Until August 1983, the best budget tonearm in the world was the Rega R200. An S-shaped, Japanese sourced variant of the mid-price Lustre GST-1, it gave excellent results for its £46 selling price. But then along came an arm with such an amazing price/performance ratio, that the poor S-shaped Rega was never bothered with again. The RB300 had arrived.
Radically different to almost anything before, it practically rewrote the book. With a tapered, one-piece aluminium cast arm tube with no joins between the headshell and pivot, it was a fine exponent of Linn’s ‘maximum rigidity’ rule. The bearing gimbal was a substantial casting employing a threaded stem and locknut, and the bearings themselves were excellent quality – the same as those later fitted to Linn’s Ekos. Friction was extremely low, and the arm could track the very best cartridges. Even the counterweight was radical, machined from dense tungsten alloy for the smallest possible diameter, and hence the lowest moment of inertia.
The new £90 arm was a stunner, matching or bettering expensive super-arms of the time in a number of ways. Its biggest strength was its neutrality, especially in the mid-band, which made Linn’s Ittok (at £253) seem coloured. Press reception was ecstatic, the general feeling being that it was one of the best arms at any price. But as the media buzz died down, dissenters emerged – people began to realise it was cold and rhythmically rather frigid. Its bass wasn’t the best in the business either, and nor was its treble the most extended. Still, the arm’s loudest critics were rival arm manufacturers whose sales it was stealing!
The RB250 followed soon after. Essentially a simplified RB300, it enabled Rega to offer a modern tonearm at a cut-throat price. The most obvious change was the deletion of the RB300’s tracking force spring, meaning stylus force had to be set by rotating the counterweight. The new arrival featured brass, rather than stainless steel in its base, a plastic, rather than stainless steel, rear end stub and a cheaper mild steel counterweight. The bearing assembly also differed, being held on both sides rather than just one as with the RB300. Finally, the bearings themselves were toleranced slightly lower.
Today, the RB300 is a brilliant secondhand bargain. It sounds very good as is, works with a wide variety of turntables and is good enough to track a high-ish end moving coil cartridge. But there’s more – there’s a whole raft of mods from companies such as Origin Live and Audio Origami which push it towards – and arguably even beyond in some ways – SME Series V territory. A true ‘affordable high end’ product, it’s one of the most important tonearms of its generation, perhaps even ever.