REGA PLA­NAR 6 TURNTABLE

TURNTABLE

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Rega in­tends the Pla­nar 6 to lead the way, rather than merely of­fer mid­dle-ground for up­graders…

Rega’s en­try-level turnta­bles —cur­rently Pla­nars 1, 2 and 3—have con­sis­tently been a top choice for those re-en­ter­ing the vinyl world on a bud­get. The com­pany’s lat­est turntable, the Pla­nar 6, of­fers a jump to a higher level. You might view this as a half­way house to Rega’s ref­er­ence of­fer­ings, the RP8 and RP10. But in fact it seems from the new tech­nolo­gies and ma­te­ri­als here that Rega in­tends the Pla­nar 6 to lead the way, rather than merely of­fer­ing mid­dle-ground for up­graders.

THE EQUIP­MENT

Phi­los­o­phy first. You might think this looks a fairly bare-bones kind of turntable for the price of $1,999 with­out car­tridge. Some ri­vals of­fer large and solid plinths, fol­low­ing the think­ing that high mass will cre­ate rigid­ity, low­er­ing and spread­ing any pos­si­ble res­o­nances, and re­ject­ing ex­ter­nal vi­bra­tion.

That is not the Rega way. Rigid­ity yes, but not through pil­ing on weight. Mass ab­sorbs en­ergy, notes Rega. Slowly-re­leased en­ergy adds coloura­tion, and lost en­ergy equals lost mu­sic. The com­pany’s founder, Roy Gandy, [who, for dec­la­ra­tion’s sake, once put this re­viewer up overnight in his cas­tle-like res­i­dence] set­tled on his engi­neer­ing-based view long ago—for Rega it’s all about light­ness, stiff­ness and brac­ing. It aims for the light­est pos­si­ble chas­sis, with the stiffest pos­si­ble brace. Over the years the com­pany’s turnta­bles have im­ple­mented this ideal to ever-higher lev­els as new ma­te­ri­als and in­vest­ment costs have al­lowed.

So is this ap­proach right, and the mass-gath­er­ers wrong? Mr Gandy cer­tainly thinks so, even if re­sults from both sides would sug­gest there are clearly mer­its to each ap­proach. Some cite a car com­par­i­son—con­sider a Lo­tus ver­sus a Mus­tang. Both can win races, but they of­fer hugely dif­fer­ent driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.

But first things first. Is the new Pla­nar 6 a po­ten­tial race-win­ner at all? At first glance the light plinth looks a lit­tle plain, but closer ex­am­i­na­tion shows that the dark sur­face is not a com­mon plastic but a Po­laris HPL (high pressure lam­i­nate) which is matte grey on top, and mir­rored-poly­mer shiny along the plinth edges, which nicely matches the smoked lid when it’s down. Po­laris comes from Italy’s Abet Lam­i­nati, mak­ers of syn­thetic resins for (amaz­ingly) more than 60 years, taran­tella-ing through the decades with a dev­as­tat­ing dance-card of de­sign­ers, most no­tably the Alchymia and Mem­phis move­ments which de­fined mod­ern Ital­ian style. Its Po­laris HPL is non-mark­ing and scratch-re­sis­tant, and also fol­lows Rega’s philoso­phies by ex­hibit­ing high rigid­ity. I am not sure which thick­ness of Po­laris lam­i­nate Rega has se­lected, though I no­tice the 10–12mm vari­ants make use of a phonilic resin core, a long-time favourite of Mr Gandy. As for colours, Po­laris is, so far as I can as­cer­tain, only avail­able in shades of grey, and one of those is the stan­dard fin­ish here. So for now it seems there’ll be no re­peat of the 2012 RP6, which ar­rived in Aus­tralia with a stock-chal­leng­ing num­ber of high-gloss colour op­tions (eight, to be pre­cise).

Be­tween th­ese lam­i­nate lay­ers lies an aero­space-de­vel­oped ul­tra-light­weight polyurethane foam core called Tan­cast 8. It’s the first time Rega has used this par­tic­u­lar ma­te­rial, and I note that other Tan­cast variations are avail­able, up to ‘Tan­cast 20’ at dou­ble the den­sity of Tan­cast 8. But as we’ve seen, Rega is against the den­sity thing! If there were a Tan­cast 4, we sus­pect it would be been snapped up.

