Engineering and philosophy
In the pantheon of British audio companies, Rega Research is surely one of the greats. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023, Rega has for decades been at the top of the list for those on a modest budget who want a record player designed and built in the UK. For many years, the go-to recommendation was the company’s iconic Planar 3 turntable. But as its price crept upward, Rega introduced more affordable models, like the Planar 1 and Planar 2. Both turntables offer many of the Planar 3’s virtues at a more affordable price.
Rega hasn’t focused exclusively on affordable turntables. Over the past 20 years, the firm has launched CD players, amplifiers, and even loudspeakers, to widespread critical acclaim. Rega has also developed higher-end record players, such as the Planar 6, Planar 8, and most recently, the Planar 10 ($10,995 with the top-of-the-range Aphelion 2 cartridge; all prices in USD, except where specified). Rega is thus able to cover all the bases for vinyl playback, from the Planar 1 at $595 to the flagship Planar 10 (the subject of this review).
There’s something reassuring about the fact that Rega turntables have a common engineering approach. That’s no surprise, because founder Roy Gandy is no pen-pushing, canapé-nibbling, boardroom-based CEO with a penchant for PowerPoint. He’s an engineer who understands materials science, energy transfer, resonance, bearing mechanics, electronics, metalworking, and ceramics; and he has a passion for efficient, minimalist design. Gandy embraces state-of-the-art materials and has a singular vision about what makes a turntable able to communicate the musical message on a record. Like the great Colin Chapman, who designed so many revolutionary cars at Lotus, Gandy believes in lightness and stiffness above all else. He asserts that mass stores energy, and that results in musical losses, so all Rega turntables are lightweight. In addition, he believes that components such as platters and plinths should be as stiff as possible. Whenever I see a Rega turntable, I am always reminded of that old cycling adage: “Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick two.”
The epitome of this philosophy is Rega’s Naiad turntable. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the Naiad, because only 50 were built. At £29,999, it was way beyond the price of anything the company had built before. The Naiad was essentially the output of an R&D project that ran from 2010 to 2017: the goal was to build a no-holds-barred, cost-no-object turntable that incorporated all of Rega’s experience, research, technology, and philosophy. It was never intended to be put into production, but the company was prodded in that direction by the problems in obtaining low volumes of high-tech parts. When sourcing bearings and ceramic platters, Rega had to order a minimum quantity of 50 units. Also, distributors who got to hear the Naiad while visiting Rega’s factory requested that it be made available for sale. Importantly, the Naiad informed the design of the firm’s flagship RP10 and the turntables that came after it, including the Planar 10 on test here. It’s worth noting that Rega showed a new prototype flagship, and successor to the Naiad, at the Bristol Hi-Fi Show this past February. The Naia will be priced at £9000, or £12,000 with a factory-fitted Aphelion 2 cartridge.
Tancast 8 foam with high-pressure laminate skin
The Planar 10 takes lightness and stiffness to a whole new level for a production Rega turntable. Large cutaways leave a skeletal plinth with just enough material to support the feet, main bearing, and tonearm. Available in white or black, the plinth has a sandwich construction: a core of aerospace-grade polyurethane foam called Tancast 8 is encapsulated in a stiff high-pressure laminate skin. The Planar 10 is the first production turntable to use a ceramic bracing plate on the top of the plinth. This provides an ultra-rigid surface for the tonearm mount and securely locates the platter’s main bearing. Underneath the plinth is a phenolic-resin brace to add further stiffness, so the tonearm mount and the main hub bearing form what Rega calls a “stressed beam” construction. Rega says that the plinth of the Planar 10 is 30% lighter than that of the original RP10, while offering increased rigidity.
Rega contends that its unique lightweight plinth design prevents energy absorption and unwanted resonances that can distort the sound output. The company claims that greater mass would transfer more energy, such as motor and bearing noise, directly to the rotating record. The Planar 10 uses Rega’s latest-generation 24V synchronous low-vibration motor, uniquely mounted to the bottom of the plinth. It’s claimed that this arrangement optimizes the coupling while providing better vibration isolation than for any previous Rega turntable.
Strong. Light. Cheap. Pick two!
For three years, Rega has been researching a new bespoke rubber compound for drive belts. Manufactured using a specialized curing system, the new drive belt offers a superior modulus of elasticity, meaning that the belt is less prone to deform under stress.
