Rega Planet CD player
Rega Developments of the UK is famous, among other things, for its Planar 3 turntable and phenomenal RB300 tonearm. A few years ago the company branched out into loudspeakers, then electronics, but for several years into the digital revolution Rega held fast and made only turntables and tonearms.
I remember talking with Roy Gandy, Rega's co-founder and Managing Director, more than a dozen years ago. Along with Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn, Gandy seemed to hope that CD might go away. It was Tiefenbrun who once told me that CDs were fine "for little old ladies with shaky fingers."
Well, CD is here to stay, at least for the rest of the millennium. Don't look for an audio-only version of DVD anytime soon—the big boys don't have a format sorted out yet. Meanwhile, the record companies aren't clamoring for it, and the public isn't either. The public bought the original line about CD: "Perfect sound forever."
The CD format is what we've got, Michael Fremer's efforts notwithstanding. And CD playback continues to evolve and improve to the point where it has become very good indeed. And no, I'm not talking about spending tens of thousands of dollars. That's dumb when it comes to digital—the stuff gets obsolete too fast. Spend your big bucks, if you must, on speakers and amps...
Rega is the last major UK specialty house to produce a CD player. They are the "last adopters." You know Rega's attitude toward digital when you read the poop sheet they send out to dealers and distributors: "The Planet is a small analogue oasis in a digital world and will appeal to people who love music but have to or want to listen to the CD medium."
Rega has engineered this CD player to give a sound and an operational feel close to analog. Playing discs on the $795 Rega Planet is a lot like playing LPs: You can read the CD label as the disc sits inside the player, and you can see the disc spin as it plays.
The Planet is a top-loader, which presents a problem if you need to squeeze your CD player into a tight space. You can't stack anything on top of the Rega Planet; you need at least 5" of clearance between the top of the player and the bottom of the next shelf. Better yet, put the Rega Planet on a top shelf. (Avoid placing the player on a veneered table or shelf; the gummy foot-suspension material could stick to the surface and lift the finish. Cut out a piece of cardboard and wedge it under each foot. Or put the player on a sheet of plate glass.)
I like top-loaders.
I have a hangup about drawers. I don't like to see my CD swallowed up inside a player. This may not be rational, but I just don't like to see my CD disappear. Maybe this has to do with childhood castration fears. I do dislike drawers.
Rega has more rational reasons for avoiding drawers. As they point out, a complex motorized tray is subject to wear and tear and is thus an area of potential unreliability. Also, a repair person can quickly access the laser diode assembly of a top-loading player without taking the machine apart.
The Rega Planet's lid is viscously damped—rather like a car door (footnote 1). You open it by lifting a very convenient finger tab on the front. The lid doesn't fly up, but instead rises and draws back on two pairs of hinges. It stays open while you place a disc in the well. The well itself is ingeniously designed, with four recessed cuplike depressions for your fingertips so you can get a grip on the CD. There's no fumbling, as there is with the top-loading YBA players.
To close the lid, just press down. Doesn't matter whether you press all the way; if you have it almost closed, the viscous damping takes over and the lid closes automatically. The magnetic puck built into the lid automatically clamps the top of the disc as soon as the lid is closed. The disc takes a couple of turns and automatically initializes.
There's nothing finicky about loading, as I said. For instance, you can almost toss a disc into the well and it will fall into position. Little old ladies with shaky fingers will have no problem.
Everything about the Rega Planet is superbly thought-out. For instance, the top of the lid is metal and clear Perspex—so you can read the label through the lid. If you leave a disc in the player, you can see what it is. Three raised circles over the puck let you twirl the disc so that you can read the label right-side up without raising the lid.
One thing you have to train yourself not to do is open the lid while a disc is spinning. Also, you want to leave the lid down when the player is not in use so dust doesn't get on the lens. The upside of this is that the lens is accessible for cleaning. (Use a can of compressed air, if you can, or a very clean camel's-hair brush, either of which is available from a photo shop. Don't overclean.)
Footnote 1: Before co-founding Rega Developments, Roy Gandy was an engineer for Ford in Britain.