Rega Planar 3 Turntable Review
Is this all the turntable you'll ever need?
What is the Rega Planar 3?The Planar 3 is the latest version of an unsuspended belt driven turntable that Rega Research has been producing for nearly forty years. Behind this simple sentence lies some fairly important details. This model of turntable is the object that many people associated with the Rega brand. It has consistently appeared on shortlists at the price point for anyone looking for a turntable for decades. In short, changing it is a pretty big deal.
As such, Rega hasn't rushed into launching the Planar 3. Two years of development has taken place in the background aided by the handy fact that the RP3 that preceded it was still one of the very best models in its class right up until the moment it stopped production - when I reviewed it last year, I was still sufficiently impressed that I gave it a Highly Recommended badge. This does mean that as the RP3 was seriously good, its replacement needs to be even better still, considering that the price has crept up as well.
The timing is significant too. I've gone on record on our podcasts that I feel the current situation with vinyl is a boom - one that will sooner or later collapse or at least subside - and for what little it is worth, some of the team at Rega feel the same. The Planar 3 therefore is the sort of device that arrivals from the boom who decide to stick with this expensive, fragile and at times unforgiving format might choose after dispensing with an entry-level unit. So can the Planar 3 fill the big shoes of its predecessor and make temporary members of the vinyl club permanent ones?
DesignThe Planar 3 is an unsuspended, belt drive turntable. It's predecessor can lay claim to being one of the first of its type and it has spawned a host of imitators over the years. If you take a Planar 3 out of its packaging and compare it to an RP3, at first the temptation might be to assume that the two years of development by Rega must have featured some very long lunches. The Planar 3 is almost completely identical to its predecessor in terms of size, layout and design. Look closer though and you'll start to see the differences.
In fact, these differences are so significant that the RP3 and Planar 3 have almost no parts in common with one another, with the motor being the only major component that the two decks share. The Planar 3 manages to be almost completely new without looking like it - and to be clear, there are likely reasons for this we'll cover in a bit. Some of this development is the result of feedback and extended testing on the existing RP3 and some other aspects have trickled down from the RP8 and RP10 models.
Starting from the ground up, the Planar 3 now sits on revised feet designed to improve isolation from other sources. Like all of its predecessors, the Planar 3 works best when properly isolated on a wall shelf or the like but all improvements in this area are welcome. The feet are in turn attached to a new plinth. This is stiffer than in older models and like the preceding RP3 uses a bracing system to link the bearing assembly and the armboard together into a single controlled structure. The brace actually takes the form of two different sections. Underneath the plinth is a 3mm Phenolic resin section while on the top is a metal brace which is visible as a meccano like assembly. Rega claims this plinth is a great deal stiffer than previously but the brace in turn gives the Planar 3 some of the advantages of a skeletal deck without the downsides.
The bearing assembly is also new and features a redesigned brass hub that is designed to reduce friction. This leads to benefits in terms of both wear and the amount of noise generated by the assembly that risks being picked up by the record. As with previous models, the belt doesn't act on the platter directly but on a sub platter that sits under the main one. This too has been revised and is now stiffer and built to a higher tolerance than before.
Sat on top of this is the main platter which in classic Rega fashion is made from glass. Once again, the gods of incremental improvement have been at work and the platter now features an 'Optiwhite' polish on the rim which improves the tolerances and balance and as a welcome side effect also looks rather lovely. Rega supplies a felt mat to sit on top of it but other aftermarket options are also available.
As noted before, the motor is the same unit as before but features a new housing to improve cooling and a new motor control PCB. As standard (and as tested here), the Planar 3 uses a wall wart type power supply which spins the motor at a fixed speed which means that speed changes need a physical movement of the belt. As a handy update though, Rega sells the TT-PSU which improves power delivery and allows for electronic speed control.
The most significant rework involves the arm which has now become the RB330. Once again the RB330 doesn't look very different from the preceding RB303 but given it makes use of a new armtube, bearing housing (and bearings) as well as a new counterweight, it is completely new. Rega has also revised the antiskate adjustment and the quality of the output cabling to further improve the feel of the arm.
As the arm is the main point of contact between you and the turntable it can shape how you feel about using the deck and the good news here is that Rega has done a brilliant job. The RB330 moves with a smoothness and precision that is generally associated with more expensive models and I don't know of any other arm at this sort of price that feels like this one does. In classic Rega fashion, the RB330 has no vertical tracking alignment adjuster which means that the cartridge you choose for it must have the same basic dimensions as the Rega Elys 2 that is fitted to it.
What is hard to really convey in either text or pictures is how much nicer the Planar 3 feels in the flesh than the already impressive RP3. The new gloss finish on the plinth and the finish on the platter means that the Planar 3 might have crept up in price to £550 without cartridge and £625 with the Elys 2 fitted but the deck itself feels more like an offering at the £1,000 point. This category has been hotting up over the last few years and this is clearly a very definite statement of intent by Rega- a company that still makes everything in the UK in its own facilities - to see if the competition fancies matching them.
It might seem reasonable to ask why, having gone to the effort of building a completely new turntable, would you then make it look basically the same as the old one. The reasons for this are - as far as I can see - twofold. The first reason is that with a product as indelibly associated with the Rega brand as this one, it would be unwise to do anything too radical. This is their Porsche 911 and like Porsche, it pays not to monkey about with the basic premise too significantly - even if like the 911, there is no part actually in common with the original.
