Listening #201: the Buddha Bearing

This is a story about a $1375 commercial turntable accessory and a free tweak—the latter discovered while installing the former, although the two things exist quite independently of one another.

Here's how it all went down: Earlier this year, I was sent a review sample of a perfectionist-quality platter bearing called the Buddha Bearing, intended for Garrard 301 and 401 turntables (footnote 1). I was happy to receive such an interesting product but slow in trying it, partly because my record player sounded so good at the time that I didn't want to go tearing it all apart, and partly because there were other review samples in line ahead of the Buddha Bearing. But after a while an empty Sunday morning presented itself, and I set about removing my vintage 301 from its homemade plinth and exchanging its original grease bearing—which must be partly disassembled, in situ, prior to removal—for the Buddha: a slightly messy and time-consuming job.

I bolted the new bearing into place and put everything back together just as it had been, taking care to stoutly tighten the bolts that hold the 301 to its wooden plinth—bolts I'd noticed were less than stoutly tight when I began this project. I played a record I'd listened to earlier that morning—Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra's recording of Strauss's Metamorphosen (UK Columbia SAX-2437)— and was bothered and bewildered: Some elements of the sound were better, not least an improvement in speed stability—something I hadn't realized needed improving till it happened. But overall, I wasn't happy: The music didn't hold my attention the way it had earlier in the day. Melodies didn't flow, lines of notes lacked momentum. And LP surface noise was more annoying than it had seemed to be before the change: What was up with that?

I turned off the player and sat down to think, and before long it dawned on me that I was committing the commonest of all reviewer errors: attempting to evaluate not just one change to my system but two—in this case, the change wrought by the new bearing and the change brought about by tightening fasteners that had previously been only tight enough to not rattle.1

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A Garrard 301 grips its surroundings via four downward-pointing bolts that pass through its diecast aluminum chassis into the plinth or tabletop below. Threaded inserts for those bolts often feature in the plinths made by talented woodworkers, but I'm not one of them, so I make do by securing the mounting bolts with old-fashioned hex nuts—a tricky procedure that requires elevating the plinth, using a modified socket wrench to insert each nut through a longish vertical tunnel (my plinth is much thicker than the bolts are long), and making however many successive attempts are required before the threads engage. It's a complete pain in the ass, but it must be done—and so I did it.

I not only loosened and then gently retightened the mounting bolts, but I again removed the chassis from the plinth so I could redo the three bolts and nuts that secure the bearing to the chassis. It occurred to me that I had probably overtightened them, too.

While working on the mounting bolts, I paid attention to the gap between the 301's chassis and the plinth. I noticed for the first time that, when the bolts were overtightened, the chassis was stressed to the point of very slight deformation. I wondered if the same would be true of the fit between the chassis and the platter bearing, or of other part-to-part joints in the player.

With the above-mentioned bolts now snug but not so tight that critical parts were stressed, I listened once again and heard a surprising difference for the better. The sound was now utterly captivating, in a manner and to an extent that was well beyond my expectations. Instrumental sounds were bigger and more colorful than ever, and lines of notes flowed naturally and compellingly. Now it was clear that the Buddha Bearing allowed sustained notes a freedom from wavering far greater than I'd heard before, a clearly audible, anyone-could-hear-it difference.

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But I was still evaluating two things at once. So, as much as I didn't want to, I once again took everything apart, reinstalled my Garrard's original grease bearing, and reassembled the player so that the fasteners were sanely snug but not overtightened to the point of deformation. The player sounded absolutely lovely but it clearly missed the speed stability brought to it by the Buddha bearing—that and a good helping of the spatial presence I'd enjoyed just moments before.

And then—you guessed it—I did it all over again, once again installing the Buddha Bearing in place of the Garrard original, once again making sure the bolts weren't overly tight. And once again I heard the best, biggest, meatiest, most stable sound ever from my Garrard 301—a fitting reward, given that I had now disassembled and reassembled my record player no fewer than four times in the same day.

Ground round
The Buddha Bearing, which is manufactured in Thailand, is just as fat as its name implies: Its polished spindle, made from austenitic stainless steel, has a diameter of 19mm—considerably greater than the 12.2mm diameter of the stock Garrard bearing. Also in contrast with the original 301 grease bearing, in which a flat-bottomed spindle rides on a flat thrust plate, the bottom of the Buddha's spindle is rounded, in the manner of the single-point bearing of the Linn LP12: It appears hemispherical, although the manufacturer says its shape is in fact very slightly bullet-like, its point helping to locate the bearing. The Buddha's thrust surface, which is integral to the bearing well, is itself hemispherical, and a bit larger than the bottom of the spindle.

Through email exchanges with its manufacturer, I came to understand that the Buddha Bearing is all about tolerances—very tight tolerances, far tighter than in the original Garrard bearing. In each Buddha Bearing, the steel-alloy spindle and its bronze well are matched to one another, machined, and polished for a fit that's on a razor's-edge border between too tight (the point where friction intrudes) and too loose (the point where microvibrations intrude upon playback quality). I was told that the spindle and well materials are carefully selected to work in unison: Their mechanical impedances ensure that shockwaves will readily transfer from the spindle to the well, but not back again.

