Rega Planar 3 turntable

Among British turntables, there is the Rega Planar 3, which sells here for $550 (approximately double the UK price). I've owned a Rega for three years and know it well.

The Rega is a good-sounding turntable and a good value—at the UK price. Someone once said that the Rega, which has no suspension, is a triumph of engineering over the laws of physics. There is little isolation from acoustical feedback—some Rega owners have gone to the extreme of mounting their turntables on flimsy shelves, the flimse serving as isolation of sorts.

That's not all that's wrong with the Rega. When you drill a hole for an arm in the Rega's plinth, you've got a hole in the Rega for good—there is no mounting board. So if, like me, you decide that the Rega arm isn't so great for medium-to-high–compliance moving-magnet cartridges, you either have to stick with the arm or find something else that fits the hole. Also there isn't enough room under the plinth to mount many tonearms—Rega owners have had to lifts their turntables up on stilts. (Rega is out with a new arm of their own manufacture, which sells for around $135 in Britain.)

If it's a miracle that the Rega sounds as good as it does, it's a mystery why the Harmon-Kardon T60 doesn't sound better. Here is a moderately-priced belt-driven turntable that seems to do everything right. There are so many nice features—a three-point spring suspension that is really easy to level, a very good integrated tonearm,, an arrangement whereby the tonearm cables can't foul the suspension, adjustable feet for leveling the plinth. But the Rega sounds better. You explain it, I can't.—Sam Tellig

Sam Tellig returned to the Rega in August 1985 (Vol.8 No.4):
"I'm not sure I want a CD player, pops."

My son and I were having lunch at the Mark You Restaurant, on Pleasant Street, in Fall River, Mass.—birthplace of Lizzie Borden, Ray Bolger...and The Audio Cheapskate.

Fall River also happens to be the birthplace of the chow mein sandwich—invented by one Mr. Daniel Tow, proprietor of the Mark You, who, in his seventies, still runs the restaurant.

You haven't had chow mein until you've had Fall River chow mein—the noodles are cooked with the vegetables and Mr. Tow's secret blend of seasonings. And the best way to enjoy Fall River chow mein is in a chow mein sandwich—chow mein lavishly poured between and around a hamburger bun.

What does a chow mein sandwich have to do with CD players?

Well, the same adjectives that make my son and me love chow mein sandwiches—eccentric, peculiar, individual—make us love turntables, especially turntables with personality. Just as the chow mein sandwich is one man's bright idea, so, too, most great turntables have been the idea of individuals: Edgar Villchur's original AR (revised by Tim Holl), Ivor Tiefenbrun's Linn, Roy Gandy's Rega, etc.

CD is a real problem for me. I find it hard to say anything interesting about the players I receive—not that I receive that many. The Sony CDP-102 sounded like a very good player in the several systems I heard it in. It may be almost as good as Sony's more expensive and not generously discounted ES models.

Magnavox (Philips), unlike Sony and others, has never made a bad player; their latest models are very good indeed, especially the handsome and user-friendly FD1040, on whose design the Mission DAD7000 is based.

I don't see spending big bucks on a CD player. Buy a $1000 player today, and tomorrow there will be $500 player with better performance. Buy a $300 player and you won't feel so bad! Meanwhile, the money you would have spent on costly hardware can buy discs.

Spending big bucks on a turntable, on the other hand, might be justified—especially if you own a large collection of LPs. Today's state-of-the-art is not likely to become obsolete tomorrow.

But suppose you don't want to spring for a SOTA, Linn, or VPI? Well, there's always the AR. The new basic AR EB-101 lists for $399.95 with arm, usually discounted to below $300 (it's not sold armless). An AR Connoisseur Series ES-1 table with an even better AR arm will run $475 in cherry or $650 in rosewood—subtract $125 for an armless table. The Connoisseur series, by the way, is not discounted much because AR "protects" its Connoisseur dealers from Crazy Eddie types. But, I have yet to audition the new AR tables and arms. And then there's the Rega Planar 3...

