Ariston Audio produced a range of fine turntables for a decade and a half, despite being no darling of the British hi-fi press. The Prestwick company got consistently good reviews, but never quite managed to enthuse hi-fi hacks of the day in the way that Linn and Rega did, for example. All the same, its wares sold solidly and certainly deserved to. The flagship RD11 was a fine high end device, but even more impressive in its own right was surely the RD80, which punched above its weight in the mid-price turntable sector.
Launched in 1982, it was effectively a heavily cost-cut RD11 and followed the classic independently sprung subchassis belt-drive model, using a three-point suspension, AC synchronous motor and 2.6kg two-piece machined mazak platter with screw-down record clamp. As you would expect, it offered 33.3RPM and 45RPM, and held to those speeds well too, with a quoted wow and flutter of 0.08%. This was substantially worse than rival Japanese quartz-locked direct drives of the day like the Technics SL-120, but was within the 0.1% limit when speed instability becomes really noticeable. Rumble was measured at -75dB, a very good if not quite exceptional figure.
Ariston’s excellent single-point bearing was fitted, and the 445x360x170mm plinth was a real wood-veneered fibreboard affair, with a wooden armboard and acrylic dustcover. A variety of types were available, but most RD-80s left dealers wearing Linn Basik LV-V tonearms initially, then Basik LV-Xs and latterly Rega RB300s and Ariston’s own Opus. It was an excellent partner for the Rega in particular, which at £90 was of course a brilliant performer at the price. Few people went better than this, as a result.
At launch, the RD80 cost £180, putting one notch above the Rega Planar 3 – rather than a high quality mid-price deck it had pretensions to be an ‘affordable high end’ design. Eighteen months later, in autumn 1983, the RD80SL appeared with changes to the electrical insulation to meet new Semco-Demco standards. The platter was also revised, now machined slightly concave on its upper surface for improved record-to-mat contact. It also added fine adjustment of the motor pulley/belt angle, and gained access to the tonearm underneath without having to remove the baseplate. Finally, a new thick and heavily damped rubber mat was specified.
Sonically, the RD80 did a lot right. When properly set-up and the arm cable correctly dressed, the deck had an open, bouncy, musical sound with a good amount of detail. It was bright, breezy and lyrical, and tonally slightly on the warm side. Compared to a Rega Planar 3, it had a deeper and more tuneful bass, a wider soundstage and fractionally more incisive treble. The RB80 was no world-beater – it was a fair way behind an RD11 or indeed the then favourite Linn LP12 – but did offer enough of a performance upgrade from Planar 3 to more than justify its price premium. In absolute terms, it was a little noisier, looser and less polished than high end decks of the day, but sufficiently close to them to be considered a bargain at half their price.
These days, you can pick a good one up for £200, fitted with a Linn LV-V tonearm or suchlike. They’re sufficiently tweakable to make great projects, or you might just want to listen to it instead! The RD80SL is the one to go for, but it wasn’t dramatically better than the original version and ultimately the condition of the unit is more important than the model. The main problem with Ariston’s RD80 is that it’s not an iconic collector’s deck like the Thorens TD160, for example, but then again this does keep prices low!