Now over thirty years old, the Michell GyroDec has become a great British vinyl icon. When launched in 1981, it was one of the very first ‘skeletal’ designs with a vestigial sandblasted aluminium chassis rather than a conventional wooden plinth. This, along with its five gold plated brass weights suspended from the platter (to give a gyroscope effect), and the beautiful Perspex base and cover, gave the deck striking looks that seemed more twenty-first century than twentieth. Not entirely surprising perhaps, because designer John Michell was involved with making props for one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, 2001: A Space Odyssey, from which the Gyro gets its inspiration.
Since its inception, the turntable has been constantly refined – modifications have included a new bearing, acrylic platter, off board motor, a switch from AC synchronous to DC motors and minor tweaks to the springs and arm plate mountings. But surely the largest change to this illustrious and beautiful record player came in 2001 when designer John Michell announced the Spider, removing the standard deck’s large and resonant Perspex base and lid from the equation and transforming the sound at a stroke.
By dropping all that exquisite Danish acrylic, £200 was knocked off the asking price, taking the deck right down to £775 in 2001, only slightly more expensive in cash terms than the original Gyro from twenty years earlier, and far cheaper in real terms. Aside from removing the plinth, no corners were cut. The chassis holds the excellent inverted bearing, with its own built-in oil pump running Mobil One full synthetic oil. On this sits the acrylic platter, from which gold plated brass weights are suspended to add mass. This is driven via a long rubber belt by a high quality DC motor housed in a large billet of aluminium. Rather than being mounted to the deck itself, this sits directly on the equipment support.
The chassis rests on three height-adjustable springs mounted to the base. In the ‘classic’ version of the GyroDec, which is still available, this is a full size affair with a dustcover and comes in a variety of finishes. The Spider Edition does away with all this, using a simple glass clear acrylic ‘spider’ to hold the deck’s feet and suspension mounting points instead. Finally, all Gyros come with aluminium armplates, custom machined for the user’s choice of tonearm. These are designed so that, together with the arm, the total mass is a constant one kilogram. To offset this, the underside of the Gyro chassis carries lead balancing weights, meaning the subchassis is always in perfect balance whatever arm is used. In this way, that three-point suspension can do its job properly.
Offboard motor aside, the original Gyro SE brought two further upgrades. First was a 40VA power transformer, which was a considerable improvement on the previous 10VA ‘wall wart’. This is just as well, because before its introduction there was a yawning chasm between the standard PSU and the £399 Gyropower QC. (The latter used a huge 100VA toroidal transformer and extensively regulated quartz synthesised circuitry for a clean power feed.) Second was the new spring assembly which offered considerably better isolation and easier adjustment. This upgrade was also retrofittable for around £40. Finally, should Spider owners decide they couldn’t live without a conventional base and cover, it could be converted to a classic GyroDec for approximately £200.
Setting up is a breeze because all the Spider’s bits are there for the eye to see. It’s simply a matter of taking each component part out of the box and fitting it together, Meccano style. First, screw the three feet to the spider’s underside, and fit the three spring assemblies to the top. Then fit your arm to its mounting plate, and bolt the plate to the chassis with the Allen key provided. The bearing assembly screws in from underneath, and then the whole chassis goes over the motor onto the base. Then fit the platter to the bearing top, level it using the spring adjusters, plug the motor into its power supply, fit the belt and you’re away!
Simple enough, but there’s still a way to go to get it to give of its best. First, a decent support is essential. Second, ensure it’s dead level – you can see how the Gyro’s springs float better when it’s sat perfectly true. Third, the spring adjusters not only set the chassis height but also its alignment relative to the motor. The latter is critical and should be set for the most fluid bounce possible, a process which can take a good ten minutes to do properly. Finally, arm lead dressing has to be done carefully. It’s easy to set up a Gyro well, but a bit of a black art to set it up very well – practice makes perfect!
Even with a basic arm and cartridge combination, first impressions are very positive. The Gyro SE has an clean, open and even sound with remarkably few vices. Bass is fast, firm and extended yet largely lacking in coloration or lumpiness. The midband is a treat, with Cinemascopic stereo imaging, huge levels of low-level detail, neutral tonality and strong, if not peerless, dynamics. Treble is glass clear, with bell-like harmonics and excellent extension. By any standards, let alone those of rival turntables, it’s an accomplished performer.
Whether it’s a classic Karajan recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony to the pounding drum’n’bass of LTJ Bukem, the GyroDec SE always sounds sweet, open and extended. In absolute terms, it’s a little tonally warm, but is still neutral enough to showcase the distinct differences between, say, a nineteen seventies Stax recording and a nineteen eighties one done at The Power House. It’s also ever-so-slightly pitch-unstable; you’d never know it unless you listen the very best high end decks though, such as its bigger brother the Orbe which sounds gutsier and more confident. By the standards of a Rega the Gyro is rock-solid, but spend twice its retail price and you’re get a more secure soundstage and greater confidence with piano music, for example.
The great thing about the GyroDec SE is that it gives a performance that’s very close to real high end vinyl esoterica, at a price that’s closer to a Rega P3-24. That makes it cracking value, and it’s not just the super sound that seduces – Michell decks are superlatively well built and finished, as well as being pieces of art in themselves.