Remarkably, the Buddha Bearing doesn't use bushings—those polymer or soft-bronze liners that are common in other bearings, including all of the bearings originally fitted to Garrard 301 and 401 motor units: its uncanny tightness is achieved through many hours of honing, hand-fitting each spindle to its individual well. But the Buddha does require a carefully chosen lubricant. The gap between its spindle and well is so small that too thick an oil can affect platter speed and speed stability—and in climes where otherwise useable lubricants can become too viscous, substitutions must be made. My review sample came with a vial of 40-weight motorcycle-engine oil, but the manufacturer suggested that common 3-in-One household oil is actually a good lower-viscosity substitute—and perhaps a good choice for an unbroken-in bearing during a typical upstate New York winter. (I have remained loyal to the 40-weight, although I noticed that, after a 10-day stretch during which my record player remained unused, the Garrard ran slightly slow for the first 30 minutes of use—and this in late spring!)

My review sample also came with a cleaning brush and instructions on putting it to use: Even though the Buddha Bearing gets a thorough cleaning at the factory prior to being shipped, the manufacturer suggests a final, pre-use wash with warm water and dishwashing liquid, and a thorough air-drying. Then, after the well has been bolted into place and the turntable is back in its plinth, the user adds two or three drops of oil to the bottom of the well, runs a thin line of oil down the length of the spindle, and inserts the spindle into the well with a gentle twisting motion. The fit is surprising tight at first, yet once the spindle approaches its correct position, it rotates with a firm yet utterly smooth feel that I've not experienced from another phonograph bearing, save perhaps the much slimmer platter bearing on the original Roksan Xerxes turntable. (The Buddha Bearing also encourages this comparison in its use of a removable spindle cap, machined from pernambuco wood, to minimize contact between the record and the spindle—an idea that originated with Roksan founder Touraj Moghaddam.)


Footnote 1: Buddha Bearings/Thai-Scandinavian Engineering Services. US distributor: Robyatt Audio. Tel: (866) 576-3912. Web: robyattaudio.com.
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
volvic's picture

I used to own an idler turntable; a Thorens TD-124. It was beautifully built and had a big sound that was quite addictive, but it was very capricious in how it functioned from week to week. While the bearing was well made and of high precision, it was never designed for low noise and that in the end was why I got rid of it; the TD-124 was never designed for vertical vibration because mono cartridges were not sensitive to it. I realized that too late after I got it and judging by how many TD-124's I see on the second hand market, perhaps I am not alone. To have improved the table to modern standards would have cost quite a handsome amount, especially if I was going to order parts from Schopper. I read Mr. Dudley's review and thought the same thing, although I have never owned a Garrard, I would assume it's pure idler design vs. the TD-124's hybird design might lend it to becoming quieter for a smaller cash outlay than the Thorens required. I will be interested to see what improvements SME makes with the Garrard and what parts of the table they will improve to bring it to a modern level of performance required today. I still lust after one.

On the topic of tightening, Linn used to always say "Linn tight" I always ignored them when working on my LP-12 - initially because of the stress it created on the parts, but also my firm belief that too much was simply not necessary for any sonic benefit. Glad I am not alone.

Anton's picture

It would be cool to see before and after rumble and wow/flutter data!

volvic's picture

Where's Tony Kaz? These are perfect opportunities for him to ramble about the disadvantages of vinyl ownership and he seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.

rschryer's picture

...performing a Sunset Ceremony at the Venice Fl. Drum Circle.

He looked peaceful.

(Or maybe I had too much to dream that night?)

:-)

volvic's picture

The rare times when I get ten hours, reality and dreamscape seem to merge into one. I suspect the same Mr. Schryer. But if true, sounds like Tony is in a good place.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Tony is also, one of the selections for the recently announced DWTS :-) .........

rschryer's picture

Dancing With The Audiophiles.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Dancing for the song .......

"Put your Records On" .......... Corinne Bailey Rae :-) .......

Anton's picture

Audiophiles dance alone in their audiophile rooms.

Ortofan's picture

... compare the effects of using purple or blue Loctite liquid threadlocker on the various mounting hardware.

That, and maybe try Valvoline VR1 40-weight racing oil in the bearing.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Racing oil? ...... Is it fully-hydrogenated oil, or partially-hydrogenated oil, or non-hydrogenated oil? ...... Just kidding :-) ..........

