Merrill Williams Audio

Unique Turntable with Acoustically Neutral Isolation Damping Elastomer Plinth Core.
"A New Approach . . . A New Standard"
NEW VOCABULARY
A few New Words to add to the turntable vocabulary:
R.ubber
E.lastomer
A.coustic 
L.aminate
Energy Isolation Valley
Inverted Hemispherical Damping Feet
Suspended Plinth

"A New Approach . . . A New Standard"

With a clean sheet of paper and the Energy Management discipline in mind, a new approach to the non-suspended turntable design emerged. 

All of the active parts, the Motor, Tonearm and bearing assembly are positioned on an acoustically neutral Isolation Damping Elastomer Plinth Core. The feet act as a damping suspension (hence suspended plinth) and a second layer of isolation is provided by the plinth elastomer. The result is a dramatic elevation in the resolution and music realism of all past non-suspended designs.

*Patent # 8,406,112 B2

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MW 02 TT 101 MOR
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 16,000.00 (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 22,250.00 (incl. GST)
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Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 Turntable - Explanation of DesignGeorge Merrill has long time been associated with highly regarded turntable design since the release of the Merrill Heirloom...
ADDITIONAL to standard Turntable included in this package: Beautiful Morch DP-8 12" tonearm...
EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101...

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MW 02 TT 101
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Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 Turntable+ Explanation of Design George Merrill has long time been associated with highly regarded turntable design since the release of the Merrill Heirloom turntable...
ENERGY MANAGEMENT DESIGN 2 tonearm mounting platform Speed strobe printed on the bottom of the...
EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101...
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MW 02 TT 101 IKE
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Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 Turntable+ Explanation of DesignGeorge Merrill has long time been associated with highly regarded turntable design since the release of the Merrill Heirloom turntable...
ENERGY MANAGEMENT DESIGN2 tonearm mounting platform Speed strobe printed on the bottom of the...
EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101...
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MW 02 TT 101 MOR
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 16,000.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 22,250.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 6,250.00 (incl. GST)
Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 Turntable - Explanation of DesignGeorge Merrill has long time been associated with highly regarded turntable design since the release of the Merrill Heirloom...
ADDITIONAL to standard Turntable included in this package: Beautiful Morch DP-8 12" tonearm...
EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101...
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MW 02 TT 101 TA
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Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 Turntable George Merrill has long time been associated with highly regarded turntable design since the release of the Merrill Heirloom turntable in the late 1970s and...
ENERGY MANAGEMENT DESIGN2 tonearm mounting platform Speed strobe printed on the bottom of the...
EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101...
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The Merrill –Williams Clamping System - The most toughly engineered clamping system available The center weight and periphery ring are designed to function as a team. The mass distribution is...
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An Interview with George Merrill of Merrill-Williams Audio
Ray Seda
I first received an early production Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable System from George Merrill for evaluation in June of this year. It did not take much time for me to realize three things:
 
This turntable represents a complete re-think in belt-driven turntable design,
This is no re-hash or derivative of the famous Merrill Heirloom or Merrill-Scillia MS21.
This turntable may very well be a game changer.
As such, I feel it important that before we start the journey down the road of describing the Merrill- Williams R.E.A.L. 101, we should first get a bit into the head of the man chiefly involved in the design.
 
The following are excerpts from conversations and emails I have had with George Merrill over the past several months.
 
Ray Seda: George, what event or series of events compelled you to jump back into the saddle and begin work on the R.E.A.L. 101?
 
George Merrill: I love music. I believe that the absolute best retrieval of a performance is a must for anyone with a passion for the musical expression. The beginning of the reproduction chain is the turntable. If this is compromised then the system output cannot be true. I am always thinking about new ways to improve things. The turntable is my engineering passion. I had the idea for this design several years ago. After speaking to one of my friends (Robert Williams) who was involved in music reproduction for years in many ways the 101 was born.
 
RS: In this endeavour, you have taken on a new design partner in Robert Williams. What is his background and how did you come to the realisation that your backgrounds were complementary for this design endeavour?
 
GM: Robert Williams is my friend and a great thinker and engineer, and has a background in record manufacturing (pressing) and speaker design. He shares the passion for music and design. We worked together to bring the 101 to fruition.
 
RS: How has Mr. Williams impacted the course taken in the design and execution of the R.E.A.L. 101?
 
GM: Every step in the execution of the design was collaboration between the two of us.
 
RS: During our many conversations, you have mentioned that the speed controller utilised for the R.E.A.L. 101 was custom designed by Mr. Ron Sutherland (father of the Martin Logan CLS electrostatic driver and Martin Logan Monolith speaker, as well as designer of innovative preamplifiers and phono stages under his own Sutherland Engineering Design Company, and the inventor and marketer of the now famous and invaluable tool called the Sutherland timeline). How did Ron’s expertise in power supplies and speed controller technology influence the evolution of the R.E.A.L. 101?
 
GM: My electronic design background is dated. Many new microprocessor chips and IC amplifiers have appeared on the scene in the last 25 years. As one of the first Martin Logan dealers, I knew of Ron’s capability as an engineer. He is on top of today’s technology. The logical approach to the motor drive control design was to have him design the circuit to our specifications.
 
RS: George, the R.E.A.L. 101 is a significant departure from the Heirloom in terms of how it manages and dissipates energy. Most notable is the fact that this is not a suspended design. At what point in the conceptualisation of the R.E.A.L. 101 did you realise that you were going to be working on a record playback system that did not involve springs nor a floating sub-chassis? Was there a single event or fact that heavily influenced that decision?
 
GM: This was a given from the outset due to the mass of the elastomer. The plinth is suspended with inverted hemispherical feet thus mimicking the spring suspension chassis. The plinth is the suspended chassis. (“Suspended Plinth”).
 
RS: Is the custom designed and built Hurst motor the only part in the R.E.A.L. 101 that was brought over from your legacy products?
 
GM: The motor and the copolymer pulley that were used in the Heirloom are used in the 101. The motor is of a special design that was constructed to my specifications. The reason this motor is used is as follows: quite, just enough torque to pull the platter and absolute reliability. Thousands of these motors have been in operation for over 30 years.
 
RS: Given the fact that the R.E.A.L 101, or as I would love to refer to it as, The Rubber Turntable, is such a departure from the Heirloom or the Merrill Scillia work, did you ever consider a drive method other than belt drive?
 
GM: No. I have written a paper on turntable drive systems explaining the reasons for only considering the simple single belt drive.
 
RS: How much time has it taken to move from the concept of the R.E.AL. 101 to final product form?
 
GM: Over two years
 
RS: Is there any aspect of the R.E.A.L. 101 that you feel is still somewhat of a compromise from yours and Robert William’s vision of the ultimate realisation of your concept?
 
