Rega Pla­nar 1

FOR Good de­tail; rhyth­mic and ex­pres­sive; easy to set up AGAINST Noth­ing at this price

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In an era of change, not even Rega’s best-sell­ing turntable is im­mune to the de­sire to over­turn the es­tab­lished or­der and usher in a fresh ap­proach. Yet, de­spite a con­sid­er­able list of tweaks that Rega has made to its re­vamped Pla­nar 1, the Bri­tish com­pany’s sig­na­ture sound is def­i­nitely go­ing to re­main.

And in this case, the change is un­ques­tion­ably pos­i­tive. It be­gins with the new RB110 tone arm, with pre­ci­sion bear­ings and au­to­matic bias ad­just­ment; com­bined with a track­ing weight whose ideal po­si­tion is al­ready marked for you, it means you can set up faster than a cab­i­net min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion.

Plug in and play

In fact, pretty much ev­ery­thing you see has un­der­gone some form of mod­i­fi­ca­tion, in­clud­ing the Ther­moset, gloss-lam­i­nated plinth, with its on/off switch hid­ing be­neath the front left cor­ner.

Our re­view sam­ple is a sleek white model, but the black fin­ish is equally tidy – devo­tees to sharp lines and er­gonomic de­sign are likely to be im­pressed. Even the plat­ter has a higher mass, giv­ing an en­hanced fly­wheel ef­fect for im­proved speed sta­bil­ity.

There are also hand-me-downs from higher up the range. This is the first of Rega’s en­try-level turnta­bles to house a 24V syn­chro­nous AC mo­tor with an alu­minium pul­ley, for ex­am­ple, and the Rega Car­bon car­tridge is fit­ted as stan­dard. The com­pany claims it of­fers low noise and, again, bet­ter speed sta­bil­ity.

If you are still read­ing, it is likely to have taken you longer to reach this point than it did for us to be­gin play­ing our first record, The Tallest Man On Earth’s Dark Bird Is Home. The Rega’s claim to be plug-in-and-play is no pre­tence.

Faith­fully ren­dered

We’ve long ad­mired Rega’s spry pre­sen­ta­tion and it wel­comes us like an old friend as Kris­tian Mats­son waves his hand over the al­bum’s open­ing chords. This is not an en­try-level amount of de­tail. The roomy-sound­ing acous­tic guitar is com­pli­mented by the re­verb in Mats­son’s first vo­cal line and the dis­tinc­tion in treat­ment of each part is clearly au­di­ble, set­ting the vo­cal apart like a bird glid­ing low but par­al­lel to the ground.

This com­bi­na­tion of unerring ac­cu­racy in re­veal­ing lay­ers of de­tail and an in­nate skill for knit­ting to­gether the dif­fer­ent strands is even bet­ter dis­played a few min­utes later as a group vo­cal lus­ciously shrouds the clos­ing phrases.

Some turntable man­u­fac­tur­ers could be said to have ten­dency of play­ing up to what you might de­scribe as ana­logue warmth, but not Rega. Be­sides, if you can ren­der a record as faith­fully as the Pla­nar 1 does, that warmth of its ri­vals be­gins to feel like the sonic coun­ter­part of dous­ing your Christ­mas din­ner in tomato ketchup.

When the record re­ceives its adren­a­line shot with Dark­ness Of The Dream, the Pla­nar 1 is more than ca­pable of snap­ping at its heels. The com­bi­na­tion of en­ergy and so­lid­ity res­onates su­perbly with the Tom Petty/wa­ter­boys-in­fused drive of this track, as it does when sup­port­ing the al­bum’s more del­i­cate num­bers.

Firm hand

But it takes a com­par­i­son with the Award-win­ning Pro-ject Es­sen­tial II to truly ap­pre­ci­ate this turntable. We are ad­mir­ers of Pro-ject’s sig­na­ture sound, and are more than able to en­joy the warmth the Es­sen­tial II brings to our copy of Django Rein­hardt’s

“With au­to­matic bias ad­just­ment and the ideal track­ing weight po­si­tion al­ready marked, you can set up faster than a cab­i­net min­is­ter’s res­ig­na­tion”

Djan­gol­ogy. Yet lift the disc over to the Pla­nar 1 and sud­denly Rega makes its com­peti­tor’s ren­di­tion sound like a re­hearsal.

The Pro-ject’s tim­ing is by no means lazy, but it is made to ap­pear so by the Pla­nar 1. There’s a smooth­ness to the way Rein­hardt fin­gers his notes on the former, but it is only when heard on the lat­ter you dis­cover the track’s in­ten­sity.

That pre­ci­sion trans­lates in the per­fo­mance, and fi­nally we are able to hear the dis­tinc­tion be­tween those notes which are stroked and those that have been pun­ished with a firm hand.

Our turntable of choice

The Es­sen­tial II by no means leaves the duel red-faced, and we must keep in mind our ref­er­ence sys­tem – far be­yond any­thing these turnta­bles are likely to en­counter as po­ten­tial part­ners – is ex­pos­ing these dis­crep­an­cies with an in­or­di­nate amount of trans­parency. How­ever, it is still dif­fi­cult to come to any other con­clu­sion than that Rega has raised the bar here in al­most ev­ery re­spect.

Prob­a­bly the finest test of any prod­uct – as we have men­tioned pre­vi­ously in many of our four- and five-star re­views – is how long we use it once hav­ing al­ready come to our con­clu­sion. In this case, the Pla­nar 1 is still play­ing in our test rooms, and still prov­ing that it can turn its hand to Dmitri Shostakovich as adeptly as it does Toots and the May­tals or Char­lie Parker.

Even though, on the face of it, this is an en­try-level prod­uct, it's also the kind of turntable that could fea­si­bly be the last of your sys­tem’s com­po­nents you would feel nec­es­sary to up­grade.

Woolly think­ing

How­ever, the avail­abil­ity of a Per­for­mance Pack add-on for £85, com­pris­ing Rega’s Bias 2 mov­ing mag­net car­tridge, up­graded drive belt and 100 per cent nat­u­ral wool turntable mat (you’ll have to fit these your­self), means that when it does come time to up­grade you needn’t im­me­di­ately shell out half a grand for some­thing such as the Award-win­ning Rega Rp3/elys 2.

In these times bereft of cer­tainty, there are far worse things you could do than to close the cur­tains, set­tle in your favourite arm­chair and spin a few records on the new Rega Pla­nar 1.

Rega de­scribes the Pla­nar 1 as a plug-in-and-play turntable – and it's no false claim

The higher mass of the Pla­nar 1's plat­ter gives an en­hanced fly­wheel ef­fect for bet­ter speed sta­bil­ity

The Pla­nar 1 in­cludes a Rega Car­bon mov­ing­mag­net car­tridge fit­ted as stan­dard

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