Garrard SP25

By the time this hugely popular record player was first launched in 1967, Garrard had been a turntable specialist for nearly half a century. The provenance goes way back in 1721, when Garrard and Company was appointed Crown Jewellers of London, tasked to take care of the British Crown Jewels and Royal Crown. Because of its unsurpassed reputation for craftsmanship, the company found itself making precision rangefinders for the British Army at the start of World War 1, and this took it into pastures new. The end of the Great War saw the start of production of lathes and tools, and then spring-wound motors for the (then) new-fangled gramophones.

From this point, the marque never looked back. The premises were switched from London to Swindon, because of a surfeit of skilled engineering apprentices from the Great Western Railway Company, and the motor was refined. Some say its “Super” Gramophone motor was one of the best spring motors ever made. In 1928, electrical motors began to be developed, and by 1930 the company had its first record player. The 201 was Garrard’s first premium turntable and used a bespoke direct drive motor; it duly found a home at the BBC and other professional installations. Just like the SP25 that followed over thirty five years later, it had four speeds; 16, 331/3, 45 and 78RPM.

After the end of the Second World War in 1945, the connection with the jewellery division was lost, and Garrard pushed ever harder into turntables – with the 301 surfacing in 1954 and laying claim to the mantle of the best turntable in the world. At the more affordable end of the market, the Autoslim series began in 1959. This was after a major fire which forced the company to borrow factory space from nearby Plessey Company Ltd. Garrard became part of the Plessey Group soon after, and this was really the beginning of the ‘modern’ age, as we know it, for the company.

The mid-nineteen sixties was a prolific time for the company. After its second greatest ever design – the 401 – arrived in 1965 the first SP25 surfaced. Like the flagship Garrard it too was idler drive, but sadly a little too much of the 16W motor’s torque was transmitted into the LP record itself via the mazak platter topped by a thin rubber mat with metal trim ring, making it sound agricultural by modern standards, but there was no denying it was a solid machine that could withstand serious abuse. It was the first rung on the hi-fi ladder; although humble it was not regarded as a toy. It sported what was regarded as essential at the time for a product of its type – semi-automatic operation.

Despite having automatic stop which invariably sullies the sound of a tonearm, Garrard did attempt to do a decent pickup on the SP25. Its straight-pipe, aluminium tubed tonearm was better than many price rivals of the day, and was adjustable for both tracking weight and bias. The company had obviously thought about its design because it even had an underslung counterweight, an idea that resurfaced on the SME Series V two decades later! The arm’s friction was such that it wasn’t particularly happy tracking at less than around 2.5g, which precluded it from the generation of high compliance moving magnets – such as the Shure M75 ED2 – which were to arrive a few years later.

The deck was refined over the years, but in truth, all the SP25s from the first to the fourth (which surfaced in 1974) were largely the same. The mk1 and mk2 were semi-automatic designs, whereas from the mk3 fully automatic operation was standard. There were various minor stylistic changes too, and the tonearm received some revisions; the first two incarnations of the SP25 had detachable headshells whereas after this Garrard used a fixed shell with a detachable slider. This was designed with convenience in mind, and certainly wasn’t as good from a sound quality point of view as the SME types that many rivals began to adopt. From the mk5, launched in 1975, it got a J-shaped armtube and rounded underslung counterweight, presumably in a bid to make it look more contemporaneous with the then mighty Pioneer PL-12D and its ilk. In truth, this arm was less impressively made than the earlier variants.

The other key change to the SP25 was the drive system. Let’s not forget that Garrard was highly accomplished at making motors, and all SP25s up to and including the mk4 got idler drive. When new and working properly this was decently speed-stable and gave a gutsy, powerful sound that wasn’t too dissimilar to the new generation of direct drives, aside from being a little less slick and quiet in operation. The mk5, again following the PL-12D, acquired belt drive, and like its tonearm it wasn’t a runaway success. It was a little quieter and more refined in operation, but for many the mk4 sounded better. From the SP25/IV onwards the plinth was more swish with the then obligatory smoked dustcover, whereas earlier variants had been clear.

