For our vinyl review this week, we decided not to take a look at a new release, but rather to test a turntable whose audiophile following is already well-established: the Rega Planar 3, also known as the Rega P3. Initially released in 1977, the latest version of the Rega Planar 3 was revealed in 2016 and replaces the 2011 Rega P3. Sold for €819 without a cartridge, the Rega P3 is a manual belt-driven model with a simple and refined design. With its light and solid plinth mounted on three damping feet, Rega RB330 tonearm and glass platter, does this iconic turntable from the English manufacturer live up to its reputation? Find out in our review.
Rega Planar 3: the brand
The British brand Rega Research was established in 1973 at the initiative of Tony Relph and Roy Gandy (the name REGA is a portmanteau of RElph and GAndy). The first turntables built by Rega in the early 70s were sold through Cosmocord in the UK and under the name Rega in West Germany, Denmark and France. At the time, Roy Gandy was working at Ford as a technical editor and spent his evenings making turntables. The brand’s record players quickly gained a good reputation and sales were such that Roy Gandy was able to quit his job at Ford to concentrate exclusively on Rega. He then decided to invest in a factory located in Rochford in the Southeast of England. At the same time, Tony Relph and Roy Gandy’s partnership ended and Gandy bought his ex-associate’s shares in the business.
In 1975, the Rega Planar 2 turntable arrived on the market and rapidly gained a reputation as one of the best turntables in its price range. Then, in 1977, the British magazine HI-FI News and Record Review announced the arrival of a new model by Rega, the Planar 3. The magazine didn’t hide its enthusiasm, writing, “The complete unit is worth a look”. With the success of this new model, the small Rochford company quickly grew and by 1980 employed 13 people, had 20 distributors in the UK alone, exported its turntables to 12 different countries and even had to put customers on a waiting list. Roy Gandy then bought an old mill that had been abandoned for several decades near Rochford, in a residential area in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex. The mill was renovated and transformed into a factory to meet the requirements of the increasingly popular brand.
Rega began designing and building tonearms in 1983, creating the Rega RB300 and the Rega RB250 in 1984. Over 400 000 Rega RB300 tonearms, all editions combined, were sold and its successor can be found on the Rega P3 turntable. Five years later, production of the Rega Bias and Rega Elys cartridges began. After only a month, the brand had sold over a thousand units.
The early nineties were another period of rapid growth for Rega. The Rega Ela speaker arrived on the market in 1990 and the brand took its first steps into the world of hi-fi electronics with the launch of the Rega Elex and Rega Elicit amplifiers. In 1992, Roy oversaw the construction of a new factory at Southend-on-Sea to accommodate for speaker and amplifier production, but also to ensure there was enough space for future developments.
Rega Planar 3: a legendary turntable
The first version of the Rega Planar 3 turntable was presented to the public in 1977. Following the success of the Rega Planar 2, which consolidated the reputation of the young British brand, the Planar 3 is currently one of the most well-known turntables in the audiophile sphere. A doorway to high-end hi-fi, the different versions of the Rega Planar 3 turntable have been an intrinsic part of the high fidelity world for almost 40 years.
Rega stands out from the competition by going against current trends and providing a high-end turntable with a light, yet solid plinth. Traditionally, turntables in this price range feature a heavy plinth designed to absorb resonance as effectively as possible. The downside to this design is that it absorbs energy and, therefore, the details and harmonics of the signal. This is why Rega chose to design a turntable with a light and solid plinth. The sub-platter is mounted onto a lubricated bearing directly attached to an MDF base that features three rubber feet. The heavy glass platter rests on this sub-platter, which is driven by a synchronous 24V motor and a rubber belt. The plexiglass dust cover isolates the record player from airborne vibrations. Lastly, the rotation speed can be changed from 33RPM to 45RPM by removing the platter and moving the belt to the dedicated indentation on the pulley.
