Rega Pla­nar 3

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

We can’t think of an­other phys­i­cal medium where per­for­mance is so wildly vari­able, de­pend­ing on what you use to play it. Granted, the re­turn of vinyl’s wide­spread pop­u­lar­ity has likely as much to do with fash­ion as it does sonic per­for­mance, but that can’t be an ex­cuse for bor­ing holes in your records with a shonky su­per­mar­ket spe­cial.

And if you were to buy a turntable on name alone, the Rega Pla­nar 3 would be as good a place as any to put your faith. The orig­i­nal was launched in the late 1970s, and since then sub­se­quent it­er­a­tions have in­vari­ably re­tained the sta­tus of ob­vi­ous choice in the class.

The gen­er­a­tional changes have al­ways been about steady evo­lu­tion, with the aim of im­prov­ing per­for­mance but, by the com­pany’s usual stan­dards, the shift from the RP3 to this, 2016’s Pla­nar 3, is seis­mic.

Wide­spread changes

Just about ev­ery part has been re­vised to give a proper jump up in sound qual­ity. It starts with the glossy plinth, made more rigid thanks to a pair of phe­no­lic braces on the top and bot­tom sur­faces that strengthen the area be­tween the ton­earm and brass main bear­ing.

That main bear­ing is re­designed to im­prove fit and re­duce stress, and there are also up­grades to the sub­plat­ter, plat­ter, mo­tor PCB and feet.

The arm may look fa­mil­iar, but here too Rega has rung the changes. It has a new bear­ing hous­ing and re­designed arm tube. It’s pretty much a new de­sign, then. These re­vi­sions aim to im­prove rigid­ity, con­trol res­o­nances and re­duce fric­tion – all good things for sound qual­ity.

The bias ar­range­ment is clearer now, as are the mark­ings on the spring-loaded dial that sets the track­ing weight. This new arm also has bet­ter-qual­ity out­put ca­bles with classier plugs.

Rega will sup­ply the Pla­nar 3 with­out a car­tridge for £550, but our sam­ple had the com­pany’s long-run­ning (and rather good) Elys 2 mov­ing-mag­net fit­ted. The car­tridge works so well as part of the pack­age that we would ad­vise any­one to spend the ex­tra.

Attested de­vel­op­ment

Once it’s up and run­ning, it doesn’t take long to re­alise that Pla­nar 3’s two-year de­vel­op­ment has paid off. To our ears it sounds con­sid­er­ably cleaner and clearer than its tal­ented pre­de­ces­sor. There’s greater trans­parency here and more res­o­lu­tion of de­tail too.

It also be­comes clear that the en­gag­ing char­ac­ter of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion hasn’t been di­luted; if any­thing this new ver­sion is even more fun.

It’s right at home with all types of mu­sic. There’s scale here, and a sur­pris­ing dose of author­ity, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing any or­gan­i­sa­tional nous. Large-scale dy­namic shifts are de­liv­ered with en­thu­si­asm, while shifts of a sub­tler va­ri­ety are han­dled with fi­nesse.

There is, of course, more to hi-fi pair­ing than sim­ply stay­ing on brand and on budget, but it so hap­pens that our nat­u­ral go-to am­pli­fier in this set-up is the Rega Brio. Now in its sixth gen­er­a­tion (the orig­i­nal launched in 1991), the new Brio feels both fa­mil­iar and com­pletely new.

It’s been re­designed, but in a way that harks back to the retro style of the older Brios. It re­mains an ana­logue-only am­pli­fier, but it now, fi­nally, has a head­phone socket. And, cru­cially, it sounds ter­rific.

Ev­ery­thing we loved about the Brio-r is here: its in­cred­i­ble sense of rhythm, the punchy dy­nam­ics, the agility, de­tail and sheer sense of fun.

The new Rega Brio takes all of those prime qual­i­ties and hones them even more finely. As a re­sult, the sound it pro­duces is clearer, more de­tailed and more mus­cu­lar.

The fi­nal com­po­nent in this sys­tem of ours is an­other re­gen­er­a­tion of a for­mer Award win­ner: KEF’S Q350 stand­mount speak­ers, which again have seen al­most ev­ery as­pect re­designed for a more so­phis­ti­cated, re­fined pre­sen­ta­tion.

What looks like a sin­gle driver is ac­tu­ally a 25mm vented alu­minium dome tweeter sit­ting in the throat of a 16.5cm alu­minium mid/bass driver.

This sin­gle point-source ar­range­ment is de­signed to im­prove in­te­gra­tion be­tween the driv­ers and the way sound is dis­persed. The dis­tinc­tive tan­ger­ine wave­guide on the tweeter helps dis­trib­ute sound evenly.

The lat­est evo­lu­tion of the Uni-q driver fea­tures a damped tweeter load­ing tube – de­rived from KEF’S high-end Ref­er­ence se­ries – to soak up un­wanted ac­tiv­ity from the back of the dome.

In search of greater highs

It’s de­signed to im­prove the qual­ity of the high fre­quen­cies. Other tweaks have been made to the mo­tor sys­tem and shape of the mid/bass cone to help re­duce dis­tor­tion.

The port has been moved to the back of the speaker. KEF claims this en­sures any midrange leak­age of noise is less au­di­ble. The port has also been re­designed to re­duce noise and dis­tor­tion for a deeper, cleaner bass per­for­mance.

The Q350s’ stun­ning lev­els of clar­ity and de­tail eke ev­ery last drop from their equally tal­ented co-com­po­nents, match­ing the Re­gas’ scale, tim­ing and dy­nam­ics while keep­ing en­thu­si­asm in check so as not to be­come over­bear­ing.

Aes­thet­i­cally, this trio looks mod­est, but that be­lies its sonic strength. If you thought vinyl was all cracks, pops and fuzzy pre­sen­ta­tion, this set-up is more than ca­pa­ble of chang­ing your mind.

“Changes to this turntable have al­ways been about steady evo­lu­tion, but the shi from the RP3 to this, 2016’s Pla­nar 3, is seis­mic”

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