GM: No
 
RS: George, thank you once again for the opportunity and access. It has been a real pleasure in learning first-hand about the R.E.A.L. 101 and hearing the fruits of your vast experience in the area of vinyl playback. I certainly look forward to the continued evolution of your forward thinking designs.
..........Ray Seda
Explanation of Design of the UNIQUE MERILL WILLIAMS R.E.A.L. TURNTABLE
George Williams (CEO)

A NEW APPROACH - A NEW STANDARD
With a clean sheet of paper and the Energy Management Discipline in mind, a new approach to turntable design emerged.

The Turntable consists of a rotating platter that supports a phonograph record, a drive source for this platter (motor, pulleys and belt), a plate to mount the bearing which accommodates the platter shaft, mounting for the motor and pickup arm. This mounting plate is called the plinth, base or chassis. Some type of feet are used for support of this plinth.

The turntable must cope with four types of energy intrusion:
One: Self generation and internal coupling of energy produced by the motor, drive system, platter support bearing and tonearm. 

Two: Mechanically coupled energy that enters the support feet.

Three: Airborne energy contained within the operating environment.

Four: Energy generated by the stylus to groove contact during tracing (playing of the record).

•  The R.E.A.L. Turntables major innovation is the construction of the plinth (base).
•  Design by Merrill – Williams (Patent # 8,406,112 B2).
•  The plinth is the heart of the turntable and supports all three energy generating parts (motor, bearing/spindle and tone arm).

The plinth was designed using a technique called “Energy Management Design”. The base is designed as a laminate. Construction consists of a specific formula 14 lb rubber compound elastomer faced with phenolic. Areas are isolated with Energy Isolation Valleys (breaches in the laminate) in such a manner that the operating parts (motor, platter spindle/bearing and the tonearm) are not allowed to transmit energy through the laminate material. Energy isolation and dissipation occurs only within the core elastomer. The advantage to this system is the energy developed by each of these operating part is absorbed and dissipated by the core elastomer before it can intrude and affect the performance of other parts. For example the motor energy is dissipated before it can contaminate the energy release from the tonearm.

To keep the rigidity integrity intact seven struts are placed in calculated locations within the plinth forming a support truss system. 

The use of an energy transfer tonearm mounting platform coupled to the damping elastomer accomplishes a most important function the dissipation of Tonearm Release Energy.

Integrated in the design of the tonearm mounting platform is the ability to azimuth align the platform with the platter.

The second type of energy intrusion (mechanical transfer from the stand used to support the turntable) is managed by a system called the Isolation Foot which contains a Special Polymer Inverted Hemisphere. 

An adjustable support column attached to the rubber elastomer is resting upon an inverted hemisphere of highly absorbent rubber. This support column utilizes a positioning pin to hold the foot in place. The column consists of two parts, the height adjustment collar and the hemisphere coupler with positioning pin. A bolt is inserted through a compressing washer and the plinth elastomer (energy blocking holes are drilled around the mounting point of the foot bolt) into the hemispherical coupler, drawing the adjuster collar and hemispherical coupler tightly together (this system is another first). The resulting support column is extremely solid while still having height adjustment capabilities. The curved face on the hemispherical coupler allows shallow contact with the hemisphere which helps to subdue energy transmission. The flat of the hemisphere is placed in a support base (fitted on the surface contact area with three feet) to allow retention of its shape and for uniform input of energy into the foot.

The third type of energy (airborne) is damped by the over all energy absorbing capability of the laminate, feet and platter. The total package is virtually impervious to airborne energy encountered in the listening environment.   

The platter design and material consideration along with the mat control thefourth type of energy.  The platter is manufactured from a compound containing bakelite cellulose and resin (another first). The characteristics of the material, high density, low resonance top and dimension stability make an ideal platter. A rubber cork compound mat is used to place the record upon, thus quelling vibrations within the vinyl as the stylus is tracing (playing) the record. An optional clamping system enhances LP damping to the highest order.

The platter shaft is manufactured from precision ground stainless steel (3/4 inch) with a hardened thrust ball placed at the end. The platter is supported in an oil well bearing manufactured from MDS impregnated nylon (another first). A hardened surface is provided at the bottom of this bearing to allow the shaft thrust ball to ride with virtually no friction (i.e. no noise).

The R.E.A.L. 101.2 Microprocessor Motor Drive System 33-45 RPM

Any turntable that has fixed speed (no manual variation) cannot retain speed accurately under all temperature and humidity conditions. The expansion / contraction coefficients of the drive materials will vary with the environment. For example, acrylic will grow or shrink dramatically with normal room temperature changes. A variable speed control solves this problem. The result is retention of accurate pitch.

AC line power is contaminated with multi frequency trash. Without a buffer, this trash is fed directly into the motor and coupled into the drive system and record support platter. A properly designed power supply will isolate the turntable drive system from this trash. This will help to eliminate the clouding of micro level information and lead to improved resolution culminating in better imaging, detail and musical realism.  

The Merrill-Williams Microprocessor Motor Drive uses a regulated DC power supply powering a microprocessor, employing crystal controlled adjustable dual oscillators for sine and cosine drive. The low distortion precision sine wave dual oscillators drive two high power low distortion amplifiers that power the motor. Speed sweep is plus or minus 2 percent. The turntable speed is checked with an on board strobe light driven by a short pulse square wave oscillator. A Sutherland Timeline is used to certify accuracy.  

Touch button logic control is employed. 
The MD-1 is supplied with the REAL 101.2
The Microprocessor Motor Drive affords a noticeable improvement in performance.
Q/A what is the design difference between the original Merrill Heirloom and Merrill–Williams R.E.A.L.

FIRST GENERATION
The Merrill Heirloom was designed in late 1970. 

It had many new ENERGY MANAGEMENT approaches to turntable design:

  • The first use of acrylics.
  • Cast anti magnetic fluid damped motor pod.
  • Oil well bearing.
  • Constant resonant tuning system.
  • A subchassis integrated tonearm mounting platform for energy management control.
  • Decoupled and lead damped outer record support platter.
  • Aluminum resin driven platter.
  • Copolymer drive pulley.
  • Digital motor drive system.
  • Critical elasticity calculation for the belt’s low pass filter action.
  • Seven layer lead damped plinth.
  • The first use of a periphery clamping ring.