The Planar 10 comes with a purpose-designed power supply: the P10-PSU offers convenient electronic speed changing (33⅓ and 45 rpm), advanced anti-vibration control, and user-accessible electronic speed adjustment to ensure accuracy over the life of the motor. Speed accuracy and minimal motor vibration are achieved by the use of a new DSP generator built around a high-stability crystal. This device uses the crystal’s precise square wave to control the AC supply to the motor at the selected speed. The power supply generates a near-perfect sinusoidal waveform, and is factory-tuned to the accompanying motor in each unit for optimal performance.
The P10-PSU, featuring Rega’s signature house style
The platter is made from an outrageously expensive white ceramic-oxide material known for its extreme hardness and strength. The ceramic powder is compressed, fired, and then diamond-cut to achieve perfect flatness. In contrast to the rest of the turntable, the ceramic platter is dense and heavy to create a flywheel effect that maximizes speed stability. The platter is seated on a sub-platter machined from a billet of aerospace-grade aluminum. Rega has redesigned this part of the ’table to improve the coupling between the two materials. The supplied white felt mat that sits on the platter lends the deck a striking appearance, but I question how long it will keep its pristine look.
The main bearing comprises the aluminum sub-platter and a tool-steel spindle running in a custom brass housing. The complete assembly is mounted within the chassis to reduce energy being transferred to and stored in the plinth.
Main bearing cutaway
The tonearm fitted as standard is the RB3000, which was Rega’s best until the development of the RB Titanium arm used on the Naia. Its handcrafted, single-piece aluminum armtube is polished to an impressive, silvery sheen. The armtube incorporates all of Rega’s latest modifications to minimize and distribute mass, with the aim of reducing resonance. The RB3000 is the first arm in the Rega line to take advantage of a new process originally developed for the manufacture of bearing housings and spindles. The RB3000 has an advanced preloaded, zero-tolerance bearing assembly adjusted to better than 0.0001mm accuracy. This provides friction-free movement and negligible play, which should permit the reading of every slight nuance in a record groove.
While we are on the subject of the arm, it must be said that Rega revolutionized the low-cost tonearm market when it launched the RB300 in 1983. Featuring a single-piece armtube, the RB300 rendered every single low-cost arm from Linn, Hadcock, Acos, Thorens, and Technics obsolete. It even provided a challenge to the mighty SME, and no doubt spurred the development of the masterful SME Series IV and V, which launched four years later. To put it simply, only Rega (and maybe Technics) had the volumes to bring the production costs of an advanced design down to an acceptable level. Rega was leading the world in selling budget audiophile turntables at the time, and therefore had a large market on tap when it fitted the RB300 to its decks. Until that point, nobody had even tried to make a single-piece armtube. Most production arms had detachable headshells, which are liable to flexing and thus were a compromise.
My praise for Rega’s arm design isn’t absolute, however, because the absence of any credible height adjustment on a tonearm of this caliber sets my teeth on edge. SME designed its magnificent locking-jaw arrangement to enable tonearm height to be adjusted with absolute precision. If you purchase the silicone damping-trough option on the Series IV (it comes as standard on the V), you can even adjust VTA on the fly. By contrast, owners of Rega arms have to remove the arm from their turntable and raise it with shims—and there’s no facility at all for lowering it. This is fine if you stay within the Rega cartridge ecosystem, but as soon as you fit a cartridge with a different body height, you are into a whole world of aggro to optimize VTA. This is all very well for Rega’s budget turntables and tonearms, because many purchasers will just fit a budget Rega cartridge, as recommended by the dealer. It’s much more of an issue when you move into high-end turntables, where cartridges are matched with care befitting the tailoring of a Savile Row suit. Customers spending thousands on a turntable will want to open up the choice to Lyra, Koetsu, Kiseki, Ortofon, and others. Fortunately Michell Engineering and Origin Live have come to the rescue with inexpensive aftermarket solutions that enable VTA adjustment on many Rega arms.
