Belt vs Idler vs DD - Solid vs Suspended - How Would You Describe the differences.

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
Yes, I get there is almost a religious level of passion between fans of all these types of tables. Now, accepting that 1) we all have our preferences, and 2) each one can provide truly astonishing levels of performance, how would you describe the differences to a neophyte record lover. And no, I don’t mean some version of “what I like is great, and the rest sucks”. We all know that just isn’t the case. What I’m more interested in is some version of: “I prefer this, because of __________ reason, and here’s the difference I hear compared to the others.”

I know this would be an impossible discussion anywhere else in the online world, but this is the Haven! Plus, I’m truly interested in WHY you guys pick what you prefer.
 
My personal opinion is that there are far fewer differences between them than commonly thought (at least between direct drives and belt drives, not sure about idlers). It’s not a case of one usually being a certain way and the other usually being a different way. To me, it has far more to do with the implementation of the drive type in question. Great direct drives and great belt drives will both sound excellent, and I think most everyone here realizes that.

I personally like direct drives more than belt drives. It’s not so much a sonic preference as it is that the turntables that most catch my attention simply tend to be direct drives. I generally prefer Japanese audio to American or British audio, not so much for sonic reasons as aesthetic ones.

I am primarily interested in vintage turntables. Modern audiophile turntables are almost exclusively belt drive, save for some lower end options and some very high end options. There is a good variety of vintage turntables of both types, and the higher end Japanese models tend to be direct drives.

With belt drive turntables, you have a belt to worry about, which needs to be replaced at some point. You also have two bearings, that of the motor and that of the platter. With direct drive turntables, you only have one bearing, but you almost always have more complex electronics that can be more prone to failure.
 
Well who should I take advice from, I do not know?

The first party that claims that the mid-wheel players are the only acceptable thing in the hi-fi context, they provide a force that creates dynamics in the reproduction, thanks to the hard control that exists between the motor and the platter.

The second party who claims that the only blessed solution is belt drive, it is a silent transmission, with outstanding interference from "internal" interference. Internal refers to those that come from the motor and drive.

The third party that insists that direct drive is blissful, it combines the benefits of the power available in the mid-wheel drive with the interference distance of the belt drives.

Probably just to choose one of the three above constructions first and then try them all out ,one at a time and try to listen to what you think is" best", it is at your home,in your room, in your system it should play and only you can judge for yourself what is your optimal preference and what the differences there are, I have tried them all, and all of the above drive systems have its pros and cons,BUT I do not like any three point spring suspended chassies turntables with belt or string or whatever as a drive system and in the end you always get what you pay for? ( Technics SL 3310 vs JC Verdier la platine for example)
A none spring suspension turntable always needs high mass to isolate.
And what a mass loaded turntable is placed on will have a great affect on its sound.
I do not know if I answered your question in the right manner,just my thoughts on the matter!
 
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Dan ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

Peanut Head
I've owned all three types. My best idler was a 4 pole Collaro which had a decent arm and a forceful presentation to music. I've tried a few direct drives, but found they all, except one, cogging motion made the music "jittery". The one that didn't do that was a Technics 1200 Mk. IV. And I've owned three belt drives of varying degrees. A Dual, which was a decent player, but had problems. An AR which usually was good, but it too had a variety of problems. And a SOTA, which I currently have owned for several years now. It has a 24 pole AC motor in it with rock solid speed stability. Never had a belt fail or like the others, or give me problems and after an arm upgrade to a Rega RB-330, feel it is as good or better as any player in it's price group. :)

DSCN477.jpgDSCN0300.JPG100_0195.JPG
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I've long said that the discussion should be great tables vs lesser tables, not drive type vs drive type...as I've heard examples of all that were incredible, and examples of all that were lackluster. That said...

Good Traits that stood out across drive types:

Belt Drive/Suspended: Seemed to 'float' an image in the room better than the others. Subjective removal of itself from the music.

Belt Drive/Non suspended: Not much that a quality DD didn't do better, IMHO.

