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Rega RP10 Turntable and Apheta Moving-Coil Cartridge

Rega RP10 Turntable and Apheta Moving-Coil Cartridge

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.

 

The new power supply, by the way, is outfitted with a “DSP generator built upon a high-quality, high-stability crystal.” The result, according to Rega, is to “generate a nearly perfect sinusoidal waveform to power the motor.” Speed and vibration adjustments are factory-set and should not be tampered with by users.

The platter is crafted from compressed ceramic-oxide powder and diamond-cut for accuracy of shape, weight, and surface flatness. Like the float-glass platter found on the RP8, the 10’s white ceramic platter is thicker at the outer rim, creating a natural flywheel effect. The platter mat—made of white, pure wool felt—is designed to be as neutral sounding as possible.

The new, and damned good-looking, RB2000 tonearm reaches new heights for a Rega ’arm. Hand-built by the best techs at the Rega factory, this hand-polished, tapered, aluminum-tubed beauty boasts an aluminum-alloy bearing housing (as opposed to the plastic ones found in other Rega ’arms), and has been engineered to have as few mechanical joints as possible, with a shape designed to redistribute mass and reduce resonance. The ’arm’s bearings are singled out as the finest from their batch, but are also paired to the actual spindle they support. Rather than steel, the counterweight is made of machined tungsten, reducing its size. All in all, a terrific effort and, as we shall see, sonic result.

And yet…I must again complain about the chintzy cartridge clips Rega and Co. insist on using, even on their top ’arm, which otherwise has been carefully, perhaps even lovingly crafted. I squawked about this in my RP8 review and I’ll repeat my gripe here. Surely an ’arm at this level deserves, as do we, something beyond the flimsy copper connectors found on every Rega ’arm since as far back as memory allows. As I’ve written before, 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. Guys, please.

As to the cartridge, the RP10 (as does the RP8) comes fitted (or not, it’s optional) with Rega’s top model and only moving-coil, the Apheta ($1795 sold separately, with a $795 savings when purchased with the RP10). It’s designed not to be warm or euphonically pleasant, but rather to be accurate. In that regard, while there are sexier-sounding cartridges on the market (more on this later), my albeit limited experience leads me to believe that the Apheta is the perfect mate to the RP10, as, after all, they were designed to play together in unison.

Finally, like the RP8, the 10 does come equipped with a removable outer plinth into which the skeletal inner part can rest inside a trio of sub-feet that are outfitted with a triangular elastic webbing to minimize contact between the two pieces. In theory users get the sonic benefits of the skeletal plinth plus the ability to use the dustcover. In practice, both the RP8 and RP10 sound livelier, with greater dynamic snap, detail, and air, as well as a greater sense of musical magic, when the outer plinth section is removed. If you decide to use the outer plinth and dustcover I recommend either leaving the cover up or temporarily removing it during play, because at its best the RP10 is one hell of a record player.

There’s a feeling of immediacy here that goes far beyond the already impressive results Rega has achieved with the other members of the RP family. As we hear with all the finest components as we step up the ladder, there’s simply a sensation of fewer layers of electro-mechanical “stuff” between the music and us. The stylus and groove seem to be so beautifully in-sync that those analog waveforms emerge from our speakers as in-step as Fred and Ginger’s most perfect dance moves. And it’s thrilling to hear.

Like many of you, I’ve been knocked out by the recent all-analog, mono Beatles box-set. As I don’t own any originals, the sound of these LPs makes the various 80s-era U.K. stereo pressings I do have sound sick by comparison. I’ll also confess that, until now I’ve loved the post-Hard Days Night Beatles but, a few songs aside, never been crazy about the group’s first LPs. Wow, was I missing something.

After listening to all of the LPs from that title on, I finally got around to Please Please Me. And my, oh my. As my wife could tell you, from the first seconds of “I Saw Her Standing There” every few moments elicited here unprintable reactions that invariably began with “Holy!” this, or “Oh, my God!”—so riveting was the sense of immediacy and verve, of “being there,” at the session. This is also probably the Beatles’ simplest recording, and there’s something to be said for the uncluttered, if relatively primitive feeling of presence that resulted. The nimbleness of Paul’s great bass playing, the band’s famous vocal harmonies, the energy and pizazz and originality they brought to their music, as well as covers, Ringo’s underappreciated excellence, and the twang of those guitars—whew!