SECOND GENERATION

  • After the Heirloom production had stopped for many years the design was reborn as the Merrill-Scillia MS-2 and MS21.
  • These turntables were manufactured as an absolute exact copy of the Heirloom design.
  • The major improvement to the new production was the polymer material used in the subchassis and the outer support platter. This turntable was heralded with exceptional reviews.
  • Class A in Stereophile for 3 1/2 years (review November 2007).
  • A Super review from 6 moons. (John Potis)

THIRD GENERATION

The Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101.2 is again (as the original Heirloom) a totally new approach to turntable design. Using a patented R.ubber E.lastomeric A.coustic L.aminate along with other new innovations, the Energy Management Design principles are raised to a new level. The sonic performance overshadows the original Heirloom design by a wide margin.

this belt-driven turntable was created for those who want to purchase a quality analog source without breaking the bank.
Julie Mullins

REVIEW SUMMARY: If you’re an analog lover who doesn’t have a big living space and/or a big budget, this high-value, small-footprint, belt-driven turntable could be just your ticket. From setup to playback to overall musical enjoyment, I found the PolyTable to be a delight in every way. It avoids fuss and frills, boasting a sleek, modern form, while its sturdy, two-piece platter, easy-to-install bearing, and adjustable feet make for easy assembly and operation. Additional optional accessories include a clear PolyCover (US$49) and a PolyWeight (US$59). If you’re seeking more features and flexibility than a typical mass-market turntable offers, give this rather unique-looking number a look—and a listen. With both the mm and mc cartridges I tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks. A gem, indeed.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Don’t let its unusual looks fool you. Ditto its odd name. Deceptively simple in design and eminently user-friendly, this belt-driven turntable was created for those who want to purchase a quality analog source without breaking the bank. GEM Dandy company founder George Merrill—whose initials make up the “GEM” part of the ’table’s name—designed the GEM Dandy PolyTable especially for analog fans seeking a high-performance unit that is a cut above mass-market offerings. I found that the GEM did, indeed, deliver solid sound and a positive user experience—from basic assembly and setup to hours of listening enjoyment. Made in the U.S. (in a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee), this ’table is, in fact, so good it won our 2015 Product of the Year Award in the Affordable Analog category.

About the PolyTable’s design: It avoids fuss and frills, and though it has a small footprint—another plus for those with less-than-palatial living spaces—to a large extent its form follows its function. Its trio of sturdy, knob-like, adjustable feet gives it a sort of spaceship vibe. Of course, beauty is famously in the eye of the beholder, but I find the PolyTable to have a certain spare, straightforward appeal that is also kind of sleek and modern. Moreover, its streamlined look befits its streamlined operation, suitable for both budding and more experienced audiophiles. It’s as if this little “gem” of a turntable has nothing to hide.

The PolyTable’s unsuspended plinth, sub-platter, and platter are made of polyvinyl-chloride synthetic plastic, which is produced by polymerisation of vinyl-chloride monomer.

George Merrill, who has been designing and building turntables for more than three decades, pioneered the use of such materials and holds related patents (applicable to some of his other turntables). “These polymers manage energy to an overwhelmingly better degree then any metal can,” he says. “None of the turntables since my first Heirloom design (1979) has had any metal in the critical signal path.” The catchy PolyTable name—and those of its PolyCover and PolyWeight accessories—comes from the use of polymer plastics.

Arrival and Assembly
My PolyTable review sample arrived in a larger box than I expected; it was well packed and included a helpful, four-page, colour instruction manual. The PolyTable turntables are shipped with Japanese-made Jelco tonearms; upon ordering you can choose from one of three models at tiered prices: the entry-level SA-250 (which was supplied with my sample), the SA-750D, or the 10" SA-750E. The PolyTables do not come bundled with a cartridge, so you’ll have to buy one for yourself, although a range of Ortofon models is available through Merrill’s store online.

Assembly instructions for the ’table and tonearm—and assembly itself—were simple. The aforementioned brief guide contains photos that make setup even easier. The PolyTable is a subplatter/platter design that uses an oil-well bearing and shaft that require the addition of about 10 drops of oil (included) when you fit the platters together. There are three levelling feet (adjustable via internal screws) on the bottom of the plinth. The platter is lined on its surface with a rubber and cork compound, and there’s a small bubble level built into the plinth. I moved house partway through the audition period, so that little level came in handy for readjusting the feet to compensate for my new home’s not-quite-level hardwood floors. Like any ’table worth its salt, the PolyTable allows for VTF, VTA, and azimuth adjustments to enable optimisation of a wide range of cartridges.

Spinning and Listening
Now for the fun part: spinning vinyl. I began auditioning the PolyTable with the supplied Jelco tonearm and a Shelter 201 moving-magnet cartridge during the review period for the PS Audio Sprout (another affordable Product of the Year winner). For a time, I used it as a source for HiFiMan 400S headphones, listening to LPs ranging from Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite in Analogue Productions’ marvelous Living Stereo reissue to the energetic Mobile Fidelity-remastered Special Beat Service by The English Beat. The former shone with powerful climaxes that exceeded my expectations. The latter, a recording that’s prone to sounding slightly bright on a few systems, was reproduced quite cleanly, with its midrange-centric instrumentation and percussive punches rendered intact. In general, timbre veered somewhat towards the warmish side—certainly one of the Shelter mm cartridge’s characteristics—though realism on voices was untouched. (In my Sprout review, I described how, when I was using the PolyTable as a source for the HiFiMan cans, a layered-in backup vocal—which seemed to come out of nowhere from right behind me—actually made me jump and turn around to see who had crept up. How’s that for realistic reproduction of a voice?)

Once I switched to a moving-coil cartridge, namely the entry-level PS-7 from Air Tight, the sense of realism only increased. My setup at this time included a Walker Procession phonostage and a NuPrime IDA-8 integrated driving Raidho D-1 two-way loudspeakers and a pair of JLAudio e-110 subs. “Dance Me to the End of Love” from Leonard Cohen’s wonderful Live in London album filled the room with his smooth, smoky baritone and the powerful swells of Neil Larsen’s accordion. With this setup, I spun so many records across so many genres that I have a hard time culling examples.

To take in a true “gold standard” reference system, I spent a great deal of time listening to LPs at JV’s house in the room with the Magico M-Pros and JLAudio Gotham subs, driven by Soulution’s 725 preamp and 711 stereo amp. The source? The new, massive, and enormous Invictus turntable from Acoustic Signature. For reference purposes, I listened to recordings that I was very familiar with and that were, naturally, great-sounding across various criteria.

I’d brought Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is Truewhich I happen to own in an original 1977 Stiff Records pressing. Quite the well-recorded gem, its unabashed attack and slam blew us both away on JV’s reference system (not surprisingly), but wow, did it also rock my new home! No, it didn’t have all the grip and definition of JV’s super-system, or the resolution, transient speed, dimensionality, and color. But, honestly, it wasn’t utterly embarrassed by the comparison. “Welcome to the Working Week” delivered impressive drive and percussive energy. The transient attack of Costello’s Fender guitar strums resonated and decayed with far greater impact and realism than I would have expected. On “No Dancing,” the kickdrum beats and tambourine strikes were similarly satisfying. No, you don’t get all the low-end texture that you do on JV’s reference systems, but the bass seldom went muzzy, and by and large had respectable definition—thanks in part to the JL subs. Costello’s raw vocal emotion was powerfully rendered on the melancholy ballad “Alison,” while “Sneaky Feelings” boasted detailed, rapid-fire cymbal taps that were as crisp and clean as you please.

