Everything I wrote back then I still stand by and much joy I have had, as have those customers who purchased one.
However, despite his age, Bill Firebaugh is an industrious fellow and has been working hard on what he would no doubt call a statement product. A deck designed without constraints to realise the maximum potential of his design philosophy. Read that in full here.
The design; in detail.
Enter the Royale 400. 400? Well that refers to the length of the tonearm in mm, which is roughly 16’’. That’s not a typo, sixteen inches! Why so long? Well, for starters, the cartridge will trace a larger arc across the record but Bill says more important than that is that it’s offset angle is now so minimal that there is almost no vector force to require any bias.
Naturally with an arm so long a larger plinth is required and that is the very first thing anyone will notice when they clap eyes on the Royale 400, its size; 63.5x55.5cm. However, in practice, this is only a little larger than a Quadraspire SVT table (59.5x47.5cm) for example. However a custom built 3 tier table the exact size to match is also available. It too uses birch ply for the shelves and features anodised extruded aluminium columns inside which is a one inch diameter steel rod running the entire height of the table and threaded at both ends to facilitate a compression method of tightening. It’s extremely rigid.
As before, the plinth is solid birch ply but instead of the Versalex’s 30mm it is 65mm and this is sandwiched between two 14mm solid aluminium sheets between which is a proprietary rubber damper which is also used under the arm collar and motor mount. Naturally the use of squash balls is out of the question due to the sheer weight of the deck so Bill has designed a unique solution for the Royale 400; four fully adjustable machined aluminium feet that incorporate three ceramic ball bearings, a smaller but identical version of those made for the custom rack.
Speaking of weight, this deck weighs in at a not inconsiderable 50kg and this along with the whole construction accounts for its immense structural rigidity and self-damping. Indeed, when mounted atop the custom rack one can even thump the top of the plinth and barely a sound is heard through the loudspeakers let alone upset the tracking of the cartridge!
The rest of the design follows previous methodology though beefed up somewhat. The main bearing remains as before, a round spindle in a triangular aperture but of wider diameter and a higher level of machining as can be seen in the images. The oversized platter also remains but increases from 25mm to 38mm in height and therefore much heavier too.
The DC motor is retained but now speed change from 33 to 45 is available via a rear-mounted switch and a speed tuning knob replaces the small rear aperture requiring a screwdriver of the Versalex. Drive, via the polyester thread stays the same as with all WT turntables.
The tonearm is identical to that of the Versalex bar the increased length of course and the replacement of the connection block for the plinth mounted Lemo socket. The two output phono sockets are now mounted on the rear of the deck.
Our new benchmark in vinyl replay quality is established.
As I said, everything I wrote back in 2014 regarding the Versalex’s performance stands but every now and then something changes that forces one to recalibrate one’s appreciation of quality or performance, whether it’s the new iPhone, the latest Ferrari or the latest turntable design.
This is exactly what the Royale 400 was designed to achieve and oh boy does it achieve it?
Let's start by stating the Royale 400 is clearly recognisable as a Well Tempered. This is no total rethink or contrary design. It is the design principles of a forward thinking turntable designer taken to a whole new level. I was going to say the max but who knows what else Bill may one day envisage?
I could allude to all its hi-fi and audiophile characteristics, which is has in spades and without which, the Royale 400 would no doubt not do what it does.
What this turntable does do though, and far, far better than any in my previous experience is convey the performance of the piece. That’s what strikes one first, the sheer believability of what’s before you. Never before has the emotion of a singer or of a guitar player been so well delivered. The grip and control, of the entire spectrum, macro and micro dynamics is breathtaking and challenges your understanding of your most beloved music. For example; I played ‘’Since I’ve Been Loving You’’ from Led Zep III first pressing and heard bass lines and drum patterns I didn’t know where even there with Jimmy’s searing guitar sending shivers down my spine whilst all along Robert Plants soulful smooth tone remained, that is until he belts out in falsetto.
Listening to Sonny Rollins’ play ‘’Blue 7’’ on the album Saxophone Colossus one can so clearly hear the reed emanating from the horn in front of you.
I could go on with many such examples but I feel I could never truly do justice to the experience.
After living with the Royale 400 for two whole weeks my only disappointment was the following two weeks getting over its return.
Now, where did I leave my tape measure?
- Multi-layer “baltic” plywood central layer.
- Switchable 33 to 45 RPM
- Anodized aluminium top and bottom layers.
- Proprietary rubber damping material between layers, motor and tonearm coupling.
- Isolation feet capable of supporting the heavy plinth.
- Electronic servo speed controlled motor.
- Refined platter assembly and zero clearance main bearing.
- The now purely mechanical LTD tonearm with 16” (400mm) arm tube.
- Symmetrex tonearm configuration with golf ball suspended in silicone fluid for optimum variable damping
- “Zero Clearance” platter bearing
- 0.004” polyester thread belt
- Easy azimuth adjustment
Well Tempered Royale 400 £10995, Custom Rack £2995