Review: Rega Planar 3 Turntable


Category: Analog

This review will deal with the current Rega P3 turntable with Rega RB 300 tone arm and some of the updates that are
available for this venerable performer.

There is not much sense in going into a lengthy review of this table. It has been reviewed many times in the past years and in the Planar 3 or the current P 3 it has remained a bedrock of analog playback for well over 30 years and was updated by Rega to P3 in 2000.

However over the years some after market companies have offered several upgrades for the P 3. This will deal with the J.A. Michell Techno Weight for the RB 300 Tone Arm,the Deep Groove sub platter and the Iron Audio Acrylic Platter. Each of these upgrades brings the performance of the P 3 to a higher level of analog playback and each of these items are quite cost effective for the price/performance dollar invested.

Straight out of the box the Rega P3 is a great table and at its price/performnce ratio there is little in the market place that can touch it. In recent years the RB 300 tone arm has become somewhat of an icon in its own right,with many high end tables employing this arm or a derivative of the RB 300 in higher priced turntables.

However there is on the market today several counter weights for the RB 300. I have used the Expressimo and the Clear Audio offset counter weight with excellent results and this has moved the overall sonics of the RB 300 to loftier performance levels and has improved tracking to another level.

Although this time sought to use the J.A. Michell counter weight, which is the new buzz in Rega counter weights today. This is a well thought out design and the machining is top class all the way. This is a four piece system, which consists of new end stub,slider,2 counter weights and adjuster for stylus pressure. One counter weight for 3 to 6 grams the other counter weight for 6 to 13 grams, so virtually any modern phono cartridge is usable with the RB 300 arm. It does take a little more finesse to get this counter weight right than with the other two menetioned,but once properly set up, brings the overall sonics of the RB 300 several levels up from the other contenders. Vinyl Engine on the net has covered this counter weight and while I thought their claims were somewhat over embellished, I now have to admit that for the most part their analysis of the Michell Rega Counter Weight was right on. One just has to hear the RB 300 arm with this counter weight. It is a major leaque improvement of the stock Rega Counter Weight and easily surpasses the Expressimo and Clear Audio Rega counter weights. The Michell is far more precise in its overall execution and allows the RB 300 arm to far excell its performance bar. I highly recommend this J.A. Michell Counter Weight for the Rega RB 300 tone arm. A very worthwhile upgrade, that far belies its modest cost.

Next upgrade was the Rega sub platter, to the Deep Groove sub platter with ruby ball bearing. Not a lot has been written about this. However the stock sub platter on the P 3 is slighly off speed on the fast side and the general trick has been to add to electrical tape to the perimeter of the stock sub platter to get spot on speed. However the sub platter does not have much weight to it and is made of some plastic fiber material. Therefore the flywheel effect if any is quite minimal and the start time to speed is about 2 1/2 to 3 revolutions to 33.3 rpm.

The Deep Groove sub platter for the Rega P 3 solves a multitude of those inherent problems with the stock sub platter. The Deep Groove sub platter is precisioned machined from aluminium stock and is ever so slightly larger to avoid speed problems. The ruby ball bearing along with its lubricant allows the platter to reach full rotational speed in one revolution and appears to put less stress on the belt and motor pulley assembly and due to its slightly heavier weight adds the much needed flywheel effect to the P 3. This is a very easy install and can be
handled by anyone with basic turntable skills. The directions are clear concise and step by step and with 20 minutes at most the job is done. Using the VPI strobe disc confirm the one revolution to speed and was rock steady at 33.3 rpm. A great upgrade that is more than offset by the price and brings up the level of the P 3. I do recommend this upgrade as the Rega greatly benefits from the lower noise floor,flywheel effect and the reduced stress on the motor,belt and pulley.

