Publisher Profile

The Merrill Replica ES-R1 Turntable Review

High Performance Analog Playback on the Cheap

By: |

Undeniably a Merrill

It took no time at all to discover the merits of the Merrill ES-R1. From the first record, “Tea for the Tillerman,” by Cat Stevens, I was already fully acquainted with the Merrill Replica as if reconnecting with a lost friend. The sound was warm yet detailed, bass was firm yet rich in tonality and “skin,” the midrange glowed with the full emotional connection that the vintage cartridge is fully capable of capturing. At that point in time, it would have been meaningless to even to discuss the under $2k turntable playback system in terms of comparison to its distant and modern relatives as well as other low cost modern designs. All I cared about was listening to as much music as I could that weekend; and so I did. Digging deep into the older vinyl, I listened to Rickie Lee Jones’ “Pirates,” Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Yes’ “The Yes Album,” and Traffic “When the Eagle Flies.” It was a damned nice listening session that ended with my realization that not a single word had been written in the notebook on my lap!

The following set of sessions I worked hard to stay in the “mode” and yes, there was certainly plenty to say and write.

The Merrill Replica/Jelco/Panasonic playback system demonstrated an uncanny ability to slightly soften the leading edge of percussion strikes, but still retain the texture of the instrument. I know this to be a characteristic of the cartridge and therefore credit the Merrill ES R1 Replica for combining superlative isolation and a truly neutral tonal balance, in order to faithfully convey the sound of the tonearm/cartridge combination.

This is, in effect, what makes this combination so damningly engaging.

Images were rock stable but did not demonstrate the level of detail that was necessary in order to truly teleport you to the event. This most certainly is due in part to the tonearm and phono cartridge. The Merrill ES-R1 proved to be quiet and did not contribute to the noise floor as many similarly priced turntables tend to do.

Speed stability as well was quite good. I noted no ill-effects even on piano. While I no longer have a Sutherland device on hand, using a standard strobe disk demonstrated that the turntable came up to speed quickly and remained quite stable.

In terms of bass performance and freedom from interference from outer surroundings and mechanical vibration energy, once again the Merrill ES R1 gets very high marks. Perhaps thanks to the cork-rubber mat, the bass performance of this turntable rivals the best and in fact, it would have soundly trounced my previous reference a VPI TNT.

The combination’s midrange consistency and bloom as well as freedom from vocal heaviness, speed in dynamics, and immunity to feedback, belies the modest price of this turntable/tonearm combination. The fact is that I have heard sonic performance that proved to be far worse than this combination, yet at many times the price.

Thanks to the tuning employed in the suspension and the proven combination of polymers, acrylics, and platter mat by George Merrill, the Replica ES-R1 does not demonstrate any overt sonic warts that would classify it in any way as a compromised performer.

In fact, toward the end of the review period I was really tempted to yank the Jelco tonearm and drop in the superb Ortofon TA-110 (please note the correction as of 2014-06-11, original text was “TA-1000”) rubber injected tonearm. However, that would have defeated the purpose of the review. After all, that particular tonearm has an MSRP that eclipses that of the turntable! So too was I tempted to install one of my pricey ZYX moving coil cartridges on the Jelco, just to get a feel for how far I could go with the Merrill ES R1 Replica in terms of maximizing the performance of a full playback system via this modest turntable. I didn’t really have the time nor need to do that for the purpose of this review, but my gut tells me that the Replica ES R1 would not embarrass itself even when mated with much pricier high-end tonearms and cartridges.

Merrill Replica ES-R1 Turntable sideview

In Summary

My time with the Merrill Replica ES-R1 was one of discovery and realization. This seeming wolf in sheep’s clothing comes along at a time when cost of ownership of such turntables with similar performance has gone through the roof. The vast 20 and 30-something population of music lovers and audiophiles are out there, learning the vinyl ropes through trial and error. They buy new and used records, they get cheap, mass-produced, slabs-o-particle board, poorly engineered (should this word even be used in the vernacular of these mediocre devices?) turntables that feed back, color the sound, run off-speed…well, you get the picture. In my estimation, George Merrill has bestowed on the entry level and mid-level, a turntable that literally does nothing wrong and takes care of business. It seemingly is capable of faithfully allowing the tonearm and cartridge to do their thing and make music without interfering. George even throws in the upgrades that can easily take you to that next level, the digital speed controller, a center weight and perimeter clamp.

