To go to see Rega at the factory again after all these years is more than a pilgrimage for me ... this is a company whose culture and design ethos I have pointed to as an icon of positive practise in the endeavour of my own life's work in our small Hi Fi company in Melbourne.

It turns out that we at Carlton Audio Visual are responsible at times for 50 -60% of Rega sales in Australia so it seems that we have a very strong working relationship …

 rab at rega

The sheer Britishness of Rega and its independent ownership during a time when most UK Hi Fi companies were being bought and sold and bought and sold and ending up as badges on a piece of characterless kit produced in Shenzen has been a battle standard for good Hi Fi manufacturing.

This is a simply extraordinary company. Their product and reputation is very well known and there is a lovely book about them … I particularly like the stories of Roy Gandy’s early encounters with motorcycles and the creation and sustainment thereof.

 rab at rega

When he was a teenager he was given a box of rusty bits and told that if he could put it back together and make it work then it would be his. So Roy at sixteen worked for a year and created a beautiful James 150cc Café Racer that these days would be a masterpiece of hipsterdom. Alas he learnt a valuable lesson when the older boy saw it and remembered that this now new and gleaming motorcycle was actually his and took it back …

Rebuilding a motorcycle is a fundamental basic exercise of engineering with a built in provision that you are betting your life on the results of your labours. A mechanical failure on two wheels is kindred to that of an aeroplane in capacity for personal death and injury. It acutely sharpens your understanding of the engineering involved …

Roy’s other great love and one more sustainable to health is Guitars … his house and workplace … which are kind of the same … are littered with various guitars that my partner Paul would no doubt have salivated over appropriately.

Between motorcycles and guitars there is a synergy of engineering of music, vibration, and friction that makes for an excellent grounding in the raw principles of music reproduction equipment.

Rega’s product is well known. There is a simple truth of all their devices. They are a bargain in music reproduction.

 rab at rega

From the Planar 1 Turntable to the P10, from the Brio to the Osiris amplifier, there are no superfluous add ons with these products … everything is distilled down its absolute minimum and as such becomes incredibly straightforward to live with.

I would offer a side observation here that the single thing that the high end residential clients ask for when they are consulting us for home audio visual design and automation is simplicity of use. Time and time again they have been frustrated by their ongoing encounters with music and video replay from tier one brand AV product where even something as simple as listening to the radio requires microprocessor control intervention and a graphic user interface.

I love to play these clients a Rega system. They are uniformly devastated by how good the music sounds and how utterly simple and easy it is to use. They are often of that age where they have a record collection from yore that has been squirrelled away and it can be a delight to see their faces when exposed to decent LP music after they have had years of being force fed digital by Apple Bose and B&O.

rab at rega

A Rega amplifier, turntable, and a pair of appropriate speakers is a wonderful musical complement to a new residence that will last more than a generation in the household.

Back to the factory visit … there is a quite uncommon bonne homme pervading the facility. People are cheerful and focused, everything is brightly lit and finished in a particular lime green that is reminiscent of Kawasaki team colours from the nineteen seventies. Everything that Rega do is carefully researched, even the company colour was chosen after a lengthy process to determine the optimum part of the visible spectrum for labouring within.


rab at rega

There are 120 employees in the factory, up from 40 or so ten years ago. The place is a model of efficiency of spatial utilisation … there is no room to spare in any of the four dimensions, and people work comfortably elbow to elbow without rancour or complaint. As a visitor I was unrestricted in my photography or access to the employees. [Although not everyone likes having their photo taken and I was politely asked not to use their image on an occasion]

That period of expansion in the last decade has led to them forsaking their previous premises in the old mill and moving into this new purpose designed facility. They have now acquired another building adjacent and are preparing to spread into the new place, and they have a need.

Now this isn’t Apple or Samsung we are talking about … but there are some very distinctive characteristics of Rega that make them unique.

They owe no money … everything has been paid for out of retained profits accumulated over the last forty years.

More than ninety per cent of the content is British, that means that all the subassemblies that are normally contracted out to SE Asia are sourced locally. For a small company they have a remarkably diverse range of inhouse manufacture including circuit board population, coil winding, and speaker drive units.

rab at rega

As Phil Freeman the managing partner recants … “if we run short of something why would we want to wait two months and have to order massively when we can get in a car and run down the road to procure it.”

Phil has some singular views. Naturally I questioned them first about Brexit as this is a sword of Damocles hanging over some of the other small high tech UK manufacturers.

Phil has the view that the EU is less of an open skies trading partner but rather a cartel that forces countries to trade inwardly. From the vesicular viewpoint of Rega who sell 45,000 turntables around the world the EU has never been particularly benevolent, and as they source their materials locally they are not suffering the rise in external costs issue that is causing other UK Hi Fi manufacturers prices to rise.

rab at rega

Phil and Roy lack that typical secularity of the workplace expected particularly within the unwritten severe hierarchy of typical UK small medium enterprises of my experience, wherein a directorship is treated as a ticket into the next level of the class structure and the inevitable separation of boss, management, and workforce. They know exactly each task of production, they know everyone’s name and life story, they would happily take a seat in one of the production areas if required by demands for a product line or absence through illness.

Roy tells of a recent new colleague acquisition with a pride that is a mixture of the professional and paternal. A young American graduate with high honours in both electronic and mechanical engineering had written to them saying it was his greatest wish to join their company as he simply loved their products. He could have procured a position in the USA in a high end corporation with far better money and a much longer title however he was happy to start on the shop floor at Rega. They gave him a go and he is now working there as designer and living in a shared house in Southend with son of the Sue the Sales and is happy as Larry. The new Atlas stylus gauge is his first product.

rab at rega

The Atlas is incidentally a very special little device … originally built to enable the precise calibration of the suspension of the Rega cartridges it is so sensitive that they had to detune it so as to stop it acting as seismometer measuring vibrations from lorries parking outside. It is expensive but is the only stylus gauge you will ever need.

There is such a lot one can write about this small company and its unique product portfolio. Primarily they are obsessed with minimising vibration and developing frictionless mechanical read devices for analogue music. Their manufactured devices all reflect this, the functional minimalism results in consumer devices that are aesthetically pleasing, simple to use, and very long lasting.

There is one last thing that I think that expresses the core values of the company and that is Roy Gandy’s succession plan. The intent is simply to leave the company to its employees so that they can keep on making beautiful things for their customers.

rab at rega