REGA PLANAR 1: The Best Budget Turntable…In The World…Ever?
30th July 2017
The Rega Planar 1 has been out and about for a little while and so Paul Rigby has been able to have a good long look at the thing before giving it a thorough review. He does more than that, though. He asks if potential buyers should bother buying one at all or hunt around for a second hand P1?
One of the legends of the budget turntable genre, Rega’s introductory turntable design, the P1, was first introduced in 2005 with a MDF platter. The P1 was upgraded in 2010 with a Phenolic resin platter. Finally, the design was the subject of a major design revamp with a host of changes – which will be listed below – along with a name tweak to become the Planar 1.
The large list of design changes promises an improvement in sound. I was and still am a fan of the earlier P1 but I wanted to see how the new changes have been implemented in practical and in sound terms. Hence, I decided to review the new Planar 1 while also comparing it to the older P1 model, in this case the 2010 release.
As the Planar 1 is sold in greater and greater numbers, the quantity of older P1 decks available for second hand purchase will increase too. This factor is important, especially for the budget-conscious user. Saying that, though, actually scouting around eBay, I noticed that the original P1 is still being sold at the full price of £248 via ‘Buy it Now’ deals while auctioned decks include a recent model for just under £200. Other sites, such as Gumtree, have models available for between £170 and £200. As you can see, the Rega kit tends to hold its price pretty well which is a good thing for buyers, in the long run, who might want to offer their turntable for sale as second hand items.
So, should you look at buying second hand and so save a few pounds? Is it worth the savings? And just how good is the new Planar 1? Does the new turntable enhance sound quality at all? If so, by how much? Enough to shell out for the full retail value?
One of the more appealing aspects of Rega’s design policy is the lack of fuss. The new Planar 1 – like the RP1 – is minimalistic in terms of general design. Actually, the new Planar 1 takes that notion to the extreme because it moves the power switch from the upper front left of the platter. The new switch is still around the front left area but you can locate it underneath the platter instead to enhance the clean lines of the Planar 1’s piano black finish: it’s far more stylish than the textured vinyl of the original P1.
Both turntables include a built-in tonearm and cartridge. Both are set up correctly from the factory. Rega’s P1/Planar 1 are both very easy to set up and both score over the immediate competition in terms of the amount of steps and parts you have to play with. This is a ‘good thing’. Firstly, it reduces set-up time but also frustration. The latter is minor but definitely there on some competing designs. It irritates the hell out of me whenever I have to review a piece of hi-fi and, before I can power up, I have to attach the right set of prongs to the plug. And I’m given three sets to choose from too. If you’re not used to this sort of thing, this one simple and relatively minor task can cause some tension as the prongs often do not easily fit the first time or require an odd orientation. It’s a silly thing in the grand scheme of this turntable but I still applaud Rega for giving me a ready-made plug!
Another speedy set up point is the tonearm’s rear-mounted weight. There to assist you in setting up the cartridge downforce. Competing decks ask you to push the weight onto the rear of the arm and then, using an appropriate tool, set the correct downforce. Although I can do this task in my sleep, many beginners have never done such a thing in their entire lives and the prospect can be scary, never mind that they might even have to spend more cash on the required tool. Rega cuts this step out. You push the tonearm weight onto the rear of the arm and push it until it reaches a ‘stop’ point ridge. When the weight cannot move any further, you’re done. That’s it. The weight is at the correct point and you can move on. A blessing for any beginner.
To get you up and running, Rega also places a brief step-by-step set of instructions actually on the platter. You don’t have to open plastic bags to locate the manual, find the page and the instructions you need. Rega has them right in front of you, in plain view. Removing the manual from the packaging is a genius idea. Manuals, for beginners, are scary and should be shot at birth. They trigger uneasy memories in the user of receiving manuals spanning 4,000 pages over seven hard-backed, leather-bound volumes…the last time they bought a DVD player (I exaggerate, yes, but that’s how it can feel). The Planar 1 gets you up and running in nine bullet points spanning three square inches of white card plus two tiny inset diagrams.
Yes you could have extra detail showing alternative views of the turntable, more blow-up diagrams and more hand-holding text. There’s a balance to these things, though and I believe that assuming the user has basic intelligence is one of those things. Not talking to the user as if they are five years old is a nice attitude to take. There is enough information on this Quick Start card to get you going.
Changes have been made to the tonearm itself which has been designed specifically for this turntable and will only ever be seen on this turntable. The new RB110 includes a brand new security latch to keep a tight hold of the arm when it’s ‘in dock’, as it where. This latch is superior to the original. The new arm also does away with anti-skate requirements, using an opposing magnet system instead, built into the turntable. This just adds to the saving of time but also any demands for ugly bits of sticky-out wiring supporting ugly lengths of fishing wire dangling unsightly bobbly bits of lead weight. The P1 had a simple anti-skate setting arrangement but removing anti-skate totally also removes yet more worries from the beginner. Talk to any turntable beginner about anti-skate and most will think it involves lots of ice somewhere or other. I did talk to Rega about this change and they were concerned that a lot of users were not setting the anti-skate on their new decks because they either didn’t read the original manual properly, didn’t understand anti-skate or were afraid that, by altering this area, they might “break the turntable”. Rega’s new system removes the headache while automatically applying a correct setting for the arm and cartridge.
The Rega does have one contentious element and I’ve scratched the ol’chin on this one point. It related to speed changing.
