Roy Gandy started Rega Research more than 40 years ago. Since then, the company has grown to become one of the most important specialist turntable manufacturers in the world, and has expanded to encompass the full gamut of audio equipment. But the turntable is still at the core of Rega.
Recently, we spoke with Roy Gandy as a part of our Titans of Turntable & Tonearm Technology series within our Hi-Fi+ Guide to Analogue Audio, which can be downloaded here.
Hi-Fi+: What drew you to the field of analogue audio in the first place and what do you regard as your specialties within that field?
RG: Music drew me to the field. As a student I could not afford equipment to listen to music and so I had to make it. My specialities would be turntable, arm, and cartridge design along with an understanding of the turntables function and 40 + years of research and development into the subject.
Hi-Fi+: Many in our industry say that analogue audio presently is enjoying a renaissance. Would you agree with this viewpoint and, if so, what do you think is driving that renaissance?
Yes: The renaissance is a very large growth in a very small niche market. I hope the growth is due to the possibilities of better sound quality but there are many other factors such as the difficulties with downloading, streaming, and the poor sound quality of any current digital format, particularly MP3, phones, and tablets.
Hi-Fi+: How have engineering practices changed since you built your first turntable? Have the changes influenced subsequent designs?
At Rega we have seen huge R & D investment and changes to almost everything we make. However, elsewhere little has changed except that the increase in interest has seen a growth in massive, heavy acrylic sculptures.
The market success of our unique and controversial designs, which are based purely on demonstrable sound quality, has influenced all our turntable designs and we currently produce five models instead of the two which we produced for most of the company’s life.
Most of our changes have come from new lighter and stiffer materials along with the increased accuracy available from CNC machines at a lower cost. We are also very proud of the hundreds of new design ideas that our research has allowed us to produce. Most of these are insignificant in marketing terms but hundreds of small improvements in shapes and materials have increased the ability of our turntables to accurately measure the micron levels of the record groove.
Hi-Fi+: What are the distinctive ‘hallmarks’ or signature elements of your analogue designs? What distinguishes your products from those of your competitors?
The “hallmark” of a Rega turntable is that it is designed to attempt to measure the minute, microscopic vibrations contained in a record groove. We look at the real world of precision engineering and question the anecdotal mythology that has forever surrounded the idea of a turntable.
Hi-Fi+: Some prefer to treat turntables and tonearms as integrated systems whose elements should be developed in concert with one another. Others prefer to take more of a ‘mix-and-match’ approach. What is your recommendation and why?
Of course there are many people who wish to try new things. Hi-Fi in general has a large subjective element, which is ideal for those interested in experimentation and satisfying the neurotic urges that exist in many of us. Because the turntable has an almost impossible task of measuring vibration at the micron level, any change will alter the cartridge signal. However, in the engineering world the turntable has only an objective function and that is a machine, tool, or instrument to measure the vibration contained in a rotating record, along with inputting the energy to rotate the record in a microscopically constant manner. The turntable, arm, and cartridge are all part of this machine and all need to be considered as a necessary part of the whole, while accepting that they require some different scientific and engineering functions.
Hi-Fi+: Being as candid as possible, how would you compare the relative merits of digital and analogue source components? What things do you think good analogue sources do singularly well?
I don’t understand why the answer to this question requires “being candid”. The answer will depend on areas of musical interest and ability to discriminate.
Personally, I know many people for whom musical replay via YouTube on their phone or tablet is adequate for their needs and they have no interest in an increase in quality. Most people eat readymade supermarket meals and are happy with the taste of frozen food, synthetic cheese, and factory-produced drinks. I am one of the few percent who are cursed or charmed with the ability to obtain intense pleasure from all my senses and actively seek to create that pleasure. Tasteless food makes me feel bad so I don’t own a freezer. I don’t like background music or performers whose aim is stardom, but any special performer, professional or amateur, who cares and communicates, can make me cry, but I have never cried listening to recorded music of any sort. So my aim in the world of recorded music is to try and re-create the emotional elements that can make people cry. I own about three thousand LP’s and about two hundred CD’s. I still sometimes actively listen to music on LP but rarely on CD except maybe to transcribe song words or analyze an arrangement.
The simple answer is that neither digital nor analogue musical replay is good or bad. The artistic musical production possibilities using digital recording and mastering techniques far exceed anything possible on tape. BUT if one wants to capture the specific performance characteristics of a special musician or an amazing voice, then this is only possible on tape and vinyl replay.
There are hundreds of thousands of badly recorded vinyl albums but maybe one or two thousand good ones. For me, most CD recordings emasculate the music and I have only about five that, for me, are listenable.
Both digital and analogue recording and replay are massively flawed sciences and it is difficult to understand how either can work at all. However, at its best the analogue approach far exceeds the digital both audibly and technically. Those that claim better measurements for the digital domain are simply measuring the wrong things.
Hi-Fi+: Which elements in the analogue audio signal path—turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges, or phono stages—have the most overall impact on sound quality?
The signal from the record cannot be improved on (“you can’t polish a turd”) and missing information cannot be replaced so one assumes that the turntable/arm/cartridge, are important. However, the signal or music can be corrupted or destroyed at any stage so every part of the replay chain including amplifier and loudspeaker become equally important.
Hi-Fi+: Which three of your favourite analogue demo discs might you recommend to our readers? (It’s hard to choose just three, we know, but please do your best.)
I don’t agree with the concept of “demo discs” or using discs to demonstrate the replay. I much prefer the concept that the function of the replay system is to demonstrate the disc.
Hi-Fi+: What set-up or installation tips would you give the newcomer… and what guidance would you give to the expert?
Listen to the music. Don’t read reviews or magazines. Be confident in your own beliefs and what you hear. Find a good retailer who will let you listen and borrow equipment. Don’t spend large sums on equipment furniture or cables; most of it is a “con”. There is more available pleasure from listening to music than playing with Hi-Fi.
For the “expert”; I know many competent loudspeaker and electronics experts. I have never met a turntable expert. Almost all turntable accepted beliefs are anecdotal, mythological, or completely wrong.
Hi-Fi+: In five years’ time, how do you anticipate that the world of analogue audio will have changed?
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