In a bid to keep up with the times, by 1977 Garrard knew that it needed a range of hi-fi turntables that placed more emphasis on sound and style, and less on convenience. Whilst the rest of the turntable world was betting either on direct drive or belt drive, its new range offered a choice of both! The GT20, 25 and 35 offered belt drive in a choice of fully manual, semi auto or fully automatic guises; the DD130, 131 and 132 was the same but with direct drive. Although good, neither range could match the onslaught from the Japanese, and the company began to fall into financial trouble. The SP25/V was summarily dropped, and then Garrard was sold to Gradiente Electronica of Brazil in 1979. At the time it came as a shock that a brand as strong as Garrard could fail, just years after having some of the best selling products in the market. Such was the pace of change in the nineteen seventies hi-fi market.

Garrard SP25s are not great sounding decks, but they are cheap and have real period charm. If you can find a well preserved one, especially with the rubber tipped idler wheel in good original condition, then you’ll be able to enjoy the gutsy, upfront sound that they offer. So much about the SP25 is down to the cartridge fitted; the arm isn’t good enough for a finely balanced, high compliance elliptical design, so you’re best using the pickup that was so often supplied when new – a Goldring G800 or G850. With tracking weights of 3 grammes they’re not going to be put off by the highish friction (in modern terms) of those massy pickup arms. Other good matches include the Shure M75/6, and the Arcam C77 if you’re really feeling adventurous.

Some people modify the SP25, usually removing the automation; indeed Garrard itself did this with the Disco Driver 80, a rather oddball offshoot of the SP25/VI. It will sound better, but make sure you don’t allow the deck to lie dormant with the idler gear engaged (i.e. ensure you don’t turn it off from the mains whilst still in play mode) because you could flat-spot the idler wheel. Carefully set-up in a decent plinth and correctly lubed and fitted with a decent – but mechanically compatible – cartridge, the deck will sound powerful, musical and full of energy and drive. Poorly preserved and/or stored, it will have chronic wow and flutter problems, and lots of rumble too – so choose carefully!

Garrard SP25:V


  1. Ian / Eastbourne

    The turntable so many of us started off with and in some respects an “unsung hero”. Mine worked very well with Shure M75EJ, Ortofon FF15EII, and Grado FCE+1 carts. The slide-in carrier was a pain though often losing one channel.. Great article.

  2. Duncan

    No mention of the MKVI which was my first deck back in 1979. At £50 it was less than any of the Japanese ones. The boxed still said it was made in the UK by Plessey, A shame that first one new from the shop didn’t work and on it’s replacement the cartridge slide contacts were quite unreliable.

  3. John Foreman

    Bought one (Mk II) when at Uni in 1971 lasted me for 20years til my divorce in ’91. She got to keep it 😦

  4. Rich C.

    The SP25 Mk VI (6) mentioned by Duncan, that is simply labelled ‘Garrard Belt Drive’ on the right-front of the main chassis of the unit, barely ever seems to get a mention period, let alone on here.

    Though the Mk VI was/is more of a ‘budget’ deck that was available in several different permutations; i.e, as a full deck/plinth package complete with hinged dust cover, part of a ‘console’-type music centre typical of the 70s era, or as a standalone deck-only option to be installed in a DIY/custom-built plinth/console or retro-fitted to a lower-to-mid-range music centre or a budget record player/stereo amplifier ‘combo’ unit. These also came pre-installed in some of the more affordable disco units of the time. This deck was/is quite a flexible workhorse and though not quite in the same league as the likes of the 301, this particular offering don’t actually sound too bad, provided it is fitted with a decent (magnetic) pick-up, of course.

    The auto-start operation of the Mk VI is much more simplified compared to its immediate predecessor, the Mk V (5), where as the record size selection is ganged together with the speed selector knob (on the left-front), so when auto start is activated when the speed is set to 33, the arm/stylus sets down on the run-in position of a typical LP record of 12 inches in diameter , and when set to 45, sets down on the run-in position of a typical 7 inch ‘single’.

    When playing such records of conflicting sizes and speeds, such as 7” records that are intended to be played at 33 (e.g, a small number of EPs) and 12” records that are intended to be played at 45 (e.g, most UK 12” singles), they will need to be started manually. Same also applies to records of lesser-common sizes (6”, 10”, etc) and are 33 or 45 rpm. Nevertheless the auto-return cycle at the end of each record side will still function normally, provided the record being played has a standard end-of-side run-out.

    I suppose the (fully-manual) Disco Driver 80 variant briefly mentioned above could technically be regarded (unofficially) as the SP 25 Mk VII (7).

    Sorry for the long rambling.
    Have a great week, R. C.

  5. Paul blissett


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