What Hi-Fi (UK)
Rega Planar 1
In an era of change, not even Rega’s best-selling turntable has been immune to the desire for a fresh approach. Yet, despite a considerable list of tweaks to the original Planar 1 a few years ago, the British company’s signature sound remains.
Those changes were unquestionably for the best; they brought in the RB110 tonearm, with precision bearings and automatic bias adjustment, and combined it with a tracking weight whose ideal position is already marked for you. It means you can set up faster than a speed-metal anthem.
In fact, pretty much everything you see underwent some form of modification in 2018, including the Thermoset, gloss-laminated plinth, with its on/off switch hiding beneath the front-left corner.
Our test model is a sleek white, but the black finish is equally tidy; devotees of sharp lines and ergonomic design are likely to be impressed.
There are one or two hand-me-downs from higher up the company’s range. The Rega Carbon cartridge is fitted as standard, and this is the first of Rega’s entry-level turntables to house a 24v synchronous AC motor with an aluminium pulley, for example. 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.
Working out the fine detail
This is not an entry-level amount of detail; the roomy-sounding acoustic guitar is complemented by the reverb in Matsson’s first vocal line; 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 accuracy and a 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 a tendency for playing up to what you might describe as analogue warmth; but not Rega – so you needn’t worry about being left wanting for body in this sound.
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 turntable is more than capable of snapping at its heels. The combination of energy and solidity on show here 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 excellent Pro-ject Essential III truly to appreciate this turntable.
We are admirers of Pro-ject’s indiscriminate signature sound, and are more than able to enjoy the warmth the Essential III brings to our copy of Django Reinhardt’s Djangology. Yet, lift the disc over to the Planar 1, and suddenly Rega makes its competitor’s rendition sound like a rehearsal.
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 on the latter that you discover the track’s intensity.
That precision translates, and finally we are able to hear the distinction between those notes stroked and those punished with a firm hand.
The Essential III 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 find as partners – is exposing these discrepancies with an inordinate amount of transparency. Nevertheless, it is hard to come to any conclusion other than that Rega has raised the bar here in almost every respect.
Probably the finest test of any product is how long we carry on listening to it once we’ve arrived at our conclusions about the way it sounds. In this case, the Planar 1 is still playing and proving it can turn its hand to Dmitri Shostakovich as adeptly as it does Toots and the Maytals or Charlie Parker.
Even as an entry-level turntable, this is the kind of player that could feasibly be the last of your system’s components to undergo an upgrade.
When the time comes…
There’s no doubt that the Planar 1 has far more sonic stretch than any of its price rivals. Provided care is taken with placement and support, this is a deck – with an upgrade to the Rega’s Elys 2 cartridge or a Goldring E3 – that will serve brilliantly in any budget set-up. It means that, when it comes to upgrades, you needn’t immediately shell out £650 for the likes of the Rega Rp3/elys 2.
In these times of rapid change, there is far worse you could do than to close the curtains, settle in to your favourite armchair and spin a few records on the Rega Planar 1.