Last week I was honoured by a visit from Rega’s namesake and founder Roy Gandy. Rumours had been circulating that the long awaited Naiad turntable is as good as a turntable could possibly be and I could wait no longer. So I asked if I could hear it and was surprised when he offered to come to me, but this meant that I could get a far better idea of its capabilities, so I got the Hoover out.
The Naiad still isn’t finished, changes in the supply of the monocoque carbon fibre chassis have slowed it down and the tonearm is still not finalised. The bracing you see on the headshell is not necessarily going to be put into production, but many aspects of the design seem to be established. The platter bearing for instance is made of zirconium, industrial diamond, with a two micron gap for lubrication. Originally Rega had chosen aluminium oxide for the bearing but zirconium proved to be better. The armbase is in titanium but the arm rest support is now aluminium as per the current RB2000 arm, it was originally titanium too. The motor is fully enclosed in a mu metal shield, Roy was surprised at how much difference this made especially with regard to the elimination of upward radiation. The power supply has also yet to be finalised, we used one from an RP10.
The platter is made of the same ceramic oxide material as that on the RP10 but it’s deeper and has a smoother radius on the curve cut out of the underside. Avoiding edges on resonant elements is apparently beneficial but this one requires hand smoothing unlike the machined platter of the current range topper. The motor drives this platter with three silicone belts for maximum torque with minimum energy transfer. The counterweight on this sample seemed tiny compared to the standard unit, which itself is pretty small, but apparently they had gone slightly too far in this respect, it shouldn’t have to be quite so far from the bearing. There is also a dedicated Aphelion cartridge coming for this turntable but this was not available on the day and we ‘made do’ with an Apheta 2 (of which more later as I now have it on the RP10).
I had dug out an old Target table for the Naiad but Roy is of the opinion that the support is not all that critical, he explained that the energy transfer through air is significantly greater than that which can be structurally born. Which undermines a lot of current thinking on the matter but apparently was discovered (and forgotten) several decades back by Martin Colloms when he used to measure such things for Hi-Fi Choice’s A5 publications.
Playing familiar records on the Naiad proved to be a slow burn experience, it does not attempt to impress with a big glitzy sound that wows on the first bar. Rather it removes itself from the equation better than any turntable I’ve heard, and I’ve heard a few that are good in this respect. So, gradually it becomes apparent that you can hear more of what’s been cut into the groove and less of the mechanical process of reading it, because that process suffers from less of the distortion that usually plagues vinyl replay. In practice this means lower noise, records actually seem to be quieter/have greater dynamic range and less surface noise than normal. And that means more of the quieter sounds and cues in each piece of music are obvious, something that puts differences in recording quality and style into stark relief. It also reveals the acoustic of the venue with incredible precision, the depth that this turntable can extract from a good recording (Chasing the Dragon’s Four Seasons) is quite extraordinary.
The Naiad does have a character of sorts, it’s a sense of authority and assurance, this can be heard in the weight and power of the bass. It sounds as solid and 3D as any analogue source I have encountered, and certainly more so than many high mass designs which sound lumpen by comparison. There is no thickness added, that is the key. The low mass of the Naiad plinth stops any smearing or emphasis of certain frequencies in the way that mass tends to. It is clean and fast but not bright or forward, it is in fact very hard to hear, what you do hear is less turntable and more signal.
Despite being a few stages away from finalisation this Naiad is very impressive in its own understated way. I would love to have had it for longer but that would have left me in even greater trouble when it went, but better to have loved and lost as they say. The interesting thing about it for Rega is that they normally do their utmost to make products as affordable as possible, here they have had to switch their thinking and adopt a blue sky, cost is no object approach. This is largely responsible for the extended incubation of Naiad, but the wait will certainly be worth it.