RB – Indeed. Utterly brilliant. You know, I never ever spilt the silicon, but after we first discussed the Blackbird, I went and dug out the Well tempered, only to discover that it had leaked silicon fluid all over my amplifier. I think someone must have turned it over and slowly but surely, it did its worst.
Part of my planning process was to aim for my tongue in cheek target, but on a more realistic level I just wanted to see if I could make a tonearm that worked. But it had to be buildable by an idiot, because there was only an idiot available to build it. It was going to have to be incredibly robust, just to withstand the process of construction.
RG – At this point in time, were you thinking of this as a product?
RB – No. No way. The plan was to make two, stick them on the Garrards and get them going – and along the way see how far I could take them, compared to the Ekos. I bought some aluminium tube and I found an old light fitting, spent some time grinding filing away at that and literally glued and hacksawed my way to a prototype. The suspension filament on that was actually garden twine! I put the finished prototype on one of the Garrards, used the cable from some old headphones as a lead-out wire and gave it a listen. Within 30-seconds I knew that I’d never heard vinyl sound that good. I’ve heard some very nice and highly rated decks, but nothing like this.
RG – There is an immediacy and directness of communication that comes from your arm.
RB – A little bit like the 301. You think, “Ahh – that’s what I’ve been missing.” My wife calls it ‘punchy’. So, like I say, within 30-seconds, I’m looking at my wife and saying, “Are you listening to this? This is quite special. I’m going to have to patent this.” That was it: build more prototypes, try different materials, drafted a patent. I showed what I had to a patent lawyer. It was about 10-pages long at that point and he actually offered me a discount for all the work I’d already done, but by the time he’d finished it had grown into a 37-page document. He actually really got into it and really understood the design. The patent was applied for in July 2020 and was granted in about a year and a half – which is actually quite rapid.
But what was clear to me was that the value of the patent lay in that it defined a negotiating position. If you were already making a product and you took the invention to an interested third party, it allowed you to walk away from the negotiating table because you already had a profitable business. It might sound obvious, but a vital step in really monetising the design was turning it into a viable product. The potential significance of the bearing concept goes way beyond what I can or cannot do with the Blackbird or different iterations of that product. It’s real potential lies in its adoption for mass-produced tonearms to be fitted to volume production record players. I’ve had discussions but we’ll see where they lead.