Ariston was previously one of the most prestigious hi-fi brands. It was the proud moniker on one of Scotland’s best turntables, and it was adored by many a well-heeled audiophile in the 1970s. The brand is now a shell of its former existence, long gone and nearly forgotten, and the RD11 tale is still mired in dispute…
Hamish Robertson founded the company after contracting Castle Precision Engineering Ltd., Ivor Tiefenbrun’s father’s company, to build the deck for him in 1970. Hamish, Ivor, and Jack collaborated on the RD11, which was distributed by C. J. Walker and Company. However, in February 1973, Linn Products Ltd. began selling Castle Precision Engineering turntables that appeared to be quite similar to Aristons. Meanwhile, Dunlop Westayr Ltd acquired Ariston and renamed it Ariston Audio Ltd, and Hamish Robertson left.
Despite their evident parallels, neither deck was the pinnacle of engineering creativity. In terms of design, both were heavily influenced by the Thorens TD150, as well as the original AR turntable. Until the Oracle and Michell GyroDec (which came out just weeks apart in 1981), all belt drive decks were pretty much the same, with a plinth containing a sprung subchassis upon which the motor, bearing, and armplate sat.
Ariston described the RD11 as having a “very straightforward design approach.” It had a 24-pole AC synchronous motor with “high torque” that was “specially built by Ariston engineers” to drive a two-piece 3.2kg platter via a square-section rubber belt. This was supported by a single-point main bearing with a “perfectly spherical ball-bearing” and a “precision ground mirror-finished shaft.” The belt drive had a slip-clutch mechanism to prevent stretching, and the motor had two speeds, 33.333 and 45 RPM, with small front-mounted trim knobs for precision speed control. By 1971 standards, Ariston claimed a wow and flutter figure of 0.06 percent and a rumble of -78dB, which was good.
The steel subchassis was disconnected from the armboard for external vibration isolation, and it sat on three pliant coil springs to decouple it from the weighty real wood plinth, with a good acrylic lid to top it off. All of this will be familiar to LP12 owners, right down to the hefty rubber platter mat, which was also found on early Sondeks. The only visible distinctions were the Ariston’s smaller, circular armboard, the on-off switch’s location on the front right of the deck, and the pin-stripes around the inside of the plinth top, which were very 1970s.
The RD11 sounded great in a 1970s kind of way, with clean, open sound, powerful, prolonged bass, and sharp highs. By today’s standards, imaging is diffuse, the midband is colored, and the bass is sloppy, but it nevertheless sounds huge, spacious, and euphonic. Modern super-decks are often very analytical for their own good, but you can’t say that about the Ariston, which sounds huge, fat, and warm regardless of what’s on the record!
The RD11 was a favorite partner of SME’s Series III tonearm, and the two functioned well together. Grace’s G707, ADC’s low-mass LMF arms, Rega’s Acos-derived R200, and SME’s ubiquitous 3009S2 were all popular suitors. Rega’s RB300 and later versions are the obvious choice these days, but SME’s 309 and IV also perform well.
If you’re searching for a used one, pay £200 for a decent early RD11 or £350 for a later Superieur version and you’ll have a fantastic high-end deck for less than the price of a Rega. Even better, many Linn parts, including as the Valhalla power supply and Nirvana spring kit, fit the RD11, despite the fact that the main bearing and armboard are completely different.
Ariston’s narrative, unfortunately, does not have a happy ending. In the early 1980s, the firm moved downmarket, producing some excellent budget tackle such as the RD40, RD80, and Icon. However, the introduction of the CD basically put Ariston out of business, and despite some last-ditch attempts to diversify into electronics, it was ‘game over’. Sadly, Hamish is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on in the form of some excellent secondhand turntable bargains.