Graham Robin tonearm Page 2

As I write this, I've tried the Robin on two turntables, each exemplary in its own way: the VPI Aries Scout, still here from its go-round for the February issue, and the Rega Planar 3. In the case of the former, the Graham took over from VPI's own JMW-9 tonearm, and in the case of the Rega...well, the comparison was the obvious one, irresistible as it was.

As noted above, and as I learned from experience, audiophiles who buy the Graham expressly for a Rega turntable get the same basic arm as everyone else, but with a few different bits: a shallower arm-mount collar sized for the Rega turntable's relatively shallow platter; a cable with an in-line DIN plug (as it turns out, you'd want the right-angle plug only for something like a Linn LP12); and a headshell specially configured for use with the Planars. As to the latter, this is so the user can install the Robin on the Rega with a precisely correct spindle-to-arm-pivot distance, and Bob Graham's system for doing so is so slick and so original he was awarded a US patent for it.

It works like this: Every Graham arm comes with a little nylon cap that you can slip on top of your record spindle, this topped with a 3mm post at its exact center. The idea is to install the arm-mount collar loosely, fit the arm (with headshell installed but without cartridge), and lower the headshell onto this nylon cap. Said headshell has a corresponding 3mm hole in it, and when the arm mount is positioned so the hole in the headshell slips neatly over the post on the spindle cap, you've achieved the correct alignment. Tighten that collar and you're good to go.

I tried three of my cartridges in the Graham—a Rega Elys moving-magnet and Supex 900 Super and Miyabi 47 moving-coils—and I aligned them with the aid of both a Wallytractor and my trusty old Dennesen Soundtraktor (metal version). Folks who've used one of Bob Graham's more expensive tonearms will be interested to know that he's working on a Robin-specific version of his ingenious cartridge-alignment headshell jig (also patented). This resembles the clear plastic jig that Thorens used to supply with their turntables, except that Graham's is precisely machined from aluminum and incorporates a clever way to mechanically "load" the cantilever, so you can see how it lines up under conditions approximating those of real record play.

It also gives the user a choice between the double-null alignment scheme developed by Loefgren and that developed by van Baerwald (which envisions the two null points as being slightly farther from the spindle). This extra-cost option will be available later in 2003.

By the time I was ready to try the Robin, I'd become thoroughly familiar with the VPI Aries Scout turntable and JMW-9 tonearm—reviewed in the February issue—the latter fitted with my Miyabi 47 cartridge, so swapping the Graham tonearm into this setup was my obvious first move. (Not to complicate matters, but Graham also offers a Scout-specific arm-mount collar, which is machined in such a way that it clears the VPI 'table's right-rear support structure.)

First impressions, using mostly acoustic music, were of a timbrally colorful and clear presentation with especially deep, impactful bass—"plenty of voom and boom," as my simpleminded listening notes from one afternoon had it. The Robin struck me as a bit more forward-sounding than the VPI arm, but in a musically appropriate rather than a hi-fi sort of way. It helped Ferenc Fricsay's emotionally distant Tchaikovsky Sixth (Deutsche Grammophon/Speakers Corner SLPM 138135) sound convincing and entertaining. Ditto Guiomar Novaes' unique performance of the Schumann Symphonic Études (Vox PL10170): The Graham had the same good sense of presence and scale on piano music as the VPI, although I also noted that it didn't shrug off surface noise quite as well.

(Anecdotally, the Naim Aro on the Linn LP12 is also better at keeping record noise from intruding on the music, but since I have yet to try the Aro on the VPI or the Graham on the Linn, I can't offer a direct comparison.)

I heard greater differences when comparing the Graham arm with the Rega RB-300 on the Planar 3 platform. That's not much of surprise, seeing as how the $795 Graham is priced closer to the $850 VPI than to the $425 Rega. But while some of those distinctions were in the Graham's favor, not all of them were—and I came away wondering if perhaps the ideas behind the Robin and those behind the Planar 3 are simply a poor match.