Rega RP-1 record player Page 3

The solution may please a greater number of people than is usually the case: Rega discontinued the P2, and introduced a $195 upgrade kit that's said to bring their entry-level player to at least the P2's level of performance.

There are three major components to this RP-1 Performance Pack, as it's called. First is a drive belt that not only looks different from the original—the new one is white, and appears very slightly thicker than the old one—but actually feels somewhat grabbier. (I'm probably the only nerd left who remembers, as a child, buying white silicone-rubber tires as upgrades for my Aurora model race cars, and that's the recollection conjured by the new Rega belt. Sad, isn't it?) The second component is a notably thicker (ca 2.5mm vs 1.75mm) platter mat made of 100% wool felt. Third and perhaps most conspicuous is a replacement for the Ortofon phono cartridge: a Rega Bias 2.

I tried each component separately, beginning with the new belt. I confess a prejudice: I expected not to hear a difference between the two drive belts. But the new one was different—and better. And although the difference was subtle, it was consistently audible, particularly with classical music: bowed strings had more force and texture, making the playing sound more human and convincing. Pianos, too, seemed to gain a better sense of touch with the white belt (footnote 2).

My next step was to trade out the original cartridge. Like all of Rega's unique MM pickups, the Bias 2 is built into a polymer (Pocan) body, and has a nonreplaceable stylus—a deliberate and, I think, canny choice intended to eliminate the poor mechanical link found in virtually all other MM pickup designs. Like the Ortofon, the Bias 2 has an elliptical stylus on an aluminum cantilever, with a recommended downforce of 1.75gm: apples to apples, as it were.

As hinted above, I'm a big fan of the original Rega Elys (I have yet to hear its replacement, the Elys 2), and the Bias 2 sounded at least as good. The change from Ortofon OM 5E to Rega Bias 2 can be summed up quite neatly: It was like finding a knob on my preamp labeled Chunkify and turning it up a few notches. Installing the Bias 2 brought about a notable increase in timbral substance and tactile force, with no penalties I could hear. Recorded instruments throughout Paul McCartney's wonderful if lyrically challenged Ram (Apple SMAS 3375) sounded less compressed and more forceful—and thus more interesting—while Bert Jansch's fingerpicked acoustic guitar on his Rosemary Lane (Reprise 6455) sounded bigger, more tactile, more physical: in those regards, more like a piano than a guitar.

But the biggest surprise was that thick wool mat—which, again, I had thought would be no big deal. It was a big deal, but when I reverted to the Ortofon cartridge and tried the wool mat again, I heard little if any difference at all. Then it all became clear: The Rega Bias 2 is a good deal less tall (measured from the surface of the record to the underside of the headshell) than the Ortofon OM 5E; in a perfect world, its installation should probably be accompanied by a concomitant lowering of the tonearm, to maintain a reasonable or at least consistent vertical tracking angle. The thicker mat accomplished pretty much the same thing.

Did the replacement mat also sound better because it's woolier? Beats me. And unless you can devise an appropriate test, it probably beats you, too.

My favorite local used-record store also sells trading cards, paperback books with their covers torn off, bobblehead figurines, and baldy-boomer magazines such as Goldmine and Vintage Guitar: noble wares, all. But I'll never cease to wonder why they don't sell good-quality record players, too. After all, that's why PetSmart sells hungry dogs: In retailing, no customer is quite as valuable as the one who buys a reason to keep coming back.

The Rega RP-1 would certainly keep me coming back: It's well-made, attractive, apparently durable, and demonstrably superior to any other self-standing audio source at its price. Perhaps best of all, the RP-1 is easy to own and to use. It's not just that I can't imagine $445 buying more happiness; I can't imagine so modest an investment in money and effort buying more music.

For the audiophile who has yet to take the vinyl plunge, and to whom a $445 purchase isn't too big a deal, the Rega RP-1 is an easy, enthusiastic recommendation. For the record lover of humbler means to whom such an investment requires months of saving and sacrificing, the Rega also transcends its cost, and has the potential for being much more than just an appliance. And for all prospective owners, the RP-1 Performance Pack is a no-brainer—but wait a while before buying it, if only so you can luxuriate in the fun of hearing such small things make such big differences. Warmly recommended.

Footnote 2: I know that the mere mention of a white belt brings to mind garments favored by Floridians of a certain generation, but worry not: This one isn't shiny.
Rega Research, Ltd.
US distributor: Sound Organisation
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, TX 75207
(972) 234-0182
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