I also cross-compared the excellent live LP Lost and Found from Buena Vista Social Club on World Circuit Records, which Greg Cahill reviewed favorably in TAS, and the GEM PolyTable once again held up quite well. JV’s reference system captured the magic of the ensemble’s live performance with spectacular imaging and finesse. The snap and speed across a plethora of percussion were thrilling. The delicacy and power of Ibrahim Ferrer’s tenor vocals emerged in incredibly lifelike detail. On my setup with the PolyTable, perhaps the most noticeable differences were the degree of transient response, bass definition, and overall resolution. The GEM sounded rather polite by comparison.

The point I’m making here is one of scale—of cost-to-performance ratios. We know JV’s reference system—hell, just his turntable, tonearm, and cartridge—costs upwards of 120 times the price of the PolyTable. The point is that the performance it provides, as great as it is, is not 100 times better than that of the PolyTable. Overall, the system with the PolyTable delivered a very solid, very musical presentation, albeit with a midrange emphasis, across a broad spectrum of instruments. Although it might not have been the last word in any single audiophile criterion, it offered an impressive degree of detail and a quite respectable sense of verisimilitude. I kept on wanting to listen—and listen more. And isn’t that what this hobby is about?

Regarding any downsides, I have only a few nits to pick with the PolyTable. One concern arose after I had borrowed the stellar Constellation Perseus phonostage preamp from JV. As it turned out, I could not actually connect the PolyTable and the Perseus because the RCA plugs of the Jelco ’arm would not separate far enough to span the distance between the preamp’s widely spaced right and left-channel inputs. Obviously, this would not be a real-world pairing anyway, but I wanted to mention this just in case folks at home have phonostages with inputs that aren’t positioned in a close side-by-side configuration.

On the aesthetic front, some might find the GEM a little too light and stripped-down-looking. Personally, as noted, I think it has its charms. The PolyTable is actually more substantial and somewhat heavier that photos of it suggest. In keeping with its minimalist overall design, changing speeds from 33 1/3 to 45rpm involves removing the top platter, lifting the little rubber belt, and moving it from the smaller sheave on the pulley to the larger one beneath it. Talk about hands-on! A certain analog-hound audiophile I know (who shall remain nameless) was vaguely appalled by this, but I didn’t mind it at all. I felt more “in touch” with the ’table—kind of like my preference for cars with manual transmissions. I feel like I’m actually driving the thing.

Of course, keeping an eye on belt or general mechanical/motor wear-and-tear is part of belt-driven-turntable ownership. Listening will inform you of any major problems. Not that I foresee a problem with the GEM. Even though we’re talking about a ’table that’s intended to be fairly entry-level and basic, it has still been designed and built with a care and quality that should keep it running happily (and keep you listening happily) for years and years to come.

Conclusion
If you’re an analog lover who doesn’t have a big living space and/or a big budget, this high-value, small-footprint, belt-driven turntable could be just your ticket. From setup to playback to overall musical enjoyment, I found the PolyTable to be a delight in every way. It avoids fuss and frills, boasting a sleek, modern form, while its sturdy, two-piece platter, easy-to-install bearing, and adjustable feet make for easy assembly and operation. Additional optional accessories include a clear PolyCover (US$49) and a PolyWeight (US$59). If you’re seeking more features and flexibility than a typical mass-market turntable offers, give this rather unique-looking number a look—and a listen. With both the mm and mc cartridges I tried, the PolyTable delivered serious analog pleasure worthy of far bigger bucks. A gem, indeed.

…… Julie Mullins

Music emerges with such exceedingly low coloration and distortion that transparency, fine detail retrieval, openness, and clarity are surprisingly close to what one experiences when listening to a mastertape.
Jim Hannon

SUMMARY: As one might expect from the man responsible for so many turntable innovations, George Merrill’s latest turntable, in collaboration with Robert Williams, breaks new ground in its approach to energy management by ingeniously and effectively damping and dissipating resonances wherever they lurk. Music emerges with such exceedingly low coloration and distortion that transparency, fine detail retrieval, openness, and clarity are surprisingly close to what one experiences when listening to a mastertape. The Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable should be a revelation to those who want to get closer to the sound of a live performance without breaking the bank. It’s easy to set up, and its modularity also allows for future enhancements, including an isolation chamber for the ’table, available later this year.

EXTENDE REVIEW of : Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable (Note - since replaced with updated 101.2 verion)
According to a recent poll of our editors and reviewers (TAS 216), the AR XA was ranked as the most significant turntable in the history of analog playback. If you ever lived with the AR XA turntable or one of its successors (XB, XE, ES-1, ETL-1, EB101), you may well have installed some of the popular “Merrill mods” that helped lift the sonic performance of that entire turntable family. These ranged from enhanced speed controllers and motors, to acrylic-lead turntable mats, acrylic subchassis, center and outer clamps, and improved parts, among others. Thousands were reportedly sold, making them the most popular mods for those venerable belt-driven, spring-suspended classics.
 
While continuing to offer turntable mods and accessories, George Merrill designed the Merrill Heirloom in the late 1970s, an extension of his previous work and experimentation with AR turntables. Merrill claims that the Heirloom was the first ’table to use acrylics as well as a periphery clamping ring, and it also employed a dedicated motor controller for enhanced speed accuracy, fluid damping, and several other unique features to effectively control resonances and manage energy dissipation, including a one-piece acrylic subchassis. The Heirloom garnered high praise in these pages from both William T. Semple (TAS 43) and Jack W. English (TAS 51), particularly for its lifelike sound, transparency, and open midrange.
 
Having ceased manufacturing the Heirloom around 1996, George collaborated with Anthony Scillia in 2002 on the Merrill- Scillia Research MS-21 with Scillia taking Merrill’s Heirloom design to its most fanatical endpoint, with aerospace-grade materials, plus springs, machined from solid billets of hardened aluminum, that were the most exotic I have ever seen. All these improvements came at a steep price ($24,000), yet the MS-21 still looked quite pedestrian. However, I heard the MS-21 on several occasions, and was stunned by its remarkable performance, if not its physical beauty. When George told me that he thought his new MW-101 turntable “blew the MS-21 away,” it definitely piqued my interest.
 
The $5995 Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. (an acronym for Rubber Elastomeric Acoustic Laminate) 101 is a collaboration between Merrill and Robert Williams, an innovator in his own right as a co-founder of Memphis’ legendary Ardent record-mastering lab, in addition to his considerable experience in record pressing and loudspeaker design. What makes the MW-101 unique is its extensive use of rubber elastomers virtually everywhere that resonances might occur. I heard a pre-production model a few years ago at a trade show, driving Quad electronics and ESL-2805 loudspeakers, and was very impressed by its ability to reproduce Frank Sinatra’s voice and Nelson Riddle’s orchestra so naturally and with such sonic realism that I thought it was perhaps the most musically compelling sound I heard at that show.
 
