One of HiFi’s most important turntables hit the market in 1961. Acoustic Research launched it’s new belt-driven XA, designed by Edgar Villchur. There was nothing like it at the time. The Absolute Sound considers the AR XA one of the ten most important turntables of all time. I would agree. This simple design has been refined over the decades by companies like Linn, Thorens, Ariston, and Sota, to great success.
The AR XA (and XB) are still relevant today. I don’t think you can be in the hobby long before you hear about the AR XA, unless like me, you grew up with one in the house. I have great memories of that turntable, which I still have … as well as some open reel jazz tapes recorded on his Sony TC-777S-4J, which I have, but needs restoring.
When I got my Dad’s XA, I serviced it and spent enough time with it to realize it’s weak point is the plastic headshell threads. Fortunately, the XA is popular enough that enthusiasts have come up with a handful of modern options based on the original headshell. At the time I put the deck into service, those options didn’t exist. So I decided to dive into modifying the turntable, reading up on forums to find out what options I liked best. That is what this post is about. It’s not a How-To, but rather a What-I-Did, to show you what can be done if you don’t plan to stick with 100% originality. I’m going to show you two approaches, one using the original wood plinth, and the other is a custom plinth made of Zebrawood. Both have Rega tonearms.
First up is the XA my Dad gave me. The original Walnut plinth was in great shape, but was a tad dry. A good rub down with Howard Feed-N-Wax was enough to give the wood a healthy look. The brass nameplate was tarnished, but cleans up like new with Brasso. These first photos will show the XA in stock form to show you how nice it looked. Once I realized that I wanted more out of the table, I sourced a Rega RB250 tonearm with bad wiring off the auction site. That went to Johnny at Audio Origami for a custom brass counterweight and matching stub, as well as new Cardas wiring and foam fill. Johnny does great work, as anyone who has sent a tonearm to him will testify. The stock springs were replaced with a set of Linn Nirvana springs, and extra suspension parts came from Marc Morin. Being my first turntable rebuild, I got to a certain point where I realized I was in over my head. That’s where Steve Frosten came in to help. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the AR XA enough to get where I am today. It’s still in my system and gets regular use.
One thing about working on your own audio gear is the tendency to tinker. About a year ago, I wanted to check my VTA. After removing the sub-base off to adjust the Michell Engineering Finger Locknut, it occurred to me that I should check the rest of the deck to see if there was anything else worth updating, adjusting or servicing. Prior to this, I had noticed the Hurst motor had developed a slight knocking sound, as well as having a slow startup on the platter. This was my motivation for trying out the Merrill upgrade motor from Vinyl Nirvana. The other update was to preload the suspension by adding 2 lbs of weight to the T-bar to reduce bounce.
Here is what my XA looked like stock, with some detail shots.
And here is what it looks like now.
The following XA project is more recent. My client wanted a larger, thicker custom plinth with exotic wood. Early in the process, he went to his local lumber store that is like the Toys-R-Us of wood. I have been there and could easily spend two hours just looking at all the beautiful wood. After sharing pics of different wood he was interested in, we picked some nicely figured Zebrawood. Once in hand, I worked on building a new plinth, with stronger bracing and stock mounting points made from Maple. Upgrades included a new Rega OEM 2002 tonearm from Audio Origami, Schurter vandal power switch and suspension parts and pulley upgrade from Vinyl Nirvana. The 3-point VTA solution is once again from Michell Engineering. Sub base is mdf with hardwood trim edges. In case you are wondering, the sub base replaces the thin stock bottom that slides into the plinth from the back. The sub base requires mounting blocks on the inside perimeter so that it sits in place. There are three holes to allow adusting the suspension. We had JMK Display make a new dustcover, which is not pictured, as my client wanted the dustcover shipped direct to him before I delivered the turntable.
Hello, my name is German, congratulations, excellent information, I am renewing an AR-XA, but I don’t know where I can find the ground connection for the record player, which can be seen in one of the photos next to the rca. I would appreciate it if you could tell me where I can get it.
Hi German, what tonearm are you using on your build? Stock, or another brand? I can tell you that the original AR XA tied earth/ground from a mounting bracket on the top plate, and the T-bar suspension to the Left channel signal shield on the RCA. Make sense? I can also tell you that Rega does the same. This is the grounding scheme I use now to eliminate any hum. But there are some combinations where it’s better to use a grounding plug on the back of the chassis. In the past, I have used Vampire gold grounding post, and recently, I’ll use a Cardas ACBP S that you can see in the Cardas catalog (link in footer), which comes in pairs. It’s a little overkill, but built like a tank and works well. But I go back to my first point, which is you may find it best to tie your ground into the L or R channel shield on the jack. Marc Morin (well-known pioneer of modifying these decks) would solder a jumper across the grounds on the RCA jacks, to make it easier to tie in ground from the T-bar, top plate, and tonearm. I hope this helps. Feel free to call me tomorrow if you like.
Thank you, and this is my first AR TT restore. I just finished a AR-2ax speaker restoration and have done a couple of Thorens refurbish/mods. I am just getting pretty good at restoring Thorens, and really wasn’t looking to do an AR, but I hate to see this go into the dumpster since it’s an early edition with the solid walnut plinth; however, it has a stamped steel T-bar suspension, which unlike the cast aluminum, is not modifiable according to Steve Forsten. I think for now I might just keep to the original tone arm, but have it refurbished by someone – new wiring, bearings, head shell, etc. I can handle the 2-to-1 motor conversion, new belt, pulley, springs, thrust plate and clean/paint the top plate. Good call out on the main spindle bearing. I haven’t picked the the TT yet, so I’ll see how bad it is. It looks like Steve might have some replacement spindles as well.
Steve is a good dude 🙂 If you need help with the tonearm rewire, let me know. I will say that if you keep the stamped steel T-bar, you should use the original arm. I recently finished an early “TA” model. That is what you have. There is no thrust bearing, so check out the bottom of the well to see if it’s still flat. I also discovered that the early headshells make it impossible to replace the headshell wires. So on the TA deck I restored, I just put Cardas cartridge clips on the existing wires, which were in good shape. One of the original cartridge clips had broken and wasn’t repairable.
Hey this restore/mod looks amazing. I just saved a similar XA from the dumpster, and I’m looking to restore it plus add a new tone arm. I was wondering where you got the replacement subchassis?
Thanks Lorne! Congratulations on getting your first AR XA (I’m guessing).
There are only two ways I know of to get a “replacement” subchassis. Find a parts unit to buy, or the subchassis part on the auction site. The part alone is not easy to find.
If you don’t use an original arm (like me), you will need to make or buy an extension plate AND cut a new hole on the metal top plate. I recently had a prototype extension plate made (water jet) out of 6061 aluminum. It will be installed on a table I have in-house now. After that table is delivered, I may decide to sell some of these online. I haven’t decided.
Have you checked the subplatter main bearing spindle? If not, check the ball end of the main bearing spindle. It’s all machined as one piece, and if the “ball” is out of round, just slightly, you can carefully sand it back into round with a kit that used to be sold by Marc Morin. Last time I checked (about a year ago), there was someone else selling Marc’s parts. If the ball is damaged, the subplatter is no good. I haven’t seen one yet that is damaged to the point of being unusable.
Feel free to contact me if you have other questions.