The Rega factory is located 50 miles (80 km) south of London. Alongside a delegation representing the distributor Sound & Colors, we were able to take a close look at the manufacturing process for the British brand’s acclaimed turntables, as well as for its electronics and speakers. Rega is above all the story of a dedicated music and tech enthusiast, a man who has devoted himself to creating a scrupulous machine dedicated to faithfully amplifying each groove of a vinyl record, which he calls a ?vibration measuring machine.?
A brief history
A fan of music and mechanics who later developed an interest in electronics and hi-fi, Roy Gandy was hired as a technical writer by Ford in 1972. He spent most of his free time installing hi-fi equipment for his friends and designing speakers. In light of his passion, he was often asked to repair turntables. After observing the mediocre quality of the turntables passing through his workshop, Gandy was convinced he could create something better and paired up with Tony Relph to inaugurate Rega (Relph + Gandy). The pair designed the company?s first turntable: the Rega Planet in 1973. Roy Gandy continued to work for Ford during the day and built turntables at night in his workshop, with the help of his mother (who initially agreed to help for two weeks and wound up staying on for 15 years!).
After leaving Ford, Roy Gandy established a factory in Rochford. Soon after its launch in 1975, the Rega Planar 2 established itself as the most attractive ?budget? turntable on the market. In 1977, the magazine Hi-Fi News and Record Review acknowledged that the newly-released Rega Planar 3 was ?truly worth the detour.? By 1980, Rega had 13 employees, exported to 12 countries, counted 20 resellers in the UK and had several waitlists for clients hoping to acquire a Rega turntable. That same year, Roy bought a former mill, painted it bright green, and transformed it into a factory.
In 1983, Rega decided to design and build its own tonearms, thus giving birth to the Rega RB250 and Rega RB300 (RB for Rega Britain). Since its launch, more than 400,000 of the original Rega RB300 and its derivatives have been sold. In March of 1988, production began for the Rega Bias and Rega Elys cartridges, and more than a thousand units were sold over the course of the first month?five times as many as predicted! The end of the 80s and beginning of the 90s signaled a period of spectacular growth for Rega, marked by the arrival of the Ela speaker, as well as brand’s first electronic devices, the Rega Elex and Rega Elicit amplifiers.
In 1992, a new factory was built in Southend-on-Sea, and the production of speakers and amplifiers continued under Roy?s direction, during which time he also spearheaded new developments. Today, Rega?s team is composed of 110 employees and continues to grow, spurred by the recent vinyl revival.
The key phases in the conception of a Rega turntable
Precursor to the Planar range, Rega?s RP range is composed of a variety of models. We had the opportunity to closely observe part of the manufacturing process for the RP8 and RP10 turntables, as well as the entire manufacturing process for Rega?s tonearms and MM and MC cartridges. While the majority of high-end turntables are very heavy, Rega has always been committed to reversing the trend by proposing ever-lighter models featuring a very robust subchassis made with composite materials. For example, the Rega RP8 and RP10, which weigh about 17.5 lbs, face off with competing models such as the Thorens TD2035 (33 lbs), Technics SL-1200G (40 lbs) and Pro-Ject Xtension 10 (48.5 lbs).
At Rega, everything is made by hand and subjected to rigorous testing before being packaged and shipped. The risk of malfunction is thus kept to a minimum. All of the components for the turntables, tonearms and cartridges are manufactured in England, and Rega has only 2 or 3 suppliers for each component. A good way to ensure efficient supply management and reduce transportation costs.
Manufacturing a subchassis for a Rega turntable
The subchassis of each turntable is manufactured with meticulous attention to detail. Each platter is closely examined and validated before being fitted with additional components: motor, tonearm, cartridge, belt and damping feet. The subchassis of the RP8 and RP10, which we closely observed, are composed of a composite foam which is both very dense and very light. Rega spent 18 years creating this new material, and it has since become a reference for the brand.
Rega?s tonearms are the centerpieces of the brand’s turntables. The role of the tonearm is to ensure optimal playback conditions for the cartridge. The mechanical energy which is applied to the stylus is directly transmitted to the tonearm. The lightness of the tonearm, the precision of its alignment, the machining and the pivot are all key elements which must not be overlooked.
