Rega Planar 3
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.
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.
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”