Rega Planet CD player John Atkinson February 1998
"Maybe the piano is a little loud compared with John Abercrombie's guitar...?" I was playing a rough mix of a recent live recording I had made of the Marc Copland Quartet to jazz writer Zan Stewart, who was visiting over the Christmas break. We listened to a couple more cuts. "You know," said Zan, "it sounds pretty good. I assume we're playing the CD-R on your $24,000 Mark Levinson transport/processor system?"
"Actually," I replied, "I'm playing the disc on Rega's $795 Planet CD player, and you've just given me my lead for the review I was supposed to have turned in before Christmas!"
Sam Tellig enthused over the English Planet player last June (Vol.20 No.6, pp.51-53). "The player is an ergonomic delight," he gushed. "Elegant. Simple. Solid. Downright brilliant in its engineering. To see this player and use it is to want it—even before you listen." And when he did listen, out poured even more superlatives: "The Rega Planet produces a rich, full-bodied, dynamic (but not overdynamic) sound....In Linnspeak, the Rega Planet plays tunes. Or as [Wes Phillips] would say, the Rega Planet boogies."
So when WP asked me if I'd like to review the Planet, I didn't need much persuasion.
As with everything that comes from Rega's design team, led by company founder and mechanical engineer Roy Gandy, the top-loading Planet leaves an impression of engineering elegance. As with the superb RB300 tonearm, nothing is more complicated than it need be. Take the player's sit-up-and-beg lid, for example. A simple, cantilevered design, it lifts on two damped hinges to allow you to place a CD directly on the transport motor's spindle. When you pull the lid closed, its central hub clamps the CD, the motor spins the disc, and the player reads the Table of Contents. (Peculiarly, the transport mechanism initially emits an audible tone while it does so.)
Just like putting an LP on a turntable, really, especially when you consider that the lid's glass window allows you to see the CD as it revolves. (The original Krell top-loading transports, with their beautiful Lucite lids, were sensitive to ambient lighting conditions—I remember writer Ken Kessler taking a photograph of a Krell at a Show and his flash causing the disc to skip. I checked the Rega CD player by firing a flash unit at the CD from a distance of 3", right above the laser sled. It didn't skip.)
The Rega's case consists of two aluminum castings that fit together like clamshells. The transport mechanism features a Sony chip set and is rigidly attached to the top shell. The S/PDIF digital output is driven by a small pulse transformer. Internally, the power supply, digital circuitry, and analog output stage are carried on one red-colored printed circuit board, with the section containing the DAC, single-ended output circuit, and output RCA jacks almost physically separated from the rest of the board. Apart from some "glue logic" and voltage-regulator chips and a chip on the DAC section with its number whited out, there are hardly any active components visible on the top of the board. The DAC is said to be a Burr-Brown part modified to Rega's specifications. A cutout in the board makes space for a toroidal power transformer. The AC cord is a captive, two-conductor type.
The rudimentary front-panel controls consist of small buttons in the centers of printed legends. The remote carries all the feature controls, arranged in what I found to be rather a confusing layout. However, the play/pause button is green, the track forward/back buttons yellow, which helps the remote-challenged—such as myself—considerably. A Display button allows the Planet's red luminescent track/time display to be dimmed, then shut off.
The only things I didn't like about the Planet were the inserts in the compliant feet, which tended to stick to the surface the player rested upon.
As with all CD players (and amplifiers), it takes a period of acclimatization to become familiar with what the new component is doing. The differences may be relatively small compared with those between loudspeakers, for example, but that doesn't mean they're unimportant. On the contrary: while a listener can accommodate to a speaker's particular tonal color—much as people perceive a lighting system as being "white," no matter what its actual color temperature is—small but irritating aspects of sound quality such as treble grain get less acceptable with time.
Fortunately, as I listened to the Rega Planet, nothing raised its head to interfere with the music. Its sound was singularly grain-free. This is not, in the overworked phrase, because the player sounds like "analog." It doesn't. But there was an ease to its presentation that was seductive in the extreme.