In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of interest in vinyl LPs, from vintage psych to contemporary rock by the likes of Radiohead, Pearl Jam, and White Stripes. Less discussed is the parallel quest for the perfect vintage record player or turntable. The good news is that finding a decent turntable from the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s is not as tough as you might think. Manufacturers produced untold numbers of these popular machines, and because a fair amount of them were used by conscientious audiophiles, many of the ones on the market today are often in fine condition.
The 1960s were a golden age for turntables for a number of reasons. First, manufacturers were moving away from bulky home-entertainment systems, which were more like pieces of furniture than audio-delivery devices. Instead, they created individual components that consumers would assemble into an integrated system on their own. The coincidental widespread availability of stereo LPs also gave music lovers a reason to upgrade their old, bulky mono players for sparkling-sounding new ones.
Naturally, the major electronics manufacturers tried to sell consumers on the idea of choosing from just their branded components, including the receiver (an amplifier), tuner (usually an FM radio), speakers, and turntable. As it turned out, those last two categories remained stubbornly specialized for quite some time. Thus, companies like Dual, Garrard, and Acoustic Research were able to make names for themselves against Japanese electronics giants like Matsushita (now known as Panasonic) and its subsidiary brands, the most famous of which was Technics.
The German firm Dual was founded in 1900 as a manufacturer of spring-wound motors, which, by 1909, were being used in gramophones. In the 1920s, Dual was producing gramophones of its own, which could be wound by hand or driven by electricity (they were literally dual-powered, which is where the company got its modern name).
The golden age of Dual began after World War II, when the company introduced its Dual 1000 turntable. A stereo turntable followed in 1958, and a stackable turntable, the model 1006, appeared in 1959. But Dual’s most classic turntables, with their handsome wooden bases, were the 1009 and 1019, released in 1963 and ’65 respectively. By the end of the decade, the model 1219 featured the ability to start the turntable when the arm was lifted from its rest.
England’s Garrard goes back even further, to 1721, although it did not get into the turntable business until 1930. What with a worldwide economic depression, it was not exactly the best moment in history to launch a consumer product that nobody actually needed, but the company was given a boost when the BBC purchased the turntables to play its 78s over the air.
Garrard’s first breakthrough turntable came in 1938, the RC100, which could play both 12- and 10-inch records, but World War II quickly forced the company to covert its facilities to military purposes. After the war, Garrard brought out the RC70 (it could play 12-, 10-, and 7-inch records at 33 1/3, 45, and 78 RPM. The RC80, which boasted a new magnetic cartridge, followed in 1950...
The biggest product for Garrard, though, arrived in 1954, when its legendary 301 turntable was embraced by newly prosperous audiophiles, who were known in those days as HiFi enthusiasts. The 301 was such a stalwart for Garrard that the company did not see fit to replace it until 1965, when the 401 appeared. Its run was even longer, lasting until 1977.
Another British manufacturer with a similar 1950s-to-1970s run was A.R. Sugden, whose Connoisseur line of turntables was pioneering. Unfortunately, A.R. Sugden turntables are often confused with those produced by Acoustic Research of Cambridge, Massachusetts, which didn't introduce its first turntable, the AR-XA, until 1962. It was a belt-driven turntable with a walnut base that ran at one speed, 33 1/3 RPM, and whose only visible electronic gadgetry was a solitary on-off switch.
This was a truly manual turntable, whose stylus-bearing arm had to be gently placed on the record, and then just as carefully retrieved when it had run out of grooves. Many would-be customers shook their heads in disbelief at the primitiveness of the machine, but purists loved it, which may be why AR continued to make it until well into the 1970s, even after it had introduced two versions of the AR-XB, which had more-advanced features.
Other turntable brands from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s that are popular with vinyl lovers include Marantz, Thorens, Denon, and Bang & Olufsen.