Idler: Rhythmic/pacing quality of the bass.

Direct Drive: Fluid-like, neutral, almost master tape, quality (on the better ones).

Bad traits that stood out across drive types:

Belt Drive Suspended: Suspension headaches. Needs careful isolation. Lesser ones sounded a bit behind the beat.

Belt Drive/Non suspended: Seemed a kind of worst of all worlds approach, and felt to me in some examples like an excuse to pass off a cheap way to do things as sonically superior.

Idler: Could never get as low of a noise floor as I wanted, rumble even in a fully restored STS modified TD-124, imaging was... overblown (?).

Direct Drive: Lesser ones sounded sterile, flat. Some had a slight grainy haze to the sound.

--

My favorite and, in my opinion best sounding table is a suspended Belt Drive (Merrill/AR ES-1). But some of the ones I liked the least were also in the same category (Systemdek IIX).

My second favorite is a direct drive, Sony TTS-8000. Sounds more like the above than it sounds like some other direct drives...so are we worrying about the wrong thing here? I think we are.

My biggest disappointment was an idler... TD-124. Just not my cup of whatever. I felt what yougained you also could get with a really top-flight DD, and what you lost made the point moot.

just my opinionated opinions...YMMV
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I've long said that the discussion should be great tables vs lesser tables, not drive type vs drive type...as I've heard examples of all that were incredible, and examples of all that were lackluster. That said...

Good Traits that stood out across drive types:

Belt Drive/Suspended: Seemed to 'float' an image in the room better than the others. Subjective removal of itself from the music.

Belt Drive/Non suspended: Not much that a quality DD didn't do better, IMHO.

Idler: Rhythmic/pacing quality of the bass.

Direct Drive: Fluid-like, neutral, almost master tape, quality (on the better ones).

Bad traits that stood out across drive types:

Belt Drive Suspended: Suspension headaches. Needs careful isolation. Lesser ones sounded a bit behind the beat.

Belt Drive/Non suspended: Seemed a kind of worst of all worlds approach, and felt to me in some examples like an excuse to pass off a cheap way to do things as sonically superior.

Idler: Could never get as low of a noise floor as I wanted, rumble even in a fully restored STS modified TD-124, imaging was... overblown (?).

Direct Drive: Lesser ones sounded sterile, flat. Some had a slight grainy haze to the sound.

--

My favorite and, in my opinion best sounding table is a suspended Belt Drive (Merrill/AR ES-1). But some of the ones I liked the least were also in the same category (Systemdek IIX).

My second favorite is a direct drive, Sony TTS-8000. Sounds more like the above than it sounds like some other direct drives...so are we worrying about the wrong thing here? I think we are.

My biggest disappointment was an idler... TD-124. Just not my cup of whatever. I felt what yougained you also could get with a really top-flight DD, and what you lost made the point moot.

just my opinionated opinions...YMMV
 
An interesting approach is the Reed turntables ( two motor unit) with the possibility to chose between belt or rim drive as both systems are incorporated in the construction, just flip one for the other ,and you can have your cake and it it to?
,reed a.jpegreed b.jpeg

PS this one is on my "wish list"!
 
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je2a3

Senior Member
Here's my turntable history:

Early 80s

After a brief fling with a Dual CS505-1, I spotted an ARXA in a NYC thrift shop for $20 which I later modified to accommodate a Grace G707.

Mid 80s

I found an ARXB that seemed suitable for a full blown Merrill modification program which I found in the back pages of Audio magazine. The mods include: acrylic sub-chassis drilled for a Sumiko FT-3 with VTA-16 base, upgraded bearing, higher torque motor, stiffer springs, balanced/lead coated outer platter, SOTA acrylic mat and reflex clamp + Grado Signature 8MR. It wasn't shamed by a contemporary Linn LP12. Everything @JohnVF said about his AR/Merrill applicable here. The only thing which bothered me was pitch instability in sustained piano chords.