The platter on the Rega P3 and other Regas has been the glass platter with felt mat. Although it was considered a revolution in its day, time and technology has pushed forward and the word today is acrylic platters. the one used here is the Iron Audio pure acrylic platter as replacement for the glass platter. This is a very nicely machined acrylic platter with frosted top and polished clear side. It is well balanced,flat without visible warpage and fits precisely of the Rega and Deep Groove sub platter. It is somewhat thicker than the glass platter and is slightly recessed underneath so that the stock height is retained. Nice side benefit to this is that the sub platter becomes less visible with the recess. The Iron Audio Acrylic Platter makes a tremendous difference in the sonics of the Rega. Sound stage is vastly opened,depth front to back is seamless and well defined and detail one thought that was not there, comes to life. This is one of the most dramatic upgrades with immediate benefits I can think of. Can be used with the stock Rega Felt Mat, or in this case the Herbie turntable mat.

These upgrades are more than cost effective,greatly enchance the overall performance of the venerable P3 to loftier heights and if your really into analog, these are a must have for the Rega Planar 3 or P3.

The Rega P 3 now competes and is on par with my VPI Scout and the overall cost is less.

The J.A. Michell Counter Weight was $125.00

The Deep Groove Sub Platter was $189.00

The Iron Audio Acrylic Platter was $95.00

The Rega P3 was purchased for $500.00

So at a total of $909.00 here is a great analog playback system that is on par with my VPI Scout at $1,500.00.

This is just posted as food for thought if one is considering the upgrade path for a Rega Planar 3 or P 3. Plus these do not have to be done all at once and can be added as time and budget dictates.

So if you have been looking at some of the higher priced tables, but budget dictates else, here is a solution that delivers perfomance one can get easily spolied to and one does not have to make excuses for. One of analogs great turntables with updates that bring it to higher levels of resolution with cost effectiveness a priority.

Doesn't get much better than this.

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VPI,Oracle,Project, you name it,has been through here at one or another.
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ferrari
Thanks muchly for the review. I plan on addin the upgrades to my NAD533 and am glad to see them all in one review. I am convinced that the REGA and it's OEM models can make it to performance levels similar to the Scout, et al. [It's nice to have one's ideas vindicated.]

The Michell Technoweight realy made a difference with bass definition and inner detail. Much smoother on the top end too.

The subplatter is up next for me and losing the 'wow' will make listening to piano much nicer. no more on/off speed wrrooowwrrooowww. I am sure that the platter upgrade will put the final touches on a flywheel upgrade. Was this effect fully realized by the subplatter/platter upgrade you did on your P3?

A change that is reverseable is changing the feet. I use Vibrapod feet/cones screwed in. This was my first upgrade and even though a lot of posts claim that this material mushes up the base the exact opposite happened - the sound overall tighened up.
The second modification was the Deep Groove sub platter and that made a major difference. Although a bit pricey it is well worth its costs and gets the speed right on and reduces drag on the belt and motor pulley. After that added to Iron Audio Acrylic Platter, which further enchanced the musical presentation. However if you have to choose one first, get the Deep Groove sub platter first,getting the speed spot on makes a decided difference.

Will be adding the Orbit Speed Controller very soon, and will report on that in near future.

Have not tried other feet at this point, but may well try the Vibra pod cones soon. Thanks for the tip.

The VPI Scout is indeed a bench mark product like the venerable Rega P3. These upgrades bring the P3 very close to the overall performance of the Scout at less cost.
Thanks for the review.

On the subject of speed stability I have found the stock P3 to be extremely sensitive to the level of the bearing oil and to the table being absolutely level. After cleaning and refilling the bearing and spending 15 - 20 minutes carefully levelling the table any speed stability issues I had previously noticed were greatly diminished, to the point where I will forego the subplatter upgrade.

I'm very skeptical that the little aluminum subplatter can add anything to the flywheel effect (polar moment of intertia) of a 5+lb glass platter, and coming up to speed more quickly is not necessarily a good thing, as the drag of the lubricant in the hub is part of the equation of speed stability and shows good damping of the bearing.

I'm also not convinced that aluminum is a good choice of material for the hub. I think steel would have been a better choice to mate with the brass hub, as this is the material of the spindle with the phenolic subplatter.

If you want a higher tolerance bearing it can be sourced from www.bocabearing.com (ceramic grade 5).

