Panagiotis Karavitas and I both opted to cover the Garrard and SME exhibit at High End 2019, and we were both granted the opportunity to report on what was arguably the biggest news at the show: SME recently purchased Garrard and was releasing a “new” version of the legendary Garrard 301. We had different approaches to the news–Dr. K. was slightly critical of the new 301, mostly because a tricked out Garrard 401 is serving as his current analog reference, while I’ve been courting this dream of purchasing a restored idler drive ‘table (Thorens TD-124, Lenco L70 or a Garrard 301 or 401) as “the last table I will ever buy.” Now that I’m playing with another one of my dream turntables, the newly-redesigned Technics SL-1200G, which will be reviewed in the summer issue of The Occasional, I’ve stopped thinking about a restored classic. After this news, I’m not so sure.
First of all, I was lured by the amazing prospect of a booth at High End 2019 that contained all of SME’s fabulous products in one relatively small space. We’re talking SME turntables from the new SME 12 and Synergy to the lofty 30.12, and all of those exquisite tonearms. My own experience with SME is limited to the fact that I owned an SME V arm for many years, mating it to a J. A. Michell Orbe SE and a Koetsu Rosewood. I still think that was the finest analog rig I’ve owned, and I regret selling it in order to get seed money for a new business. So I drooled over all of those fabulous ‘tables and arms and took lots of photographs.
When I went into the little room adjacent to the High End 2019 booth, I was even more excited by the system they were using with the new SME/Garrard 301. It included the latest version of the Spendor SP100–another speaker I owned and loved once upon a time. Everything was powered by Nagra components, and that was another personal touchstone. I once had a review sample of the original Nagra PL-P preamp and felt that it added that ever so elusive “inner light” to a set-up that had presented me with one sonic obstacle after another. I also had a chance to purchase a review sample of the pyramid-shaped Nagra PSA power amplifier, but balked because I was mighty po’ in those days.
This system wasn’t quite as magical as I would have liked–the sound in those little self-enclosed boxes at High End 2019 were problematic at best. Still, I fantasized about having much of that system in my home one more time. The Garrard/SME 301 will retail for somewhere around $12,500, probably more, but that’s still reasonable when you considered a fully restored 301 with a beautiful and massive custom plinth might wind up in the same ballpark. The simple idea that I could choose this new 301, hopefully rebuilt to SME’s incredibly high standards, has once again fueled my fantasies about my ideal turntable, the one that will last the rest of my life. While it seems that SME isn’t quite all the way there on this project, I hope they eventually pull it off.