Even so, certain new products (e.g., a new analogue package consisting of Rega’s RP8 turntable bundled with the Apheta moving coil phono cartridge) have proven so popular that it has been difficult at times for the factory to keep up with demand. Indeed, as Roy took us on our tour, he showed us a work area where sets of almost-ready-to-ship RP8s were awaiting a handful of late-arriving critical parts so that they could be completed and sent out to waiting customers. To give you some idea of just how busy the factory is, note that Rega builds and ships four-figure quantities of its entry-level RP1 turntables each month and does brisk sales of its higher-priced models as well.
Three things that impressed us throughout out tour were the very high levels of careful hand assembly that go into most every Rega product, the extreme levels of craftsmanship and quality control work done during each phase of assembly, and the extent to which many factory workers make a point of cross training so that they can fill multiple roles in assembling various products. Whether visiting Rega’s tonearm assembly area, phono cartridge assembly room, loudspeaker construction area, or the workspace where Rega’s top-tier Reference Series components are built, it is common to find workers who know chapter and verse of all—or nearly all—of the assembly steps and techniques involved. For the past several years, I have used Rega’s Isis CD player/DAC and Osiris integrated amplifier as reference components in my home system, so for me it was exciting to meet the woman who, in all likelihood, personally built and tested the components I use so often in my work. This is, then, no run-of-the-mill factory where workers drone away at the same tasks, day in and day out. Instead, Rega workers show an unusual degree of initiative and awareness of how individual assembly steps relate to the larger whole.
We spent a great deal of time learning how Rega’s famous tonearms are made. One of the key steps involves fitting precision-made ball bearings to a stainless steel axle shaft, and then pre-tensioning those bearings for a minimum of play. Interestingly, bearing assemblies for Rega’s RB303, RB808, and RB1010 arms are all built in the same assembly are and use parts that, on paper, have all passed the same demanding QC tests. The difference, which is virtually impossible to measure but is easy to discern by feel, is that certain bearing sets have fractionally tighter tolerances than others, even though all of them have passed the same incoming inspection tests. Thus, when a worker encounters a set of these best-of-the-best bearings, they are set aside and reserved for use in Rega’s top-tier arms. To give you some idea of the ultra-tight tolerances we are talking about, note that standard RB303 bearings have about 4 microns of clearance before pre-tensioning and just 1 micron of clearance after pre-tensioning. By using the personal touch, the bearing sets used in the RB808 and RB1010-series arms are claimed to be able to achieve remarkable sub-1-micron tolerances after pre-tensioning.