To move from 33 ⅓ to 45rpm and back again, both the newer Planar 1 and older P1 ask you to lift the platter to expose the motor and belt and then you have to gently transfer the belt that ultimately rotates the platter onto a different groove of the pulley. It takes a few seconds, is painless and you quickly get used to it but it’s not as convenient as flipping a switch on to of the platter. This, I grant you, might concern a few beginners and might irritate a few others.
Finishing my chin scratching, I decided that Rega is correct to relegate speed changes to belt moving. Why? Because changing the speed has nothing to do with the final sound quality. That is, adding a convenient switch will not enhance sound quality. The other changes to the Planar 1 either add convenience and do not affect sound quality or just enhance sound quality without compromising convenience.
Adding a speed switch to the plinth of the Planar 1 would actually compromise sound quality.
Think about it, this is a £248-priced turntable. That, in the grand scheme of things, is not a lot when you consider that Rega has to push out the door an easy to use, audiophile, non-Crosley-type, design that sounds great. Of the set build budget, therefore, every penny counts. An automatic speed changer will eat up a chunk of the build budget meaning that sound quality will suffer. Why? Well, because something else would have to go. Or the quality if something else would have to be reduced to free up the extra cash required. Also, such speed changes can introduce noise into the system, degrading sound quality.
Other improvements over the older P1 include a brand new 24V, low noise, synchronous motor (the first budget design from Rega to include one). It arrives with a new motor PCB and aluminium pulley offering low noise and better speed stability too. The plinth is also new…as is the 23mm, higher mass, phenolic platter. The bearing it sits on has been re-designed. It’s based on brass but includes a better fit, removing stress on the bearing itself whilst minimising the transfer of potential energy. Rega even has a patent pending on this one. Even the feet have been enhanced and changed, designed originally for the Rega Planar 3 and brought over for the Planar 1. The turntable arrives with an excellent Rega Carbon cartridge.
I decided to use Connie Francis’ original pressing Sings Bacharach and David (MGM) from 1968 in which she fronts a large orchestra. From the off, I could tell that the Planar 1 offered a reduced noise environment. Noise masks musical information. Remove it and more music comes though. That’s what I was hearing here.
Secondly was the lead vocal which was far more focused than the P1. The P1 suffered from a touch more noise which meant that mids on the vocal smeared a little producing a touch of stridency on crescendos. I say this as a comparison to the Planar 1 only. In comparison to many other budgets turntables the P1 is sonically superior. Nevertheless, the Planar 1 provided a clearer and very stable lead vocal performance that not only helped clarity but Francis’ diction.
Midrange, in general terms, provided a smooth output with both trumpet and the string section flowing with a sense of elegance and ease. Piano was both rich and full with a new air of lightness about the notes which now seemed to dance politely across the wide and broad soundstage.
The stereo image was a busy area. Behind the Francis vocal was a tight guitar strum, thought most of the song that sat alongside a series of cymbal taps. Both the guitar and cymbals provided new information and detail with, for the cymbals, open and delicate treble response with a characterful guitar sound. Character was also what the bass provided in terms of the bowed double bass and the firm yet detailed lower frequencies.
Next was a more contemporary pressing and the high energy sounds of Die Werkpiloten via Germany’s Vinyl on Demand label from 2012.
This drum heavy LP offered gloriously tight, punchy but not dry percussive bass. It’s all very well having a strong bass but if it lacks any sense of the organic then it tends to lose emotion (unless that’s the artist’s intention, of course). If there’s one thing that annoys me is when a piece of hi-fi makes the decision for you. The Planar 1 offered strength and a bass impact that was potent and convincing but always with a sense of the emotional.
Vocals also provided emotion, giving texture to the lyrics with midrange subtlety and nuance that, added to vocal emphasis, provided a sense of performance to the song. Again, the music provided a humanistic feel. Budget gear can often strip this important element from its design. The Planar, for the price, had it in spades.
The low noise aspect of the turntable meant that manic electric guitar sequences provided more detail and precision while, on the other end of the scale, rather shy synth runs were ‘visible’ to the ear and where never masked by any threats of blooming bass or smearing mids. This also occurred with the bass guitar which, on this LP, could be rather recessed into the depth of the mix. The low noise allowed the ear to follow the bass guitar throughout the songs without any trouble.
If you can find one cheap enough, grab a RP1, it sounds excellent and will serve you well. That said, if you can save up for a new Planar 1, go for that instead. The more I used the turntable, the more I realised that this is not just a budget turntable, it’s the ultimate budget turntable. It does everything that a budget turntable can do and should do in terms of its consideration towards the customer but also its respect for the ears of the same in its search for top quality sound for the asking price.
In those terms, the Planar 1 sets itself up as the standard which every other budget turntable seeks to emulate. From the installation to the final play, the Rega Planar 1 is not just outstanding, it has actually changed the nature of the market at this level. On this basis, I have no choice but to award it the highest rating I have in my armoury, the ultra-rare Golden Groovy. I have details of almost 250 products reviewed on this site. This is only the fourth time that I’ve awarded such a rating. That’s how good this turntable is…
REGA PLANAR 1 TURNTABLE
TO BUY CLICK BELOW:
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GOOD: general design, aesthetics, set-up, overall sound quality, price
Rega RP1 turntable
Trichord Dino phono amplifier
Rega Brio-R amplifier
Spendor S3/5R2 speakers
Tellurium Q cables
Harmonic Resolution Systems Noise Reduction Components
All vinyl was cleaned using Audio Desk’s Ultrasonic Pro Vinyl Cleaner