This is a good place to mention that I also outfitted this rig with Sumiko’s excellent Palos Santos Presentation cartridge. While, yes, it is without doubt a richer, warmer, more texturally complex design, that does seduce in its own way, and that was a brilliant match with the Pro-Ject Xtension 10 I recently reviewed it with, here it showed how synergistically these Rega designs are with each other, and how that creates a greater sense of musical bliss. (Also, of course, like all Rega arms the 2000 does not allow for VTA adjustment, so, proper alignment and tracking force aside, you get what you get.) As sexy as the Sumiko design is, the sense of the band’s interplay, energy, completeness, and life, as well as the sheer emotional buzz generated from this and the other LPs cited herein, was simply not the same as with the all-Rega package.

 

Turning to a favorite solo piano recording, Ivan Moravic playing Debussy’s Children’s Corner (Connoisseur Society), I was wowed by the RP10’s gorgeous articulation of arpeggios during the opening movement, fluid, and with a beguiling creaminess of tone, as well as by its dynamic expressiveness—roller-coaster swings ending with a powerful clang at the final chord. This, combined with rich and beautifully layered harmonic overtones, as well as the exquisite delicacy of air around the notes, allowed the poet Moravic’s mastery to fully express itself. Moreover, the cohesion of reproduction as a whole, from the deepest, rumbling bass keys to the most ethereal treble regions, draws the listener in—nay, compel us, as listeners, to sit back and forget time—in a way that is most welcome given our all-too hurried lives. Like a fine Chablis, the effect here is both richly textured yet precisely defined.

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” from Mingus Ah Um (Columbia), awoke like an autumn morning’s light on a dense cityscape, with a notable beauty of warmth and texture to the sound. Again, words such as fluid and articulate, cohesive and harmonious pepper my listening notes, which frankly kind of peter out after a bit because I found myself so intently absorbed by the music.

Turning to a few outstanding double 45rpm reissues from ORG, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (original London with Peter Maag and the LSO) offered a wonderfully rich, highly detailed palette of tone colors possessing a great sense of movement, dynamic energy, air, and musical aplomb, while, as is consistently the case with this Rega combo, doing so with a feeling that everything simply sounds “right.” Even to the point where you sense that the recording is a bit opaque but nonetheless alive and joyful.

Or, as a wonderful surprise, the day a copy of Jeff Buckley’s one and only official LP, Grace, arrived via post—a welcome if sad reminder of just how serious a loss his all-too early death was. The unusually wide dynamic extremes of Buckley’s music, so well captured here, as was his sweet, multi-octave vocal range and brilliant guitar playing, were handsomely served by the RP10/ Apheta duo. As with the Beatles LPs, here I felt as if I were hearing music at once familiar but oh-so fresh, as if anew. The music all but leapt from my Magnepans with an extraordinary presence, and, yes, I’m repeating myself (as I warned in my opening), a sense of there-ness and life, of flesh-and-blood energy, that makes listening to music with the RP10 as engaging as I’ve ever known.

I’m sorry to say that I mostly failed to add much to my sonic vocabulary here. And yet the hope is that I did succeed in conveying how, once again, Rega has raised its own bar, and why anyone in the market for a ’table at this level needs to hear the RP10/Apheta before making a final decision. It’s not for tweakers but music lovers, and I’ll tell you this: One danger potential buyers of the RP10 must consider is that, in a world where our time and energies and attention spans are challenged by all manner of social media and other e-distractions, Rega’s brilliant RP10 brings the music home in a way that shuts the door on that cluttered world. A balm? Why, yes.

SPECS & PRICING

Type: Belt drive, unsuspended turntable
Speeds: 33.3, 45
Dimensions: 17.5″ x 14.5″ x 5.5″ (with dustcover)
Weight: 16 lbs.
Price: $6495 with Apheta moving-coil cartridge, $5495 without

THE SOUND ORGANISATION
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, Texas 75207
(972) 234-0182
soundorg.com

Associated Equipment
Sumiko Palos Santos Presentation MC cartridge; Sutherland Engineering N1 and VTL TL5.5II preamps; Primare A34.2 and VTL ST -150 power amplifiers; Magnepan MG 1.7 loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and BP-10 Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks

By Wayne Garcia

Although I’ve been a wine merchant for the past decade, my career in audio was triggered at age 12 when I heard the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! blasting from my future brother-in-law’s giant home-built horn speakers. The sound certainly wasn’t sophisticated, but, man, it sure was exciting.

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