Rega RP-1 record player Page 2
Here's how the installation went: I slid the contents free of the carton; removed the above-mentioned packing materials; laid the platter atop the subplatter and the mat atop the platter; twisted and scrunched the counterweight onto the end of the tonearm, Jimmy Cagney style; set the antiskating calibration for the appropriate downforce; and plugged in the AC cord and signal output cables. I didn't bother with the dustcover, though that would have been easy enough. The RP-1 went from cargo to music-maker in about eight minutes.
More about tonearm settings: The rear of the RB101's armtube has a built-in ridge that limits the counterweight's travel; once the counterweight is snugged all the way against it, the arm exhibits the correct downforce with a ca 5gm cartridge eg, the Ortofon OM 5E. Sure enough, I measured just under 2gm with my Technics electronic stylus gauge.
The RP-1 is supplied with a cardboard protractor for cartridge alignment, but the instruction sheet offers an alternate suggestion: that lining up the stylus tip with the front edge of the frontmost hole on the headshell, viewed from above, will give the correct alignment. That proved untrue for me: When I used Rega's own protractor to correctly align the OM 5E (footnote 1). I noted that the stylus tip was more or less at the center of said hole. As pleased as I was by the RP-1's modest setup time, and as loath as I am to inspire tweakanoia in the minds of newbie phonophiles, I think it's a good idea to confirm proper cartridge alignment within a few days of purchase, if not on that happy first night. In any event, if only because the hole method puts one at the mercy of his or her visual perspective, I recommend the protractor approach. (The user must bear in mind that Rega does not observe the popular van Baerwald standard in selecting the "null" pointsand thus the precise stylus overhangfor their tonearm geometry. Rather, they cleave to the less popular Stevenson alignment geometry, which places the innermost "null" point about 60mm from the spindle center.)
To check the accuracy of the RP-1's speed, I used my well-loved Linn Speedchecker kit, the strobe of which fit the Rega's dustcover hinge just as neatly as it does the Linn LP12's. With no LP on the mat the Rega's platter speed was almost dead-on perfect at 33.3rpm, and 45rpm was about 0.3% fast. Loaded, with the stock cartridge tracing a 10" record placed atop the Speedchecker disk, 33.3 was about 0.3% slow, 45rpm just about perfect. It seemed that the Rega's motor, while commendably quiet, doesn't have a lot of torque. Whether that's important to music playback continues to be a matter of some debate.
Ask a dozen audiophiles what kind of sound they expect from budget products and you'll get a dozen variations on the same word: bright. Yet while the cheapest audio products often sound lean and light compared to the pricey stuff, the Rega RP-1 was a blessed exception. If anything, its top end was very slightly rolled off: never a bad thing in an affordable product that may be called on to work in the context of other budget products, let alone play records that are in less than pristine shape.
The RP-1 had a pleasantly full and tonally well-balanced sound overall, and its very decent bottom-octave performance confounded the subconscious expectation that low-mass turntables deliver low-impact bass. When I listened to the famous recording of Saint-Saëns's Symphony 3, with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony Orchestra (45rpm LP, RCA/Classic LSC-2341), the low D-flat pedal tone that heralds the organ's entrance was reasonably solid and full. And with most well-recorded pop records I tried, the RP-1 allowed a satisfying degree of weight and whomp to electric bass and kick drum. (Neither of those instruments extends below 40Hz, of course; they just sound deep in their own contexts.)
Speaking of which, though it's become something of a cliché to underscore the prowess of Brit-fi gear with up-tempo pop musicand there have been more than a few times in our hobby's history when Rega, Naim, Linn, and perhaps one or two others seemed to make the only gear that didn't clog the music's rhythmic arteriesit must be said that this Rega played with unfailingly good timing and momentum. Higher-torque turntables usually have more sheer pull than the RP-1, but the Rega never allowed musical lines to seem slow, inconsistent, or uninteresting. That quality was underscored by my playing of Captain Beefheart's rhythmically complex Strictly Personal (Blue Thumb BTS1), Trout Mask Replica (Reprise 2MS 2027), and Clear Spot (Reprise 2115), all occasioned by the passing of Don van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) during the RP-1's stay.
The musical performance level and overall sonic character of the RP-1 were remarkably close to those of my own, older-issue Rega Planar 3, the chief difference being in the area of pitch stability: The RP-1 was acceptably good in that regard, and didn't actively detract from the music. But to step up to the more expensive Rega, or to any other, more expensive turntable at my disposal, was to gain an added measure of certainty and calm when playing many recordings. Long, sustained notes/chords were the basis for this observation, examples of which abound: the Adagio of the Brahms Violin Concerto, side 1 of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother (LP, Harvest/Capitol), etc.
Indeed, few people would expect a bare-bones budget player to do everything well, and the Rega RP-1 didn't capture and reproduce all the flesh and blood of musical sound. Given a direct-sounding, in-your-face record such as Neil Young's raggedy but brilliant Time Fades Away (Reprise MS 2151), the RP-1 offered a clean, musically competent idea of the performance. But I didn't hear the same whap of drum soundamong the most uncompressed on record, in my experienceor the deep, stringy whomp of electric bass, that I get from my reconditioned Garrard 301 with EMT 997 tonearm, or my Thorens TD 124 Mk.II with the same arm, or even my Linn LP12 with Naim Aro arm.
But neither can I write such a comparison without laughing at its silliness: Each of those combos costs between $4000 and $8000. And as you and I both know, there are some four-figure turntable-tonearm combinations that don't sound as goodas direct, as bold, as downright music-lovingas the three-figure Rega RP-1. While I can think of a very few other three-figure products that sound better than some of their own four-figure competitors (HRT's Music Streamers, Denon's DL-103 cartridge, and various phono transformers from K&K Audio, Bob's Devices, and Silvercore Audio come immediately to mind), such things are awfully thin on the ground.
RP-1 Performance Pack
At the time of its release, the retail price of the Rega RP-1 was $50 higher than that of its predecessor, the P1: unfortunate but inevitable, and a bit vexing for all concerned, given how close that brought the price to that of Rega's P2 record player ($545).
Footnote 1: Rega says that they supply the RP-1 with its Ortofon cartridge preadjusted for optimum alignmenta claim I couldn't check for myself, since the review sample was forwarded to me by another reviewer and had already been used with a nonstandard cartridge.