Rega Planar 3: RB330 tonearm
During its 40 years of existence, many improvements have been made to the Rega Planar 3 turntable. However, two of them made a particularly strong impact on the turntable’s design. The first modification to the original model was the introduction of the Rega RB300 tonearm. Initially fitted with a R200 tonearm made by Acos, the Rega Planar 3 was updated in 1983 and was sold with a Rega RB300 tonearm. The first tonearm made by Rega in Great Britain, the RB300 features a one-piece arm tube and headshell made in die cast alloy. With its high-precision components, the Rega RB300 arm ensures better groove tracking and features low capacitance cables that considerably increase conductivity.
The Rega RB330 tonearm present on the Rega P3 turntable is fitted with a brand-new tube designed to redistribute mass and ensure fewer points of resonance. The vertical bearing housing has also been improved and a new phono cable added. The Rega RB330 tonearm also features new bearings and a 100g balance weight. Fully assembled by hand, in keeping with the Rega tradition, the RB330 takes the design of its predecessors and enhances it with more advanced materials and techniques.
Rega Planar 3: evolutions and improvements
Updated and renamed P3 in 2000, the Rega Planar 3 was available in a range of new colors. Then, in 2007, the turntable was given a new AC synchronous motor, the same model used for the P5 and P7 turntables. The latest generation of the RP3, released in 2016, inherits all of the improvements made to the base, platter, motor and tonearm over the years. Consequently, this version of the Rega P3 turntable features a Rega RB330 tonearm mounted onto a laminated plinth coated with an acrylic lacquer and resting on three rubber damping feet. It has a double brace in phenolic resin in between the sub-platter and tonearm, where the structure should be as stable as possible. The AC synchronous 24V motor is connected to a two groove pulley, which is paired to a polycarbonate sub-platter on top of which rests the 12mm glass platter.
Rega Planar 3: configuration
For this review, we associated the Rega Planar 3 turntable with a Thorens MM08 phono preamplifier and an Atoll IN200 Signature amplifier, then with a Cayin CS-55A KT88 amplifier using Atlas Element Superior Integra RCA cables. We used the Rega P3’s integrated cable to connect it to the amplifier. As is always the case with Rega’s designs, the turntable’s RCA cannot be changed as it is directly integrated into the plinth with the aim of reducing signal loss caused by the signal passing through different connectors. For this review, we used the Focal Chora 826 floorstanding speakers and the Elipson Prestige Facet 6B compact speakers. The two pairs of speakers were connected to the amp with Viard Audio Silver HD12 HP speaker cables. Lastly, because our version of the Rega P3 did not include a pre-mounted cartridge, we installed several different cartridges, including an Audio-Technica VM540ML, a Sumiko Blue Point and a Rega Ania. It is important to note that the turntable is also available with a Rega Elys 2 phono cartridge pre installed under the reference Rega Planar 3 Elys 2 MM.
Inside the box is the plinth, with almost everything, including the belt, already mounted. The glass platter comes separately in the box with the felt mat. There is also a plexiglass dust cover emblazoned with the Rega logo and fitted with hinges so it can be lifted and closed easily. Unfortunately, we were somewhat disappointed with these hinges as they didn’t seem to be of great quality and were easily dislodged from the notches when the cover was lifted up. Rega also provides a cartridge alignment protractor to adjust the overhang of the cartridge and a quick start guide containing instructions on how to set up the turntable.
Rega Planar 3: mounting the cartridges
Once the turntable was placed on the A/V stand, we began to install the cartridge. It’s important to note that the Rega Planar 3 turntable is designed to accommodate a Rega phono cartridge and it is highly recommended to install a spacer at the base of the tonearm if you wish to use a cartridge from another brand such as Ortofon, Grado, Audio-Technica, Sumiko or Nagaoka. This is because Rega tonearms don’t feature a height adjustment system. Therefore, it isn’t possible to install cartridges with a deeper body than those made by Rega because the size difference, in this case 2mm, alters the angle of the diamond and its contact area. Because of this difference, the diamond cannot read the entirety of the groove correctly and some information from the audio message is lost. To install the spacer, you must first dismount the RB330 tonearm from the Rega P3 turntable.