If you remove the belt from your P3, lower the stylus into the grooves and turn up the volume on your preamp you'll notice that motor noise quickly becomes significant. I have all the parts together to assemble the "DIY armageddon" power supply which is claimed to greatly reduce the motor noise. All told it should cost around $100. I'll report back when I get around to trying it.

I'm quite interested in the tecnoweight, so I may add that to my RB300.

Thanks again. The P3 is a great deck, but I'm wary of throwing too much money at it as I could trade it against a used Nottingham analog deck which I'm certain would be head and shoulders above the rega in all regards.
I would only say that people have put the subplatters and acrylic platters in place and have claimed that it made speed lock steady.

Explanations of why things don't work in the face of reports from people who claim they do work, in real work practical applications, flies in the face of the theory.

The best thing about this forum ,and forums like this, is the reports from actual people doing actual listening tests with actual applications.

There are more than just a few reports of speed improvements using the subplatter/platter upgrades... or the world really is flat, in theory.
Gadfly ... read the original post. The subplatter corrects the ABSOLUTE speed of rotation to 33 1/3, where the stock subplatter runs slightly fast. Nowehere is improved speed stability mentioned.

I have never read even one review from a person who said that the subplatter or the acrylic platter improved the speed stability of a P3. Improved the sound, the evenness of the frequency response, yes, but not the speed stability.

My own experiences with the bearing oil suggest that if you hear any improvement in speed stability with the subplatter upgrade it's likely because you reoiled a bearing that was running slightly low on oil.

Now re-oiling the bearing costs less than $5 (hypoid gear oil from pep-boys) and levelling the table costs nothing. I was merely suggesting to do these things before dropping big bucks on the subplatter.

Yes I personally reoiled the bearing and personally listened before and after and the difference was dramatic. My bearing was not dry but the oil level was low.

The acrylic platter may improve the frequency response since it is very different acoustically, but unless it is of equal or greater weight to the glass platter I fail to see how it can possibly improve speed stability.
OK, I will re-oil the bearing. I have heard that Mobil 1 5/30w is the preferred.

I surely like a tweek that costs nothing.

Having said that, the stock subplatters are inferiorly machined. I can wee wobble in mine. My platter is the stock MDF. Adding a better machined subplatter with a denser platter should help; small motor variations are compensted by a better flywheel. This is theory at this point and I look forward to being proved wrong and only having to buy some oil.

Otherwise, I've got to go with the word on the street.
The correct oil is 90w hypoid gear oil (manual transmission oil). 5w30 will be far too thin.

I'd like to try 140w oil ... I have a feeling this might be better still.

you only need a few drops of oil, but a small rim of oil should appear at the top of the bearing housing with the spindle fully seated. you need a flashlight to peer under the seated subplatter.

I hope your results are as impressive as mine. Not only did speed stability improve, but tonality and treble improved. I guess the thin film of high viscosity oil is essential to preventing bearing surface contact.

The table must also be exactly level ... with the best level you can find. This is to try to minimise the tilting forces on the bearing that could make the spindle slightly off center.

If you eventually find the deep groove works much better than my much cheaper approach then I might reconsider. I was originally looking at the deep groove subplatter, but after my "oiling" experience I crossed it off my list of upgrades.
Great posts to this thread, thanks to all respondents.

On the subject of motor or gear oils. One has to keep in mind these are not mean't for low speed application. None of these lubricants will ever reach their thermal viscosity rating at low speed application. In particular multi viscosity oils, the polymer elasticer used in multi weight oils will fail to obtain their highest viscosity rating.

Why some manufacturers use engine motor oils as a spindle lubricant is a mystery to me, as all of these types of lubricants are not for low speed application. Single weight lubricants appear to be the worse of all applications due to the fact they will never reach the proper operating temperature in a low speed application.All lubricants have a temperature designed to work at,and the amount used is of no signifcance. In order to protect properly the lubricant must reach thermal stability.

Over the years I have found that the JA Michell spindle bearing oil has the right viscosity for turntable application and will work with any bearing I have used.

