Graham Robin tonearm Manufacturer's Comment
Editor: It's not often that I've had a chance to comment on two reviews/comments in one letter. However, with Art Dudley's review in the April issue, and now Michael Fremer's look in the May "Analog Corner," I will try to answer the questions that the reviews discuss.
First, the origin of the Robin tonearm is, as both reviewers suggest, Japanese manufacture, but with plenty of our design input from what we've learned in developing the 1.x- and 2.x-series arms. But where the quality and performance of those designs is intended to be state-of-the-art at any price, here price is also a consideration. We do not believe it follows, though, that a less expensive design must necessarily sacrifice quality, convenience, or performance in order to arrive at a lower price. By the careful use of materials and by employing logical and proven engineering practices, we believe we have achieved an excellent balance of high-end performance and a relatively low price.
We have tried to make the Robin as neutral as possible, and hope that it will match well with a wide variety of turntables. As with everything else in audio, this will be partly subjective and also will be controlled by mechanical compatibility. Some turntables are well-damped and provide, we feel, the best platform to start with; others are more "alive" and have a certain dynamic energy to them that perhaps may not be as accurate, but can still be fun to listen to. It's a personal call. (As opposed to a person-to-person call, that is. Sorry!)
The construction of the Robin was outlined very well in Art Dudley's review, so we don't need to elaborate on that here. MF refers to the lineage of the Robin and other arms similar in appearance. He's quite correct. In order to concentrate our daily production efforts on the 2.1 and 2.2 arms, I decided that it's much more practical to have someone else handle the Robin's construction, and here I found the source to be of the highest quality. Although we added some important new touches, there were parts of the basic product that were perfectly acceptable and there would be no reason to change them. The use of well-amortized design parts (ie, the antiskate mechanism) is there to provide excellent results for an affordable price.
This is an example of using something that worked well then and which also works well now; I see no good reason to come up with some other, more costly, method just for the sake of being different. (Even our more deluxe arms, for example, use the simple lever-weight system for applying antiskating, whose origins can be traced back to the 1950s. The difference in our tonearms of today vs the earlier incarnations is in the quality of the parts used; the ABEC-5 ball-bearing and the damping/filter action of the linkage we use to couple the arm to the levers, for instance.) It's doubtful to me if a more efficient yet nonintrusive system (meaning it has no negative effect on the sound) could readily be devised, yet this is an old concept. For the Robin, of course, we've applied modern materials and design concepts where they would make genuine improvements, such as in the bearing mechanism; otherwise, we used what was already good and added what we felt made it better.
One comment Art made needs a little clarification, and has to do with the alignment system. In his review, he mentions that "Every Graham arm comes with a little nylon cap that you can slip on top of your record spindle...." Actually, the item referred to is part of our patented alignment system, presently available for the deluxe 2.x arms. As he suggests, we are currently working on a Robin-specific accessory version of this alignment system, which will then use the removable headshell to position and calibrate the cartridge accurately (and safely)! What is important in this analysis is that this design procedure allows correct positioning of the tonearm (either 2.x or Robin) on the turntable before any cartridge is installed. This is achieved either by using the nylon adapter Art referred to—he had a sample—or by visually positioning the front alignment hole in the headshell directly over the turntable spindle; either method is equally accurate.
At that point, the arm is correctly placed according to its intended geometry; any further adjustments in cartridge position can be achieved in the headshell alone, using our gauge or a Wallytractor (a really fine setup tool and highly recommended) or similar devices. It's important to keep in mind that the three parameters of tonearm geometry (effective length, overhang, and offset angle) have an interrelated (and unchangeable) set of values; if one parameter is changed, the others must change also, in order to maintain the desired null-point accuracy of the installation. We believe that by positioning the arm correctly in the first place, independently of the cartridge being used, you're off to a much more reliable start than if you need to push and twist the whole installation until, maybe, the cartridge correctly lines up somehow. The difference between good and bad results can easily be affected—often dramatically—by the accuracy of cartridge installation and alignment.
And now we'll be waiting to see what conclusions MF will draw when he auditions the Robin on his own turntable in a more extended session.
One change we are implementing is to lower the US price of the Robin to $645. Several things have helped to imrove the pricing for us, and, in passing these savings along, we'd like to make the Robin as attractive and competitive as possible in this market segment. Accessories, such as the upcoming alignment gauges and the IC-40 output cable, will be priced at similarly attractive prices, and with the improved performance they bring will, we believe, make the Robin even more the tonearm of choice in this price range.—Bob Graham, Graham Engineering