It was just about, uh, 30 years ago that I bought my first “serious” turntable. Which meant a belt-drive, English-made design. Before then I’d dabbled with direct-drive units from Technics and lusted for a Linn Sondek LP12 (then the ultimate English belt-drive). But lacking the cash to buy one, I instead bought a Rega Planar 3 from a local dealer who swore it was the next best thing. I enjoyed that Rega for years and eventually did “upgrade” to a Linn. To this day Rega seems destined to be the “poor man’s” this or that, when in reality Rega turntables needn’t play second fiddle to any other. They never tried to be anything other than what they are, which is simply the best value going in vinyl playback.
For the unfamiliar, Rega is an acronym for the name of the company’s founders, Tony RElph and Roy GAndy (Relph left the company in the early 70s, Gandy remains Mr. Rega). But what even initiates may not know is that Gandy’s first audio designs were not turntables but loudspeakers, built when he was 18 years old. It wasn’t until he started modifying a hand-me-down Connoisseur model that Gandy began tinkering with record players. The original Rega ’table was dubbed the Planet—a name that eventually found its way to Rega’s first CD player—but it was the introduction of the Planar 2 in 1975 that put Rega on the map.
A study in simplicity, the Planar 2 was a thin slab of veneered MDF, topped by a 12V AC synchronous motor, a dual-rimmed pulley that drove a small plastic subplatter, and a glass platter damped by a felt mat. The original Rega arms were S-shaped, with a removable bayonet-mount headshell, and the ’table’s only control was a rocker switch to power up the motor. Three rubber feet and an O-ring decoupling the motor from the plinth provided minimal isolation, and switching speeds from 33 to 45rpm meant—and still does—moving the drive belt from the pulley’s top rung to its lower one. The idea behind the design was to minimize resonance via low mass and selected materials. Aside from a major arm upgrade in 1983, when Rega introduced the standard-setting and now ubiquitous RB250 and RB300 arms, the P2 and slightly more expensive P3 remained virtually unchanged until recently. (The P2 just underwent a platter upgrade, and the P3 is in the process of an overhaul.)
At a glance the $350 Rega P1 is virtually indistinguishable from earlier models. And as Rega proudly points out, the P1 is entirely British-made. It uses the classic Rega motor, drive system, and main bearing, but instead of glass the platter is made of MDF. The arm is the new RB100, which comes pre-mounted with the Ortofon OM5e moving-magnet cartridge. The only setup A New Entry-level Model from a Classic Brand Rega P-1 turntable and Ortofon OM5e Cartridge Wayne Garcia Vinyl Lives! The Absolute Sound June/July 2007 47 required is to attach the counterweight and thread it all the way to the front of the mounting post to reach the recommended 1.75 grams of vertical tracking force. I checked the accuracy of this placement with AcousTech’s electronic stylus gauge (reviewed elsewhere this issue), and got a reading of 1.92 grams. Not a huge amount off, but you might want to back the counterweight off a quarter turn or use a similar gauge to get a more accurate VTF.
I enjoyed a great many LPs with the P1, including The White Stripes’ Elephant [V2], Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat Suite [Columbia], Sinatra’s The Voice [Classic Records reissue], and Milt Jackson and Cannonball Adderley’s Things Are Getting Better [Acoustic Sounds 45RPM Series]. Like other Regas, the P1 runs ever so slightly fast, which gives the music a fine sense of energy and pace—two hallmarks of the Rega sound. This also brought out the unique phrasing in a Sinatra vocal line, the dynamic snap and insistent march beat to the opening passage of the Stravinsky, the interplay of the Adderley-Jackson group, and the rhythmic starts and stops of the White Stripes. These are, of course, many of the qualities vinyl lovers cherish, and ones harder to find in digital audio sources. The Rega/Ortofon combo also displayed excellent focus and three-dimensionality in Gerhard’s Libra [Decca].