I'd take long walks to Books Kinokuniya NYC when taking breaks from the practice room. Even in the late 80s, EMT927s, Garrard 301s and Thorens TD124 were in the pages Stereo Sound Magazine. Since the classrooms at Juilliard were equipped with TD124s, I was familiar with it. So when I chanced upon a TD124 Mk. II at Cosmophonic Sounds on the upper east side for $50, I grabbed it. After installing a Sumiko MMT, no more pitch instability. It was also a more powerful and dynamic sound. But I was too ashamed to admit my discovery to my audio buddies. ;) Unfortunately I can't find a contemporary picture of my first MkII, the TD124 pictured was my second. I got this in an estate sale for $1 with an SMG212 which I foolishly sold later at a ham fest just for cosmetic reasons. :( Admittedly, the TD124 is a complex machine to maintain and tiny imperfections in the idler wheel turns it to a steam locomotive. An Audio Silente idler wheel solved that issue for me.

The 90s and beyond

In spite of my emotional attachment to the TD124 and MkII, the Garrard 301 and 401 are slightly better technically and musically.


Since '80s audiophile magazines (TAS, Stereophile, HFNRR, etc.) were touting belt-drive, I didn't have much experience with direct drive turntables. So when I returned to the US in 2016 I started hunting for DD turntables. My ears had a slight preference for AC over DC direct drive motors. This Sony TTS2500 emerged as my favorite even if it was lacking that last bit of organic sound I get out of the Garrard 301/401 and Thorens TD124.

Just my honest opinion and experience, no flames intended.😊
 

marantzfan

Administrator
Staff member
I agree with @JohnVF and @je2a3 for the most part. I really think if you are looking for bang for the buck, a nice DD table is where its at. Do they look as cool as a Thorens TD-124 or Garrard 301/401? No, but to me the sound is pretty close.

I owned an Linn LP12 for a while that I really enjoyed but it certainly was not cheap to get it to a similar level of performance as my Kenwood KD-750 direct drive table. I'l probably put it in the least bang for the buck category.

My takeaway so far in this thread is that I need to pay more attention to Sony direct drive tables. :)
 

prime minister

Site Owner
Staff member
I agree with @JohnVF and @je2a3 for the most part. I really think if you are looking for bang for the buck, a nice DD table is where its at. Do they look as cool as a Thorens TD-124 or Garrard 301/401? No, but to me the sound is pretty close.

I owned an Linn LP12 for a while that I really enjoyed but it certainly was not cheap to get it to a similar level of performance as my Kenwood KD-750 direct drive table. I'l probably put it in the least bang for the buck category.

My takeaway so far in this thread is that I need to pay more attention to Sony direct drive tables. :)
Or, the takeaway is that you've already got a really great Kenwood table.
 

S0und Dragon

Moderator and Circus Hand.
Staff member
Out of the 3 types of decks being compared. I will say that when properly sorted, There is not that much daylight between them. For me, it comes down to how much effort one puts in to getting them sorted out. The effort has mostly gained me sonic dividends. But I readily confess that Idlers take a bit more to sort out.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
Yes, there are certainly differences, gradually diminishing the farther one climbs the totem pole. I have one of each in a system at the moment so no one can accuse me of being a turntable bigot. ;) I'm going to give my two sets of impressions; one for the high end decks and another for the "average". I can of course only speak in reference to the tables I've owned or heard very often.

Direct drive - On the high end (like my Denon DP-80) - very smooth and refined, black background, strong sense of pace and "slam". Average - excellent pitch stability, tendency to be a bit "sterile" and less-than-engaging presentation. Super convenience and low maintenance is a plus.

Belt drive - On the high end - not dissimilar to my description of top end DD, but not quite the same level of absolute pitch sense. Belts can be problematic and suspensions even more so. Of the belt drive tables I've owned I prefer the more open, less restrained presentation of the suspended tables.

