Rega Planar 1
FOR Good detail; rhythmic and expressive; easy to set up AGAINST Nothing at this price
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.
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.
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.
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