What Hi-Fi (UK)
Rega Planar 3
We can’t think of another product that has dominated its market sector with the authority of Rega’s Planar 3 turntables. The original was launched in the late-1970s, and since then subsequent iterations have invariably remained the obvious choice in the class.
The Rega RP3S haven’t changed much in appearance over the decades. Put the original next to this one and most people would be hard pushed to find any differences beyond the smarter plinth and the updated tonearm.
This turntable’s generational changes have mainly been about steady evolution, with the aim of improving performance. But, by the company’s usual standards, the shift made in 2016 – when the deck reclaimed its original Planar 3 name (from that of RP3) – was nothing less than seismic.
Just about every part was revised to give a proper jump up in sound quality (a redesigned main bearing, arm tube, platter and subplatter; a more rigid plinth; an upgraded motor and new feet). Perhaps for the first time, the company also tried to make it look slicker too. This meant giving that plinth a glossy sheen – in black or white acrylic laminate.
Despite the scale of the upgrade, the current Planar 3 remains what it has always been: a simple, well engineered deck that puts performance first.
Aside from the rubber feet there’s no real attempt at isolation here, so you’ll need to use a rigid, level support. Ideally, it will be positioned well away from the speakers too. All turntables, even those with elaborate suspension systems, benefit from such an environment.
Rega will supply the Planar 3 without a cartridge, but our sample has the company’s long-running Elys 2 movingmagnet fitted. This cartridge works so well as part of the package that we would advise anyone to spend the extra.
The Elys 2 mounts onto the tonearm with a three-bolt arrangement that ensures alignment is spot-on. Beyond finding a good support, setting tracking weight (1.75g) and bias, there’s not much more to do.
You still play 45s? It’s a manual speed change on this deck, which involves moving the rubber drive belt from one step of the motor pulley to the next.
Once up and running it doesn’t take long to realise that the last set of changes moved the Planar 3’s performance still further along the road of excellence.
Among the first traits to make themselves heard are this turntable’s clarity and transparency, both of which are exceptional for a deck at this price. Following close behind comes the realisation that levels of detail are also class-leading. Lest the more anxious among you start to worry that the Planar 3 veers into the realms of cold analysis, be assured that the engaging musical character for which Rega is known has in no way been compromised. If anything, the current Planar 3 is even more fun than its predecessor.
This player is right at home with all types of music. We start off with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 In D Minor and are impressed by the Rega’s organisational skills. Every instrumental strand is kept neatly in place and composure is maintained regardless of the complexity of the music.
No problem with authority
There’s scale here, and a surprising dose of authority. Large-scale dynamic shifts are delivered with enthusiasm while subtler ones are handled with finesse.
Tonally, things are nicely balanced. By the highest standards the Elys 2 could do with a touch more refinement at the top end, but there’s little else at this price that does notably better. Importantly, the cartridge – and the complete package for that matter – conveys the music with cohesion and sparkle.
Let it entertain you
Some rivals may have a more etched and analytical sound, but nothing we’ve heard at this price is so entertaining.
This is brought home with Four Tet’s Angel Echoes. The Rega channels the irresistible momentum of this track brilliantly, delivering the sound with plenty of attack. There’s no shortage of insight either, the Planar 3 digging up layer upon layer of low-level information.
There’s more good news with REM’S Automatic For The People. Here, the Planar 3 delivers Michael Stipe’s laidback vocals with some style. His voice comes through with its distinctive character intact – plenty of texture and nuance coupled to a convincing sense of body.
The gentle swing of the track is brilliantly rendered and there are equal doses of power, weight and articulation at the low end. All in all, it’s a great performance by the band – and the deck.
Rega has been developing the Planar 3 for decades and there’s no doubt the product has steadily improved over the years. We think this current version is the best RP3 yet, adding extra servings of clarity, precision and insight to an already musical sound. Want the best value on the market? This is it.