Publisher Profile

A monophonic experience: Miyajima Zero and Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301

By: |

The Artisan Fidelity Garrard

In early summer of 2022, Earl met Christopher Thornton, owner of Artisan Fidelity, one of the premier turntable rebuilders (and sellers) in the States. Christopher also sells Miyajima cartridges, including the Miyajima Zero Mono Cartridge, which Christopher knows well and recommends.

Christopher has a passion for rebuilding Garrard 301s and 401s. He also has a passion for gorgeous and substantial wooden plinths. Earl has a weakness for Garrards, having grown up with his dad’s back in the late 1960s. As it happened, Christopher had available a previously rebuilt Garrard 301(from one of his customers who was downsizing), which he described as follows: “A Classic model featuring a premium Hawaiian Figured Koa high-gloss finish and upgraded Statement series mass-loaded plinth with matching Panzerholz armboard / Statement series; solid billet CNC Aircraft grade Aluminum/Magnesium alloy chassis plate, Statement series pure Copper ~ AL/Mg. alloy internally damped hybrid heavy balanced main platter with large bore Sapphire inverted bearing set / Stillpoints Ultra SS isolation footers (4/ea.) / Stainless Steel precision CNC idler wheel / Aluminum Magnesium alloy precision CNC eddy current disc brake / 60Hz precision Brass motor pulley.” The Garrard came with an Origin Live Silver Mk3a (12″ effective length) tonearm (gimbal bearing type) which was— most importantly — completely compatible with the Miyajima Zero; consequently, a Zero joined the package. Earl opted for an upgraded power supply, the LDA Quartz (silver).

All listening described below was done with the Miyajima Zero in the Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301, except where otherwise noted.


De Falla, El Amor Brujo, Eduardo Toldra, cond., Angel/EMI 35553 (mono):

Toldra was one of the early champions of De Falla’s music. This recording is only available in mono and is therefore an excellent example of what one can enjoy with a mono table. The copy to which we listened was an Angel/EMI, meaning a UK pressing intended for the export market. It was issued in 1958. I would guess that this particular copy came from that time, because Angel began pressing its own LPs not long after that. The copy was in superb shape, as quiet as one could ask.

The sound was quite surprising. It had depth, space and at least some degree of imaging. The tympani and the lower strings had heft and power; yet the bells and the bite of the trumpets were crystalline. I very quickly lost interest in issues of recording age and limitations and was carried along by the music. The performance was filled with vitality and commitment, and gave great pleasure. Yet at the same time I was aware in some way that is quite difficult to articulate, that this was not a contemporary performance. It seemed “of its time,” but I do not mean that in a pejorative sense. Indeed, that experience was part of the attraction.


Mel Torme at the Crescendo (Gene Norman Presents, Dec. 15, 1954), Coral CRL 57012

I have played this particular recording on my own system using a Lyra Atlas λ LambdaSL (stereo) cartridge. It certainly was a pleasurable listen, with Torme set back from the speakers somewhat and with a (relative) thinness to the sound and some light noise. But when heard via the mono set-up, Torme’s presence was more forward, holographic, and absolutely striking. Torme seemed on a high wire of exposure with his vocal twists and turns supported only by a trio. Had he not been such a superb singer, he couldn’t have pulled this off. The reproduction was amply detailed; enough so that we could hear that some of the tunes seemed to have been recorded on different nights (contrary to the title) or with different mic set-ups; for example, in some songs, Torme’s voice had slightly more edge and presence…and, so, more exposure. This was a particularly rewarding listen because of the almost holographic presence of Torme’s voice. At moments he seemed right there. In addition, surface noise was essentially a non-issue.

I should add that we also compared another Torme record, Mel Torme Sings Fred Astaire, Bethlehem BCP 6013, on my Rockport versus Earl’s mono set-up with similar results. With the Lyra on my Rockport, we could hear more of a crystalline shimmer to the cymbals and the trumpets. But on the Garrard/Miyajima, there was a level of holographic forwardness to Torme’s voice, as well as an overall coherence to the mono sound, that was seductive in the same way Mel Torme at the Crescendo was.


Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, Vol. 3 (from a 5 record box), Verve V-29-5

This listen came from a boxed set of all five of the Gershwin Songbook LPs. The box exists in stereo and mono. The records were recorded in the early days of stereo and, in their stereo incarnation, are sometimes more satisfying than others, particularly with the earlier volumes. Nelson Riddle did all of the arrangements, which vary in instrumentation throughout the series, but are invariably superb.

