If, as LeCorbusier said, “design is intelligence made visible”, then Roy Gandy, creator of the Rega RB300, is not short of a braincell or two. This tonearm, first launched in summer 1983, is a seminal design. You can criticise its tracking weight spring for adding a touch of coloration. But the cost-cut RB250 did without it altogether, removing one of its biggest weaknesses. You can criticise its internal wiring, but for its (then) £90 retail price, there was nothing much wrong. Of course, it’s easy to replace the standard bellwire, and the results are most encouraging.
The main problem was the counterweight. The original Rega plastic end stub was perfectly okay for that 1983 arm, but the the ‘chassis’ of the RB300 is capable of so very much more. The Michell TecnoArm, launched in 2000 for £346, addressed all three points – bearing housing (an RB250 chassis was used), wiring (Moth Incognito wiring) and end stub. The nasty plastic is binned and in its place a beautifully hewn metal stub is fitted, on to which a counterweight carrier slots.
On to this bolts the counterweight itself. The reason for a two-piece arrangement is that two weights are supplied. One is heavier than the other, catering for cartridges weighing between 13g and 6g. The other, smaller affair balances cartridges between 6g and 3g. When you’ve selected the counterweight appropriate to your cartridge and bolted it to the carrier, you screw up the tracking force adjuster to the desired weight. When you’ve set this, the final thing to do is tighten up the securing screw that mates the counterweight to the new end stub.
If all this seems complicated, then it isn’t. In fact, it’s so elegant that you wonder why it wasn’t done twenty years ago. The counterweight(s) have the additional benefit that they’re underslung, like panniers on a motorcycle, making for a far low centre of gravity than the standard Rega counterweight (hence enabling the arm to ride record warps far more faithfully, taxing the cartridge cantilever’s suspension far less). And there’s more, because the TecnoArm also includes the most elegant VTA adjuster you’ve ever seen for this particular arm. Suffice to say that it wouldn’t look out of place on a Michell turntable – it’s brilliantly simple and beautifully machined from aluminium. The end stub, carrier and weights are also available separately by the way, for around £100.
Outstanding at the price, the TecnoArm sounded dramatically better than the standard Rega RB250. UB40’s Food For Thought proved a revelation, the new Michell spewing out vast tracts of detail, with a consummately tuneful bottom end that was both far tigher and better articulated than the stock arm. Vocals had real depth and lustre, where the standard Rega is grey. Percussion was truly fluid, with a beguiling, almost unipivot-like flow, yet there was real oomph when those kettle drums were hit in anger. Hi-hats were airy and spacious, with real subtlety too – the Moth cable is obviously doing its job.
Indeed, Zero7’s Simple Things showed the midband to be where all the action is – there’s a far wider and more open soundstage, with more confident image articulation. This is most obvious with female vocals, which have a purity of tone that’s a joy to behold; seamless, grain-free and just on the sweet side of neutral. With De La Soul’s A Rollerskating Jam named Saturday, it takes you right into the heart of the mixing desk. It has brilliant incision, yet strings all this new detail that it brings to the party together with real aplomb. Image articulation and soundstaging were superb, pushing elements of the mix such as vocals right out of the speakers (which themselves virtually disappeared). If ever there was a ‘hear through’ budget tonearm, then this is it.
That’s the key to the TecnoArm. By accident or design, it sounds quite akin to Michell’s turntables – open and even yet confident and powerful to a fault. How does it compare to its rivals? At the time of its launch, I had only one question – why on earth did John Michell take twenty years to come up with something like this?