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Acoustic Research The AR Turntable (Commentary)

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My esteemed colleague David Blumenstein at Dagogo found it interesting that I have been using my Acoustic Research “The AR turntable” combined with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm for longer than the 36 years I have been married. He asked me to write about my experience with this turntable.

The turntable was purchased brand new from GNP Audio in Pasadena in November 1983. They had a fine young turntable technician named Brooks Berdan who mounted a Sumiko Premier MMT (Jelco sourced) tonearm, making the turntable more compatible with a variety of low-compliance phono cartridges, such as the Talisman moving coil cartridge line.

I used the turntable for about 20 years when the motor started making a really noisy grinding sound. I heard this was a common problem with AR turntable motors. Something had to be done, so I inquired about replacing the motor, which, including installation, would run several hundred dollars if I was fortunate enough to buy the right motor. I also contemplated buying a brand new turntable. I had actually narrowed down the choice to either a VPI Scout with JMW Memorial tonearm or a Clearaudio Champion Level 1 with a Rega tonearm. I could purchase either one for under $1,500. But I had four kids getting ready to start college and so my priorities were elsewhere.

The internet provided me with another solution: lubricating the motor with sewing machine oil. My wife shops a lot at Jo Ann’s and they carry sewing machine oil. However, I was self-conscious about one of my neighbors from Simi Valley seeing me in the store. I decided to bring my teenage daughter along and I would just say I was there shopping for her. I found Singer sewing machine oil and with the coupon discount the price came to $1.59.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, so I just poured what seemed like a lot of oil down the motor bearing well and hoped for the best. When I turned the turntable on, I was afraid of either a big puff of smoke or a large puddle of oil underneath. The turntable started rotating and to my pleasant surprise the loud grinding noise started to disappear. A $1.59 sewing machine oil completely fixed the problem.

I now oil the motor bearings at least once a year. I also use a liberal amount of oil on the sub-platter bearings at the same time. I replace the belt maybe every 5 years. This has kept my AR turntable running smoothly and the bearings and motor are dead quiet after all of these years despite the extensive use I give the table. I will admit that as much as I like this turntable, I have not been 100% loyal to it. I have had an office relationship with a Goldring turntable for 13 years. Even in my home, I have enjoyed my Thorens TD-147 turntable and found it to be the equivalent of the AR, especially when combined with the Grado Prestige Silver phono cartridge. So unlike with my wife, whom I have been loyal to for the past 36 years, I have fooled around with a number of other turntables.

My favorite phono cartridge with AR turntable has been the Hana EH. I also really enjoyed the Grado Platinum phono cartridge, which is interesting because, unlike the Hana, this is a fairly high-compliance cartridge. The Sumiko Talisman S and Talisman A low-output moving coils were my first foray with this turntable and they were also favorites.

Unfortunately, you now have to go to the used market to buy this turntable. There are also the even more refined AR ES-1 and the AR ETL-1, which are improved versions of The AR Turntable that I have. I honestly feel that any of these turntables when properly running would satisfy anyone looking for this type of belt drive turntable. There are other turntables based on the Acoustic Research turntable that not only cost a lot more but seem to require a lifetime of spending thousands of dollars on improvements. Using a blind test, I doubt if most people would deem that worth the additional cost or effort.

There is risk in buying the Acoustic Research The AR turntable and the more upscale ES-1 or ETL-1. These turntables are well over 30 years old and they may not have been properly maintained. Replacement parts are limited and expensive. Also, you may need a competent technician to balance the springs or replace the motor.

The other option would be to purchase one of the many fine turntables now available for under $2,000. The Pro-Ject X1 turntable with Sumiko Olympia phono cartridge that I reviewed last month would be a great example. If this seems like a lot of money, I will say that if you enjoy listening to records everyday like I do, a quality turntable enhances the pleasure. When you figure how many computers, laptops, cell phones, and other tech products you have purchased over the years and then had to replace because they became obsolete. A $1,000 turntable purchase that can last a lifetime is a pretty good investment.

This quarantine may not be ending for a while, so why not hunker down with a new turntable and listen to some records? This will make the quarantine more bearable.



Copy editor: Dan Rubin


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12 Responses to Acoustic Research The AR Turntable (Commentary)

  1. Rod Griffith says:

    I too have a love for my AR “The AR Turntable”. I purchased mine with a Linn Basic tonearm. About 10 years ago I had to pack up my main audio equipment, as my listening room had to be utilized as a bedroom for my aging mother. For about a year now I have been able to reinstall my audio gear in a smaller room, except for my Maggies. But that is another story. I have fallen in love again with vinyl.