This was a great listen. There was a surprising amount of space around the instruments, especially noticeable on the drums (although variable per track). Ella’s voice had impressive presence, and the layering and detail in the band was similar. Ella sounded as if she could have been recorded in a different space on some of the songs, possibly a recording booth. I was impressed that we could hear the difference. Altogether, the feeling I had was that I was not only NOT giving up anything by listening in mono, but was in fact gaining over the way some stereo recordings of the era, including some of the early Ella/Gershwin albums, can sound, coming from the days during which stereo was at times treated like an experimental novelty.

The strings added to some of the songs were superbly musical: no grain, smooth, and quite well integrated. When Ella sang with a big band, the layering seemed realistically three dimensional. She was in front, the band behind. And, strangely, at times I seemed to hear some instruments more to the left or right than others. The only negative was that, on some of the tunes, there was some odd midrange coloration in the way Ella’s microphone portrayed her voice. My memory is that this was evident in the stereo as well. The detail even with the coloration was terrific.

Rarely did I hear any surface noise. I’ve heard this record on my own system and the corresponding stereo as well. These sixty-year old records did not sound as quiet on my own system, either the mono or stereo versions. The problem with trying to find good contemporary copies of these records is that people seemed to like them well enough to listen to them. I suppose that is what they were for, but it still seems downright…well, inconsiderate!


Chris Connor, This is Chris, Bethlehem BCP 20

I really like Chris Connor, especially her early material on Bethlehem (all mono). I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe her voice: Smokey? Reedy? I’d say “bleached” but for its negative connotation, so allow me to withdraw that. One stylistic characteristic: she tended to end longer notes with a quick and expressive vibrato flourish. She had superb pitch and control.

Hearing her on a real mono set-up was something I was curious about and I know, for my friend, she along with Mel Torme were two key motivators to go mono exploring. Connor happened to like the trombone duo of Kai Winding and J. J. Johnson. They played in “Trouble is a Man” on this side. On every stereo on which I’d heard this cut, the trombone duo distorted. I wondered if this was an example of the narrower-profile stereo styli not properly tracing a mono groove profile. That turned out to be the case. The trombones sounded fine with the mono stylus (this was a .7 mm stylus). Indeed, the whole record sounded fine. It was not a perfect copy (what mid-50s jazz record would be?), but noise was negligible. Instead, we got excellent depth within the generally smaller ensembles behind Chris.


Roussel, Spiders’ Feast, Ansermet, cond.,  London/Decca LL 1179

Having recently listened to the stereo recording of Cluytens conducting this piece more than once (because I liked it so much), I was most curious to hear this earlier Decca mono. Indeed, this was early enough (pre-1955) that we had to adjust the EQ away from RIAA curve. The Swissonor mono phonostage paperwork included a chart of typical EQ adjustments for the more common record labels. For Decca/Londons there were two different possibilities for pre-1955 LPs. By matching up the master numbers, we were able to successfully apply the CCIR-DIN EQ, which caused the LP to sound notably more full-bodied, with additional gain as well.

The end result was wonderful. The performance had a different feel to it than the late 60s Cluytens, though hard to describe (as with the Toldra De Falla LP, above). Certainly, the music was 15 years newer for Ansermet at the time he recorded it. And certainly Ansermet and the orchestra conveyed the sense of commitment that they had toward new repertoire. The sound of Ansermet’s orchestra was scintillating — up to its very best in the stereo era. There was not much in the way of imaging. Yet, I became involved in the music in such a way that I barely missed it. And, while I don’t completely understand how a mono recording can convey such a sense of depth, it was there in spades. The deepest bass was less specific than I would have expected in stereo, but otherwise the fullness and roundness of the instruments were fully conveyed.

My understanding is that mono recordings cut off treble at a notably lower frequency than stereo. (This might be one of the reasons why surface noise was less apparent.) While I was sometimes aware of this roll-off (as noted in the discussion of the Mel Torme recordings), normally it was not an issue. I usually heard enough “air,” enough shimmer (in the cymbals in particular), and enough of the sibilants that my listening mind gave no thought to whatever may have been lacking. That was certainly true with the Roussel; I simply became immersed in the musical moment and found a great deal of richness there. Was it a better experience than with Cluytens (which was certainly EMI on a really good day)? No. Just different. And, as good as the Cluytens is, I appreciate the music more deeply now having heard Ansermet’s take on it.


