It’s plenty difficult reviewing audio gear—or anything for that matter—without trotting out the same, tired old descriptors time after time. It’s equally challenging reviewing a succession of products from the same company, though it might not seem so on the surface, as one has a series of previous steps to fall back on. Yet that’s how I feel as I write about Rega’s latest top-of-the-line turntable, the RP10 (this is partially because I already spent my clever bits about evolution in my Rega RP8 review in issue 234). Regardless, through accident of history, design, or simple familiarity, I’ve somehow become TAS’ “go-to” guy when it comes to Rega turntables. And, yes, I know them very well. As I’ve undoubtedly written before, my first “real” turntable purchase, back when I was a pup, was a Rega Planar 3 (yes, I lusted for a Linn but hadn’t the coin). I sold Rega at retail for a dozen years or more, and though other fine models from Pro-Ject and Music Hall are also available Rega has always been my “go-to” brand for affordable record players. They’re tuneful, simple to set up, and reliable as can be.
During my stint as an audio retailer Regas didn’t really change all that much. The models were the Planar 2, which initially came equipped with another maker’s S-shaped ’arm, and the Planar 3, which also brought forth Rega’s first tonearm design, the RB200. Tweaks to the ’arm aside, while Rega subsequently introduced phono cartridges, CD players, electronics, and loudspeakers, the Planar models spun on and on.
In 1995 Rega introduced the P9, a big step up from the 3 and Rega’s first relatively expensive model. Like the RP10 under review here, the Planar 9 employed ceramic rather than glass for the platter material.
While it would be untrue to say that nothing much changed from there—’arms, power supplies, materials, and construction continued to evolve—it was in 2010 with the introduction of the RP1, the first release in a series I’ve since written extensively about, that Rega’s recent surge began.
I won’t again rehash the differences between each model. Instead let’s simply encapsulate the trend by reiterating Rega’s design philosophy since Day One.
Which is, that lightweight, rigid designs retain less airborne-and playback-generated resonance than do massive, heavy-plattered ones, and therefore more accurately reproduce the miniscule squiggly pathways pressed into vinyl discs.
Letting Rega speak for itself, here’s a lengthy quote from the RP10 user’s manual:
“When it comes to turntable design we are limited to a few poorly informed articles describing only very limited aspects of design. This is a subject full of mythology. Designers propose theories that counter the basic laws of physics, use terminology that doesn’t actually exist in the engineering world, build products that are more like beautiful sculptures than acoustic reproduction machines, and sell items costing tens of thousands of pounds that hardly function as intended and often fail to work at all.” Ouch, take that, heathens! It continues, “For instance, a very common myth is ‘the heavier the better.’ Turntable bases weighing tens of kilograms are not uncommon. The reality is that the base actually needs to be as light as possible to prevent unwanted bearing and motor noise being transferred to the turntable or record. Platters also fall under a similar myth with many platter designs becoming so heavy that it is impossible to design a correctly functioning bearing (and some so light that anyone can hear the speed inconsistency). The turntable platter itself needs to be of enough weight to spin at a constant speed within the confines of the chosen bearing and motor drive system. Many amateur designers choose one component in a design and try to achieve an extreme in size, weight, and quality. They believe that by taking one theory to its extreme, the design will become ‘perfect.’ The reality of all engineering, design (and life) is that perfection is not possible. Based on this reality, Rega’s goal has always been to optimize a mixture of numerous ‘correct compromises’ thus bringing the designer nearer to the unachievable goal of perfection.”
I, frankly, find virtue in both design philosophies. And as the man once said, many roads lead to Damascus. I’ve enjoyed great musical satisfaction from massive designs, as well as from those following a more Rega-esque approach. But when it comes to Rega models, there is absolutely no question that the ongoing RP series, which is extending the Rega ideal to ever lighter, more rigid, and more sophisticated places when it comes to the plinth, and ever more sophisticated motors, power supplies, and, in fact, relatively heavier if not massive platters, has led the company to one exciting success after another.
Which brings us to the current king of the hill, the RP10 ($6495 with Apheta moving-coil cartridge, $5495 without). It uses the same “skeletal’ plinth design as the RP8, which, depending on your point-of-view, might be considered either ugly or cool looking—I fall into the latter camp, which, given the current show at the MET (as I write this), has me imagining late period Matisse cutouts. The skeletal plinth is nevertheless a proven sonic improvement over Rega’s rectangular plinths. The goal is to create a platform as light and stiff as possible for the motor, platter, and ’arm to work from. The plinth’s core is made from a nitrogen-expanded, closed-cell polyolefin-foam core, which is sandwiched by Rega’s time-tested phenolic skins. Rega says that the core material was created exclusively for this use over a three-year period, and as noted in my RP8 review, this new plinth is seven times lighter than the one found on the original Planar 3. As is the case with the current range starting with the RP3, a double brace, Rega’s “stressed beam” assembly, creates a stiffening bridge between the main bearing and ’arm mount. But as Rega points out, the RP10 takes that technology to another level “with an unprecedented stiffness-to-mass ratio” by using a top layer of magnesium and a phenolic bottom brace, which the company says “lowers their ability to pick up unwanted airborne vibrations. Simply put, different materials have different natural resonances. By using two different materials together they decrease the natural frequency of each other by self-damping.” With no real way, or desire, to test Rega’s findings, one can only assume that the design team has indeed done its homework. In any event the result, as I discovered, speaks for itself.
The latest Rega motor is a twin-phase 24V synchronous unit, which drives the CNC-machined pulley, subplatter, and hub-bearing by means of dual belts. Interestingly, each motor is hand-tuned to its own outboard RP10 power supply in order to minimize motor noise and thus vibration.