Just check discussion at VinylEngine and you'll find lots of interest in both, each one having its own comment section.
Almost everyone who is old enough went through the cycle of owning an AR-XA and a Dual of some type or other. I think those turntables can be regarded with nostalgia but not a desire to re-visit them, albeit one or two of the Dual turntables can be brought up to decent performance by modern standards, with a lot of TLC. Dual made the first direct-drive turntable with the first coreless motor, after all.
I would avoid the 60’s/70’s AR, the XA and XB---it’s tonearm was not so hot, though the table was fine for what it was. The ES-1, introduced in the mid-80’s with an outsourced arm (Jelco? Audioquest?), the arm weakness of the XA/B cured and therefore a much better total package, can be had for relative peanuts.
Erik, with what I already mentioned, I owned used two AR-XAs in my systems early on in the hobby. More recently I restored two others for friends. When testing the restored versions I was surprised by the very good musical qualities they continued to offer. I would avoid the earliest 2-motor versions. Not saying they compete with $2K and up current arm/tables, but still decent and satisfying.
Regarding the AR arm, yes it is often criticized, so some have been replaced. The problem is it is not simple to modify the metal T-bar the arm mounts to, or the steel top cover if repositioning is required. But the original arm can be modified for some improvements. First off would be removing the damping pin. Then, particularly because of age, it can be rewired. One weakness is the plastic headshell (it is often broken plus does not allow for offset alignment). That can be addressed by replacing the entire arm tube/headshell. Possibly taking parts from an otherwise damaged Technics or similar.
Like so much in used audio, the main considerations may be condition and price of what you find between AR and Dual models.
I took my AR XA to a machine shop and had the tone arm's bearing well on the T-bar subchassis cut out. I enlarged the hole in the table's top plate myself, and mounted a Formula 4 unipivot arm in the hole on the T-bar. The AR ES-1 is almost identical to the XA/B, but with a mounting plate for either the optional AR arm or one of your choice. For the price the ES-1 sells for, I would opt for it over the XA/B.
Erik, I am not sure what you mean by “better and easier to buy”. The vintage Thorens turntables that receive a lot of attention are the TD 124 and the TD 125. There are later models that are also admired by some and used by many. I think all of those turntables are inherently far superior to the AR and generally the Dual turntables as well. The Thorens turntables may be more plentiful on the used market because more of them were purchased to begin With. Therefore I guess you could say they are “easier to buy”. I am not a big fan of the TD 124 myself, but that’s just my opinion.
I had an AR turntable back in 1984. The table itself wasn't bad and was fairly attractive looking. But that stock tonearm.... What a piece of Taiwan junk. Poor tracking, you could see the arm sway back and forth as it played. It had a resonance that came from the motor that was audible during quiet music passages. The head shell developed connection problems if you removed it to much. The dealer "begged" me to buy the table without the stock arm as he was well aware of these short comings. He said a Premier MMT tonearm would be a much better choice with that table if I could spring for another $100 or so. But back then, my funds were limited and went completely stock to save some coins. Big mistake. I later listened to a friends AR table with the Premier MMT tonearm and it sounded absolutely wonderful.
A "forgotten" Thorens is the TD-150AB (A for arm, B for base). It’s design is the same as that of the AR (low-mass floating subchassis), but German/Swiss vs. U.S.A. made. The arm on the 150 is FAR better than the one on the AR XA/B. I don’t know how much they are going for.
One thing of interest in the AR XA/B is that George Merrill offered a drop-in replacement for the table’s stock subchassis and platter, greatly improving it’s sound and allowing the use of an arm of one’s own choice.
I replaced my AR ES-1 with a VPI HW-19 Mk.1, which I much preferred. A Mk.1/2/3 can be had for around $500, and is a pretty darn good table.
Here’s a lovely review by Byron Baba over at Dagogo. Nov 2020
Acoustic Research The AR Turntable
My esteemed colleague David Blumenstein at Dagogo found it interesting that I have been using my Acoustic Research “The AR turntable” combined with a Sumiko Premier MMT tonearm for longer than the 36 years I have been married. He asked me to write about my experience with this turntable.
The turntable was purchased brand new from GNP Audio in Pasadena in November 1983. They had a fine young turntable technician named Brooks Berdan who mounted a Sumiko Premier MMT (Jelco sourced) tonearm, making the turntable more compatible with a variety of low-compliance phono cartridges, such as the Talisman moving coil cartridge line.
