In business since 1986 this British company is starting to gain more and more recognition in North America for its Rega arm modifications as well as for its own arms and turntables. It’s easy to tell that the owners are audio fanatics themselves and their excellent website offers a wealth of information and advice for the turntable tweaker and plenty of detail about their products.
According to Origin Live the major shortcoming of the Rega RB series of arms (the RB300 included with my Planar 3 is second up in the line from the RB250, bundled with the Planar 2) is the end stub/counterweight assembly. The structural mod replaces both the end stub and the counterweight with new parts designed and built by Origin Live. You might be wondering, as was I, just how sonically significant such a change might be. Well, according to Origin Live, far greater gains can be made with this mod than with any other, including rewiring the arm for instance.
“This is an extremely critical area,” they claim on their website, “as the counterweight represents by far the highest moving mass in the arm and affects any tonearm’s performance more than can be imagined. The work involves removing the rear end stub (which is normally just screwed into the end of the Rega arm - a sonic disaster), and replacing it with a new stub, which is then torqued onto the arm by a thin high tensile bolt. The stub is also designed such that it presents a low contact area onto the arm tube and is therefore decoupled, yet far more rigid than the original. This also allows the counterweight to be rigidly torqued onto the stub using an Allen bolt.”
For your 75 quid you receive a small box containing a new end stub and counterweight along with all the hardware and instructions needed to perform the swap. The operation is relatively simple, even for those lacking mechanical inclination, and the instructions are clearly written and easy to follow. The original end stub on my RB300 gave up quite a bit of resistance, but did eventually unscrew with some firm persuasion from a pair of pliers. With that done you wind a special insert into the exposed threads. The insert itself is threaded in the middle to accept the bolt which will snug up the new end stub. Getting the threaded insert in just the right spot proved a little finicky, the tolerances being tight enough that if it was wound in even a little to far, the bolt holding the end stub on wouldn’t reach the threads.
These minor hiccups notwithstanding, I had the new stub on good and tight in less time than it takes to play a side. I then rebalanced the arm, snugging up the new counterweight on the stub with its internal allen bolt once I’d arrived at the right tracking force (another good, and free Rega arm tweak is to set the arm’s tracking force dial to its highest setting, effectively taking the internal spring completely out of the equation. You then set the tracking force manually by moving the counterweight. You’ll need a stylus force gauge, but it’s a worthwhile tweak).
Immediately before making the change I had listened to a couple of records which I then re-played with the structural modification in place. First up was Bob Marley’s Survival, one of the William H. Macy records. It wouldn’t be reggae without some serious bottom end, and that’s what I noticed first in listening to my newly modified RB300. Tauter, cleaner, and more fully formed, the bass was significantly improved from the stock arm. In fact, I repeated the words “fully formed” a number of times in my notes. This sentiment didn’t just apply to the bass. Cohesive, coherent, solid, and “of a piece” are the words that come to mind to explain the overall improvement. Mircrodynamics improved, small sounds “jumping” out of the speakers more than they had before. There was greater smoothness in the mids and highs, and images floated wider, further outside the speakers, making for a bigger soundstage. All these things combined made for a more effortless, involving sound, the kind of sound that urges you to turn it up without punishing you with harshness. The kind of sound that never gets “loud”, it just gets better.
Beck’s Mutations LP is a killer sounding disc, and playback with the modified RB300 it did not disappoint. Although very different from the Marley record, this gorgeous, mostly acoustic set benefited in the same ways from the structural mod: big, effortless sound with delicate, fine detail, again instilling the urge to twist the volume ever higher. The sound was also more cohesive and better integrated than before with more vibrant tonal color and complexity. In sum, more involving, more musical, and far more than I expected.
75 Pounds Sterling may seem like quite a bit of scratch for an end stub and counterweight, but, as Origin Live suggests, this may very well be the most dramatic modification you can make to a Rega arm. After getting such excellent results I’m inclined to believe them. If these guys can truly transform the sound of an RB300 tonearm with what, in effect, is quite a simple modification, I salivate to think what one of their complete turntables sounds like. Needless to say I won’t be returning the arm to stock. The stub stays.
(Page Three: Aural Thrills Isolation Box)