RCM Audio theRIAA MkII phono stage

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RCM Audio theRIAA MkII
RCM Audio theRIAA MkII phono stage

Back in Issue 102, I reviewed the RCM Audio theRIAA. It was a two-box, extraordinarily flexible MM/MC phono stage, that used ICs in place of discrete components in critical parts of the circuit. I liked it so much. I bought it. Ninety-one issues later, I’m faced with the same box, albeit this time with some very different innards. You see, where many companies might plump for the cosmetic upgrade every decade or so, RCM Audio has instead redesigned the circuit boards of the original theRIAA. An internal makeover means a more significant power supply reserve, a better laid out circuit board and better cabling. Although it looks functionally identical, theRIAA MkII benefits from a decade of improvements to circuit design technology and some new and very swish parts.

A quick recap is in order. RCM Audio comes from Katowice, Poland. When not making phono stages, RCM Audio is best known as one of Poland’s leading high-end audio distributors, with perhaps an understandable interest in turntables. RCM is the distributor for the likes of TechDAS, SAT, SME, Kuzma, Benz Micro, Thales, My Sonic Lab, Etsuro Urushi and more... in other words, almost all the best vinyl products made virtually anywhere on the planet. When I first heard theRIAA, RCM’s home-built product line was just three models; the more entry-level Sensor Prelude phono stage, theRIAA, and an integrated valve amplifier called Bonasus. Now, eight years later RCM Audio still has just three models in its portfolio; the Sensor 2 MkII (the follow up to the follow up to the Prelude), theRIAA MkII and a big phono stage called, of course, The Big Phono. This last has only recently launched, after showing so successfully at Warsaw 2019, and its cost is a cool £35,000. 

That original Sensor Prelude IC phono stage was the launch-pad for RCM’s phono stages, and theRIAA is effectively a dual mono, high-specification version of that original Sensor circuit and all that followed. However, theRIAA does without the small value decoupling capacitors dotted around the circuit boards of the more down-to-earth Sensor design. That statement holds just as much today with the MkII as it did eight years ago. 

RCM Audio’s theRIAA MkII is still a two-box IC-based MM/MC phono stage with passive RIAA equalisation, in two ‘well-built, but functional’ boxes, one of which has the choice of black or brushed chrome front panel. As before, the sophistication of the adjustable gain and loading (using top-end Omron DIP switches) and an expensive laundry list of high-spec components from Elna, Nichicon, Vishay and more has helped bring the linearity to the RIAA curve of theRIAA from an already deeply impressive ±0.3dB in the Sensor to a remarkable ±0.1dB across the 20Hz–20kHz range. 

That ‘well-built, but functional case’ – made by Fischer Elektronic of Germany – is not just for show. The anodised aluminium case features a custom damping plate and the 10mm thick aluminium partitions that entirely separate the two channels help to minimise any potential environmental noise pollution. It will never appeal to those looking for highly polished front panels and delicate curves milled into an inches-thick panel. Those who want their product to shout ‘new!’ for a few months will not like a product that shares the same exterior with models made a decade ago. Still, as a solidly built, essential piece of industrial design, it remains staunchly in the ‘classic’ mode.

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