    I have been enjoying my AR with a re-tipped Dynavector Ruby cartridge, but recently have noticed a slight “chugging” noise during start-up of the AR. The noise lessons as the platter gets up to speed but doesn’t totally go away. I will try your lubrication regime, probably with silicone, to see if there is an improvement. I just found your website and look forward to future visits.

  2. Marc Silver says:

    I wish you had made it clear which AR turntable you have. Considering the age I have to assume it is one of their late models that came after the AR XA/XB. I knew Brooks and he knew what he was doing. Not sure the Jelco/MMT was an upgrade over the original straight low mass arm that came with the table.

  3. Byron Baba says:

    The AR turntable model name is in the title “The AR Turntable” which was introduced at the end of 1983. There is a link in the article. The model name is still on the back of my turntable. As stated in the article, the MMT tonearm had a higher effective mass and GNP and others at the time felt it would be more compatible with a variety of moving coil cartridge. They also had all of these items in stock. There was not that much of a difference in price (GNP had a huge Thanksgiving weekend sale). After 37 years I am still glad I purchased this turntable with the MMT installed and feel it has been compatible with all of the phono cartridges I have used even if it may not be an upgrade.

  4. Chris says:

    I purchased my AR ES-1 turntable with a Sumiko MMT arm way back in the late 80’s, 1987 I think. I added an aluminum arm board and much later a Mose/Hercules II power supply, which was available for a short time for the AR. I currently have a Hana SL mounted. I replace my 2M Black which I kept as a backup, the second best cartridge I’ve ever owned. The oil down the motor trick was something that I too stumbled upon fairly early on. I maintain the turntable religiously, cleaning and lubricating every winter. The last upgrade I made was to swap out the original phono cable for Audio Sensibility Impact SE interconnects. The sound from the Audio Sensibility cables was so good, I went and replaced my Atlas interconnects too. Over the years I have replaced every piece of my stereo multiple times, but I’ve never found the need to replace the AR.

    • Byron Baba says:

      I think we both have similar tastes in turntables. The ES-1 came out about 3 or 4 years after I bought my turntable as an improved version. I wish both the AR ES-1 and the Thorens TD-160 Super were still made. I also replaced my phono cable a number of years ago with a nicer cable. I just finished my annual maintenance on my AR turntable right before New Year’s day and now as I listen I doubt I will ever replace this turntable.

  5. Alan says:

    Byron, take a look at you can get a restomod TD-160 Super that really is better than the original.

  6. Matt Helm says:

    I often wondered why I did not buy a Corvette back in the old days and then I remembered, I went nuts and became an Audiophile.

    I had an AR Turntable and Speakers, a Teac Reel to Real and Receiver. and Senheiser Headphones. I had a Shure record playing needle, I do not remember which number, I do remember it cost about a $100. All told, the equipment cost about $3,000, which was a lot of money back in the late ’60’s, early ’70’s.

    My two buddies and I, would go to a place in the Beverly Hills area, to buy reel-to-real tape. They got one inch tape from studios, that was no longer good enough for a professional studio, and somehow cut it down to a 1/4 and we bought it. It was better quality than anything you could get at a store.

    We made a deal with all our friends, if they bought a record, brought it to us sealed, we would give them a dollar, if we could record it. That was about a third of the price of a record, so we had a lot of repeat customers.

    You would not believe the pure sound you would hear coming from a recording of a new record, on commercial tape, on AR Speakers.

  7. Old School says:

    Been playing my AR The Turntable with original arm (which is better than some people claim) and a Shure V15 Type III since 1983. The replacement stylus for the Shure now probably costs more than the entire original setup. Little oil it and a new belt every few years keeps the table turning without a hitch. Looks good, sounds good, and remains one of the better bargains in TT history.

  8. Mark allen says:

    Where can I buy a replacement belt for the AR?

  9. Jon Gagan says:

    I acquired a ES1 from ebay . When it arrived , much to my surprise it was brand new – still in it’s original box , tone arm still bolted down . I’ve owned it for probably 25 years

  10. Pat Benic says:

    I have had my AR Turntable with a Grado Signature MCZ Cartridge/Stylus since 1985. Have replaced the Grado MCZ stylus numerous times as they still make the stylus! Just a great sound, made better by a Project Tube Amp. Best for Jazz and Vocals. Have another AR Turntable ES-1 with an 8MZ stylus for mainly Rock (a friend did not want his AR). Can’t say enough about Grado — though I wish they would figure out an easy mount after all these years!

  11. Stanley Green says:

    I used to live in New Jersey and met Joe Grado who had a “lab” in Westfield. He sang professionally in New York. He was working on an all plastic violin with resonances duplicating a “Strad”… Interesting guy

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