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


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.


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:

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