A wonderful recent documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, focuses on 85-year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono, whose restaurant is located in Tokyo’s Ginza-district subway station. Despite the fact that his 10-seat sushi bar is booked up to a year in advance and has been awarded three Michelin stars, Ono isn’t satisfied. His goal each day is to continue honing his craft, perfecting his food. His sleep is filled with “dreams of sushi,” and after seventy years on the job his humility keeps him striving for even higher levels of excellence.
I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to draw analogies between Rega’s Roy Gandy, and his team, and Jiro. If you view Rega’s simple beginnings with the Planar turntable Models 2 and 3, some thirty years ago, and the latest incarnation of the latter, the RP3, what you see are not radical changes, but step-by-step improvements to what already works, with an eye toward ever better performance and, I believe, value. One point Rega importer Steve Daniels of The Sound Organisation emphasized to me during a recent conversation is that, while Rega maintains a custom-built factory with 60 to 70 workers, the company has no marketing department. Furthermore, said Daniels, “The only ad Rega ever ran was to say that it doesn’t do advertising.”
Considering that Rega historically keeps models in its line for several years, it’s been introducing new designs at a relatively rapid clip of late. I attribute this both to the team’s continued quest for excellence as well as the fact that, with analog sales redhot, the market is that much more competitive.
For veteran Rega lovers, unpacking the RP3 will result in waves of déjà vu. As it was with those original Planar models, the dustcover, plinth, and glass platter arrive sandwiched between a pair of Styrofoam end caps formed to grip the cover and plinth. The arm is held in place with red tape, the motor bearing protected by a cardboard wedge. Rega even includes the same rudimentary paper stylus-overhang gauge I’ve encountered dozens if not hundreds of times over the years. (For quite a long while I sold Rega at the retail level.) These are excellent examples of a company sticking with the tried-and-true, folding its money back into bettering its previous design work. And, reader, the RP3 is sonically superior to its predecessor in every way.
At $895—sans optional cartridge or power supply—the RP3 costs the same as the outgoing P3 24. This pricing is something Daniels decided on his own; he was adamant about offering superior value at a time when the economy remains as sluggish as a worn-out drive-belt.
Going against the grain of much prevailing turntable philosophy, Rega has always championed lightweight and rigid designs over massive ones as a superior way to deal with resonance. As the company states: “Mass absorbs energy—lost energy equals lost music!”
With the RP3—as well as the new RP6 ($1495), which I will be writing about in a future issue—the clearest visual indicator of Rega’s latest thinking can be seen in the shape of a double black strip containing a trio of O-shaped cutouts. This twin strip, which Rega calls a “double brace,” is made of a phenolic resin, the same material the plinth’s skin is fabricated from. The idea is to create a bridge, or what Rega refers to as a “stressed beam” assembly, to increase rigidity between the main bearing hub and tonearm mount. One strip runs above the plinth, the other below. Rega’s research proved that doubling the thickness at this critical junction point provided further weight reduction and increased stiffness. Forgive the die-hard geek in me, but rapping on the base of the RP3 while it was playing an LP at a normal level and hearing no audible thump through the speaker was a first in my Rega experience.
But Rega didn’t stop there. Although the 24-volt low-noise motor is the same one found in the P3 24, the RB303 tonearm is an upgrade over the highly respected RB300. The 303 features a newly designed tube said to increase rigidity at the bearing housing, arm carrier, and headshell mount. Moreover, with the aid of new 3-D CAD and CAM technology, Rega has been able to redistribute the mass of the arm and also reduce the number of resonant points.
Rega’s have always been relatively easy to set up. And should you elect to purchase the RP3 pre-mounted with the Elys 2 cartridge for a modest $200 extra, your task will prove that much simpler. Simply set the tracking force to 1.75 grams, adjust anti-skating accordingly, et voîlà. You’ll be spinning tunes in no time. Funny thing, in the past I always felt the need to “upgrade” from Rega’s supplied cartridges to something “better.” But the obvious synergy between the RP3/RB303 and Elys 2, with its smart three-point mounting system, was so musically satisfying that I never felt the desire to switch it out for another model.
So what have these new improvements brought to the presentation? Well, a lot. And though my descriptions may not sound earth-shaking, the audible improvements Rega has wrought are significant.
Rewinding to that knuckle-rap-the-base test tells you a lot, as settling the stylus into the lead-in grooves presents a silence unheard in previous Rega designs. The simple fact is that lowering mechanical noise from our analog playback systems lowers our awareness that we are listening to electro-mechanically reproduced music. But more accurate stylus-to-groove contact not only lowers distortion, it also brings with it wider as well as more finely nuanced dynamic range, and higher resolution of the musical details embedded within those miniscule grooves. Indeed, the word “grooves” is entirely too gentle, too deceptive a description of the jarringly jagged and downright treacherous canyon-like vinyl walls a stylus must be dragged through.
But the RP3’s much improved detail, dynamics, and the like don’t translate only into how much we hear, but how we hear it.
Boss Guitar is a favorite Wes Montgomery record. I have no fancy pressing. But you might think my OJC reissue was an original Riverside, from the deep backgrounds, creamy tones, rich textures, immersive stage, and, most importantly, engrossing musical performance delivered by the RP3. By contrast, hearing the same record on the P3 24 is a far less electrifying experience—good, but less taut rhythmically, not as swinging, less rich overall, and nowhere near as compellingly involving.
This scenario continued to repeat itself with each new platter. Martha Argerich performing Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit [DG] showed just how quiet the RP3 can be during whisper-soft, elusive-as-air passages, before exploding into kaleidoscopic bursts of tone color. Sinatra’s plaintive singing of “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” from MoFi’s terrific mastering of Only The Lonely had me practically holding my breath at the beauty of his phrasing. Large-scale orchestral works showed a dynamic jump and bass wallop I frankly never thought I’d hear from a Rega, as did—guilty-pleasure confession—Classic Record’s 45rpm single of “Stairway To Heaven,” which found me so involved with the music that it erased all bad memories of this much-abused song. Which, of course, is what makes fine audio gear so pleasurable, and so much fun. Stepping up our systems is akin to discovering our records anew.
The RP3 comes standard with a simple wall-outlet power supply. And here I must state that as fine the RP3 sounds with that unit, the magic described above really kicked in with the addition of Rega’s optional TT PS2 power supply. For $395 it is in my thinking a “must-have” upgrade, either initially or at some later time, and I will speculate a far more rewarding path than upgrading from the very fine, always musical Elys 2.
I’m more eager than ever to hear what the company has created with the RP6. For this longtime Rega fan, the improvements heard with the RP3 are among the most dramatic—strike that—are the most dramatic I can recall in this company’s long history. Major kudos to Rega’s Roy Gandy and his team for not resting on their laurels; perhaps, like Jiro Ono, new ideas come in the form of dreams.
SPECS & PRICING
Type: Belt drive, unsuspended turntable
Speeds: 33.3, 45rpm
Cartridge output level: 7mV
Dimensions: 17.32" x 3.93" x 14.17"
Weight: 18 lbs.
Price: RP3, $895; with Elys 2, $1095; optional TT PS 2 power supply, $395
THE SOUND ORGANISATION
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, Texas 75207
TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Rega P3-24, Benz Gullwing, Transfiguration Phoenix, and Lyra Delos moving-coil cartridges; Sutherland 20/20 and SimAudio 310LP/320S phonostages; Cary Audio SLP 05 linestage preamplifier; T&A Audio A 1560 R power amplifier; AVM C8 CDReceiver; Magnepan MG 1.7, and Electrocompaniet EBS 1 loudspeakers, Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks