Rega Planar 3
The Rega Planar 3, together with its successors, the P3 and RP3, is a well-known budget audiophile turntable by British hi-fi manufacturer, Rega Research available since 1977. It is a belt-drive deck that broke from the conventional mould of audiophile turntables, by employing a solid plinth in lieu of the suspended sub-chassis prevalent since the early 1960s.
The product has lived through several guises and name changes, any of which are often referred to simply as "Rega 3". It is highly influential, and has made its small British manufacturer's name synonymous with hi-fi turntables, and gave the company the widest brand recognition in the US. Its revolutionary simplicity and affordability made the Rega 3 a "bedrock of analog playback for well over 30 years".
The record player has been through four principal guises: Planar 3 (1977–2000), P3 (2000–2007), P3-24 (2007–2012) and RP3. The first Rega turntable, the Planar 2 was launched in 1975. This was followed by the launch in June 1977 of the Planar 3. The two decks are of identical design but built to different budgets. The Planar 3 turntable established itself as a "threshold" or entry-level for high-end turntables. It became hugely popular and is one of the most well-known turntables ever produced. A Planar 3 would take centre place in the system of many audiophiles as a "serious turntable" until they could afford the coveted Linn Sondek LP12. It became a reference for simplicity and value, re-establishing Britain as an important player in the specialist hi-fi industry.
Rega went against conventional wisdom of the time, preferring to make their decks lightweight and rigid as their solution to resonances. Their belief was that mass absorbs energy and results in lost music. In other senses, the turntables are deliberately minimalistic and neither requires nor justifies any tweaking, except adjustment to vertical tracking angle of the cartridge. It is a belt-driven design where its sub-platter is mounted in a high quality oil-bearing fixed directly to a medite (MDF) plinth supported by three simple rubber feet. A heavy glass platter sits atop the bearing sub-assembly driven by a mechanically isolated 24V synchronous motor through a rubber belt. A 2mm-thick mat is designed to sit on top of the glass platter. The turntable is without suspension, and the rubber feet provide limited mechanical isolation from floor-bound vibrations. A perspex cover is provided for isolation against airborne vibrations. The record deck is single speed – it runs at 33 rpm, and the user must physically remove the platter to reposition the drive belt to play 45 rpm records.
The two major changes to the Planar 3 during its life was firstly the change to the famous Rega RB300 tonearm in the 1980s, and the change to a new AC synchronous motor more recently. The motor, tuned for lower vibration, allowed for the elimination of the old motor's suspension mounting.
The Planar 3 comes factory-fitted with a RB300 tonearm whose one-piece die-cast aluminium-alloy tube is the core of all Rega arms. It has higher-tolerance bearings, a decoupled counterweight, a coil-spring–type tracking force adjustment, and higher-quality interconnect cables compared to the RB250 fitted to the Planar 2. The P3-24, (launched in 2007) is fitted with a RB301, which has new anti-skate mechanism, external tonearm cable, an improved vertical bearing and a new 3-point attachment to the plinth instead of the single pillar.
Now considered a classic, the Rega tonearms are regarded as a bargain by many reviewers in the context of the price of the deck. Its exceptional price–performance ratio made the RB300 a favourite for use on other record decks, including the Linn Sondek. It earned its place as the most widely used OEM tonearm on the market.
Comparison with Planar 2 / P2
The Planar 2 was supplied with a RB250 tonearm as against a RB300 on the Planar 3, and is available only in black finish. Earlier models had a glass platter, wood surround frame plinth and S-shaped arm; Rega changed to using a fibreboard platter on the P2 which it describes as being "CNC machined HDF which is then metalised [sic], giving a platter with good mass and accuracy." Compared to the Planar 2, the Rega Planar 3 has a thicker, heavier plinth; the drive motor is mounted on the plinth using a rubber suspension for improved isolation. The glass platter is also thicker, as is the felt mat.
In 2003, Lim Juan of The Star speculated that the revised P2 looked "a lot less substantial than its ancestor", because of cost-cutting. Whilst the platter of the costlier Rega decks, P3 and P25, continued to be of glass, reviewers derided the fibreboard platter of the P2 as "not inspiring much confidence". The plinth, which the Rega website described as a low mass particulate core sandwiched by highly rigid phenolic laminates, "looks like any plain cheap medite board", according to Lim. The badly-toleranced medite platter proved unpopular with prospective buyers so Rega reverted to glass platters for a while, until the P2 was discontinued in 2005.
Upon the discontinuation of the P2, the P3 became Rega's entry-level record player until Rega relaunched the P1 in 2006 (at $350 including arm and cartridge) to compete with offerings from Music Hall and Pro-Ject. In late 2006 / early 2007, the P2 was resurrected once again, with different platter – thicker than before at 22mm, and weightier. When giving their verdicts, audio reviewers usually advise readers to pay a little extra for the P3 over the P2.