Once the screws are removed, carefully lift the tonearm and pull the connected phono cable through. If the spacer is open, you can simply feed the cable through the opening and place it at the base of the tonearm. For closed spacers however, you will have to unscrew the cable clamp under the turntable in order to completely pull the cable out. Then, place the spacer on the base of the tonearm and screw it back on once the RCA cable has been fed through the dedicated opening.
We began our listening session with the Audio-Technica VM540ML cartridge. While we were mounting it, we were surprised by the company’s decision to mount the screws upside down (screw head facing downwards with the nut at the top). It wasn’t a huge problem, but the visual result wasn’t great.
After checking the cartridge alignment with the included alignment tool, we tightened the screws and connected the cables at the back of the turntable. Next, we balanced the tonearm and set the counterbalance to the recommended tracking force for the VM540ML cartridge (2 grams) before checking it with our trusty Elipson digital scale. We finished the installation by setting the anti-skating, which can be done very easily via a small switch next to the base of the tonearm.
Rega Planar 3: listening impressions
Before we even lowered the tonearm, we were very impressed by how quiet the Rega Planar 3 turntable was. There was no background noise or hissing to deplore, which was a great sign for the rest of the review. We began our listening session with the Atoll IN200 Signature amplifier, the Focal Chora 826 speakers and our reference review record, the classic Dark Side of the Moon by British band Pink Floyd. From the very first notes on the track “Breathe in the Air”, we could not help but admire the clarity of the sound. The soundstage was spacious and we could hear all of the details in this legendary recording from the famous Abbey Road studios. Background noise was completely absent, which wasn’t surprising given the excellent decoupling of the glass platter that seemed to float above the plinth. Channel separation was excellent, thanks to the association of the Rega Planar 3 and the Audio-Technica VM540ML cartridge. This pairing provided a spacious and extensive soundstage. Sound literally filled our test room. The percussion in the intro of the song “Time” moved from one side of the room to the other, and we let ourselves be carried away by the fantastic rhythm section, which was reproduced with clarity and energy by the Rega P3.
But from the first notes of David Gilmour’s guitar solo, something wasn’t quite right. While at first one may think that a lack of bass may be a side effect of a system designed to enjoy recordings without any signal coloration, we noticed a certain sibilance that wasn’t supposed to be there. This was especially the case during parts with a lot of high frequencies.
To balance the restitution and solve this sibilance problem, we swapped the Atoll amp for the Cayin CS-55A KT88 to enjoy the warmth and smoothness of vacuum tube amplification. The swap was successful as it gave more body to the lows, but some of the energy that is the Atoll IN200 Signature’s strong point was lost. On the Led Zeppelin II album, the spaciousness and stereophonic effect that had impressed us at the start were present once more. Especially when Robert Plant’s voice and Jimmy Page’s guitar snaked their way between the left and right channels during the bridge in “Whole Lotta Love”. The tracks were delivered with a lot of energy and rhythm. There was no lingering, every note and every stroke were precisely reproduced. There was still a certain dryness in the lows, however, especially with the kick drum, and some of the guitar’s high notes remained harsh.
