Q: I purchased a Garrard Lab 95 turntable in 1968, and it has been stored away since 1970. With vinyl records all the rage these days, I'm thinking about getting back into them. Is my Garrard comparable to modern turntables? And can I get a cartridge for it?
A: Vintage Garrard turntables range from mediocre entry-level models to the highly desirable Garrard 301, which sells for thousands of dollars if you are lucky enough to find one. Your Lab 95 ranks as "just OK." You can put a new cartridge on it, but a common complaint about old, unused Garrards is "the grease turns into glue." If you are going to experiment with it, I would not invest more than $25 on a cartridge until the turntable has proved itself and worked reliably for several months.
If you intend to get into records again, I'd suggest that you get a new turntable, and I have an excellent recommendation for a nice one that doesn't cost a lot. The vinyl renaissance has seen many new turntable manufacturers enter the market, and one of the latest is established speaker manufacturer Fluance. Fluance is known for producing attractive, good-sounding products at very affordable prices, and its $199 Fi50 Bluetooth speaker is my favorite at the price. I was surprised to see them enter the turntable market, and after experiencing their new turntable, I'm glad they did.
The Fluance RT81 is unlike anything else at its $250 price point. It is a manual, belt-driven turntable (the audiophile's preferred choice) with a beautiful walnut base that would not look out of place on an $800 turntable. It has a pre-mounted AT-95E cartridge, a built-in phono preamp and a stop mechanism that turns off the turntable when it reaches the end of the record. The most obvious cost-cutting move is the tonearm, which is not as finely finished or substantial as some arms found on competing models. It does the job, though, so it is mostly a matter of aesthetics.
The turntable is not very forgiving of worn, scratched-up vinyl, but put on a halfway-decent record the sound is fantastic. The AT-95E cartridge is found on a lot of inexpensive turntables, and I've never heard it sound as rich, warm and detailed as it is on the RT81. The built-in phono preamp seems to be of quite good quality. If your receiver has a phono preamp, I would try them both to see which sounds best.
When I thought of how to sum up the turntable, it was "musical," which is a very high compliment in the world of audiophiles. When you play a record, the music comes through and it is pleasing and satisfying. The Fluance RT81 looks great, sounds great and is sure to find many admirers with its reasonable price.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.