Bargain bin – Rega RB202 tonearm

This guy costs US$395 / £198 – not a small sum, but in hi-fi terms, a bargain I’d suggest.

The current Rega tonearms are descendants of the original legendary RB250/300 tonearms introduced in 1983.  They still sound excellent.  And importantly I think, sound a lot like real music.

I owned (and enjoyed) a Linn Sondek with Ittok tonearm from the same period, for over 10 years, but I don’t remember the Ittok sounding this much fun!

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The RB202 version is the entry-level (lowest-priced) model in the current Rega tonearm range.

This Rega RB202 I have, was re-wired with Cardas tonearm wire (by local retailer Turned On Audio), which adds a little to the price, but recommended.

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Rega still use their unique die-cast aluminium, one-piece, arm-tube / headshell / bearing housing – but slightly re-shaped now, with smoother taper and strengthened, filleted junction at the bearing housing.

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The Linn Ittok was often a little brash at the treble end and never produced very deep bass on a Linn Sondek.  The RB202 excels at both ends, especially strong and low bass.

Other legendary vintage tonearms like the Fidelity Research FR64, have a forceful, punchy engaging sound.  But in comparison to modern tonearms such as the RB202, now seem uneven and coloured.

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What impresses me firstly about this (rewired) RB202 is its dynamic power, control and ‘headroom’.  This tonearm can go loud, confidently, effortlessly, without stress and can deliver scary levels of music power. That’s what live music sounds like.  Many tonearms fail this test.

There’s plenty of orchestral scale, weight and drive.  Additionally, bass grip, percussive punch, taut rhythms, tempo, drama – music ebbs and flows dynamically,  just like real music.

Secondly, at the pianissimo level, harmonic overtones, decay, ambience, are quite evident all of the time.  I love hearing vocal ‘vibrato’ and instrumental ‘sustain’.  This suggests excellent resonance control (and pitch control).

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Different cartridges presented their own personalities – this tonearm has good neutrality.

The low-priced Rega Carbon MM cartridge was powerful, energetic and coherent.  Only the high frequencies were of course a little lacking (conical stylus) and high frequency tracking a little brash, not so sweet.

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On the other hand, a Transfiguration Temper W moving coil cartridge also performed well.  The RB202 did not hold back on the Temper W’s high definition.

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A Koetsu Rosewood Signature was a little too heavy for the RB202 counterweight (a heavier weight is needed).  However, I don’t think I’ve heard the rich tonal palette and tonal gradation of this cartridge painted more beautifully.  Or so boldly.  Big, expansive, vivid and sweet-toned (violin and voices), all at the same time.

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A real surprise for me, is how good the venerable Denon DL-103 sounds on this tonearm.  Using a 1:10 Step Up Transformer connected to a 47kΩ preamp input (resultant cartridge load 470Ω), the 103 is powerful, weighty, energetic, bold, clear and very ‘present’.  Low bass was very strong.

The highish 470Ω loading adds a little upper frequency definition and better neutrality – although treble of course, is limited and still dulled (conical stylus).  Nevertheless, a beautiful cartridge-tonearm match.

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The Rega tonearms now have 3-screw mounting, but still do not provide any arm-height adjustment (for VTA tuning).

If necessary, you can install a third-party arm-height adjuster (eg. Michell Engineering).  Or this inexpensive, Rega-branded, 4-step, spacer ring.

Rega spacer

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(Height Adjustment Spacer installed)

(The Rega Planar 3 turntable used here, underwent restoration and lubrication (see a later post).  Excellent sounding but with some limitations of course – a little ‘forward’ sounding, with limited soundstage depth.)

 

Update 1 March 2017:

Michael Fremer’s recent Rega Research Factory Tour, part 2 showing tonearm assembly and testing:

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