The plat­ter has two lay­ers—one smoked-Pilk­ing­ton glass, one Op­tiWhite

First things first. Is the new Pla­nar 6 a po­ten­tial racewin­ner at all?

clear—bonded to­gether so that the outer edge is thicker than the cen­tre, thereby achiev­ing a sta­bil­ity-en­hanc­ing fly­wheel ef­fect with­out in­creas­ing the plat­ter mass to a level which might af­fect the bear­ing. The plat­ter is one area Rega where does com­pro­mise be­tween the re­quire­ments of sta­bil­ity ver­sus mass. ‘ The turntable plat­ter it­self needs to be of enough weight to spin at a con­stant speed within the con­fines of the cho­sen bear­ing and mo­tor drive sys­tem,’ the com­pany (and it reads like Mr Gandy) writes in its RP10 man­ual. ‘ Many amateur de­sign­ers choose one com­po­nent in a de­sign and try to achieve an ex­treme in size, weight and qual­ity. They be­lieve that by tak­ing one the­ory to its ex­treme, the de­sign will be­come ‘per­fect’. The reality of all engi­neer­ing, de­sign (and life) is that per­fec­tion is not pos­si­ble. Based on this reality, Rega’s goal has al­ways been to op­ti­mise a mix­ture of nu­mer­ous ‘cor­rect com­pro­mises’ thus bring­ing the de­signer nearer to the un­achiev­able goal of per­fec­tion.’

Gandy re­stated this phi­los­o­phy in re­la­tion to the en­tire turntable in a 2013 con­ver­sa­tion with Stereophile mag­a­zine. ‘The turntable is a whole,’ he told UK hi-fi stal­wart Steve Har­ris. ‘ The car­tridge, and the arm, and the turntable it­self are all one mea­sur­ing ma­chine—that’s the way I like to look at it—and it mea­sures vi­bra­tion. You can’t make it per­fect. There’s no such thing, in life or engi­neer­ing. But you de­sign the com­pro­mises to get the clos­est to per­fec­tion in a num­ber of con­flict­ing engi­neer­ing pa­ram­e­ters, and that’s it. That’s a turntable: a se­ries of real-world engi­neer­ing com­pro­mises.’

Un­der­neath the plat­ter, Rega’s ‘up­grade belt’ is fit­ted as stan­dard to the Pla­nar 6, around the single-piece ma­chined alu­minium sub-plat­ter and the cus­tom drive pul­ley, driven by a new 24V syn­chro­nous mo­tor which is ‘ hand-tuned and matched’ to its own Neo power sup­ply. And again this is clear ev­i­dence of the higher lev­els to which the Pla­nar 6 as­pires—the out­board power sup­ply of­fers elec­tronic speed change and user-ad­justable fine elec­tronic speed ad­just­ment, some­thing which was pre­vi­ously only avail­able on the range-top­ping RP10. You use an Allen key to move through steps of 0.01rpm—not that Rega an­tic­i­pates you need­ing to cor­rect its fac­tory-set speed, mind you, but this ad­justa­bil­ity could al­low pitch-cor­rec­tion when an LP has been recorded at the wrong speed, or tweak­ing if the speed of an LP is re­quired to be al­tered to bring it in tune with a fixed­pitch mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, such as a piano.

The Power Sup­ply Unit (PSU) styling fol­lows Rega’s usual friendly de­sign, the com­pany logo il­lu­mi­nat­ing on the front when pow­ered up by the first push­but­ton, while the sec­ond but­ton changes speed, with the Rega logo chang­ing from red for 33.33rpm to green for 45rpm. Its elec­tron­ics are built upon a high-sta­bil­ity crys­tal con­trol­ling a 24V a.c. sig­nal that Rega claims is: ‘ com­pletely un­af­fected by any changes in the mains/line volt­age and con­di­tions.’

