Heybrook TT2

Heybrook TT2By 1980 when the Heybrook TT2 came out, almost every major development in turntable design had already happened. We had got quartz-locked direct drive, but British manufacturers largely eschewed it on cost grounds. So most UK decks were variations on the Linn theme, which itself was a variation on the Thorens theme, which itself was a variant of the original AR belt-drive from decades earlier. Basically, an AC motor was used to turn the platter by a rubber belt. This was mounted on a chassis which sat inside a wooden plinth and was allowed to bounce by springs, tuned to isolate the deck from the outside world. The £195 TT2 was precisely this, an independently sprung subchassis deck in the best British tradition. What gave it its fine sound was the attention to detail shown in the design, and the fact that it was made to very high standards, with real care.

As with so many decks of the day, the plinth was constructed from laminated, high-density particle board which was said to acts as a shield from airborne vibration. Inside this was an MDF damped, box steel welded cross shaped subchassis mounted on three coil springs tuned to 5Hz; these plus rubber mounting bushes did the lion’s share of isolating the deck from the outside world. The subchassis held the bearing and armboard rigidly, and this formed a closed mechanical loop, so energy could be dissipated in a controlled way. The armboard was also laminated to add damping, but allowed a rigid platform for the arm.

The brass housed main bearing used a hardened, diamond-polished shaft running on a precision steel thrust ball, lubricated by light oil. A heavy two-piece platter was fitted to give speed stability; reputedly the first batch of 100 TT2s had black spray painted platters because the early castings had visual flaws, and the paint was used to conceal this. A precision ground drive belt circulated on the close tolerance crowned pulley, which had two steps for speed changing. The popular 24-pole AC synchronous Impex motor was used, firmly bolted to the plinth to isolate motor noise from the chassis assembly.

The TT2 didn’t sound the way it did simply because of the sum total of its parts; it was brilliantly fettled by Peter Comeau, who has some of the best ears in the hi-fi business. The company spent many hours experimenting with deck, and finessed it to a great degree. For example, the armboard ended up as two pieces of 9mm birch ply glued together; this was fixed to the subchassis by only one of the two bolts, the one nearest the bearing, while the other located the board only. This gave a slightly ‘lossy’ connection and was judged to sound best. Indeed, on the earlier steel chassis models, the second stud was cut off so it wouldn’t reach all the way through the chassis. The motor was given a sprung thrust pad which pushed against the bottom of the shaft, and the bottom of the bearing got a white nylon cup, too.

Although British manufacturers didn’t sell on specifications, the Heybrook measured well for a mid-price design. The only issue was speed stability; it was quoted at less than 0.08% (DIN, peak weighted) when most thought that it was hard to hear anything below 0.1%. That was good then, but the quartz locked direct drive Technics SL-150 of that era turned in 0.03%. Wow and flutter wasn’t – and isn’t – the sole criterion of a turntable’s sound of course; another was rumble and the TT2 measured a superb -79dB (the Technics was quoted at -78dB). It was widely praised for its performance, and unsurprisingly won a Hi-Fi Choice Recommended badge when reviewed in the 1984 edition of Turntables and Tonearms.

Like every good deck of the day, the TT2 was continually upgraded. The original version ran a fabricated steel subchassis (easily identified by the large mains switch sat beside the nameplate), but moved to a cast aluminium chassis somewhat akin to the Linn Keel (although several decades earlier, of course). This version generally has a red illuminated neon rocker switch, although the best way to tell is to look inside – mark 2 versions have a silver chassis, not a black one. The plinth was supplied with a wood veneer finish as standard but came with the option of black.

It sounds like a slightly flat, undynamic version of the Linn LP12 of that era – but considering that it cost about one half of the Scottish deck, that’s high praise indeed. It’s a smooth and warmish sound that is precisely what people think about when they talk about the romance of vinyl – whatever you play on this deck never sounds offensive. It’s always even, slightly soft perhaps, and yet furnished with a surprisingly large amount of detail, especially across the midband. The deck has a nicely warm bass, which can if set up incorrectly descend into boom. Correctly fettled it’s fairly taut and tuneful. Across the midband, the Heybrook is excellent; many think the TT2’s main bearing was just as good as the Linn’s and certainly it doesn’t suffer from a lack of detail.

Soundstaging is a strength of the TT2, and it gave the LP12 a tough time despite being so much cheaper; the Heybrook delivers a wide, spacious recorded acoustic with excellent image location – although it’s still a little two-dimensional compared to the Linn. The overall effect though is very pleasing indeed, and is further improved when the Heybrook TPS electronic speed controller is fitted. This gives instant switching between 33 and 45, plus a tighter, grippier sound that pushed it right up towards Sondek territory.

Throughout its life, the Heybrook TT2 just got better and better – but more and more expensive. Starting at £195 in 1980, by the mid eighties it was £265 when the Linn LP12 was selling at £470. When production ended in 1992, the final versions cost £469 when a Linn was close to twice that. Despite the deck’s obvious ability, it never caught on and has not become a cool classic that everyone’s talking about. Odd really, especially when you consider that the owners of these turntables seem in absolutely no rush to sell them.

The deck is generally reliable, with all the mechanical parts such as bearing, shaft, motor pulley and sub-platter (and mark 1 steel chassis) made to very good tolerances at a machine shop local to the factory. The optional TPS dedicated power supply is said to be prone to burning out a chip which is now unobtainable; if this happens it will need to be returned to original spec. Drive belts are still readily available for under £10, and would certainly benefit from renewing if they are original. While you are doing this, the sound can be improved by cleaning the path of the belt on the motor pulley and inner platter with a tape head cleaner. Expect to pay between £100 and £300, depending on condition, for a TT2. Even three decades old, they remain excellent value for money.

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