Having lived with a current production model of the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 (MW-101) in my own listening room for some time, my appreciation of its outstanding virtues has continued to grow. The MW-101 has many of the same beguiling sonic strengths as my reference front-end, the UHA-HQ Phase Six, coming surprisingly close to this reel-to-reel deck’s performance, particularly in transparency, midrange openness, fine detail retrieval, and top-end purity and balance on Antonio Lysy at the Broad: Music From Argentina [Yarlung Records]. No, it didn’t have quite the incisive bass articulation, micro- and macrodynamic intensity, and overall immediacy of the tape, but that may well be a function of the ’arm and cartridge (more on this later). Nevertheless, both analog sources have an uncanny ability to transport you to the recording venue, and they sound more alike than one might expect.
 
When I listen to Soulmates [Riverside/Acoustic Sounds] on the MW-101, the leading edge of transients, like those on Philly Joe Jones’ drums and cymbals, are crystal clear, without any blurring, and have amazing snap. Overtones soar without distortion orcompression, yielding a harmonic truth to all the instruments, like Ben Webster’s saxophone and Thad Jones’ cornet.
 
The MW-101’s lack of audible bearing or groove noise lets music emerge from a pitch-black background with near-reference-quality transparency and presence on well-recorded music, like the David Abel/Julie Steinberg performance of Beethoven and Enescu Sonatas [Wilson Audiophile], the Ella Fitzgerald/Joe Pass collaboration Take Love Easy [Pablo], or Nick Drake’s Pink Moon [Island Records]. On these recordings, everything is well-balanced across the frequency spectrum, without resonant peaks in the upper midrange or highs, a common source of aural fatigue, yet the music sounds alive. On more musically dense recordings like the Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major [EMI] and Miklós Rózsa’s Quo Vadis [Decca], the MW-101’s wonderful clarity enables one to follow individual musical lines easily, and the soundstaging is broad, deep, stable, and precise.
 
How have Merrill and Williams achieved this remarkable performance? They had to start with a “clean sheet of paper,” because the Heirloom design had already been taken to its limits by the MS-21. Whereas the Heirloom and Merrill-Scillia turntables were spring-suspended, the MW-101’s elastomer plinth rests on three inverted hemispherical elastomer feet. George claims that by using this approach, the new ’table it still a suspended plinth, or more appropriately, an isolated plinth with energy rejection from the elastomer feet and the isolated feet posts that go up into the elastomer of the plinth.
 
The plinth of the MW-101 is not just a hunk of rubber sandwiched by aluminum but rather a well-engineered platform, designed as a laminate to dampen and dissipate energy. The motor, platter, spindle/bearing, and tonearm are isolated by breaches in the aluminum-rubber laminate (Energy Isolation Valleys), and the energy developed by each part is absorbed and dissipated by the 14-pound rubber-compound elastomer that forms the core of the plinth before it can affect any of the other operating parts. A support-truss system using seven struts within the plinth helps keeps it rigid.
 
The MW-101 platter offers yet another reported industry “first.” It is made of a Bakelite, cellulose, and resin compound resulting in a high-density, remarkably dead platter with a Q that is quite broad—plus the material is also extremely dimensionally stable. Its integral rubber-cork compound mat helps to minimize vibrations within the vinyl, allowing the stylus to trace the record better. It also has a very-low-noise bearing system as the hardened thrust ball at the end of the precision-ground stainless-steel platter-shaft glides with virtually no friction over a hardened surface in the oil-well bearing, manufactured from MDS-impregnated nylon—another industry first.
 
Merrill has worked on record-clamping systems for close to four decades, so one would expect the optional one for the R.E.A.L. 101 would be a honey—and it really is! The Merrill-Williams Clamping System comprises a center weight and periphery ring, and is designed for even down-force on the entire record. Energy radiated as the stylus traces the groove is absorbed by the damping inlay in the periphery clamp before it is reflected back into the groove area. The center weight, with its large rubber knob, also absorbs energy and helps eliminate resonant peaks. A rubber insert in the spindle bore decouples the weight from the record spindle. I consider the 101’s record clamping system to an indispensible option, increasing the system’s transparency, clarity, and ability to deal with warped records.
 
George Merrill was the first to introduce a separate motor-speed controller for a turntable, so it was somewhat surprising to learn that the motor-drive control unit for the MW-101 was designed by another industry veteran, Ron Sutherland, to Merrill-Williams’ specifications. The included Microprocessor Motor Drive employs crystal-controlled, adjustable dual oscillators to drive the two high-power, low-distortion amplifiers that power the motor. It not only allows the user to easily switch between 33 and 45 rpm play, but also to make minute adjustments to rotational speed even when the stylus is in the groove. Its strobe light is used in conjunction with the strobe markings on the periphery ring to set speed precisely under all temperature and humidity conditions. The controller also buffers the turntable-drive system from AC line variations, helping the MW-101 maintain accurate pitch stability, and also contributing to its outstanding clarity, resolution, and imaging precision. A Sutherland Timeline is used to certify speed accuracy on all MW-101s.
 
My MW-101 review unit was initially supplied with the Ortofon AS-212S, but the system took another step up in performance, primarily in clarity, transparency, and bass solidity and articulation, when mated with the new Ortofon TA-110 tonearm. The TA-110 has elastomer damping of the armtube, which is “in tune” with the resonance-management design philosophy of the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101. George asserts that, although the Ortofon TA-110 is not as good as the top-ofthe- line Grahams and Tri-Planars, “it comes darn close at a lot less money.” (This is also true of the Ortofon Cadenza Black cartridge and the MW-101 itself.)
 
While production delays scuttled my plans to mate the MW-101 with the latest Graham Phantom, I did have the pleasure of hearing a MW-101 with a Tri-Planar IV tonearm (coupled with a Dynavector XX2 MkII cartridge, Zesto Audio and GamuT electronics, WyWire cables, and TAD CR1 speakers) at T.H.E. Show Newport. I was really taken by the system, particularly with its noticeable improvements in midbass articulation and control, as well as micro- and macro-dynamics.
 
As good as the MW-101 is—and it is very good—it falls short of the best turntables in a few areas. The R.E.A.L. is much more attractive than the Heirloom and MS-21, but it doesn’t have the stunning looks and ability to accommodate multiple arms of many reference turntable systems, nor does it employ exotic technologies like magnetic drive, an air-bearing platter, or a seemingly impregnable, self-adjusting stand. While its speed stability approaches that of a direct-drive ’table, one can still see slight, minute variations in the strobe markings during each rotation (possibly due to belt slippage), although I never heard any pitch variation on sustained tones.
 
