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Shindo 301 Turntable Review

Pushing the Art of Listening to Vinyl, Part 1:

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The Shindo bearing is an 100% original, designed by Shindo and unrelated to the Garrard. Ken Shindo prefers the oil bearings to the grease ones, which has a larger diameter and is machined to tighter tolerances than Garrard’s original oil bearings. He also uses his own special oil, and the turntable comes with a record weight that was especially designed for it.

The design of the beautifully simple-looking Shindo Mersault RF-773 12-inch tonearm is an aesthetic homage to the legendary Ortofon RF-297 tonearm. The Mersault is not a modified Ortofon arm though just a way to pay homage to the arm he liked best on the 301. It is Shindo’s own arm in every way with totally different materials and bearing system. Thus it’s made with modern materials and it has very high precision bearings. All of this is quite obvious in how this arm enables the cartridge to track.

Ken Shindo never speaks about his designs and only says “listen” when asked a technical question. Per my observations, the Shindo tonearm mounts in a very substantial mounting puck that fits securely down into, not on, the plinth. The tonearm wires terminate into a ceramic block and the silver RCA cables must be connected using this block before the arm-mounting puck is inserted. Shindo does not feel that anti-skating is necessary with a tonearm of this length and my ears tell me he is correct. I have to admit that I miss that the arm doesn’t have an arm lift. I don’t miss it for myself, I hardly ever use the thing, but I miss it when my wife, sons, or daughter-in-laws come down to talk. They used to just reach over and raise the arm and say what’s on their mind and then lower it back when they left the room. Now I have to get up and raise and lower the arm, because they won’t do it themselves. Well, you have to give up something to enjoy real art.

The Shindo 301 Vinyl System uses a highly modified classic Ortofon SPU. His mods include changing the damper, cantilever, stylus, coil as well as modifying the suspension and magnet. As a result of this work, the Shindo SPU can track at 2.8 grams instead of 3.5 to 4.5 grams for most Ortofon SPUs. I have read that the Shindo SPU equals or exceeds the tracking performance of a Shure V15 on test records. I don’t know about this, but I can say it significantly out tracked the Miaybi Standard or the Benz Ebony TR even when they were used in Clearaudio’s $5,000 Universal tonearm, and that’s really saying something. Another thing that shocked me was that a conical stylus could track like this and retrieve so much information so effortlessly.

There should be nothing to the set-up of this table, because as far as I know all Shindo dealers, there’s only three or four in North America, will come to your home and set it up for you. Even so it is quite easy to set-up. The tonearm is built and placed so that the arm exactly meets the geometry for the Shindo SPU A cartridge. The arm is a dynamic spring-loaded arm so one balances it and then dials on the prescribed 2.80 gram tracking force. I do want to point out though, and this is very important, that the VTA needs to be set in a way that looks ridiculously high in the back. You need to get this right for two reasons: first if you have the arm too low not only is the VTA off but your overhang will be off as well; second, you can rob a lot of the life, PRaT, and detail from the system if the arm is too low. VTA is adjusted by loosening two set screws and then raising or lowering the tonearm.

There were a few things I had to get used to with the Shindo 301 system. I was concerned about not having a peripheral ring, but somehow Shindo has engineered the mat and his record weight to just suck records down. I don’t exactly understand how it works. So far the only thing I have missed about the peripheral ring is putting it on and taking it off, and who wouldn’t be glad to miss that. After several months of playing records, I have come across one that I can hear the effect of its warp with the Shindo, but only one out of hundreds. Another thing that took a little getting used to is how mechanical the controls are. When you turn it on or change speed there is a definite thud. Most of all, I have had to get used to not having an arm lift. My family finds lifting and lowering the arm by hand frightening, but I’ve always preferred to do this by hand and feel completely comfortable putting the arm on and off the LP by hand.

So How Does It Sound?

Garrard 301s are known for their solidity, body, power, dynamics, and drive. The Shindo does all this and at the same time something fundamentally different from any other record player I have ever heard. With the right amplification and speakers, this vinyl system really sounds real. I started with the word “alive”, but I have used that word most often to talk about the energy level combined with a transparency that lets voices and instruments sound very alive. The Shindo allows my system to move beyond this to sounding real. It is very transparent, and it has as much lifelike magic in the range where human voices are as I have ever heard. When you add to this a solidity and relaxed sound, it just sounds more real than any other source I have ever heard. It has an uncanny way of getting loud and still sounding natural.

Of course I’m not saying it sounds indistinguishable from live music. We all know recorded music never gets the timing quite right; I assume that’s why even live music over a PA system is easy to tell from recorded music. I didn’t say live music over a PA sounds better, just that you can easily tell it apart from when they are playing a recording.

3 Responses to Shindo 301 Turntable Review

  1. Rafe says:

    Thanks so much for a brilliant, well thought out and written review.

  2. foongchinfee says:

    I recently heard a garrad 301 plying music thru Macintosh pre and Macintosh 224 power tube amp wired to a pair of jbl L300 speakers. The sonic experience was so memorable that I bought his unit of spare garrad 301. I m retired and not rich but I bite the bullet and bought it. No regret till this day cos I think I can almost relate my experience with what was written by the reviewer.

  3. Vencel says:

    It would be interesting to know how much of this impression created by the turntable, by the tonearm and by the cartridge. Without knowing it I think it is useless to compare to any other vintage turntables, like the TD-124. I never had the possibility to listen to a Shindo 301, but I guess that the difference between a Shindo 301 and a properly refurbished and upgraded TD-124 using the same tonearms and cartridge would be very small. For sure there would be differences, but I assume rather small and be subject of personal preference. To summarize I would say that it is only possible to compare different turntables if they are being tested in the same (preferably independent) audio chain, using the same tonearm and cartridge. I understand it is hardly possible. Anyway thanks for sharing your experience.

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