The last couple of months have found me obsessed by a single-driver system named after my favourite composer of classical music (one Jean Sibelius), alongside an even more obsessive preoccupation with vinyl replay, occasioned by my acquiring an early example of Rega's Naiad turntable.
The Sibelius speaker has (at the time of writing) sat in my room's pole listening position for some eight weeks, which must set some kind of record. It doesn't have much in the way of bandwidth, rolling off below 50Hz and above 8kHz, but there's a simple sense of immediacy that seems to be its own reward.
The reason I'm getting seriously into vinyl is simply that listening to my extensive collection on the Naiad is proving something of a revelation, and it's particularly intriguing to try a wide variety of recordings from different eras. It reminds me of a chat I had with PMC's Peter Thomas at this Spring's Headroom show. We were discussing which year had the finest recording quality, and came to the conclusion that the 'peak year' was probably 1957 – when we were both children! That was in the days before technology really got going in the recording studios. Simplicity was the rule, tape was in its infancy, mono was the rule, and I suspect the very concept of a 'mixing desk' was still some years into the future.
Although the above para is something of an aside, my early discs do sound very good, and I'm finding monophony very satisfactory too. The particularly clever trick that the Naiad appears to accomplish rather effectively is to create a mechanically rigid 'loop' between the disc surface and the stylus. It has done this by going for high stiffness in the right places, notably through using aluminium oxide braces above and below a reasonably thick beam comprising carbon fibre composites (CFCs) over Rohacell foam, thus linking the main platter bearing with the base of the tonearm.
Using a ceramic like zirconium dioxide for the main platter bearing in place of a metal such as brass or steel is certainly radical, and possibly unique – I've not heard of anybody doing this. In fact I've heard tell that when Roy Gandy's deputy Phil Freeman originally came up with the idea, RG pooh poohed it. So Freeman went off and had a sample made up (not without difficulty!) He then merely had to play it to RG in order to convince him that it would be worthwhile, whatever the expense.
I can't actually say which bits are the most important in creating the 'loop'. The zirconium dioxide platter bearing supports an aluminium oxide platter, which is about the only part of the Naiad that has any serious mass. That makes sense, especially as the mass is concentrated around the outside edge, as the momentum will help the platter overcome the variable drag created by the stylus tracing the groove modulations.
Does the titanium tonearm bearing structure make a difference? To be honest I don't really know. As I understand it the main advantage is to do with maintaining tight tolerances when subject to the large temperature changes that will be endured when taking a flight in an airliner's hold. But titanium is certainly harder than aluminium, so there may be other answers.
Whatever, platter apart, the Naiad itself is a remarkably low mass affair that sits on an similarly lightweight CFC wall shelf via three spikes. It's all based on a Rega design philosophy that is entirely 'home grown', and is very different to that practiced in many turntables elsewhere. But it does seem to make sense nevertheless, as my ability to hear the words for the very first time seems to confirm. My only reservation is that I still can't see where I'm going to locate my 'little fwend' automatic arm raiser!