We then decided to install the Sumiko Blue Point moving coil cartridge on the Rega Planar 3. We could immediately hear the difference. The low end of the spectrum had more substance and the sibilance that was present with the Audio-Technica seemed to disappear. However, the highs remained very clear and were sometimes too bright with older recordings. To put the Rega Planar 3 to the test with more contemporary albums, we chose two recent records that feature different recording techniques. The polished production of the album This Is Not Supposed To Be Positive (2015) by Parisian band Hangman’s Chair made the most of the Rega P3’s wide soundstage and precision. The instruments are drenched in reverb and filled the room, while still leaving enough space for the vocals to be totally intelligible and at the center of the stereo image. The Rega Planar 3 turntable reproduced the Parisian quatuor’s formidable guitars and powerful drums beats with ease, and didn’t lose finesse during the clear passages and textured tones. Admittedly, we would have liked more presence in the lows, but the P3 is great at what it does. Everything was organized and the sound was natural, dynamic and balanced. The guitar notes seemed to echo in our room and we were completely surrounded by the music. Curious to know what changing the speakers would add to the experience, we swapped the Focals for a pair of Elipson Prestige Facet 6B speakers. We were pleased to observe that switching from the aluminum-magnesium alloy tweeter of the Focal Chora 826 to the soft dome tweeter of the Elipson speakers attenuated the sometimes too pronounced highs, even with the Sumiko Blue Point cartridge. As a result, we could hear the richness of the guitars, the bass was prominent and purring, bringing a pleasant warmth to the sound, while the drums gained more impact and depth. Still from the same album, the track “Flashback” alternates between melancholic passages and raging guitars. It benefited undeniably from the softening of the highs and more full-bodied lows. Powerful when needed and subtle when the music called for it, the association of the Rega Planar 3 turntable, the Sumiko Blue Point cartridge and the Elipson Facet 6B speakers was enchanting. Audiophile speakers with outstanding performance, such as the Jean Marie Reynaud Bliss Jubilé compact speakers or the Elipson Prestige Facet 34F floorstanders, will likely work wonders with this turntable.
We wrapped up our review by listening to the album Voix by Grenoble based band Aluk Tolodo. Released in 2016, Voix was entirely recorded, mixed and mastered in analog. For this last album, we mounted the Rega Ania moving coil cartridge, which can be found on the Rega Planar 6 turntable, onto the tonearm. The P3 was clearly in its element here and was a perfect match for the cartridge. The restitution was precise and rhythmic, the lows deep, the mids rich and the highs detailed. The sound was quite simply transformed. The different sound levels were expertly layered and each instrument could be heard clearly. The sound was transparent and open, and we simply had to close our eyes to visualize each instrument in the room. One of the Rega Planar 3’s greatest strengths is its ability to reproduce the sound of large symphony orchestras. At low volume, the Rega Planar 3 didn’t lose this quality and we were able to fully enjoy its performance without disturbing the neighbors. Suffice to say that our listening session was so enjoyable that it was difficult for us to stop. With the Rega Ania cartridge mounted on the Rega Planar 3 turntable, we were eager to rediscover all of the albums in our test room. The sound was remarkably natural and the Rega P3 extracted so many details that it was as if we were listening to our records for the first time.
Rega Planar 3: compared to…
Pro-Ject Debut Carbon: these two turntables aren’t in the same league; the Rega Planar costs twice as much as the Pro-Ject table. However, by comparing the Debut Carbon to an acclaimed turntable that is considered a reference in its price range, the precision and openness of the P3’s soundstage is highlighted. Unsurprisingly, the Rega Planar 3 turntable comes out on top.
Rega Planar 3: conclusion
The Rega Planar 3 is a resolutely audiophile turntable that reveals its full potential when combined with high-end electronics and a high-quality cartridge. It is important to pair this turntable to speakers with dynamic lows and energy across the entire frequency range to fully enjoy the performance it has to offer. Designed to extract every detail from recordings and reproduce them in a clear and natural way, the Rega P3 turntable’s qualities result in certain flaws. When used with the Audio-Technica VM540ML cartridge, the soundstage was open, spacious and transparent, but the restitution suffered from sibilance. The lack of impact in the lows is the price to pay here for a detailed and spacious sound message. Once paired to the moving coil Sumiko Blue Point and Rega Ania cartridges, the Rega Planar 3 turntable overcame this problem, providing a rich and balanced performance. The turntable proved to be perfectly comfortable with complex orchestrations and high-quality recordings from which it extracted each micro-detail. Very quiet, you can enjoy your records without background noise from electrical interference caused by the system or mechanical disturbances.
The Rega P3’s reputation is well-deserved and the latter is a testimony to the British brand’s expertise. The build quality is excellent and this exceptionally easy-to-use turntable will reveal the full potential of your cherished vinyls, particularly MoFi records and 180 gram pressings.
What we liked
- The precision of the sound
- The spatialization
- The non-existent background noise
- How easy it was to set up and use
What we would have liked
- More energy and substance in the lows
- Better quality hinges on the dust cover