As one might expect from the man responsible for so many turntable innovations, George Merrill’s latest turntable, in collaboration with Robert Williams, breaks new ground in its approach to energy management by ingeniously and effectively damping and dissipating resonances wherever they lurk. Music emerges with such exceedingly low coloration and distortion that transparency, fine detail retrieval, openness, and clarity are surprisingly close to what one experiences when listening to a mastertape. The Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable should be a revelation to those who want to get closer to the sound of a live performance without breaking the bank. It’s easy to set up, and its modularity also allows for future enhancements, including an isolation chamber for the ’table, available later this year.
.........
R.E.A.L 101 a turntable that commands the attention of any serious vinylphile. This, my friends, is what I call a game changer.
Ray Seda

SUMMARY - I have already restored my VPI TNT to its stock form, abandoned the external drive system I developed for it, and have packed it away. I couldn’t possibly allow the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 to leave my home. As such, I am buying my review unit. Yes, it’s R.E.A.L. good. My thanks to doug for the hand-off! Congratulations to George Merrill and Robert Williams for their extraordinary effort and contribution to the art of record playback......

EXTENDED REVIEW - IINTRODUCTION of R.E.A.L 101.1 (since upgraded to new 101.2 verson)
Back in 1973, my passion for turntables began with a modest purchase of an Acoustic Research AR XA. At something like $88 including a pre-installed Shure cartridge, it was a no-brainer even for a High School freshman on a paper route budget. For several years, I “unofficially” worked at an audio store, assembling and setting them up for waiting customers. Little did I know back then that this cheap unassuming little workhorse of a turntable and diamond in the rough would ignite the creative juices of one George Merrill in Tennessee.
 
In the 1970′s, George Merrill was owner/operator of an audio salon in Memphis, Tennessee called Underground Sound. His interest in turntable design, particularly in the area of energy management and isolation, led to execution and design of a very successful series of purpose-driven and effective upgrades for the legacy AR turntables. The AR was a belt-driven turntable sporting a 2-piece platter, fixed AC synchronous motor, and a spring suspended aluminum T-bar sub chassis. Since the AR was arguably the most prolific turntable in the audiophile community, with a user base of tens of thousands, these Merrill upgrades were very well-received and sold in the thousands to these same passionate AR turntable enthusiasts.
 
The AR turntable proved to be a financial boon and a worthy test bed for Mr. Merrill. The experience and knowledge gained from the AR turntable-upgrade business led to the development and creation of a turntable of his own design in 1978, called the Merrill Heirloom.
 
The thrust of George Merrill’s work centred upon the control and elimination of mechanical energy and vibration. True to the AR formula, the heirloom sported a spring T-bar subchassis suspension and was belt driven with an AC synchronous motor. However, this is where the similarities ended. The choice of materials used in the Heirloom were a series of firsts, including extensive use of acrylics and plastics for the system’s major components, such as platter, motor pulley, and suspended sub chassis. My earliest recollection of a commercially available turntable other than the Heirloom to even sport a plastic platter was the similarly suspended belt-drive of British origins from the early 1980′s, the Pink Triangle. Of course in today’s world, extensive use of polycarbonate, acrylics, and other plastics is more the norm than the exception when it comes to turntable design. One needs look no further than the Clearaudio or VPI products to confirm this.
 
The Merrill Heirloom also provided a dedicated motor controller to govern the speed accuracy of the turntable system, a feature that was quite rare in commercial turntables at that time. The Heirloom proved to be quite the success, with units sold numbering in the thousands despite their rather lofty price for that era of $2,000. The later version of the Heirloom borne out of the partnership with machinist and Mechanical Engineer, Anthony Scillia, was the Merrill-Scillia Research MS21, and it was priced at an even loftier $24,000. (See the March 2008 Review of the Merrill-Scillia MS21 turntable by Jack Roberts.)
 
Much has been written in the past about George Merrill’s influence on modern turntable design. His products have always been met with critical and commercial success and have earned him a solid chapter in the history and evolution of our Audiophile hobby. However, Mr. Merrill’s efforts in vinyl playback do not end with turntables. He has engineered quite a few accessory items that also support the process including a record cleaner, a deep cleaning apparatus, record lubricant to facilitate low noise and accurate playback, lead and cork platter mats, etc. The list seems endless. You will read about some of these in the future as I begin to fully explore these items. George Merrill’s latest endeavor together with new design partner, Robert Williams, is the Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101, the subject of this review.

Rubber Elastomeric Acoustic Laminate

The Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 drew my interest long before I actually had a chance to hear it at AXPONA 2011. The very comprehensive Merrill Williams website that is dedicated to the full explanation of the R.E.A.L. 101 concept reveals much of what makes this turntable tick. As a rabid turntable, tonearm, and cartridge junkie, I was immediately fascinated by the fact that this turntable, for all intents and purposes, is predominantly made of rubber! Certainly my mind could not wrap itself around that fact. As I delved deeper into the Merrill Williams literature, it describes the precision machining of the elastomeric plinth into energy isolation valleys. Machining? How do you machine rubber? Well, as it turns out, the specialized elastomer compound, fourteen pounds of it, utilized for the plinth is indeed hard and stable enough to be precision machined. Seeing and hearing the turntable in action in an all-Quad system at AXPONA, pretty well sealed the deal. It was very fortunate for me that George Merrill had already graciously agreed to a review and I was quite excited with the prospect of having the R.E.A.L 101 delivered to my home ASAP.

Engineering the Sound (or lack thereof) through Energy Management

Unpacking the R.E.A.L. 101 gave me the first glimpse and full visualization of the far reaches in the execution of this design in terms of how it copes with the four sources of energy, or vibrations, that are present in an integrated turntable design such as the R.E.A.L. 101. These are handled by the three main parts of this turntable system, the plinth and laminate, the isolation feet, and the platter. In George Merrill’s white paper regarding the design of the R.E.A.L 101, he describes these four sources of energy as follows:

The self generation and internal coupling of energy produced by the motor, drive system, platter support bearing, and platter.

The mechanically coupled energy that enters the support feet.
The air born energy contained within the operating environment (for instance, how close is your turntable to your speakers or subwoofers!)
Energy generated by the stylus groove contact during tracing/playing the record. (If you recall my review of the ZXY Omega S phono cartridge, its design imbued an interesting approach to properly draining some of this energy away from the playback system.)
 
Examining the turntable plinth prior to assembly reveals the meticulous attention to detail and the ends to which the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 copes with each of these energy sources. For instance, here is a picture of the motor as it is mounted in the plinth. Notice that the motor is effectively mounted in an “island” all unto itself within the R.E.A.L. rubber/aluminum plinth structure.
 
The platter is made of a non resonant, non conductive, dimensionally stable, and heat resistant plastic resin called Bakelite. It is a design that contains machined outer edges and valleys that assist in draining vibration away from the record surface. The single-piece platter is also machined so that it actually acts as outer and inner platter by having an inner machined pulley area that allows for the drive belt to remain hidden, optimizes speed stability, and maximizes the efficiency of the small motor’s torque. This, as well as the additional ridge machined within the “inner platter”, combine as an approach that is very effective in isolating and draining the motor vibration and any internally generated energy from the bearing and bearing well, away from the platter surface.
 