FredisDead's picture

I have both a heavily modified TD124 and 301 with after-market bearings.. On my Garrard, I went with the SMD brass bearing and platter. They are readily available from either Shaun at Peak HiFi or Ray of ClassicHiFi in the UK. It would be nice if Art would try them but they are only part of the process toward optimizing a 301. There is tuning involved. Plinth, footers, idler, bearing, platter, and choice of arm/cartridge all come into play. As much as I love Art, I think his tendency to stick with the same bayonet mount arm and collection of cartridges is an impediment, as are his choice of plinth, rack, and lack of top quality footers. Art would say he can't analyze a single part while changing others. While understood, he could work his way towards integrating these improvements. But at the end of the day, I don't care a bit. I don't need Art or anyone else at Stereophile to confirm what I already believe to be true.

volvic's picture

Hello FredisDead, just curious could you share how modified your TD-124 is, what you did and including the cost of the table how much do you think in total the mod's cost? Curious also for the 301. Which do you prefer?
cheers
Nick

FredisDead's picture

My TD124 was modified by Greg Metz of classicthorens.com and I can not recommend him highly enough. He is meticulous about rebuilding the motor and stripping down the chassis to the bare metal and then restoration to better than new condition with new paint and new parts that are up to you but include an audiosilente idler, new custom designed ball-on-ball bearing and super heavy duty platter. Granted, the last time I traded email with him he mentioned that he was no longer stocking the custom bearing but that was six months ago and I would be shocked if he does not have a far superior custom main bearing to offer. He supplied the plinth to my TD124 too and though it looks very nice, it is NOT the high mass huge plinth one sees with many TD124's and Garrard 301's. Greg went to Switzerland to study with one of Thorens' chief design engineers and is of the mindset that unlike Garrard 301s/401's, the TD124 sounds better with a low mass plinth. Again, a matter of tuning. My 124 has a 12" Reed 3P Cocobolo mounted. To accommodate the very tall platter (unlike the very low profile OEM platter), Greg had a custom machined alloy disc that perfectly matches the base of the Reed 3P to elevate it sufficiently for suitable VTA adjustment. If you go to Audiogon and look for me under Fsonicsmith you can see photos of my two turntables.
My Garrard 301 is a mint early grease bearing that I again had heavily modified with the above referenced SMD solid brass bearing and platter and Ray of Classic HiFi's matching speed control unit with a monster sized cocobolo veneered plinth built by Russ Collinson of Layers of Beauty in the UK. It has a 10" Reed 3P mounted. I have Stillpoints Ultra SS footers under the LoB plinth on the Garrard.
Confession of sorts-before I added the solid brass SMD platter and instead had the SMD brass bearing with the far-lighter OEM 301 platter, the two decks sounded markedly different. Now that both the TD124 and the 301 have high-mass platters, their sound signatures have largely converged and seem to depend more on the cartridge mounted. Prior to the solid brass platter being added to the 301, the sound was livelier/punchier at the expense of the sound floor/blackness between tracks. Frankly, I might play around with replacing the solid brass platter with the OEM from time to time. I love both decks and love the Garrard with both platters.
When it comes to tuning the Garrard 301, there is-imho-no better expert than Steve Dobbins of Xact Audio in Idaho. Steve gave me the hint that the Garrard 301 with Reed 3P loves the VdH Crimson Strad.
Hope that helps.

volvic's picture

That is where I got my Thorens from as well, Greg was super, I did the Audiosilente idler and the spring mount for the motor. I believe the reason he no longer stocks those long bearings is that the machinist was less than consistent in his delivery times, so perhaps that partnership fell through. I agree about Greg, cannot speak highly of him, if you want a TD-124, he's the man. I just decided to go a different route and happy I did. Yes, I have seen your turntables and they are absolutely magnificent. Cheers and thanks for the info.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

AD is the 'Man in Tights' :-) ........

rockdc's picture

Hopefully this is not a catastrophe like the aftermarket bearing sold several years ago by a vendor on the Lenco Heaven forum ; looks very very similar. Super tight tolerances, highly polished, and a round spindle end in a round housing; no bushing. And, proprietary lube.....
Many buyers lost substantial money when the designer failed to stand behind his defective design, or in many cases, failed to deliver after pre payment. Mine, and others quickly wore in a very interesting manner and became unusable. We then found the designer became combative on the forum, and was unwilling or unable to stand behind his warranty or deliver pre paid bearings, so I was out 6 or 700 dollars, as were many other Lenco folks.

Anton's picture

Art said he's keeping this bearing, so we will get perfect feedback about its performance over time.

He's the perfect guy for this.

dial's picture

For this price, get a turntable with tonearm and cartridge and buy some Mofi or classic records !

Ortofan's picture

... Technics SL-1500C, complete with cartridge and built-in phono preamp.
https://www.whathifi.com/us/reviews/technics-sl-1500c

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Check-out the Fluance Audio sweepstakes, turntable + powered speakers bundle for $400, at the S&V magazine website :-) ..........

jimtavegia's picture

own complete turntables or tonearms that are less than just this bearing. I guess many of us are truly missing sonic bliss. I don't even own a cartridge that is close to the price of this bearing. I'll just have to go off and cry in my bottle of Deer Park.

Oliver A.'s picture

The in-text link to the Buddha Bearing at Robyatt audio isn't working; in fact, they don't even offer the bearing on their website. Any ideas where to buy?

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