The Reference Master record player was vastly complex and so expensive to build that it was never to be a commercial reality, only one ever seeing the light of day. The Rock V takes much of the engineering and thinking involved in the IV project and recasts it in a more practical and realizable shape. So, gone is the three speed electronic power supply with fine pitch control; gone is the electronic adjustment of VTA and the motorized arm base that compensated automatically for tracking error – although these features, or facilities quite like them will feature as future options on the Rock V. However, core aspects and principles have been preserved through a novel and to some no doubt, shocking use of lateral thinking.
The logic goes like this: a turntable is a precision engineering product and what makes it expensive is the precision required and the you increase numbers. If you increase numbers a lot, then you’ll slash those costs, so why not cannibalize key parts from the World’s most successful and reliably engineered budget turntable, the Rega? And that’s exactly what Townshend have done. Look at the arm and you’ll notice that the bearings, base, arm-rest, arm-lift and bias arrangements are all taken directly from a Rega RB300, duly sandwiched between a new armtube and counterweight arrangement. Less obvious is that the motor pulley, sub-platter and main bearing as well as the glass disc that forms the basis of the main platter are also culled directly from Rega parts. By doing so, Townshend are able to rely on Rega’s engineering consistency and selection processes, where thousands of parts are matched to meet precise tolerances, to deliver parts at a price and quality that they could never achieve independently. Those savings can in turn be invested in other aspects of the design, to whit, the plinth, suspension, damping trough and tonearm parts.
The deck itself is a three-point suspended design, using a powder coated plated steel sub-chassis filled with cast plaster-of-paris sitting on small number of parts produced. But, whilst you can ill afford to reduce the precision or widen the tolerances, you can reduce costs if three coil-springs. Each spring is enclosed in a rubber bellows (or shock boot in cycling parlance) that is pierced by a small hole. Move the spring and you alter the internal pressure of the bellows, which thus resists movement until the air pressure equalizes, the rate of equalization defined by the size of the hole. It’s a form of damping much used where weight is an issue, so you find it on high-performance motorcycles and mountain bikes. Indeed, anybody who rides such a vehicle will instantly recognise the slight wheezing that accompanies violent displacement of the Rock V’s sub-chassis. The main plinth is also stainless-steel, chosen for its longevity, while three turned bosses provide parking points (left and right) for the record clamp and a drip tray for any escaping fluid from the parked arm’s damping wand, to prevent cosmetic marring of the shiny surface. Aluminium plates front and back dress and further damp the plinth, which sits on a 6mm thick steel base and four feet.
In the open area around the subplatter, rotating steel wedges allow users to disable the suspension for transit, although levelling beyond the factory setting depends on tweaking the spring mounts from below. The platter simply sits on the plastic moulding of the sub-platter, and consists of a Rega glass platter sandwiching a 4mm thick disk of damping compound bonded to a thick slab of white vinyl. The record spindle is threaded to take the small clamp, while the central boss can be wound up and down to vary the clamping action or even act as a record centre for 45s. The trough arrangement should be familiar, but has been reengineered. Height can be varied to accommodate different cartridges and it locks in place across the record using the front mounted cam lever. It feels reassuringly solid in use –which is just as well given the amount of silicon fluid it contains, poised just above your fragile record grooves. The arm design grafts a doublebarrelled front tube reminiscent of a Triplanar, onto the Rega bearing housing, secured via a pin and single bolt threading into what was the Rega arm-tube. The cradle arrangement that clamps the upper tube allows adjustment of overhang and azimuth. The headshell meets the tube on a shallow slant in established Excalibur style, and supports the magnesium spaceframe that carries the damping wand The arm-tube itself is additionally damped by a plastic sleeve. This structure allows the horizontal bearings to be positioned ideally in the plane of the record, while a plug on the arm cable that exits the upper tube enables the forward section to be exchanged complete with cartridge, although this is not a particularly simple or quick exercise. The twin counterweights are hung from a machined yoke, their small dimensions keeping them close to the pivot point, optimally positioned relative to the arm-tubes and out of the way when cueing. The result is rather striking (in a bits and pieces, 50’s science fiction sort of way) if not actually particularly elegant. It also incorporates Rega’s dynamic balancing tracking force adjustment and bias arrangement, both of which are well engineered solutions but whose scales are notoriously inaccurate – around 10% and 30% respectively on the review sample. Proper set-up using an accurate set of scales is essential. VTA is adjusted using a simple grub-screw through the side of the arm collar, reached via a groove in the white vinyl arm-board. Actually playing a record adds swinging the trough into place to the whole procedure, but it’s remarkable how natural this quickly becomes. It also allows you to listen with and without front-end damping: suffice to say, it’s a salutary demonstration and one which once undertaken will have you using the trough every time you play a record, which helps explain why most of the Rock turntables ever sold are still in use today, and any that crop up on the secondhand market are snapped up, often for more than their originally asking price.