While much of the turntable in­cor­po­rates new ma­te­ri­als, the handmade pre­ci­sion RB330 arm is more fa­mil­iar, as is Rega’s dou­ble-brace tech­nol­ogy, which works to fur­ther sup­port the light­weight plinth, be­ing mounted specif­i­cally where the increased rigid­ity is re­quired, be­tween the ton­earm mount­ing and the main hub bear­ing (what Rega in its engi­neer­ing-speak calls a struc­turally sound ‘stressed beam’ as­sem­bly). It’s ‘dou­ble’ be­cause two dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als are used for the stressed beam—not specif­i­cally stated here but pre­vi­ously mag­ne­sium on top and phe­no­lic resin on the bot­tom. Com­bin­ing the two dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­als low­ers the in­flu­ence of air­borne vi­bra­tions on both el­e­ments.

There are also alu­minium foot trims on the Pla­nar-style feet, not that you’ll see them un­less your turntable shelf is quite high. Fi­nally (though first out of the box), there’s a very nice ‘smoked’ hinged lid, which stays open at 90 de­grees, and closes prop­erly with no gap to the plinth.

IN USE AND LIS­TEN­ING SES­SIONS

I note that in Europe the Pla­nar 6 is be­ing promoted mainly with the sexy trans­par­ent mov­ing-coil Ania car­tridge. This par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion is avail­able in Aus­tralia as a $2,799 pack­age. My re­view sam­ple was sup­plied with a fac­tory-fit­ted yel­low ‘Ex­act’ mov­ing mag­net car­tridge—a $2,399 pack­age. The Ex­act’s bright yel­low shell may en­cour­age some to in­ves­ti­gate the higher op­tion, but as we’ll see, it’s no slouch in per­for­mance terms. If you’d pre­fer to buy the Pla­nar 6 sans car­tridge, you can… for $1,999.

Set-up was en­joy­ably sim­ple; up on the turntable shelf for lev­el­ling, re­move the trans­port card from the sub-chas­sis, load the plat­ter and fit the felt mat. Run the fly­ing out­put ca­bles to your phono stage or am­pli­fier’s phono in­put. (There’s no earth spade, be­cause Rega turnta­bles earth through the arm ca­ble’s own screen­ing.) For power you con­nect the lead to the Neo PSU, the PSU to the mains—it uses a 24V 350mA a.c. adap­tor plug, and given the at­ten­tion to de­tail else­where it’s sur­pris­ing the thick ca­ble to this adap­tor is folded so tight in tran­sit that it’s doomed to a very kinky ex­is­tence there­after.

Fol­low the Owner’s Man­ual’s in­struc­tions to move the coun­ter­weight up un­til the RB330 arm floats at a zero point just above a disc on the plat­ter, then ap­ply the 2.8g rec­om­mended track­ing force on the dial and (as close as you’re able) to the bias ad­just­ment slider un­der­neath. Et voila.

I was up and lis­ten­ing within 15 min­utes of slic­ing open the car­ton. One early rev­e­la­tion came from the 3-LP set of the 1979 ‘No Nukes’ con­cert at Madi­son Square Gar­den. Side two kicks off with what sounds at first a slightly muddy-vo­called take of The Times They Are A-Changin’ with James Tay­lor, Carly Si­mon and Gra­ham Nash repris­ing the Peter, Paul & Mary arrangement. But as they warm to the task, the har­monies and the per­for­mance so­lid­i­fied un­der the Pla­nar 6 and Ex­act com­bi­na­tion into quite the hair-rais­ing de­light. I lis­tened on: af­ter Gra­ham Nash’s fine per­for­mance of Cathe­dral he’s joined by Jack­son Browne for the Crow On The Cra­dle, where David Lind­ley’s fid­dle work is a stand­out, ren­dered here as im­me­di­ate and sta­dium-in­ti­mate as I’ve ever heard it. The Rega de­liv­ered the spa­tial im­pres­sion of the arena and crowd through­out, thanks to con­tin­u­ous but sub­tle crowd-mik­ing (un­der the artists’ own pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to cred­its), main­tained even when Crow... rises to its cli­max sec­tions.