Idler drives - I've not had that many of this type, mainly a few Dual and Garrard models with the exception of the Rek-O-Kut B-12H. The old-standard Dual 1219 may not be the be-all and end-all of tables, but it does make for a very engaging musical presentation. The Rek-O-Kut is a whole different critter - really quite rorty, but with gobs of untamed energy and timing. I've not really got into that taming yet, but I'm keeping it around to try out a few ideas on the topic. It really is pretty noisy due to the probably 60-year-old idler wheel in it, but apart from that conducting noise directly through the platter it is remarkably quiet with no audible motor vibration from the massive Ashland transmitting through the top plate to the arm.

Summed up - The direct drive is top dog here, perhaps partly because it is also the highest spec table I have by a wide margin. The DP-80 convenience and ease of use is wonderful, the results sound closer to 15 ips tape than anything. The belt drives still tend to remind me vaguely that I'm listening to vinyl in some way that trips my cues. The DD is just a ton of fun and damn the torpedoes.
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
the results sound closer to 15 ips tape than anything.
That is what surprised me about my Sony TTS-8000. My experience with DD had been a couple of early 2000s SL-1200s, some old Pioneer tables like the PL-570 and 630, a Sansui SR-929, and a Dual 721. Nice tables but each lacking...something I could never quite figure out. With the Sony there's just something uncanny about the pitch stability and flow of it, the overall character of the music just flowing out of it, unwavering, pitch correct, whatever. It just sounds -right-. Which makes me think maybe someday I'll end up with an SP-10mk3 or something. There was a slightly grainy character to the SL-1200s, it never quite got out of the sound despite sounding good. The PL-570 was a complicated mess, filled with questionable decisions inside when you invariably had to adjust something in the auto-functions. The SR-929 was super cool but also kind of lifeless in the end. But like all the drive types when you get up to the top tier, the really really good ones, you just know it. You can plainly hear that something different has been arrived at.

And that DP-80 setup of yours does sound really nice. Just a lovely table with two great arms.
 

fiddlefye

Senior Member
That is what surprised me about my Sony TTS-8000. My experience with DD had been a couple of early 2000s SL-1200s, some old Pioneer tables like the PL-570 and 630, a Sansui SR-929, and a Dual 721. Nice tables but each lacking...something I could never quite figure out. With the Sony there's just something uncanny about the pitch stability and flow of it, the overall character of the music just flowing out of it, unwavering, pitch correct, whatever. It just sounds -right-. Which makes me think maybe someday I'll end up with an SP-10mk3 or something. There was a slightly grainy character to the SL-1200s, it never quite got out of the sound despite sounding good. The PL-570 was a complicated mess, filled with questionable decisions inside when you invariably had to adjust something in the auto-functions. The SR-929 was super cool but also kind of lifeless in the end. But like all the drive types when you get up to the top tier, the really really good ones, you just know it. You can plainly hear that something different has been arrived at.

And that DP-80 setup of yours does sound really nice. Just a lovely table with two great arms.
The analogue system sounds some better than when you heard it as there were some preamp issues that have since been sorted out, dying resistors...

Yeah, the lesser DD tables all sound good, but there is that something-you-can't-put-your-finger-on going on (or not going on) that makes the experience just a bit wanting.

That TTS-8000 is a lovely drive for sure. Looking forward to you getting that up and running in the new plinth with a nice arm.
 
There was a slightly grainy character to the SL-1200s, it never quite got out of the sound despite sounding good.
I've heard the SL-1200GAE at an audio show and despite the lousy cartridge, its speed stability was excellent. (For $4K, it'd better be!) Fremer had a sample of it uploaded on Analog Planet, and it was not all that far off from the same sample recorded from his Continuum Labs rig. The G and GAE are a ground-up new design that shares only its looks with older 1200s. I would have to do some serious thinking if I were shopping for a turntable with that kind of budget, as there are others I'd be interested in.

Technics also now has a modern equivalent of the SP10, the SP10R, with the new technology, and sized exactly the same as classic SP10s (the drive unit, plus the outboard electronics box) so it can fit into existing applications. The new SP10R equivalent also comes in a version mounted in a plinth, the SL1000R, with the ability to mount two arms (using an accessory kit to add the second arm).
 
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