Any energy that does make it as far as the platter surface is further isolated from the record surface by the cork and rubber mat that is affixed to the platter’s record contact area.
 
The bearing and bearing well are mounted in a decoupled “island” within the rubber plinth and aluminium structure. As such, the bearing well, bearing, and platter as a system also benefit from complete isolation from the rest of the turntable playback system.

Suspended Plinth

 
Coping with airborne vibrations is a particular problem with turntables, as any exposed components are subject to being affected by such energy. The R.E.A.L. 101 tackles the problem in several ways. True to its acronym-based name, the R.E.A.L. (Rubber Elastomeric Acoustic Laminate) 101 achieves isolation through several different fronts. The layered plinth laminate successfully manages any energy away from the primary components of the turntable playback system. The decoupling of these components as well as the internally trussed plinth itself aids in achieving complete isolation. The final piece to this strategy are the ingenious multi-component feet that support the entire plinth and isolate the turntable plinth from external surface vibrations coming from the rack or platform the turntable rests on. Yes, there is no doubt that they look fairly strange, but they certainly are effective at achieving their goal.
 
The final touches in this fully fleshed out system are the optional center weight and outer clamp. These are meant to assure optimal performance regardless of the flatness of the LP being played. Here too, the attention to detail in design and execution is truly impressive. The center weight, while highly unusual in looks and even somewhat whimsical, utilizes rubber for vibration control and the large rubber ball also make the weight extremely easy to grip and place on the record.
 
With the weight in place, naturally there needs to be a rim clamp to assure that the outer edges of the record do not lift when the weight is used. Here too, the attention to detail is extraordinarily well thought out. The 2-speed controller supplied with the turntable comes with a strobe light wand that lights whenever the turntable is running. The strobe markings are located on the platter and speed is meant to be set without the record on the platter since these markings are not visible when the record is in place. Adding the optional center weight and outer rim clamp also gets you very large and readable strobe markings, silk screened onto the top of the machined outer rim clamp. This allows you to assure that speed continues to be dead-on even with the additional weight of the clamp center weight, as well as the stylus’ drag.
 
Set-It and Forget-It Simplicity
 
The R.E.A.L. 101 came to my home complete with a pre-mounted tonearm base for an Ortofon TA-110 tonearm. The R.E.A.L. 101 is actually sold without tonearm. However, for the purposes of this review, it was suggested by George Merrill that I evaluate the turntable and Ortofon tonearm as a package. After hearing this combination already at AXPONA, it took very little convincing. I will not go into great detail in describing the Ortofon TA110 tonearm at this time because it proved to be quite competent and as such really merits a wholly separate review of its own. Suffice it to say that it was more than up to the task and was an excellent match for three of my reference cartridges.
 
Turntable set-up of the R.E.A.L. 101 was entirely too easy. As a turntable set-up geek it was almost depressingly simple and straight-forward. The complete turntable with speed controller comes packaged in a single master carton. Assembly was dead simple and very well documented in the accompanying user’s manual. Literally, all that was involved was to lubricate the bearing well, drop the platter in place, loop the belt onto the motor drive pulley, level the turntable, plug in the speed controller, and tuck it neatly under the turntable. This takes all of 15 minutes, leaving plenty of time for the challenge of mounting the cartridge, installing the tonearm and adjusting VTA and SRA. Fortunately, Merrill Williams will pre-drill the tonearm mounting structure for whichever tonearm you wish to use. If you have a 12-inch tonearm, a special board is also available.
 
Given the turntable’s promise of absolute isolation from its surroundings, I abandoned any such notion of tweaking with platform material. For the first time in many, many years, I just placed the turntable atop my audio rack and didn’t attempt to tweak a thing.
 
A Disappearing Act
 
OK, so enough of this geeky turntable stuff. How did the R.E.A.L. 101 perform?
 
It has taken the better part of 2 months to fully grasp everything that the R.E.A.L. 101 achieves and brings to the table.
 
Let’s start with bass. Over the course of this past summer, I have played hundreds of LP’s of different genres of music, including “audiophile” records such as original 1st generation Direct-to-Disc Sheffields, trying to ascertain whether there is any limit to the capacity of the R.E.A.L. 101/Ortofon TA-110 turntable playback system in the way it exerts absolute control in low-end authority and output. The answer is no, there is seemingly no limit whatsoever. Time after time, record after record, the force, the power, detail, and sheer weight and impact of the low-end extracted from the vinyl far exceeds any such analog playback system that I personally have had the pleasure of hearing. In fact, so much so, that for the first time, the well-known “paunch” in the low-end that my reference ASR Mini Basis Exclusiv phono stage adds to the music emerged as a clear negative when combined with the R.E.A.L. 101/Ortofon TA-110/Accuphase AC3 combination.
 
The term “black back-gounds” is a term I frequently like to use as a way of describing when the full stage of sound is quiet and free from any unwanted noise or haze. Over the course of these 12 weeks, I can definitively state that in terms of analog playback, the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 redefines just what “black backgrounds” actually means.
 
The music now emanate from what appears to be a silent but defined soundspace due to extraordinary levels of ambient information that is surfacing above the remarkably low “grunge floor”.
 
Moving up the frequency range, once again this system proved to be a show stopper in articulation, emotion, and sheer absence of resonance-related distortions that you would not necessarily even know existed until they are finally vanquished. In some cases, such as when listening to my original Island recording of Cat Steven’s Catch Bull at Four, it was like hearing Cat’s voice reproduced correctly for the very first time. The same can be said for the delicacy of cymbals and the plucking of strings on acoustic guitar.
 
In fact, any piece of music I played that was dense in percussion instruments or strings, came across with a level of sweetness and effortlessness that was simply an unexpected delight.
 
Live records in particular took on this effervescence and immediacy of the live performance. This is no doubt due to the incredible amount of ambient information coming through unimpeded by system resonances and energy intrusion, as well as the dead-on speed accuracy of the R.E.A.L. 101.
 
I couldn’t possibly go LP by LP and cite how its sound improved because of the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101. However, there were some real standouts during my listening sessions. These were mainly “Live” LPs, such as Pat Metheny with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez Day Trip/Tokyo Day Trip Live on the Nonesuch label. I never really considered this recording to be at all veiled. However, playing it back through the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 resulted in so much more of everything; sense of recorded space, high frequency extension, pace and timing, clarity, and low frequency impact that it transformed the listening experience.
 
Another such surprise was when I played E.C. was Here by Eric Clapton. This is a great UK-pressed live recording from the 70’s on the Polydor/RSO label. This is not an intimate club setting like the Metheny album, but a full sized live rock concert. The Merrill Williams really nailed the “live” quality of this recording with an effervescence, drive, coherence, and impact, that simply was not present to this extent in any other analog playback system on which I have heard this record, mine included.
 