It was es­pe­cially im­me­di­ate and sta­dium-in­ti­mate as Lind­ley’s fid­dle fre­quen­cies pick up the hall am­bi­ence’s higher re­ver­ber­a­tion across the width of the sound­stage. So clean and noise­less were th­ese LPs that the dig­i­tal re-release couldn’t hope to match this for sheer in­volve­ment—not to men­tion the CD’s in­abil­ity to present the end­less in­ner sleeve notes and im­ages to sim­i­lar ef­fect.

I stayed with live per­for­mance, and en­joyed the won­der­ful 1981 Philips press­ing of ‘Fri­day Night in San Fran­cisco’, a three­way gui­tar meet­ing of Al Di Me­ola, John McLough­lin and Paco De Lu­cia. The sec­ond track, Short Tales Of the Black For­est, is a duet be­tween the first two of th­ese three play­ers, and while the wide pan­ning makes the sound­stage slightly ar­ti­fi­cial, the highly dy­namic in­ter­play is beau­ti­fully cap­tured on vinyl (a Bob Lud­wig mas­ter) and im­pres­sively ex­tracted against a won­der­fully quiet floor by the Rega com­bi­na­tion, so that ev­ery en­ter­tain­ing wood knock and squeak of the in­creas­ingly bizarre gui­tar bat­tle—the ran­dom drift into the Pink Pan­ther theme, the drop into blues boo­gie, the shrieks of the crowd—it makes for a great night in.

Leav­ing au­dio­phile fare be­hind, I span up Nick Lowe’s ‘Labour of Lust’. While the Rega sounded just a lit­tle light on open­ing track Cruel to be Kind, by Crack­ing Up and Big Kick, Plain Scrap! the Pla­nar 6 was show­ing how its nim­ble na­ture could drive along Terry Williams’ beats and the Rock­pile rhythm with enough clean­li­ness to sur­vive full ref­er­ence-level re­play with­out any sense of dis­tor­tion.

Beethoven’s Sym­phony No. 7 (1960s DG Aus­tralia press­ing of von Kara­jan/Ber­lin Phil) sim­ply soared in this early stereo record­ing (the 1953 mono record­ing in the dig­i­tal EMI Kara­jan ‘Com­plete’ is far thin­ner in tone), whether driv­ing the rhyth­mic first move­ment or the sec­ond’s sad re­straint—and then a disc flip was re­quired, re­mind­ing me why the 74 min­utes of CD was such a rev­o­lu­tion for clas­si­cal lis­ten­ers!

Mov­ing to the other end of the tem­po­ral scale, I punched the sec­ond but­ton on the PSU and the front-panel Rega logo turned a de­light­ful ‘Rega’ shade of green, in­di­cat­ing a speed of 45rpm. I pulled a hand-grab of ‘O’ sin­gles from the rack and lis­tened to the Pla­nar 6 punch out de­light af­ter de­light, so much, in­deed, that af­ter a cou­ple of discs I ran the preamp’s tape loop sock­ets to a Zoom recorder and started ar­chiv­ing them for pos­ter­ity. Of three sin­gles by The Only Ones, only the clas­sic An­other Girl An­other Planet is dig­i­tally in my col­lec­tion, and that a dif­fer­ent ver­sion to the single. The B-side As My Wife Says was an in­ter­est­ing nov­elty, but the B-side of ‘Trou­ble in the World’ a real dis­cov­ery, Your Cho­sen Life prov­ing a lan­guorous blues with a trippy flanged vo­cal. Here the Rega went all mag­i­cal on me with a glo­ri­ous pre­sen­ta­tion of the big gen­er­ous nat­u­ral drum sound flanked by edgy gui­tar, a band clearly lov­ing the al­most Zep­pe­li­nesque groove. Thank you Rega!

Or­ange Juice fol­lowed, but I stopped ar­chiv­ing when I hit a wall of Os­monds sin­gles, fam­ily and solo, through which I chose not to tread.

But case proven for single re­play, es­pe­cially given none of th­ese 45s had en­joyed other than a Na­gaoka Rolling Record Cleaner swipe per play since their orig­i­nal ac­qui­si­tion back in the day.

