If you’re a fan of minimalist yet elegant design then you’ll probably appreciate the Acoustic Research AR XA turntable. This turntable should definitely have a place in the turntable hall of fame due to its significance. Introduced by AR in 1961 the XA was priced at a very modest $58. But, that wasn’t what made this turntable so important. Previous record players had issues with vibration from the drive mechanism seeping into the audio output. Edgar Villchur, one of the founders of AR and designer of the XA, decided to isolate the tonearm and platter from the rest of the unit. Of course, nowadays that sounds fairly obvious but no previous turntable had utilized this design technique. The XA was produced all the way into the 1970’s.
Villchur mounted to tonearm and platter together on a bearing plate that utilized a three point dampened spring mounting system to keep vibration from the plinth, or body, of the turntable from affecting the tonearm and platter. He also introduced a belt drive to turn the platter. If you’ve ever had a turntable that picks up the bass from the speakers when the volume is turned up resulting in a muddy sound then you can appreciate Villchur’s innovations. His design ideas minimized this problem.
Even though the AR XA turntable was extremely popular because of both its performance and it’s price Acoustic Research didn’t make money on it. They had priced it too cheaply and had to slowly raise the price over time before it started to make a profit. Of course, AR sold speakers as well that were also very popular at the time so I’m sure they did well financially despite the early losses on the XA. Before the advent of the XA anyone wanting a turntable basically had to buy one from the same suppliers that radio stations purchased theirs from. Then they would have to build or buy a cabinet or plinth to put the turntable in. The XA made the turntable available to most everyone in one neat package at a very reasonable price.
The AR XA is also one of the most modified turntables ever. There were a number of companies that produced upgrades to the table. The most popular were probably the “Merrill Mods”. Some of the mods included:
- Enhanced speed controllers
- Enhanced motors
- Acrylic-lead turntable mats
- Acrylic subchassis
- Center and outer clamps
- Improved parts
Many feel that the tonearm on the XA leaves a bit to be desired. Even so, with some inexpensive upgrades it can be made to perform very well.
The AR XA weighs roughly 5 pounds including the 3.3 pound platter. Below you can see the T-bar sub chassis that Villchur used to suspend the platter and tonearm.
If you’re looking for a vintage turntable that is easy to set up and sounds great then an AR XA may be for you. It’s a little difficult to find them in good condition given their age but you can also have them modified and setup properly by a professional for a reasonable amount of money. Buy one that’s already been restored and you’ll be spinning vinyl on a great sounding turntable in no time. A mint in original box XA will set you back about $500 but a fully serviced XA can be had for $250 or less. That’s a great value for a great performing turntable.
Here’s Edgar Villchir talking about the AR XA turntable: