10 Best Rega Products of All Time
The global hi-fi market is worth about $15 billion and rising at an annual rate of more than 5%. This makes it one of the biggest sources of discretionary spending in the world. Within the audio industry, there are businesses serving every size of budget and a huge diversity of tastes and expectations. As with most consumer products, you tend to get what you pay for and at the top end, there is a handful of companies who set the benchmarks for quality and innovation. Inevitably their prices are high, but there is a fine line between necessary and extortionate. Many of these companies manufacture equipment that is well within reach of the average music enthusiast. Leaving aside the question of cost, this is where you will always discover the finest, high-quality, award-winning products.
It’s natural to assume that biggest means best, so for the layperson, multinational brands like Sony are reassuringly familiar and always reliable. However, the true audiophile understands that hi-fi design is as much an art as it is a science. Mass market production of budget and mid-priced equipment isn’t always based on this principle and some of the leading players in the industry operate according to a very different model.
Rega Research is a British company founded in 1973 by Roy Gandy with his friend Tony Relph. Gandy was the man with all the technological ideas, having developed a passion for record players in his early teens. Before the age of 20, he was building his own audio systems. Although Relph left the company in its early years, the two men created a business that for decades has been recognized as one of the most important hi-fi companies in the world.
But although they achieved global status, they have always done things differently. They make practically all their products in their custom-built factory in Southend-on-Sea, 40 miles to the east of London, with a modest contribution from facilities in Asia. The only advertising they have ever run stated that they had no interest in advertising, preferring to invest all profits into research and development. Many of their creations have achieved iconic status, an over-used term which, in the case of Rega, is thoroughly deserved. To prove the point, we decided to compile a list of what we believe are the 10 best Rega products of all time. Although many of our choices are turntables, we’ve also picked out other components with which they have excelled. We don’t have room to cover some of the smaller but equally outstanding items like the Rega Ania moving coil cartridge
and the PL10 PSU power supply, but we can turn our attention to these on another occasion. We should also mention that Rega also maintains parts suppliers based in the UK so replacing components like the bearing assembly is fairly easy.
In 1973 Rega entered the audio market with a splash. Roy Gandy was working as an engineer for Ford at the time but he had gotten used to spending much of his spare time repairing and upgrading turntables. He grew frustrated with the quality of the equipment he had to work with. If no one was making audio equipment capable of truly high performance, he reasoned, then he might as well try to create his own. He wanted to make something that had solidity, longevity and was capable of drawing exceptional sound from the record groove. He was also passionate about combining function with attractive aesthetics, recognising the fine line between the two and believing it was possible to have a great turntable with the visual qualities of a piece of sculpture. The result was Rega’s first turntable, the Planet, which had a unique, three-spoke steel and aluminium platter paired with an Acos Lustre tonearm, a drive belt and electronic speed control. It had no dust cover, largely for reasons of appearance and, for its time, it was capable of exceptional sound quality.
The Planar series is one of the cornerstones of Rega’s success. Until 1983 the company had been content to use arms from Danish and Japanese manufacturers. The third-generation model represented a significant advance in itself but then Rega went one better by adding its own hand polished RB300 tonearm to the Planar 3. This combination was something of a revelation for sound quality and detail. Vinyl had never sounded so authentic and powerful. It marked the moment when Rega consolidated its position as a true world leader.
The original Brio was launched in 1991 and was Rega’s third amplifier after the Elex and the Elicit. Not only was it extremely adept at processing audio signals into exceptional sound output, but it was also significantly cheaper than comparable models from other manufacturers. Like the Planar range of Rega turntables, the Brio became a series which has undergone several upgrades, the most recent being its 2018 incarnation. Every version has stayed faithful to the musical foundations of the 1991 original, retaining its aesthetics and connectivity but only the sixth-generation Brio has truly matched the original. With same half-width casing and analog connections, it set a new standard for detail, dynamics and timing. An award winning amp, it delivers a clear, detailed, muscular sound which belies the relatively modest 50 watts per channel. It gives a full, rich, solid performance.
Having established its reputation as an innovator with its electronic speed controlled turntables, Rega
devoted a lot of time in the 1980s and 1990s to developing its electronics and speakers. The company wanted to make it possible for audiophiles to put together a two-channel system with nothing but Rega components. They didn’t entirely neglect their core proposition and those decades did see the release of new turntables but it was 2002’s P5 with its 15mm glass platter that stands out after this period of diversification. Always conscious that not everyone was able to pay premium prices, Rega’s objective with the P5 was to put high-end quality within reach of more modest budgets. They managed to incorporate some of the most important elements of pricier models like 1998’s P25, such as the aluminium surround, the micro-fiber skeletal plinth and the hand polished RB700 tonearm.