The other reason, more prosaically, is that the Planar 3 looks fantastic. This is a very pretty piece of design where the simplicity of the look itself gives it a beauty and sense of proportion that many fussier rivals can't match. At the moment, the Planar 3 is available in black and white gloss finishes but Rega's use of the phrase 'currently' suggests that this might not be the situation indefinitely.
What is hard to really convey in either text or pictures is how much nicer the Planar 3 feels in the flesh than the already impressive RP3
How was the Planar 3 tested?The Rega was used with a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amplifier connected to a pair of Audio Note AN-K SPX speakers first and then a pair of Spendor S3/5R2 speakers about half way through testing. A Cyrus Phono Signature phono stage was used for the bulk of testing but a Graham Slee Communicator was also used as a more price comparative example of a phono stage. In all instances, all equipment was connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner. The material used for testing was, obviously, vinyl.
Sound QualityHaving assembled the Planar 3 - a process that is admirably simple by the standards of any piece of audio gear let alone a turntable - the Rega has a fair bit to prove. The good news for all concerned is that the Planar 3 is good - seriously good. An oft repeated line by various publications over the years is that this Rega model - whatever it happens to be called at the time - is the most affordable price point where vinyl competes with newer and more convenient formats in terms of outright performance. This is a hopelessly subjective statement - for many sane souls here, vinyl is dead and happily so - but on a basic level the Rega has always been the point where vinyl starts to reward some of the general faff in using it with something that moves the soul.
Kicking off with Bloc Party's Silent Alarm the Rega captures the rawness and excitement of Like Eating Glass with an effortlessness that is immediately impressive for a turntable that could, with a basically straight face, still be called affordable. What really impresses though is that the Planar 3 also manages to give you everything on the record in a way that lets you know about the imperfections - and while I prefer the vinyl version of this album to the CD, it is still far from perfect - but in a way that doesn't make the issues jarring or unpleasant.
Of course, if you give the Planar 3 something that has been more carefully recorded like the 20th Anniversary re-issue of The Score by The Fugees, the Rega is sensational. The way it handles Ready or Not is outstanding. Bass is deep and tight, there is plenty of air and space to the recording and Lauryn Hill's vocals are tangible in their presence and scale. The recent addition of the Cyrus Phono Signature to my personal equipment has led to a big jump to the performance of analogue in the system as a whole but because it itself is exceptionally quiet in terms of noise and hum, it gives attached turntables nowhere to hide in terms of any noise that they introduce. The Rega manages to be nigh on completely silent in terms of introduced noise suggesting that the work with the arm and the bearing have paid off handsomely.
It isn't perfect - few things in life are. Like all decks of this configuration, the more you can isolate the Rega from the world around it - with either an isolation platform or preferably a wall shelf - the better it will perform. Even on my tremendously stout Quadraspire rack, the Rega isn't immune to a little introduced feedback from elsewhere. The other point of consideration is that while the performance of the Planar 3 across the whole frequency response is extremely good, the top end of the Planar 3 has to content itself with merely being exceptionally good rather than excellent like the rest.
Part of this is down to the Elys 2 cartridge, This is unchanged from its use in the RP3 and while the Planar 3 extracts the highest performance from it that I've personally heard, it does still have some limitations. If the Cyrus is removed from the chain and a Graham Slee Communicator substituted for it, the top end with some poorer recordings can become a little ragged, You can of course buy the Planar 3 without a cartridge but choosing something that really does it justice is likely to be another £200 or so and as the arm height can't be adjusted, you will need to choose that cartridge with one eye on the measurements.
The beauty of turntables is that more than most sources, you can tweak their supporting ancillaries to better work with the traits of the deck. Logically, a Rega phono stage would be a good place to start looking in terms of a good partnership but changes to platter mats, isolation and other tweaks will all alter the presentation of the Planar 3 without significantly affecting the immense talent that the Rega possesses in so many areas.
The good news for all concerned is that the Planar 3 is good - seriously good
- Truly outstanding sound quality for the asking price
- Well built
- Easy to use
- Slightly more expensive than outgoing model
- No arm VTA
- Cartridge very good rather than great
Rega Planar 3 Turntable ReviewAny criticisms I've made of the Planar 3 need to be placed in the context that there isn't another £550 turntable that I've heard that provides such a fearsome performance basis for any cartridge as the Planar 3. With the launch of this deck and the announcement on April 25th that it is to be joined by a more affordable Planar 2, it seems clear that Rega has decided to up the pressure on this part of the market. There's nothing truly radical in the construction of the Rega - it's made out of materials that are in common enough use in the industry - it is simply that Rega has used its engineering skill, years of experience and enormous amounts of care to squeeze a huge amount of performance out of the Planar 3 - performance that very little under £1,000 can rival.
The turntable might superficially look a bit like what has gone before but the Planar 3 is not a rehash or facelift. This is the new class in the field in terms of attainable analogue and the combination of performance, build, looks and overall value, is going to require other companies to up their game. We might well be in a bubble for vinyl but if the results of the bubble are decks like this, I'm entirely OK with that.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £625.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money10
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