George, thank you for reminding us all that nailing the basics will always trump flash and bling. For those of you reading this who are looking to buy your first turntable, look no further. This is the one to buy, keep, and cherish. In this age of low cost great-sounding digital players and sparse vinyl releases of new music, this turntable may very well suffice as the first and last turntable you will ever need to own.

6 Responses to The Merrill Replica ES-R1 Turntable Review

  1. Kurt Wolf says:

    what a lovely, no-nonsense review! I bought the then new (and at the time, -only- AR manufactured) “newly revised” version of the original: 1984’s “The AR Turntable”. I paid the price of $300 USD for a demo version which came which included a rather inferior OEM tonearm, which I eventually upgraded to a Sumiko MMT Tonearm with a replacement of the stock POS wooden stock armboard with one metal armboard drilled and sold by none other than the even then venerable AR upgrade expert himself, George Merrill. I was very proud of that table, but it still suffered from the inferior limitations of AR’s own bearing and motor!

    I read your review, phoned Mr. Merrill, had a highly educated conversation and placed my order seconds later via email. I cannot wait to receive my new table, which will include the dustcover, digital motor drive and a pre-drilled armboard for my Moerch DP-6 Precision Red tonearm in the optional black finish!!

    Next year I’ll save my coins up for the slightly modified/enhanced Ortofon Cadenza Blue MC cartridge that George carries! Until then I’ll run a Shure or AT 150….

    Thanks for your meaningful, well-considered, concise and no BS review!!!!

  2. Ray Seda says:

    Thank you for your kind words and congratulations!
    I am quite familiar with the Moerch DP-6 as I had a 12″ gold precision one for a time.
    I expect that you will get very fine results mounting it on the “Replica”.

    Since you are getting the motor drive upgrade, it would be quite interesting to hear back from you regarding your impressions once you get it and it settles in!


  3. lee says:

    Why has this turntable not gotten more press, looks nice old school ( don’t take this wrong, looks like
    a turntable should ). Would like more reviews.

  4. Kurt Wolf says:

    I have been running this table after my initial review almost three years ago and cannot be happier with my purchase. The best part how long is that George Merrill Stands well behind his own products well after the sale. Even the simplest question is met with enthusiastic answer which evokes both logic and experience, both are characteristics rarely seen these days in the high-end. If I were in the market for another turntable I would be looking to his company.

    I’m on the other eight turntables I have owned including some more expensive models Highway this table as my all-around favorite. I would be writing more on this subject here except I’ve noticed that George is no longer carrying the suspended turntable reviewed herein. However I have heard nothing but good things from others about the polytable, which solves problems for those folks who have wobbly floors who would otherwise be required to mount the suspended table from a shelf or other strong anchors for mechanical isolation. Just very pleased I purchase one of these while they were in production.

  5. Denny Voss says:

    Kurt, thank you for helping me understand just WHY George never told me about the Replica ES-R1 and why I never found it on his site…until now. George has been expertly guiding me down a path modifying my AR The Turntable for the last year and I never knew about this table. No wonder as it is no longer in production!

    However my real point in writing is to add another voice of support of George’s efforts and expertise. He is truly a “gem” who will help guide you to a place of shockingly great sound. My own path was to improve a vintage AR turntable, and I couldn’t be happier. Currently his complete turntable options include the Polytable and the Merrill Williams 101.2. In light of my experience with George, I have every confidence these options are no less stellar than the outcomes with my AR.

    I recently was able to compare my AR to a very fine and expensive Clearaudio Master Solution turntable on my system. After several weeks of listening to the Clearaudio, I went back to my AR fearing I’d been spoiled by a superior experience…but I wasn’t. In fact I didn’t miss that fancy, expensive turntable one bit and found the listening experience to be every bit as wonderful on the AR.

    So far my improvements include his copolymer sub chassis, new springs and studs, his motor, his feet, a copolymer drive pulley, a Jelco 750D tonearm and cable, a Hana SL cart, and a solid wood plinth base replacing the OEM cardboard. These changes were guided by not only George, but also Dave at Vinyl Nirvana. To complete my journey I’m waiting delivery of an Heirloom original acrylic/lead platter and George’s DMD speed controller.

    Bottom line…I highly recommend both Dave at Vinyl Nirvana and especially George to anyone looking for a wonderful vinyl experience AND not wasting your dollars.

  6. CARLO MITTINO says:

    I am interested on George ‘ DMD speed controller for my Heirlomm original acrylic/lead platter turntable. Until now I was not able to reach an email address to try to contact Merrill’ factory, has someone usefull informations. Thank,

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 :