The Planar 3, launched in 1983, remained in production unchanged until 2000, when the second-generation version, the P3 was released. Just seven years later it underwent a major upgrade in the P3-24, which kept all the properties of the original and added several new ones. It was made available with no cartridge but you could also buy it with the Elys 2 moving magnet cartridge pre-fitted, which was the perfect pairing. Another award winning creation, it offered exceptional sound with superb drive and rhythmic precision. The Elys 2 has become an important part of Rega’s development from 2007 onwards.
The challenge of achieving both lightness and rigidity has been one of Rega’s objectives since the very beginning and in these terms the RP8, developed in 2012, was something of a milestone. The familiar skeletal plinth was constructed on a foam core with the addition of phenolic resin skins to increase rigidity and provide a damping effect. Despite these extra features, the RP8 was seven times lighter than the first Planar 3 and performs at a very high level, which has always been the company’s ultimate aim. The RP8 is still in production today. After all, why discontinue something so effective?
Perhaps surprisingly, Rega didn’t enter the amplifier market until the turn of the century with the Elicit, which we’ve already mentioned. A year later, they created the Elex and then in 2014 they upgraded it to the Elex-R. Like the Brio and the Elicit, the Elex-R has a remarkably uncompromising musicality which reproduces music with a very satisfying authenticity. It doesn’t mess around with its source material but faithfully renders it with all the emotion and power intended by the artists and the recording engineer. Rega have never believed in complicating their equipment by trying to combine multiple functionalities in one unit and the Elex-R dispenses with digital connectivity. For analog devotees, it provides an exceptional experience.
The original Planar 1 was produced in 1975 in a limited edition of just 200. In 2018 the company returned to this landmark product to introduce another first. Previous Rega turntables had been made without built-in phono stages but the Planar 1 Plus changed this by combining the essential structure and electronics with the Rega Fono Mini A2D. Separately the two products have won several awards for their high performance, so putting them together was a smart and natural decision. In our opinion, despite conventional wisdom on the subject, it actually performs better than turntables that use separate phono stages.
The Planar 2 first appeared in 1976 and was upgraded in 1984 and 2000. In 2016 Rega revisited the product with a new version that looked almost identical to its predecessors but housed a wealth of improvements under the hood. From the original, only the dust cover hinges and the drive belt remained unchanged. Among the many differences are a new plinth, a switch for the power supply, a 24v low-noise motor, a new plinth and a Rega RB220 tonearm with a stiffer bearing housing and automatic bias setting. Needless to say, it performs spectacularly and represents a marked advance on the RP1.
To buy into the top end of the Rega range you’ll need to part with some fairly serious money but it would be wrong not to acknowledge the quality of the Rega 10. Released in 2019, it combines many of the elements of the Planar 8 and 2013’s limited edition Naiad (only 50 were made and they retailed at $30,000). At its somewhat more sensible price point, the Rega 10 represents the current pinnacle of Rega’s engineering. It’s the closest thing to a mass market version of the Naiad we’re likely to see.
Its minimalist plinth is a radical departure from conventional norms and even knocks Rega’s own skeletal plinth design into the shade. It is more akin to a support structure for the main bearing, tonearm and motor. It’s constructed from a polyurethane foam core placed between layers of high pressure laminate. It is rigid but astoundingly lightweight with a precision engineered bearing assembly. It has a ceramic top brace and a lower resin one, a pairing that improves resonance.
The ceramic top brace is not the only feature made from this compound. The Rega 10 also has a ceramic platter, which the company’s engineers favor over glass, metal or acrylic. Like the top brace, the ceramic platter makes a significant difference to the resonance. The belt drive motor is driven by an external PL10 PSU power supply to minimize vibration and interference. Its RB300 tonearm has a tightly toleranced bearing housing and the bias adjustment mechanism is metal rather than plastic. We found the Apheta 3 moving coil cartridge to be the ideal accessory for getting the very best out of the record groove and buying it as part of the package is more cost effective than adding it later.
When a company has created as many superb items as Rega Research and maintained such consistently high quality it’s hard to pick out favorites. There are lots of great pieces we’ve had to leave out, like the Planar 6 turntable, the Rega Aura MC phono stage and the Rega RP1 Performance pack, but we’re satisfied that this list of the 10 best Rega products of all time contains nothing but classics.
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