Rega P1 record player Page 2
The Rega P1 surprised me by being the rare turntable whose performance changed noticeably during the break-in period. It was a decently musical player right from the start, but its sound became a bit cleaner after the first week, with an audible decrease in flutter. Perhaps the bearing, or even the drive motor itself, required running in?
Whatever the reason, it took a little while for the Rega to sound like itself—which I would describe as unsurprisingly pacey, and not at all bright or crisp. Listeners whose analog experience runs deeper, and whose tastes are arguably more sophisticated, might consider the P1 a bit dark sounding; I imagine that its target audience will think of it less as dark and more as forgiving.
As in: forgiving of crappy-sounding records, among whose number my copy of the Flying Burrito Brothers' The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M SP 4175) must surely count. It's a worn-out copy of an indifferent pressing of a foolishly equalized recording—but on the Rega P1 it sounded downright tolerable. Fact is, I was able to enjoy it with this player somewhat more than with other, more expensive rigs I've had in-house.
As for most other LPs I tried, the Rega P1 didn't just do an adequate job with musical basics—it nailed them. On Neil Young's "When God Made Me," from Prairie Wind (Reprise/Classic 49593-1), the choir in the final verse makes its entrance on the off beat—and the Rega captured the tension in those moments to fine, dramatic effect. On the Peter Maag recording of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture (Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 2246/45), although the P1 didn't have the same clarity in the bass registers as the more expensive Rega P3, the P1 did a comparably fine job of putting across the tension in the playing, and the piece's momentum and flow overall.
And while the aforementioned more expensive Rega player was better at communicating the differences between, say, a Fender and a Rickenbacker electric bass, the P1 was almost as good at letting Klaus Voorman's great, simple bass line in "Remember," from John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (Apple SW 3372), sound deep and tuneful and appropriately insistent.
Surprisingly, the Rega P1 was also very good with spatial information, especially when used with the Goldring MC cartridge—which didn't outclass or outperform the inexpensive RB100 in any way that I could hear. That Neil Young record came across with fine depth and, for lack of a better word, specificity; so did that clear and slightly forward recording of Schubert's String Quintet in C, D.956, by the Bulgarian Quartet plus Roland Pidoux (Musical Heritage Society 4118)—the instruments sounded big, present, and remarkably solid.
What did the significantly more expensive Rega P9 ($4495 with arm)—or the Linn LP12 ($2400 without arm), for that matter—have over the P1? Apart from very slightly deeper bass and richer, more realistic colors and textures, the move to a more sophisticated turntable netted an even more natural, organic sense of flow—or, looked at from the other direction, a less mechanical sound. Consequently, listening to a record and appreciating it as music was easier with the better players, although the P1 was acceptably good enough in that regard. And in case "acceptably good" sounds like faint praise, keep in mind that a few more expensive contemporary turntables that I've heard, and more than a few CD players, don't even get that far.
Sonically, as opposed to musically, the only consistent flaw I heard in the P1's performance was a lingering trace of pitch instability, as heard in sustained piano chords and the like. On records such as a fine reissue of Clifford Curzon's A Liszt Recital (Decca/Speakers Corner SXL 6076), and even during some of the many long legato phrases in the Adagio of Mahler's Symphony 3, with Jascha Horenstein and the London Symphony Orchestra (Nonesuch HB-73023), the P1 sounded less clear, less certain than the best, and not quite as easy to relax with. But the shortcoming was small, and heard only in comparison with better gear: It didn't intrude on my average record-listening experience.
Although I'd worked in a hi-fi shop for a number of years before 1980, that was the year of my initiation (footnote 3) into perfectionist audio. That was when I bought—from an honest-to-goodness audio salon—a Rega Planar 2 record player. Then as now, the seriousness of a record player was gauged by its lack of frills, and the Planar 2 was nothing if not serious. In making it, Rega disconcerned themselves with gimmicks, and pared their product down to what was needed to make recorded music sound convincing and real.
As they have here—with one key difference: The Rega P1 marks the first time in my experience that a designer whose work sometimes ranks with the very best you can buy, has created an audio component this affordable. And by affordable I don't mean relatively affordable, as with our favorite entry-level Koetsus, entry-level Wilsons, and even entry-level Linns. I mean affordable as in cheap, as in sane, as in reachable by anyone with a job.
The all-English-made Rega P1 also marks the first time in recent memory that a high-tech company hasn't resorted to outsourcing in order to bring to market a high-quality, very-high-value product. Kudos to Roy Gandy for his ingenuity in doing so, and for keeping Rega's work among Rega's people.
Consider: A brand-new SME Model 30 record player costs approximately $35,000 when equipped with its companion Series V tonearm. I've never had one in my system, but I suppose that the 30 is at least pretty good, and that buying one would be an effective way of making yourself happy. Then again, you could use the same amount of money to buy a hundred or so Rega P1s and give them to a hundred or so friends whose music-buying habits could benefit from the motivational equivalent of a good, swift kick in the ass. That would probably bring lots of happiness into the world as well. Very strongly recommended.
Footnote 3: It didn't involve binge drinking or the use of wooden paddles on naked frosh: That would come later, in 1985.