Once the pivot has been tightened, the engineer checks the buoyancy of the tonearm, which must remain flexible. Next comes the wiring and assembly, all of which is carried out by hand by a Rega engineer, who will often repeat the same task over the course of a day and can switch tasks in order to avoid falling into an overly repetitive routine. The cables and connectors are crimped together beneath an ultra-zoom digital microscope. The wiring is thus flawless, secure and reliable. Once assembled, each tonearm is individually tested to ensure that it meets Rega?s strict specifications.
Rega?s MM and MC cartridges: two approaches
Again, all of Rega?s cartridges are made by hand, but not at the same rhythm. For example, only 4 moving coil (MC) cartridges are produced per person and per day (4 employees are assigned to the MC cartridge department). These phono cartridges are highly lauded models and include the notorious Rega Apheta and the recent Rega Ania.
We were able to experience the entire production process and even try our hand at winding the coils. This high-precision work is carried out with an ultra-zoom digital microscope, just like for the MM cartridges. The moving coil cartridges and moving magnet cartridges are tested at the end of the production line, and an overview camera is used to verify the angle of the cantilever and the stylus.
The motor: an element not to be overlooked
The motor is a particularly important part of a turntable?s design as it is directly responsible for the regularity and precision of the restitution. There are two types of motors: alternating current and direct current. Rega favors synchronous AC motors for its turntables as DC motors don’t offer the precision, uniformity and reliability that the British brand requires. That being said, the manner in which synchronous motors distribute electricity means that the initial playback direction will be randomly determined. This is why Rega uses bipolar motors. Bipolar motors are composed of two coils separated by a central capacitor to create a phase shift equal to the distance separating the two poles. This allows the motor to automatically start spinning in a single direction. Rega?s synchronous motors are connected to a power supply which has been specially designed to drive the two poles of the system, thus ensuring that the latter will function with utmost precision and that each Rega turntable will offer optimal performance.
At the end of the assembly line, each turntable is brought onto a test bench in a dedicated room. This ?booth? is completely insulated and thus unaffected by changes in temperature and humidity which may occur during the testing process. Any such contextual variables could skew results when testing similar models. The criteria which must be met before a turntable is packaged are extremely strict and differ for each model. For example, the margin of error is lower for the Planar 8 and 10 than it is for the Planar 1 and 3.
Rega electronics: preamplifiers, amplifiers and CD players
Like Rega?s turntables, the brand’s amplifiers, CD players and preamplifiers are assembled entirely by hand. Once assembled, each device is tested before being packaged. Each electronic component is tested, and every material is subjected to a 24-hour-long stress test in extreme operating conditions. This strict process guarantees a very low return rate for all of Rega?s products.
Rega speakers: classic design
Rega?s speakers are also worthy of attention: even though the range is limited and the brand is above all renowned for its turntables, Rega has pulled out all the stops to design its RX speaker range. These speakers are the ideal complement to a Full Rega hi-fi system: amplifier, turntable, phono preamp, CD player and speakers. The Rega RX range is composed of two floorstanding speakers equipped with midbass drivers measuring 5? (13 cm) and 7? (18 cm), respectively, as well as one compact bookshelf speaker. The floorstanding models feature a side-firing bass driver which efficiently restitutes lows while allowing for a slimline design. The speakers in Rega?s RX range deliver an energetic sound thanks to their specially designed drivers. This notably includes a midbass driver with a doped paper cone and Rega?s acclaimed ZRR tweeter. Rega?s RX speakers are a good choice for those who enjoy the warm and generous sound that typifies English speakers.
The Rega factory, an exemplary company
We are grateful for the very warm welcome we received from all the employees at the Rega factory. While the factory is not atypical, our visit allowed us to develop our appreciation for the brand’s extensive knowledge, fine-tuned over the course of many years of experience in the hi-fi domain. Rega is a company that can seem like a family at times, and the brand continues to grow, notably thanks to the vinyl revival. Through its mastery of the production process, rigorous inspection of each hi-fi component, precise machining and demand for perfection, Rega stands as the model of a workplace which is enjoyable and where the care that goes into each product seems to outweigh productivity. We?d like to thank Roy Gandy, Rega?s founder, for having created and developed this exemplary and emblematic brand, to which we wish all the success it deserves.
This post is also available in: French