I used the turntable for about 20 years when the motor started making a really noisy grinding sound. I heard this was a common problem with AR turntable motors.
Something had to be done, so I inquired about replacing the motor, which, including installation, would run several hundred dollars if I was fortunate enough to buy the right motor.
I also contemplated buying a brand new turntable. I had actually narrowed down the choice to either a VPI Scout with JMW Memorial tonearm or a Clearaudio Champion Level 1 with a Rega tonearm. I could purchase either one for under $1,500. But I had four kids getting ready to start college and so my priorities were elsewhere.
The internet provided me with another solution: lubricating the motor with sewing machine oil. My wife shops a lot at Jo Ann’s and they carry sewing machine oil. However, I was self-conscious about one of my neighbors from Simi Valley seeing me in the store. I decided to bring my teenage daughter along and I would just say I was there shopping for her. I found Singer sewing machine oil and with the coupon discount the price came to $1.59.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, so I just poured what seemed like a lot of oil down the motor bearing well and hoped for the best. When I turned the turntable on, I was afraid of either a big puff of smoke or a large puddle of oil underneath. The turntable started rotating and to my pleasant surprise the loud grinding noise started to disappear. A $1.59 sewing machine oil completely fixed the problem.
I now oil the motor bearings at least once a year. I also use a liberal amount of oil on the sub-platter bearings at the same time. I replace the belt maybe every 5 years. This has kept my AR turntable running smoothly and the bearings and motor are dead quiet after all of these years despite the extensive use I give the table.
I will admit that as much as I like this turntable, I have not been 100% loyal to it. I have had an office relationship with a Goldring turntable for 13 years. Even in my home, I have enjoyed my Thorens TD-147 turntable and found it to be the equivalent of the AR, especially when combined with the Grado Prestige Silver phono cartridge.
So unlike with my wife, whom I have been loyal to for the past 36 years, I have fooled around with a number of other turntables.
My favorite phono cartridge with AR turntable has been the Hana EH. I also really enjoyed the Grado Platinum phono cartridge, which is interesting because, unlike the Hana, this is a fairly high-compliance cartridge. The Sumiko Talisman S and Talisman A low-output moving coils were my first foray with this turntable and they were also favorites.
Unfortunately, you now have to go to the used market to buy this turntable. There are also the even more refined AR ES-1 and the AR ETL-1, which are improved versions of The AR Turntable that I have.
I honestly feel that any of these turntables when properly running would satisfy anyone looking for this type of belt drive turntable.
There are other turntables based on the Acoustic Research turntable that not only cost a lot more but seem to require a lifetime of spending thousands of dollars on improvements. Using a blind test, I doubt if most people would deem that worth the additional cost or effort.
There is risk in buying the Acoustic Research The AR turntable and the more upscale ES-1 or ETL-1. These turntables are well over 30 years old and they may not have been properly maintained. Replacement parts are limited and expensive. Also, you may need a competent technician to balance the springs or replace the motor.
The other option would be to purchase one of the many fine turntables now available for under $2,000. The Pro-Ject X1 turntable with Sumiko Olympia phono cartridge that I reviewed last month would be a great example.
If this seems like a lot of money, I will say that if you enjoy listening to records everyday like I do, a quality turntable enhances the pleasure. When you figure how many computers, laptops, cell phones, and other tech products you have purchased over the years and then had to replace because they became obsolete. A $1,000 turntable purchase that can last a lifetime is a pretty good investment.
This quarantine may not be ending for a while, so why not hunker down with a new turntable and listen to some records? This will make the quarantine more bearable.
[Copy editor: Dan Rubin]
@pryso : I purchased a beautifully restored and modded AR TT from the folks at Vinyl Nirvana. Plynth refinished in gloss red automotive lacquer, top plate polished, Dynamat damping applied Inside the plynth and platter, the stock arm tube/head removed and replaced with a Technics arm tube/head, new internal wiring! Really beautiful TT! Sonically competitive with many four-figure TTs! The price: $650 + shipping!
Lewm, the AR XA is a way more sophisticated turntable than any Dual, It just does not look that way. With a new tonearm it will out perform many modern turntables. Any one without a suspension.
Anyone who has not seen this video and loves turntables needs to watch it. There are a ton of jewels in it.