Many of the Pla­nar 6’s mer­its men­tioned so far fo­cus on del­i­cacy and de­tail, but I should sup­ple­ment that with the ex­pe­ri­ence of one of the last LPs I played—for sim­ple plea­sure by this stage—‘1000 Air­planes on the Roof’ by Philip Glass. The roar­ing in­tro and the synth-led ti­tle track ab­so­lutely en­er­gised the room, the over­tones of the brass and the un­der­tones of Martin Gol­dray’s synth bass push­ing the lim­its of vinyl’s en­ve­lope, and all clean as a whistle, tight as a platy­pus pocket, even at full cli­max—not a hint of com­pres­sion, dis­tor­tion or soft edges, but full-on bass and in-yer-face im­pact. (This through a Mu­si­cal Fi­delity phono stage.) I’ve al­ways known this al­bum on vinyl; my dig­i­tal ver­sion at 160k is pressed into ser­vice only for road trips—and that no longer, as I took the op­por­tu­nity to digi­tise the Rega Pla­nar 6 de­liv­ery. For 50+ min­utes, it en­tranced.

Case proven, then. As for com­pe­ti­tion, I made di­rect com­par­isons with a ref­er­ence some­what be­low this price, the $1,499 Thorens TD 203. Both turnta­bles are wonder-per­form­ers at ex­tract­ing de­tail, but did de­liver slight dif­fer­ences in tone and track­ing. The Rega/Ex­act com­bi­na­tion de­fined the sound­stage more clearly in its tight­en­ing the im­age of, say, a cen­tral vo­cal, where the Thorens could shift some lower-mid fre­quen­cies from the vo­cal slightly side­ways. This trans­lated to a more ex­act sound­stage over­all from the Rega. The trade was a slightly leaner sound, where the Thorens could some­times warm the guts more. But over­all, as the price might sug­gest, it was a win for the Rega.

This was all us­ing the sup­plied and fresh Ex­act car­tridge, of course, so one can only imag­ine to what ad­di­tional heights the ac­cu­racy would be lifted by go­ing mov­ing-coil with the Ania. Mean­while it’s worth not­ing that this is a car­tridge on which the sty­lus alone can’t be re­placed, so you’ll need to bud­get for full car­tridge re­place­ment, which might in­flu­ence your think­ing about buy­ing a Rega 6 sans car­tridge and fit­ting your own, per­haps one on which the sty­lus is re­place­able. (Car­tridge re­place­ment in­ter­vals de­pend on your rate of spin­nage, of course, with rec­om­men­da­tions rang­ing from 150 to 1,000 hours, de­pend­ing on how much you care. Lis­ten, and you’ll know when.)

CON­CLU­SION

The Rega Pla­nar 6 is easy to set-up, but very hard to stop play­ing, given the pre­ci­sion and mu­si­cal­ity of its tran­scrip­tion. In this turntable Rega has de­liv­ered a per­fect step up for those de­sir­ing a real hi-fi level of play­back from their vinyl. Jez Ford

In this turntable Rega has de­liv­ered a per­fect step up for those de­sir­ing a real hi-fi level of play­back from their vinyl.

New­port Test Labs first mea­sured the fre­quency re­sponse of the Rega Ex­act mov­ing-mag­net phono car­tridge, us­ing two dif­fer­ent mea­sure­ment techniques. The re­sult of the first tech­nique, which uses wide­band pink noise, and is an in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult task for a phono sty­lus be­cause it’s forced to re­pro­duce all fre­quen­cies in the au­dio spec­trum si­mul­ta­ne­ously, is shown in Graph 1.

The over­all fre­quency re­sponse (the black trace) is ex­cel­lent, ex­tend­ing from 25Hz to 20kHz ±3.5dB. Chan­nel sep­a­ra­tion (red trace) is also ex­cel­lent, mea­sur­ing 23.5dB at 1kHz, but is very good right across the au­dio band­width, most no­tably at low fre­quen­cies. You can see that most of the ±3.5dB vari­a­tion in the re­sponse is caused by the roll-off in the Ex­act’s fre­quency re­sponse above 2.5kHz, where it rolls off to –3.5dB at 6kHz be­fore pick­ing up in level slightly to 13kHz and then again rolling off to be –3.5dB down at 20kHz. Be­tween 20Hz and 2.5kHz, the re­sponse is a very com­mend­able ±2dB.