The Rega Planar 3 was updated and renamed the P3 in 2000, and started being made available in a range of bright colours. The P3-24, in the name of the 24-pole AC synchronous motor used – same for the costlier P5 and P7 decks, was released (in 2007). A separate power supply drives the "very low vibration" motor directly mounted on the table. The P3-24 may be used with an optional external power supply designed for the P7 that gives a stable voltage to drive the motor and which allows for two-speed operation (33 and 45 rpm) without requiring manual speed change. The plinth of the P3-24 and more recent models, constructed of laminates with a 0.9mm phenolic resin skin instead of MDF, is custom-made by a Scottish kitchen cabinet supplier.
In superseding the Rega P3-24 with the RP3, Rega made improvements to the bearing, arm, and plinth. Rega founder and chief designer Roy Gandy realised the plinth could be made lighter if thicker bracing was installed at key points to make the structure stronger and stiffer. It was found that after a 2mm-thick brace was incorporated on the top and bottom of the plinth, the phenolic skin could be dispensed with. The RB301 tonearm fitted to its predecessor was substituted with the RB303, which has a cast alloy tube that boasts greater rigidity and better control of resonance.
Ross at Vinyl Asylum regarded the Regas' overall sonic presentation as "much more refined than a typical Dual" (referring to the Dual 505) or similarly priced Japanese record players. However, he found fault in a number of parameters, such as average transient response, not enough sense of depth, a higher than expected noise floor, and some slurring of musical notes and details – such as individual voices among a small group of singers, he
In the mid-1980s, Sam Tellig wrote in Stereophile that the Rega 3 "is a good-sounding turntable and a good value—at the UK price ... it's a miracle that the Rega sounds as good as it does" compared with the apparently better built Harmon-Kardon T60. From a sound quality viewpoint, Tellig noted "a very dynamic sound with powerful, punchy bass—the table conveys the music's excitement... [but with] too much emphasis of the mid- to upper-bass [and] tends to sound a little muddy in bass detail". He added that the deck's pitch instability was audible "every so often, particularly with woodwinds". Szabady, in Stereo Times, also agreed that musical expressiveness was the classic Planar 3 strength; its weaknesses included occasional speed inconsistency and slurring of heavily modulated bass transients.
HiFi Choice said in 1984 that the Planar 3 sounded "nicely musical in a balanced and coherent manner. Presentation of detail was considered well above average"; in 1992 it asserted that the Rega Planar 3 has been "a long time leader" under £250. Michael Fremer wrote in December 1996 that "while the 2 did nothing really wrong, the 3 offered somewhat deeper and tighter bass, better dynamics at both ends of the scale, a better sensation of 'quiet', and smoother overall performance". Considered on its own terms, the Rega 3 was "quiet, dynamic, free of obvious tracking distortion or other supposed analog problems, extremely well-balanced top to bottom, offers very deep and reasonably tight bass". In comparison with the $9000 TNT Mk.3/Immedia RPM, recordings sounded "more like a recording and less like real life on the Rega 3".
Brent Burmester said in Audioenz in 2005 that, compared to the already discontinued Rega 2, the Rega 3 is "tauter, faster, just a little quieter... and better in all the dimensions in which the P2 is already strong. My only niggle was the slight hollowness invested in the lower-midrange". Burmester described the P3 sound as "dynamic, expressive ... fresh and enthusiastic feel, not quite but nearly weaving the illusion that you're sitting in the third row of the auditorium or the engineer's booth at the recording studio. [It] sounded 'newer', more together, sharper, more focused. It's a contemporary sound, not a million miles from well sorted CD players of three times the price".
Writing in Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity in 2012, Jim Clements said of the RP3 that it has "several meaningful advances over the P3-24 [that] help the RP3 operate with low background noise and an innate ability for detail retrieval. This table also conveys above average dynamic shadings while providing a solid foundation to support the whole frequency balance of your cartridge." Writing in The Absolute Sound, Wayne Garcia appraised that "the RP3 is sonically superior to its predecessor in every way." Stereophile said it "retained the P3-24's fast, forgiving sound, but added tighter and better-controlled low frequencies".
Popularity and accolades
The Regar Planar 3 is the best known piece of vinyl replay equipment in the history of hi-fi. Jim Clements said that the Rega 3 in its various incarnations "is probably one of the best-selling turntable lines in the history of the world". Audiogon notes that "the Planar 3 or the current P3 it has remained a bedrock of analog playback for well over 30 years". Techradar notes that "Few hi-fi components have lived longer or exerted greater influence than Rega's Planar 3 turntable". Jeff Dorgay said that "P3 is not only the 'table that put Rega on the map in the US but the one that gave the company the widest brand identity".
The P3-24 was both a "Joint Analog Source" and a "Joint Budget Component" for 2008. In 2012, the RP3 won Stereophile's "Analog Source Component of the Year" and What Hi-fi? voted it Product of the Year in the category of Best Turntable £500-£750.
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