Rega argues that VTA adjustment is an unnecessary obsession, citing the fact that cutting engineers pay little attention to cutting standards when making lacquers (the nominal standard is 20 degrees). In practice, cutting-lathe angles almost always fall below 18 degrees, while turntable cartridge VTA is usually above 24 degrees to avoid any risk of the rear of the cartridge fouling the vinyl surface. From this, Rega deduces that VTA adjustment is futile. Furthermore, the company argues that adjustable arm pillars reduce rigidity at the very point where it is most needed—at the core reference point from which all vibrations in the groove are measured. My answer to this is just three letters: SME. I’m not a VTA obsessive, but I have heard definite improvements in sound when VTA is optimized.
The beautiful Rega Aphelion 2
For this review, I was offered the choice of two Rega cartridges: the Apheta 3 at $2245 and the flagship Aphelion 2 at $5545. As I’m writing for SoundStage! Ultra, I naturally opted for the latter! This is one impressive moving-coil cartridge design, with a boron cantilever protruding from a black anodized-aluminum body. The body houses what Rega claims is the world’s most powerful neodymium magnet, with a tiny iron micro-cross and coil assembly that uses hairlike 0.018mm wire on the coil windings. This results in one of the lightest generator assemblies in the world, and means that no tie wire or damping is necessary. Rega notes that conventional moving-coil cartridges use a suspension system (tie wire), which causes a high-frequency resonance at around 8–12kHz. Most manufacturers use foam rubber to damp this resonance, and the degree of damping determines whether a cartridge is perceived as bright or dull. Rega’s generator assembly is mounted directly on the boron cantilever. The design uses a nude, fine-line diamond stylus that is turned through 90 degrees on its cantilever mounting for maximum rigidity.
The whole cartridge is encased in a uniquely attractive, yellow acrylic protective body. I must admit I adored the look, and I’m impressed that Rega has designed something so distinctive. The cartridge has a metal loop protruding from the front to locate the stylus protector. I found it offered some protection even with the stylus guard removed when approaching from the front with a stylus brush—a nice touch.
The deck comes with an ingeniously designed dust cover made from clear acrylic. The cover locates at two points: a pin to the rear of the turntable and the platter spindle. It has a raised right-hand edge to accommodate the tonearm. It’s a really neat solution, and it isn’t bulky to store when you remove it to play records. It struck me that this would be the perfect solution for SME, which seems to have wrestled with the problem of dust covers over the years.
The Planar 10’s slick dust cover
The Planar 10 is one of the easiest turntables to set up I have ever used. There’s none of the faffing around with suspension turrets and tuning for bounce that you get with other decks. You just put the Rega down on any suitable level surface, plug it in, set the downforce, and go. For this review, I placed the Planar 10 on an Ash Designs Cosmic rack and connected it to my Trichord Research Dino MK3 phono stage with Never Connected Dino+ PSU. Rega recommends 100 ohms impedance, 1000 pF capacitance, and high gain, so I matched those settings. After setting the tracking force to 1.9gm, I started spinning vinyl. Total setup time—about three minutes!
I sometimes wonder if record companies are seeking to price vinyl beyond the reach of mere mortals. This year, Universal Music Group, which now owns Decca, EMI, and many other labels, has increased the UK retail price of many single LPs from £25 to £35. Increasingly, the way to build a collection is to buy secondhand. One of my recent forays at my local vinyl emporium landed me a mint copy of Getz/Gilberto (Verve V6-8545)—a demo-class recording if ever there was one—for a mere £10.
I began with the sultry opening track, “The Girl from Ipanema.” Right from the start, the Rega captured the wonderful swaying rhythms and syncopation of this bossa-nova standard. I admit being somewhat surprised at the presentation of the Planar 10. This ultra-lightweight turntable sounded anything but lightweight, with the plucked double bass showing beautifully rich warmth and timbre. The vocals were stunningly transparent, yet smooth and languorous. Within seconds, I was transported to a softly lit, late-night bar in Rio de Janeiro, with a sublime sextet in the corner, some beautiful senhoritas, and the soft clink of ice in a freshly made caipirinha. This turntable effortlessly immersed me in the character and mood of the music—something I find digital can struggle to do. Saxophone is a prominent feature of this piece and I was struck by the incredible quality of the performance—no surprise, considering Stan Getz was on the pipes! I really could sense his breath, the vibration of the reed, and the sheer physicality of his playing. The Rega was off to an impressive start!
