Review: Rega Planar 2 Turntable

Category: Analog

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.

Associated gear
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

Similar products
Dual CS-505
Denon DP-47F
Music Hall MMF-2.1
This was a nice, informative review. Much better than most others I've been reading. Good job.
Despite your comment on tweaks, I did purchase the glass platter from Rega, for my P2. It cost $110 dollars. It was worth it. I don't planning on doing anything more to this table. For a cartridge I am using a Rega Super Bias.
My experiences with some Rega Planar2 turntable mods. Everyone seems to write about mods to the Rega arms but nothing is written about the mods for the turntable itself.

I've replaced the glass platter on my older Planar 2 with the Iron Audio Acrylic Platter, makes a huge improvement in detail, I'm hearing thing on recoeds that I never noticed before. The characteristics of the high frquencies changed, they became more liquid sounding, much smoother yet more detailed with a definite lack of harshness, sibulance was reduced as well.

I also replaced the plastic sub-platter and SS bearing with a DeepGroove machined metal sub-platter and an industrial ruby bearing. This made improvements in areas I didn't expect, There is less noise between tracks, the soundstage is wider and deeper, the music seems to be I think it's called "darker", and of course faster start-up times and better speed stability.

My next mod was to upgrade to the new Planar2 motor mod kit. This is a redesigned motor and regulation circuit that reduces motor vibration without a clipping circuit. This unit is glued directly to the plinth using double sided acoustical tape. This was a definite improvement over the old suspended motor design. This combined with the sub-platter resulted in eliminating transmition of motor vibrations thru the plinth and signifigantly reduced wow & flutter.

I use a Magnepan Unitrac 1 arm with a Denon DL 103S and Denon DL304 instead of the stock Rega arm. This tonearm cartridge and table combination work great.

I think with the mods done to the turntable, I'd certainly put it up against a P25, and wouldn't be surprised if it sounded better.
I'd heard the acrylic platters tend to sound bright. Untrue?

Also -- how would you describe the sound of the DL103S compared with the DL304? I've always been a Denon fan and am very interested in trying a DL103 but have no experience with these.
Check out this tweak. It worked wonders on my planar 3.

Great review .. I'm interested in trying the Dl160 when my Linn K9 dies. I used to use a Rega Super Bias, but the (used) K9 is much better. This makes me suspect that Rega cartridges are not all that great.
I had the Rega Elys and, at $225, it was a very big disappointment. In fact, I think the $40 Grado Black not only sounds better, but tracks just as well. And by the way...the Rega Elys hummed on my P2, though not as badly as the Grado.

Plus, people have told me they distrust Rega's 3-point mounting scheme and, using various alignment tools, confirmed that cartridge geometry was off and couldn't be properly obtained until they removed the third screw, defeating the purpose of spending the extra money to go from the Super Bias to the Elys. I can't say whether that's true because I used only the Rega alignment jig to setup my Elys.

The DL-160 is an excellent choice for any Rega table. Best cartridge I ever had -- I bought two of them in the past four years. Tracking is outstanding, the stylus is fantastic and long-lived, and the square sides make it an easy 10-minute job to set up -- on my P2, all I had to do was square the front of the metal balancing plate with the straight leading edge of the RB250's headshell. A few tiny adjustments with a protractor and that was all -- perfect alighnment of all cartridge sides and cantilever. It fits beautifully on the RB250, like they were made for each other.

By the way, the Rega cartridges aren't bad, just dull in my opinion. If you want a great MM, try the A-T 440ML for $99 -- it beats up on anything in the Rega line up to the Elys for less than half the price, plus it has a better cantilever and stylus. I also like the Ortofon OMB10 for about $60 -- far better value than the Elys but a little hard to align. Finally, I'm using an Ortofon X1-MC right now and, though not as livelely or detailed as the Denon DL-160, it was a steal at $110 through Needle Doctor and very neutral.

For anybody that's really interested, I posted (long-winded) reviews of the Elys, DL-160, Grado Black, Stanton 500e MkII and X1-MC here on A'gon.
Have you ever compared the dl-110 with the dl-160. Many in my home country (UK) claim it's 95% as good for much less money.
I'd imagine it's true the DL-110 and DL-160 are close in performance. But here, the difference between the two models is only $40USD so I never considered the DL-110. Maybe I will when my Ortofon is due for replacement later this year.

BTW--Have you heard Denon's new turntable? My local dealer has it but it's not set up. It looks awesome. About four years ago I had its predecessor, the DP-47F, and it changed my mind about direct drive.
I'm afraid I don't get out much these days ... I haven't heard anything beyond mine and a friend's system in the last couple of years !
Everything stated about the Rega Planar 2 is quite accurate. I have been using mine now for close to three years. A better turntable buy I cannot recall. I have absolutely no complaints whatsoever concerning performance. I have modified mine with XLO Signature cabling at the output. This one adjustment yields a major improvement in the ovreall sound of what was a very good table to begin with. I use a Sumiko Blue Point, have been using Sumiko in this and other tables for at least a decade. Previously used the Blue Point in a Yamaha PF-800. The performance in the Rega is definitely better, although the XLO cables might be a factor here. The tonal balance is excellent, top to bottom. And what could I say about the tonearm that has not already been said? Bottom line, you would have to spend much more to yield significantly better performance.
IMHO(who am I kiddng my opinoin is never humble)the rega's modest appearence gives audiophiles the wrong impression. It is worhty of insertion in the finer systems and deserves a much better cartridge than denon. It is by no means an entry level device. It does reward those with a limited budget and space. The money you save can be invested in a exotic cartrdige and preamp.
Excellent review.
Just thought I'd mention that my columbia portable crank up 78 player has a felt cover on the turntable. That last thing you'd ever think is that it "dulls the sound".
I know...I know...
well, I've tried stuffing a pair of wool socks into the back baffle....that helps...
You should review for the mags
Well, even after 4 years since the last post here, I am sure that some more comments on the P2 cannot be outdated in any way, even if the P2 has been replaced by the RP1 etc.....
I have to agree with everything said in this review and imho everything is valid even today.
Why am I saying these 4 years later? Well, first because I'm a new member here and just read this review,and second , because I was lucky to buy a nos p2 and a nos p3-24 at prices I couldn't resist.
I have very carefully listened to both and "against" my usual Thorens TD160HD/RB300/ZYX YATRA/NVO SPA ONE phono preamp.
OK,the TD160HD is the better turntable for me, but the surprise came from the p2 rather than the p3-24.
Both the regas were fitted with shure v15 type III and SAS styluses , a good match for both.I won't waste your time by saying how the two regas compared,but I'll just say that my final opinion as to why the p2 has been discontinued is (imo of course) because it was too good (especially at the price but also compared to more expensive regas)and had to go.I don't consider the p3-24 or any "upgrated" p2 with "special sub-platters or platters etc....) to be better sounding than the stock p2.Different?Yes.But not necessarily better sounding.
For those that own a p2 and perhaps find its sound a bit warm, there is a cheap way to make it sound a bit livelier and clear,and that is a wool/carbon fibre ,humble mat from TONAR. I have one and in case I need to hear some more "clarity or tighter bass" it only takes a few seconds to put that on p2's hdf platter.This happens very rarely,which for me somehow confirms that the stock p2 is already a great turntable, one of those cases where matching low cost materials,results in great success , that even for the designer can be a.....not so welcome thing eventuall