Graham Robin tonearm Page 3

Here, too, the Robin didn't have the best surface-noise performance I'd ever heard—but in fairness, neither does the RB-300. The major difference has to do with how the Rega arm gets right to the heart of the music on every record I play: It finds the line and sings it. The Robin didn't fail completely in this regard, but on the Rega player it simply wasn't as good—especially, I've found, with electric music. On Big Star's wonderful "Way Out West," for example (Radio City, Ardent ADS-1501), the Graham arm delivered the same big, deep bass I'd come to expect, given its performance with the VPI Scout, but it was also notably slow bass compared to that of the RB-300, making for a somewhat clumsy-sounding and, ultimately, uninvolving performance.

If the Robin wasn't as rhythmically sharp as the RB-300, it had other strengths in its favor. On "All My Trials," from Peter, Paul and Mary's In the Wind (Warner Bros. WB 1507), the Graham's clarity and good sense of scale helped me sort out the differences between the three often strangely similar voices: Listen, for example, to how Peter comes in on the second chorus with a high harmony, and then, on the following verse, takes the melody while Mary (!) drops down to the bass line. This is utterly cool—and easy to miss without very good playback gear.

The Graham also did a nice job with The Go-Betweens' lovely "Dive for your Memory" (16 Lovers Lane, Capitol C1-912-30), a calmly plaintive song arranged for solo voice, acoustic guitar, very subdued electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ, and oboe. Again, the more expensive arm's ability to separate out the different lines added to the song's effectiveness. The same thing held true with "Rebel Waltz," one of the better tracks on the spotty Sandinista!, by The Clash (Epic E3X 37037). This one needs to sound big, and it benefits from having the separate parts pulled as much as possible from the dense mix. Arguably, any rhythmic shortcomings won't trip up that song's already jerky, downright messy beat—but the same thing doesn't hold true for "Somebody Got Murdered," the great uptempo number that follows: That one preferred the RB-300 and its more propulsive sound by a fair margin.

If I had to write a two-sentence review, it would go like this: "The Robin is a pleasantly forward-sounding arm with great bass extension and overall clarity, but temporal shortcomings in some installations indicate the need for careful matching. Surface-noise performance is all right for the price, but not up to the very best." Skeptics of subjective reviewing can have a field day with that one, too. "Some installations"? Is that what you call one out of two?

Those are the limits of my experience for now. But if you don't mind an educated guess, I'd say that the physically well-damped Graham Robin tonearm will probably do best with a turntable of similar design philosophy. Taking that and the Robin's price into consideration, something like the Basis 2000 ($2000) would be a sensible match, and will probably show the Graham arm to its best advantage. Ditto other turntables that fall on the damped side of the fence between the Let It Ring and Damp It Down camps.

In any event, the Robin has already staked out a unique place for itself in the uncertain world of modern tonearms: a product that's equal to its megabuck brethren in terms of precise adjustability—and superb bearings—for well under a grand. No small feat.