After playing side 1 of that album, it was time to change out of my safari suit, leave the leggy Brazilian beauties to the late crew, and head north to Scotland for a taste of Belle and Sebastian’s Days of the Bagnold Summer (Matador OLE-1455-1). I’m a late convert to this most esoteric of Glasgow bands, but there’s no doubting that there’s real brilliance here. On the track “I Know Where the Summer Goes,” Stuart Murdoch’s vocal delivery, with its hint of choirboy innocence, was fabulously rendered against a gorgeous tapestry of organ, drums, bass, piano, cello, and French horn. Sarah Wilson’s cello sounded simply sublime, perfectly capturing the slightly mournful qualities of the lyrics and their snapshot of a moment in time slipping away. Again, the Rega served up the music with buckets of mood and atmosphere. I was only planning to play a single track, but it sounded so captivating through the Planar 10 that I found myself listening to the whole side of the album.
Aurora by Daisy Jones & the Six on the Planar 10
I’m a great believer in listening to a wide range of genres when reviewing equipment, so I slipped Asia’s stunning eponymous debut album (Geffen 85577 CB281) onto the ceramic platter of the Planar 10. This is the best recorded of all the Asia albums, but it still suffers from compression when the mix gets busy. On “Without You,” the masterful second track on side 2, I was reminded that I’ve often wondered if John Wetton was one of the greatest singers in rock. His diction, richness of timbre, and ability to soar very high elevates him into a small group of elite frontmen. From the very beginning, the Rega demonstrated why Wetton was so exceptional. Here he is backed by one of the greatest rock drummers of the 20th century: Carl Palmer, who elevates banging sticks on skins to the level of artistry that Michelangelo displayed when decorating the Sistine Chapel. With its accurate timing and speed control, the Planar 10 highlighted Palmer’s utter precision, use of tempo, and the emphatic way he hits and places every note. As the rest of the band joins the melee, the Rega provided a very detailed and expressive sound: panned drum fills streaked across the soundstage like bullets ricocheting around the room. Stereo separation in terms of width was excellent, but the Rega didn’t have quite the level of start-stop precision and articulation in the lower bass that my GyroDec and SME IV deliver. The low end—Wetton’s bass guitar, for instance—was fulsome, but could occasionally seem a little indistinct compared to what I’ve heard from the very best turntables. From the midrange up, the Rega excelled on clarity and did a superb job of revealing all the subtleties of a busy mix.
One further thing worth noting was the exceptional resistance to footfall on my sprung wood floor. In this respect, the Planar 10 approached the Sarsen-like stability of the SME Model 60.
Rega has delivered a superb flagship vinyl spinner that competes closely with the very finest at its price point. Indeed, for a deck of this caliber, the price makes it something of a bargain. For 50 years, Gandy and his team have been steadily refining their distinct design and engineering principles, and the Planar 10 is a fully developed realization of their priorities. It’s incredibly simple to set up, beautifully made, and aesthetically pleasing. Combined with its captivating sound, those characteristics make it easy to recommend the Planar 10, without reservation. Few decks are capable of expressing the mood and atmosphere of music to this degree and I really enjoyed that particular quality in the Planar 10. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m heading back to that late-night bar in Rio. There’s a leggy Brazilian still waiting for me with a caipirinha . . .
. . . Jonathan Gorse
- Turntable, tonearm, and cartridge: Michell GyroDec turntable, SME Series IV tonearm, Audio Technica AT-OC9 MLII cartridge.
- Phono preamplifier: Trichord Research Dino MK3 phono stage with Never Connected Dino+ power supply.
- Preamplifier: Naim NAC 82.
- Power amplifier: Naim NAP 250.
- Power supply: Naim HiCap.
- Loudspeakers: ATC SCM40.
- Cabling: Chord Company Sarum T loudspeaker cables, Naim NAC A5 loudspeaker cables, Naim interconnects on all Naim amplification, Chord Company interconnects for phono stage and other primary sources, QED interconnects for secondary sources.
Rega Research Planar 10 Turntable
Price: $6345; $7895 with Apheta 3 cartridge; $10,995 with Aphelion 2 cartridge (as tested).
Rega Research Ltd.
6 Coopers Way
Southend-on-Sea SS2 5TE
Phone: +44 (0)1702 333 071
The Sound Organisation
1009 Oakmead Drive
Arlington, Texas 76011
Phone: (972) 234-0182