|The Rega Planar 2 is not a “reference transcription device” or an “analog playback system” or any of the other fancy names turntables are so often called, especially these days.|
It’s a record player. Plain and simple. And at just a tad under $500 (street price), it does its job better and with less fuss than any turntable I’ve ever owned.
The new Rega Planar 2 (abbreviated to “Rega P2” on the plinth) does without the famous glass platter from the previous model. It’s substitution: a platter of medium density fiberboard, painted silver on the sides. Though it’s not quite as exotic as glass, nor as snazzy looking, it makes quick work of dissipating vibration. Tapping on the record label while a disc is playing results in little more than a dull, background thud through the speakers.
Unfortunately, I think the new platter also has a “dulling” effect on the sound of some recordings. This is certainly partly due to the felt mat, since felt mats generally have a tendency to muddy bass and trim the edge off high notes. But there’s an upside: this player is very forgiving with garage sale records, relegating surface noise to the extreme background along with occasional pops and ticks.
I purchased my Rega P2 by mail from a leading dealer. It arrived double boxed, in perfect condition except for one annoying flaw: one of the hinges wasn’t quite attached to the dustcover. This seems to be a factory flaw, since the inner and outer boxes showed no sign of undue trauma and the unit itself was perfect. A few old cartridge-mounting screws through the holes on the hinge did the trick, and I felt no desire to box it up and ship it back for such a minor flaw. Someday, though, those cheap hinges are going to snap entirely.
The first cartridge I mounted was an Audio-Technica 440ML. This dual moving magnet design includes an exotic micro ridge stylus and tracks beautifully. It mounted easily on the Rega arm, balanced perfectly and generally went about its work very nicely. However, the unobtrusive sound of this cartridge yielded a particularly un-involving presentation when paired with the P2. Though this cartridge was great at taming the harsh, jagged sound of my old direct drive Denon DP-47F, and was a nice upgrade from the Goldring Elan that came supplied with my Music Hall MMF-2.1, it just wasn’t right for the Rega. Moving on.
I sold both my Benz Micro MC20E2 moving coil and Audio-Technica OC-7 low-output moving coil to help finance the Rega, so I was left with a Denon DL-160 I purchased along with my Denon DP-47F, but never got around to using. At $180, this high-output moving coil cartridge is a steal. I spent a good deal of time listening to a demo unit (believe it or not, there are still hi-fi dealers who will lend a good customer a cartridge). It was airy, spacious, not overly bright but a bit skewed toward the upper registers, and had very tight—though not terribly abundant—bass.
Like the Audio-Technica, the DL-160 mounted easily on the Rega arm with no fuss. The Rega’s headshell wires are the thickest and most robust I’ve ever seen, and the clips at the end slide on and off the cartridge pins easily (unlike the flimsy clips on the Music Hall MMF-2.1, which break off when any force higher than a gentle breeze is exerted.) Of course, the Rega RB250 arm has no provision for adjustment of arm height, so only had to set the overhang and alignment with the supplied cardboard protractor. The protractor, by the way, is outstanding in its ease of use. A single point is used, as on the old and greatly missed Mobile Fidelity Geo-Disc. Just for fun, I checked the cartridge alignment with a two-point protractor and it was perfect, or at least, perfect enough for me.
The Rega RB250 arm is a thing of beauty, and amazing at this price. It’s beautifully machined, straight as an arrow, and stunning in its simplicity and purity. The counterweight glides back and forth in the threads so easily and smoothly, it was a tactile pleasure just dialing up 1.8 grams of tracking force. I checked the weight with my trusty Shure gauge, and it was nearly dead-on.
According to Denon, the DL-160 can track at as little as 1.3 grams, but my Hi-Fi News & Record Review test record confirmed that anything less then 1.8 grams might cause the stylus to jump around in the groove. In my experience, it’s better to be on the upper end of recommended tracking force.
After about 20 hours of break-in, the Denon DL-160 loosened up and lost that harshness that seems to accompany un-broken-in moving coils. By 30 hours, the DL-160 was singing. Though the sound of the cartridge wasn’t quite as detailed as it was on the Denon DP-47F table, it was certainly friendlier. Don’t get me wrong; this is an exciting cartridge on any turntable. But on the Rega, it shines.
The Rega/Denon combo is particularly soul stirring with classical music. All of my classical LPs, in fact, sound wonderful on this table, but Classic Records’ 180-gram reissues are especially wonderful to listen to. For example, on the Munch/Boston Symphony Orchestra recording of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, I experienced a “bigness” that was enveloping. On my Music Hall and Denon tables, this quality simply wasn’t there. And on an early 1980s Telarc pressing of Carmina Burana (an early digital recording, by the way) the kettle drums sound like they’re in the room with me.
