The Planar evolution

Jason Kennedy finds out what improvements Rega has included to turn its best-selling turntable into a giant-slayer

The RP3 is the latest generation of a turntable that goes back to Rega’s roots in the seventies when it launched the Planet; a turntable that evolved into the Planar 3 and has been slowly improving ever since. The last iteration was the P3-24, but something dramatic has happened to this budget classic since then: it has grown an exoskeleton between main bearing and tonearm, in an effort to bring greater rigidity to this crucial link.

This is a lot more than cosmetic – it signals a change from attempting to make the entire plinth as stiff as possible to concentrating on the inflexibility where it matters most. That’s not all, the tonearm has gone through its second stage of evolution to come out more sleek and rigid again.

Modified headshell

Rega founder and designer Roy Gandy points out that a turntable is an instrument for measuring the tiny variations in the wall of a vinyl groove. In order for it to do this job effectively, you need to eliminate movement between the bearing that the platter sits on and the arm base and thence the arm and stylus. Previous P3s have had a 0.9mm phenolic resin skin in order to make this link stiff, but Roy realised that a brace in thicker phenolic that joins the key points could be even thicker and thus stiffer where it counts. There is a brace either side of the plinth and each is 2mm-thick in order to achieve this, a by-product is that the plinth itself looks and feels nicer than its all-phenolic predecessor.

The RB301 tonearm has morphed into the RB303, which retains the three-point fi xing of its predecessor, but has a completely new cast alloy tube. Thanks to advanced CAD input this is no longer a series of straight lines, but has a smooth form both internally and externally, with more consistent wall thickness. The headshell has also been modified with the goal of greater stiffness.

Flowing lines

The RP3’s glass platter is 12mm-thick, which makes it fairly heavy and this is topped by a felt mat. It sits on an ABS sub-platter that’s driven by a rigidly mounted motor. Rather than trying to decouple the motor, as is usually the case, Rega hand-tunes a 24-volt motor to eliminate this source of resonance and to avoid the speed variations that decoupling can introduce.

The new arm may be an evolution of its forerunner, but it looks significantly better thanks to flowing lines. It now has a black counterweight, but the calibrated down-force and anti-skate remain the same.

Pace and rhythm

We had the opportunity to compare the RP3 with its predecessor, the P3-24 and this revealed the newcomer to have greater dynamic contrast and better timing. However, it didn’t make it clear just how good this turntable is. This was made obvious when we started spinning vinyl through a highly revealing system. The basis of its ability to bring vinyl to life is a superb sense of pace and rhythm.

This can transform a lacklustre record into a vital one, as we found with Waiting for Columbus (see Music Reviews p89). The quality of playing is superb and this shone through from the off, distracting us from all other considerations and resulting in a slew of record sleeves on the floor.

It’s not just about timing, it’s also about differences, differences between musicians, instruments and recordings, and these are far greater than you might imagine, even with a modest Elys 2 cartridge. The RP3 is contagiously musical and even though there were bigger turntables in our listening room, this was the one we kept coming back to, not something that happens very often.

Pound for pound

In the end, we were frankly astonished at just how good this new Planar 3 is. Its predecessor had similar timing skills, but was nowhere near as revealing nor dynamic – clearly the arm refinements and that double brace have had a dramatic effect. It also brings Rega into serious contention with Pro-Ject, its main rival in the budget turntable field. The latter usually manages to make a more refined sound than Rega pound-for-pound, but it will have to come up with something pretty special to beat the RP3 in any area, let alone sheer musical engagement.

LIKE: Uncanny ability to get to the heart of the music
DISLIKE: What’s not to like? Except that we have to wait for the gloss finish version
WE SAY: If money is tight, do you really need anything better?

Rega RP3
Turntable and arm
• Colour options:
white, black, silver
• Speeds: 33/45rpm
• Dust lid
• Double brace
• 24V hand tuned
Rega Research Ltd
01702 333071