Rega Planet CD player JA February 1998 part 2
And the Rega was a master at reproducing a recording's spatial aspects. It took a while for me to get into Charlie Haden's and Pat Metheny's Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve 314 537 130-2), which appears in this issue's "Records 2 Die 4" list courtesy of Shannon Dickson. I often find this to be the case: when there is something of deep musical value on a recording, it is often harder to get into it than when some aspect immediately jumps forth from the speakers. Metheny's acoustic guitar and Haden's acoustic bass are surround by extremely subtle (and presumably artificial) acoustics, but acoustics that are unambiguously reproduced by the Rega. To use that overworked phrase, its presentation was palpable—to the perfect benefit of the music.
I just know the obsessive objectivists lurking on the Internet newsgroups are going to jump all over me for saying this, but the Planet makes CDs sound a little more reverberant than I suspect they should. Take, for example, Stereophile's new live recording from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival (Encore, STPH011-2). As I described in the January issue (p.75), I used a little Lexicon-sourced artificial reverberation to compensate for the fact that the live sound was too dry, too close. ("You do what you have to do" is the recording engineer's unsung anthem.) I did all my auditioning of how much reverberation was needed during the mastering using the Mark Levinson No.30.5. Playing the production CD on the Rega, however, I wished I had mixed in a little less reverb!
But this is not a criticism of the Rega. On naturally balanced recordings, the player presented a clear view into the music. As I was writing this during the holiday season, I had to play some seasonal music. BBC Music magazine bundled a superb Messiah with its December 1997 and January 1998 issues. Conducted by Harry Christophers, this performance sounds rather different from what you expect from Handel's masterwork, as it's the later arrangement by Mozart. The Rega's rich balance and spatial excellence made sense of the complex scoring, with a wealth of detail apparent. But most important, while this "high fidelity" talk has its place, what impressed me most was how the Rega allowed me to cope with the cognitive dissonance raised by this recording—the familiarity of Handel's tunes contrasted with the unfamiliarity of the Mozartian orchestral colorations.
Time and again during the review period, I kept forgetting I should be listening out for and characterizing "audiophile" aspects of the Rega's presentation and just getting into the music. The day before I delivered the review text to Managing Editor Debbie Starr, I received the Beach Boys' The Pet Sounds Sessions (EMI-Capitol C2 8 37662 2). This HDCD-mastered boxed set includes the original mono mix of the 30-year-old album, a stereo remix approved by Brian Wilson, and more than two hours of outtakes and rehearsal takes. Onto the Rega went the first CD, and within minutes I had forgotten about sound quality. I was instead in a reverie, remembering how in 1967 I spent hours ripping off the bass line to "Sloop John B," damping the strings of my Framus Star bass guitar with the palm of my hand and using a pick to try to get that combination of click and boom that session bassist Carol Kaye had apparently achieved. (It didn't occur to me back then that the bass parts were doubled throughout much of Pet Sounds.)
Back to the review: Used as a transport, the Rega was competent, but benefited considerably from the use of a Sonic Frontiers UltraJitterbug. One weirdness: whenever I turned a light on or off in my listening room, or even discharged some static by grounding myself against some metal, both the Levinson and Assemblage processors lost data lock with the Rega. Though completely trivial, this was not something I had experienced before.
Compared with the $1200 Myryad MC 100 that I reviewed last month (Vol.21 No.1, p.129), with levels matched to within 0.1dB at 1kHz, the Rega Planet has a more involving presentation on rock music, with better-defined lows and a slightly deeper soundstage. On classical CDs, however, the slightly more refined presentation of the more expensive player made the Rega sound a little untidy. But this was a minor cavil, as you can tell from the modifiers in my descriptions. I could happily live with either machine.
Perhaps the best tribute to the sound of the Rega Planet came from Stereophile's Music Editor, Robert Baird, who had been using the English player in a superb-sounding inexpensive system consisting of Rega's integrated amplifier driving B&W's $250/pair DM302 loudspeakers. Robert had borrowed an expensive "audiophile" CD player while the Planet had been hanging out chez Atkinson.
"Am I ever getting the Rega back?" he forlornly asked me just before Christmas.
"You'll get it back when the review is done, and not a moment sooner!" I replied. "I just can't come up with a good lead. But I thought you were using a 'real' audiophile machine."
"It does sound fine," mused RB, "but it just doesn't get out of the way of the music the way the Rega does."
At $1000, the Rega Planet would be a sure-fire recommendation. But at a whisker under $800, it is an astronomical high-end bargain. If rock'n'jazz is your bag, go audition it before you think about buying a high-priced rig. And even if all you listen to is classical, check the Rega out. You'll be pleasantly surprised.