Jazz fans should also enjoy this combo. The Rega is a very “pacy” deck, and it’s a real toe-tapper on everything from Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” to Keith Jarrett’s “The Koln Concert.” Piano notes were realistic, and decay was very smooth from the instant the hammer leaves the piano wire to the point of dead silence. (For the ultimate demo, grab a close-miked Windham Hill recording of a solo piano, and you’ll see what I mean.)
Hard rock music sometimes got a little congested during heavy passages with lots of distortion. For example, on the Get Up Kids “Eudora,” the instruments collapsed occasionally into a jumbled heap. I tried an outboard phono stage from Rotel, thinking that the MM/MC stage included with my preamp might be to blame, but there was no significant improvement. Part of the blame might go to the plain-jane interconnect that’s included with the Rega, but then again, this could also be due to the felt mat/MDF platter.
Pop and softer rock fared better. Peter Gabriel’s solo recordings, from his first all the way up to “So,” sounded wonderful—in fact, the Rega/Denon combo extracted more detail out of “Solisbury Hill” than I’ve ever heard before. No Doubt’s “Rock Steady” rocked hard—the Jamaican dance beats pumped from my Polk RT25i speakers and sent my sub into overdrive. Ditto for Macy Gray’s “The Id.”
However, I think this table’s strength is jazz and classical music. Maybe it’s because the sweet spot on my Rotel/Polk setup is the midrange. But in general, I find myself playing lots of jazz, classical and vocal recordings simply because they sound so great when spun on the P2. (Check out Classic’s reissue of “Harry Belafonte Sings the Blues” and tell me if you don’t think Harry is standing ten feet from you.)
My only real complaint with the Rega—and this is true of all similar tables—is the fact that I must lift the platter and move the belt to change speeds. Because of this, I’ve simply sold my 45rpm LPs. On the other hand, this speaks of how much I like the Rega P2.
On my last two turntables, I went tweak-crazy. A SorboGel mat and an Ortofon record clamp are just two of the things I tried. I should’ve saved my money. If I’d simply have bought the Rega in the first place, I could’ve avoided the hassle of trying to turn a sub-par table into a giant-killer. Even though the Rega could use a better interconnect (which would require a trip back to the dealer), I’m so satisfied with the fuss-free performance of the P2 that I have no urge to mess around. This is a “set it and forget it” affair. Months after my initial setup, the tracking force is still perfect, the cartridge is tight in the headshell, and the sound is as good as ever.
Will it be my last turntable? Quite possibly. The RB250 arm is so convincing, I’m not sure a step up to the P3 or P25 would yield a major improvement, at least with my system. Rather, I think I’ll invest in a more expensive cartridge, like the Benz Micro Ace or Ortofon Kontrapunkt B, before trading up to a new rig.
I’m 27 years old, so I was raised on both vinyl and CD. My record collection is 500 strong and still growing, though SACDs have slowed my LP shopping lately. Though I vastly prefer the sound of vinyl to CD or even SACD, I have to face facts. It’s 2002. Home theater rules, CD is the dominant media and, if we’re lucky, SACD will catch on. So spending more than $1000 for a table, arm and cartridge in this day and age is getting harder to justify—especially for a guy with only 500 LPs.
In summary, the Rega P2 and Denon DL-160, at just under $700, is one heck of a combination.* Hands-down, they’re the finest components in my current system and easily some of the best I’ve ever owned. The P2 is classy, beautifully built (except for those hinges) and unobtrusive. Pop off the dustcover, put a record on the platter, drop the needle and enjoy. No fuss, no muss. Just enjoy the music.
Yep, the Rega P2 is truly a “record player” in the truest sense of the term. For people who place their highest priority on music, not the complexity of their equipment, this is the best money you may ever spend.
*NOTE: For those who are on a tight budget, or who are new to vinyl, the NAD 533 is basically identical to the Rega P2 and includes a Goldring Elektra cartridge, mounted and adjusted at the factory, for about the same price as the Rega P2 alone.
Rega P2 turntable
Denon DL-160 cartridge
Rotel RC-980 preamplifier with MM/MC phono stage
Rotel RC-970 amplifier
Rotel RQ-970BX phono stage
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player
Phillips AM/FM tuner
Realistic laserdisc player
RCA DVD player
Apex Digital 27” TV
Polk RT25i bookshelf loudspeakers
Polk PSW350 subwoofer
Paradigm speaker stands
Kimber Kable 4PR speaker cables
Straightwyre Harmony II subwoofer cable
Audioquest Jade/Monster 250 interconnects
Monster Power HTS 2500 Power Center
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine/Disc Doctor record brushes
StudioTech HF series racks
Audioquest MC cartridge demagnetizer
Music Hall MMF-2.1
by Ekobesky on 07-20-02