this is causing an imbalance for which there appears to be a small 4th spring below tone arm which contacts the glass bottom for support. This still looks insufficient for the weight, I notice on this webpage an image of a similar SME tone attached to a skeleton turntable. How is this supported? is there no sagging on one end?

  7. Bonjour,
    J’ai acheté la première Transcriptor vendue en France je ne saurais plus dire à quelle date, mais je me souviens très bien que l’impressario d’un chanteur célèbre à l’époque voualit me la racheter dans le magasin même et qu’il n’a pas eu gain de cause, je l’ai donné plus tard à un neveu qui l’a bousillée et je regrette encore aujourd’hui cette petite merveille, si quelqu’un a une adresse ou en trouver un exemplaire en parfait état, je suis preneur.

  8. I had a Saturn and sold it before leaving for the USA. Were they even built for American current of 110 V and 60 Hz?

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