Graph 2 shows the fre­quency re­sponse of the Rega Ex­act car­tridge mea­sured us­ing in­di­vid­ual spot fre­quen­cies, but dis­played in graphic form. Be­cause in this test the car­tridge is only re­pro­duc­ing one fre­quency at a time, it’s a lot eas­ier task to re­pro­duce, the re­sult of which is ob­vi­ous by the tested re­sult, with the fre­quency re­sponse now ex­tend­ing from 20Hz to 5.5kHz ±1dB and from 20Hz to 20kHz ±2.5dB.

Graph 3 shows THD mea­sured us­ing a 1kHz sine wave at 0dB re a recorded ve­loc­ity of 3.54cm per sec­ond RMS. You can see there’s a sec­ond har­monic com­po­nent at –38dB (1.25%), a third har­monic at –61dB (0.08%), a fourth at –74dB (0.01%) and a fifth at –75dB (0.01%). This is an ex­cel­lent re­sult, with the sec­ond har­monic in par­tic­u­lar be­ing nearly 10dB lower than I’d ex­pect for a mov­ing-mag­net de­sign.

New­port Test Labs first mea­sured the speed of the plat­ter ‘out of the box’ and found it to be very slightly fast (around 0.3%) at both 33.33 rpm and 45 rpm, which was eas­ily cor­rected us­ing the Rega’s own speed ad­just­ment cir­cuitry, but goes to show that you should check speed ac­cu­racy at the time of in­stal­la­tion. That said, even if you didn’t ad­just it, a 0.3% in­crease in pitch (which would be the au­di­ble re­sult) would be im­per­cep­ti­ble… even if you have per­fect pitch.

Once speed was set ex­actly, New­port Test Labs mea­sured the Rega Pla­nar 6’s wow and flut­ter. At 33.33 rpm, the lab mea­sured wow and flut­ter at 0.09% CCIR weighted and 0.18% RMS un­weighted. Th­ese are both ex­cel­lent re­sults, with the RMS re­sult well in­side the Aus­tralian stan­dard for this test. At 45 rpm, New­port Test Labs mea­sured wow and flut­ter as 0.08% CCIR weighted and 0.18% RMS un­weighted. Turntable sig­nal-to-noise (rum­ble) is shown in Graph 4, where the red trace shows the back­ground en­vi­ron­men­tal noise (in­clud­ing back­ground elec­tri­cal noise) at the time the mea­sure­ment was made. Note, how­ever, that the left-most peak on the trace is not rum­ble at all, but the ton­earm res­o­nance and the peaks at 50Hz, 100Hz, 150Hz, 250Hz and 350Hz are also not rum­ble com­po­nents, but mains-fre­quency hum and hum com­po­nents and should be ig­nored. You can see that turntable rum­ble grad­u­ally re­duced from about –70dB at 20Hz to –80dB at around 110Hz, then drops fur­ther to around –90dB at 150Hz, a level it main­tains out to around 400Hz, af­ter which it rolls off to be more than 100dB down. This is ex­cel­lent per­for­mance!

Rega’s PSU draws power even when it’s off (1.92-watts) and con­sumes around 10-watts when the plat­ter is ro­tat­ing.

Over­all, both the Rega Pla­nar 6 turntable and the Rega Ex­act car­tridge re­turned out­stand­ingly high lev­els of per­for­mance in all the tests con­ducted by New­port Test Labs.

Steve Hold­ing

Fig­ure 4. Rega Pla­nar 6. Rum­ble spec­trum re 0dB @ 3.54 cm per sec RMS. Red trace is back­ground noise.

Graph 1. Fre­quency re­sponse of Rega Ex­act phono car­tridge mea­sured us­ing spot fre­quen­cies recorded at 0dB at 3.54cm per sec RMS.

Graph 1. Fre­quency re- sponse and sep­a­ra­tion -15 of Rega Ex­act phono car­tridge us­ing wide- -20 band noise recorded at -25 -10dB re 5cm per sec RMS. -30 -35 -40

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.