At a price of $3995 with the Apheta moving-coil cartridge ($2995 without), the RP8 effectively doubles the price of the RP6/Exact 2 combination. Yet what you get is not only the most radical expression yet of Rega’s low-mass/high-rigidity approach, but to my ears the first Rega design that competes jab-for-jab in the middleweight (price) division.
At first glance the RP8 appears to follow Rega’s classic rectangular shape. But a closer look reveals a jigsaw-puzzle-piece cutout forming a dramatic plinth that reminds me of Frank stella’s painted reliefs from the late 70s. What gives? This is Rega’s clever way of allowing those who want to use a dustcover to have their sonic cake and eat it, too. Because, when you think about it, one thing such “skeletal,” round, or otherwise non-traditionally shaped turntable designs cannot offer is the ability for their owners to employ a hinged dustcover. For me this isn’t an issue, as I find dustcovers a hassle to use that arguably diminish the performance by adding resonance of their own. But enough potential buyers must feel otherwise, which I assume is why Rega chose to offer the option. In any case, the solution is brilliant in its simplicity. The RP8’s skeletal plinth rests inside an outer frame by dropping inside a trio of sub-feet that have been equipped with a triangular elastic webbing to minimize contact between the two pieces. Thus, one gets the benefits of a skeletal plinth along with the ability to use the dustcover. In theory, this sonically isolates one from the other. But a comparison of Decca’s great recording of Gerhard’s Libra, Gemini, Leo convinced me that the RP8’s sound is livelier, with greater dynamic pop, more detail, more air, and simply more musical magic when the outer section is removed. Besides better sound, the RP8 looks a whole lot sexier this way.
The plinth, by the way, isn’t simply one of a newly curvaceous shape. It’s been reengineered to weigh a remarkable seven times less than the one found on the original Planar 3. Developed over a three-year span, the RP8’s ultra-light and rigid plinth features a “unique new stressed skin structure produced from thin phenolic skins sandwiching a featherweight nitrogen expanded, closed cell, polyolefin foam core,” which is visible when the ’table is removed from the outer frame.
The RP8’s “super flywheel” platter builds on the RP6’s described above. Born from a collaboration with a young British glass engineering company, the idea is to create a platter with enough mass to retain a constant speed, but not so heavy as to create problems for the main bearing. To this end Rega has fabricated a three-piece layer-cake-like platter with the third layer being a final ring of float glass that adds mass to the outer circumference, which Rega believes is the only place that mass in a turntable makes sense.
The “high specification” 24-volt motor is now a Rega standard, as is the excellent TT PSU power supply.
The RP8 also features Rega’s new top arm, the RB808. Like the RB303, the RB808 uses CAD technology to taper and thus redistribute mass to increase overall rigidity. Rega arms are hand-assembled, and the RB808’s high-quality bearings are hand-matched to each arm’s tightened-spindle tolerance to minimize friction and increase detail recovery during playback. The RB808 is equipped with a higher-quality low capacitance phono cable with a “twist and clamp” connector consisting of only two parts to improve connectivity.
At the cartridge mount, however, I was disappointed to see that the RB808 uses the same flimsy copper cartridge-lead connectors Rega has used for years. I’ve never liked these things because they do not easily fit the varying pin sizes found on the vast array of cartridges out there. And frankly, they bend (and ultimately break) if you try to force them onto a fat cartridge pin. If you never or rarely change cartridges this is less of an issue. But if you enjoy trying different cartridges or are in the reviewer’s chair, this is a frustration. surely, given the care put into the RB808 (or RB303, for that matter), Rega could equip these new designs with improved cartridge connectors.
As to the cartridge itself, the Apheta is Rega’s first and only moving-coil design, priced separately at $1795 (one saves $800 when purchased with the RP8). Rega spent four years developing the unit, and, as per usual with this company, decided on a different approach than that found in conventional mc designs. Rega’s experiments resulted in the elimination of both the steel suspension tie wire and the foam rubber damping employed to tame high-frequency ringing in the 8–12kHz range. Rega doesn’t disclose many more details of the design, but simply states that it is “inspired by modern materials and the basic laws of magnetism. The Rega Apheta contains neither a tie wire nor a foam damper.”
Given a relatively tight deadline for this 40th Anniversary Issue of TAS, I did not have the time to listen to other cartridges on the RP8, although I will. Which means the sonic descriptions that follow are based exclusively on the package as offered by Rega and U.S. importer The Sound Organisation.