Summing it ALL Up
 
There is so much that can be said about how this turntable that it has shattered my personal beliefs as to what influences a turntable’s sound. I am now completely sold on the fact that all vibration is bad and must be exorcised from the entire analog playback system. The R.E.A.L. 101 design achieves this with seeming simplicity. All of the tweaking, isolating, configuring, mass-loading, and placement changes in the world do not meet that design goal so completely and so elegantly as the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101. Add to that a state-of-the-art 2-speed motor drive that proves its muster even under the rigors of the Sutherland Timeline device (designed by the same Ron Sutherland), and what you have is a set-it-and-forget-it record playback system that defines the art in sound, industrial engineering, simplicity, and in compactness of footprint. Its chump change compared to many lesser turntables on the market, makes the R.E.A.L 101 a turntable that commands the attention of any serious vinylphile. This, my friends, is what I call a game changer.
 
I have already restored my VPI TNT to its stock form, abandoned the external drive system I developed for it, and have packed it away. I couldn’t possibly allow the Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 to leave my home. As such, I am buying my review unit. Yes, it’s R.E.A.L. good. My thanks to doug for the hand-off! Congratulations to George Merrill and Robert Williams for their extraordinary effort and contribution to the art of record playback.
........Ray Seda
Misc Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. reviews

Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable R.E.A.L. Good:
According to a recent poll of our editors and reviewers (TAS 216), the AR XA was ranked as the most significant turntable in the history of analog playback. If you ever lived with the AR XA turntable or one of its successors (XB, XE, ES-1, ETL-1, EB101), you may well have installed some of the popular “Merrill mods” that helped lift the sonic performance of that entire turntable family. These ranged from enhanced speed controllers and motors, to acrylic-lead turntable mats, acrylic subchassis, center and outer clamps, and improved parts, among others. Thousands were reportedly sold, making them the most popular mods for those venerable belt-driven, spring-suspended classics. - Read More...

Equipment Review: Merrill-Williams R.E.A.L. 101 Turntable:
Back in 1973, my passion for turntables began with a modest purchase of an Acoustic Research AR XA. At something like $88 including a pre-installed Shure cartridge, it was a no-brainer even for a High School freshman on a paper route budget. For several years, I “unofficially” worked at an audio store, assembling and setting them up for waiting customers. Little did I know back then that this cheap unassuming little workhorse of a turntable and diamond in the rough would ignite the creative juices of one George Merrill in Tennessee. - Read More...

An Interview with George Merrill of Merrill-Williams Audio:
I first received an early production Merrill Williams R.E.A.L. 101 turntable System from George Merrill for evaluation in June of this year. It did not take much time for me to realize three things:

  1. This turntable represents a complete re-think in belt-driven turntable design.
  2. This is no re-hash or derivative of the famous Merrill Heirloom or Merrill-Scillia MS21.
  3. This turntable may very well be a game changer.

As such, I feel it important that before we start the journey down the road of describing the Merrill- Williams R.E.A.L. 101, we should first get a bit into the head of the man chiefly involved in the design. - Read More...

35 Years in the Making:
George Merrill, a Memphis, Tennessee native, began his career in the audio business when he was just 14 years old. In 1974, he created UnderGround Sound. After realizing how different turntables sounded from one another, he set out to experiment with all the versions of Acoustic Research turntables and modified them accordingly. These “Merrill Mods” made a legend of George Merrill. Read More...

My Secrets to Turntable design - by George Merrill

Thoughts on Turntable Design 2 

The Turntable system ( turntable/ arm/ cartridge) copes with 4 types of energy intrusion as stated in Thoughts on Turntable Design 1

 In order to design the AR modifications and the Merrill Turntables I used two sets of tools: One - I designed and constructed a device I called the Vibration Intrusion Table along with a vibration pickup transducer. The operating frequency was from .1 HZ to 100 K HZ. The VIT allowed me to analyze important design points. Testing the ability of a turntable to effectively decrease the mechanical input from the platform supporting the turntable. The intrusion of airborne acoustic energy. Testing the different parts within the turntable for resonance frequency and top.

The other device I used is a simple set of tuning forks and a stethoscope.

 As A side note the results from tests of mechanical intrusion lead to the design of the Stable Table support stands and the Energy Absorption Plate (EAP). These products were manufactured over 25 years ago.

 This brings me to the first point of the paper. Which type of turntable suspended or non suspended is better at isolating energy from both airborne and mechanical intrusion from the support platform. The tests prove a conventional suspended turntable is generally better. The plus of a suspended turntable is the subchassis can be shrouded to help impede airborne intrusion. The springs  allow good isolated from mechanical input vibrations. If properly designed the subchassis will act as a tuned low pass filter. In order for the filter to perform effectively the total mechanism resting on the springs must have a balance between weight and self resonance. For instance most effective suspended designs have a less bulky platter. This allowing for a more supple suspension, Lighter springs allow less energy intrusion into the subchassis. The suspended turntable can be designed to control energy to very good degree. This is the reason the old AR was such a good design and to this day still a highly regarded product.

 Their are three major drawback to the suspended turntable.

One: The low resonant point of the system is subject to foot fall problems. A stable platform is necessary.

Two: The tonearm is energy connected to the platter bearing. This can be a major deterrent to energy management if not designed properly.

Three: The motor is decoupled from the platter and subchassis This can cause a torque recoil problem. To over come this problem I developed the constant resonant tuning system for the Merrill Heirloom subchassis. This allowed the subchassis to have the constant energy input band when using any tone arm. And help to stabilized the subchassis from torque recoil.

  Most non suspended turntables rely on mass to lower the intrusion of energy. The problems are:  Most of these non suspended turntables are manufactured using materials in the energy conduction path that conduct energy to a high degree (metal, glass and wood ). Energy moves freely within the mechanics of the turntable. There is not a filter within the turntable to act as a barrier to mechanical intrusion. Some try to achieve this with feet. The feet will help, but due to the stiffness necessary to support the total weight of the turntable they are not a totally effective filter.

The new era in turntable design.- The Merrill- Williams R.E.A.L.  101

 The 101.2 utilizes a 14 lb rubber elastomer to isolate and absorb energy.

All of the parts motor, platter bearing, support feet and tonearm mounting are suspended in a rubber isolation barrier. These operating parts are totally isolated and completely energy damped. Their is NO metal, glass or wood in the energy conduction path. A outer skeleton is used to contain the elastomer. 

The design is so radically new that a 18 point USA patent #8,406,112B2 was granted.

To understand why it works so well try this experiment, use a bar of metal and a stethoscope. Strike one end while listen to the other. Energy moves freely. Try it with rubber. No transmission.

The other problem that was eliminated by mounting the motor in the same rubber elastomer as the spindle bearing eliminating torque recoil.

The other advantage to the design is cost. This new design allows anyone to own the most advanced turntable possible.