Richard Strauss, Don Quixote, Clemens Krauss, Decca LXT 2842 (mono LP), versus Decca 478 6493 (5 CDs, 2014)

This was another early 1950s Decca that required a different EQ than RIAA. This one I knew from a mono CD set Decca released in 2014, so I was curious to compare the vinyl with the digital.

The LP was gorgeous, as rich and full as you would want your Strauss to be. Of course there are multiple deservedly well-known stereo recordings of Strauss’s music. (Most recently I’ve been enjoying the Andris Nelsons CDs — such an improvement over CDs of even a decade ago.)

We listened to the Decca digital transfer of Don Quixote after listening to a bit of the mono LP. In fairness, the transfer was a pleasant enough listen, at least at first. Yet, it lacked the warmth, immediacy, and presence of the LP. It was as if the orchestra as a whole had been moved back in the hall, yet overall was presented with less depth. The soundstage was not as wide nor as full as the mono LP. And there was something of a sheen over the digital remastering as a whole that is hard to explain. After a while, the digital version became fatiguing in a way that the mono LP, in this set up, did not.


Some Conclusions

First, as should be apparent, I really enjoyed the opportunity to hear mono recordings the way they were designed and expected to be heard, meaning on a dedicated mono turntable/cartridge/phonostage set-up. They sounded very natural, very coherent. This is hardly surprising, given that the recordings and the records themselves were made for this sort of set-up.

I was particularly surprised by the sheer presence that could be gotten out of a good mono record. I would have thought multiple mics/channels would be necessary to obtain the holographic placement of the vocals on the two Mel Torme records. The depth of the soundstage was somewhat surprising as well. Certainly, I hear that regularly from stereo recordings, but mono? It shows how extraordinarily faithful good microphones can be to the musical experience.

None of this means that mono records cannot give satisfaction on a modern stereo set-up. I listen to mono records from time to time in my own system, and can certainly enjoy them. There was some great music recorded in the mono era, especially jazz. And, although we did not listen to examples of it, there are many fans of early mono recordings of pop and rock — including, importantly, the early Beatles records — as can be seen by number of mono reissues that have been released even recently.

I did not know quite what to expect from Earl’s project and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the musical satisfaction that the experience offered. Given that I do not have quite the passion for older mono recordings that my friend Earl does, and that, when I do listen to mono, I get reasonably good results from my current stereo set-up, I don’t feel particularly inclined to invest in that direction. (Besides, I can just walk down the street…)  That does not mean, however, that I wasn’t impressed. A nearly parallel example exists in the world of reel-to-reel tapes. I know that they can be superb, but I have plenty of excellent listening on my plate as it is. So I have not delved in that direction either.

I can say this:  If you are interested in older jazz, classical, or even pop, my experience with a true mono set-up like Earl’s has been such that I would say, try that direction. Certainly if you can approach it with the sort of equipment that we listened to, you will have an ear-opening experience.



There is a substantial amount of information on mono equipment and listening on the internet. For instance, if you search “mono stylus size,”, you will find– most likely – more than you would want to know about the whole subject. is a good blog spot, as is and

I should note as well that Earl found a blog on that contained an entry that recommended against using a mono stylus on mono records cut with a stereo cutter head, because those record grooves could have stray vertical movement that would be resisted by true mono cartridges, possibly leading to damage to the groove. We have not confirmed this (and indeed would be curious as to knowledgeable readers’ views). This would affect one’s approach to playing more recent pressings of mono records with true mono cartridges.


Copy editor: Dan Rubin

One Response to A monophonic experience: Miyajima Zero and Artisan Fidelity Garrard 301

  1. rl1856 says:

    I use an Ortofon DG25DI MKIII mono cartridge. This model is an update of the original Ortofon mono moving coil (single) design introduced in 1947. It has a 1 mil conical stylus, and negligable vertical compliance. I use this cartride to play mono LPs pressed before 1960. My experience is that well recorded mono can sound shockingly real. Singers, solo instruments, small scale groups etc sound holographic, as you noticed. In many cases, recordings were made live with everyone in the same room. Thus there would be distance between musicians, and space to be picked up from the room. ALL can be heard. I hear depth, layering, instrument placement, albiat in a narrowly confined center area. I recall a mono Ella Verve lp having a soundstage that was so deep it seemed to go to the horizon. And mono lps generally cost less than stereo ! There are exceptions, vintage jazz and certain classical. But mono remains under rated, and under appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popups Powered By :