A Lesson in Reganomics
I'll start off my review of the Rega turntable system with its strongest feature: the Rega RB300 tonearm. This is truly an excellent arm—it sounds good, installs without much fuss, is easy to use, and it looks like it will last. It's a triumph of engineering, and mates particularly well with an AR table. It also mates well with a Linn LP12, a fact that has apparently caused Ivor Tiefenbrun no small amount of grief.

But how about a Rega arm on a Rega table?

Well, the problem is price. The Rega combo retails for under $300 in the UK, but for $450 in the US (and might go up, depending on the dollar, footnote 1). There are many reasons for this disparity: British dealers take 30 points mark-up vs the 40 points or more that US dealers expect (and perhaps need—wages and other expenses are much higher here than in Britain).

Air freight charges have gone sky-high in recent years. Customs brokers need to get paid. The importer (or his reps) has to schlepp around the country pedaling his wares—in such a big country, it's expensive. Advertising is far more expensive here than in the UK, not that Rega advertises there (they do here). The Japanese companies are better able to absorb these expenses—they have volume. The small importer has to take a substantial mark-up to stay alive.

The question is, should you pay these charges? Only if the product offers good value relative to what else is available here in the States. The Creek CAS 4040 sells here for about twice its British price—but it's still a good buy at $300 (in Britain, of course, it's a steal). The Rega arm is still a good buy at $195 in the US (which, by the way, is lower than it started out). The Rega arm/table combination at $450, in my opinion, is not—the turntable is nowhere near as good as the arm.

The Rega certainly sounds different from most other tables, but different is not necessarily better. The Rega gives you a very dynamic sound with powerful, punchy bass—the table conveys the music's excitement. (Ivor Tiefenbrun would call it "tuneful.") But there is too much emphasis of the mid- to upper-bass for my taste, and the table tends to sound a little muddy in bass detail, even when I exchange the felt mat for something like the excellent Audioquest sorbothane mat.

The Rega is prone to pitch instability. The motor, isolated from the plinth by rubber, can apparently oscillate ever so slightly, causing variations in the belt distance from motor to pulley. I could hear the unsteadiness every so often, particularly with woodwinds. It wasn't the fault of the records—I was able to switch immediately to another turntable for comparisons. I might be able to forgive this in a $300 turntable, but for $450? (With the dollar heading south vs the pound, the Rega may cost $500 by the time you read this.)

There are other things I dislike. The hingeless dust cover won't stay open half-way. Rega's Dave Wilson says a spring-loaded dust cover would degrade the sound of a solid plinth turntable; they've tried it. The motor turns off with a dreadful pop, so you'd better mute your preamp or turn your system off first. Isolation is poor, requiring something like a Target turntable shelf for best performance.

The Rega cartridge is an even stranger animal than the turntable. A $200 moving magnet built into what looks like a Goldring Epic Body, the cartridge sounds very dynamic, with a prominent and richly detailed bass. But the tonal balance is peculiar, just like the Rega table itself (yes, I tried the cartridge on two other turntables). There's too much bass, and the highs lack that last bit of sparkle. Rega admits that the cartridge overloads many phono preamps.

I do like the packaging of the cartridge, however. It comes in a plain plastic box that makes the MAS EconoCoil's packaging look lavish. Here's one of the instructional paragraphs: "Rega have not tried to create a false impression of expense by using an elaborate package. We have used the most simple and cheap carton possible to avoid transit damage and therefore more is actually spent on the cartridge itself and you get better value."

If only the same economics could be applied to getting the Rega products into the US at their bargain UK price!—Sam Tellig

Footnote 1: I might point out that this is one of the most reasonable price differentials going in terms of UK to US conversions. As ST points out, though, the real question is whether the Rega compares favorably to its US competitors.—Larry Archibald
Rega Research Limited
6 Coopers Way
Temple Farm Industrial Estate
Southend on Sea, Essex SS2 5TE, England, UK