Proper leveling of a turntable is absolutely critical in proper operation. That has been a given for as long as we have had the analog medium. Take the time to make sure the turntable is level. The circle level bubble is one of the great devices to use for this.

In recent years speed controls for turntables have come to the forefront. By applying the correct 60Hz to the motor yeilds a signifcant sonic improvement. Seldom does anyone have a spot on 60Hz from the wall. Mine here is 61.8 Hz. Recently borrowed a friends VPI first generation unit. To my amazement the entire analog presentation moved to a level that was several steps above. So this is one item that does have a dramatic positive sonic impact of the analog medium. So in the near future will be using one of these with the Rega P3. If I can find a VPI or the newer Orbit 1 speed control. This is in my opinion a must have for any turntable.

The addition of a Speed Control unit will be the last upgrade to the Rega P3. In my opinion to do more to the Rega P3, one might as well move onto the VPI Scout or similar turntable.
Well, Seandtaylor99, Valvoline SAE 85W-140 synthetic blend gear oil is the ticket. Sure was funny buying that container of Valvoline knowing it was for a turntable. Seemed ham fisted when I was in Pep Boys, but ...

I removed the blu-tac and tape from the subplatter that I was using for mass and speed control. I cleared out the well, bearing, and shaft with denatured alcohol and filled it with the oil and it works like a charm.

A drop? I filled a small glass bottle that had an eye dropper and had to put about 6 'drops' in there 'till it was right. But the oil welled up around the shaft creating that ring you mentioned.

I put on Ellington's "The Pianist" and I've really got to thank you for your earlier replies. Wow is gone. It also seems like attack is a little better as well. Stepping into notes and decay are more present.

I think I will still get the subplatter but it going further down on the list. (Rega uses a variation in their higher models..) Even with the speed a percentage fast, I still like it. I guess that is what makes this a "pacey" deck, as they say.

Table is level; bubble right in the center ring. I glued the level onto the table a while back so that I would not lose track of it & always be 'using' it.

No one here has yet to mention the VTAF. That is next up.

Thanks, Ferrari, for the original posting. The acrylic platter is still on my list along with re-wiring the arm. I think I've got to really think about the Heed. Maybe I like the 1% speed increase.
Gadfly ... glad it worked out. It is incredible how much difference a little oil makes.

"None of these lubricants will ever reach their thermal viscosity rating at low speed application"

The first weight in a multiweight oil is the room temperature pouring weight. The second is the high temp. weight, and is not relevant for turntable applications (we hope !)

So a 5w30 is a 5w at room temp.

similarly an 80w140 gear oil will be an 80 weight oil in the turntable bearing. The 140 is meaningless.

Rega recommends 80w hypoid gear oil. Since manual transmissions contain brass and steel and require a strong film of lubrication it's little surprise that it would work in a brass and steel bearing setup such as the Rega.

The michel bearing is quite different from Rega's so their oil may or may not work in a rega bearing, but in general Rega bearings do not work with thin oil.

If I ever get around to trying a straight 140w gear oil I'll report on my findings. It's not generally available at motor stores so I need to look around a bit more to try to find it. Even if it doesn't work out I doubt it will cost more than $10 to try.
after living with the new oil and seeing how the greatest level of wow has been decreased I have noticed that it is not all the way gone. This may because of power at the wall or motor speed variation, which virtually turns out to be the same thing. - Oil has been filled to the point where there is a rim of oil visible above the well clinging to the spindle.

There is still a level of wow noticeable and it varies during paying times, which puts the power clearly in the blame category.

note: I use talc on the belt. Is it possible the talc is dusting and fouling the spin of the motor shaft?

Upgrading the motor should be part of this equation as well. But how to approach all this budgetwise and get the most effect for the dollar at each change is my concern.

I don't want to upgrade the motor yet as I think that since I already have one I will try to improve around it and if it is still at fault in the end, out it goes.

Adding the sublatter and then the Iron Audio platter may be the first place to start as if there are inconsistencies in motor speed that can be overcome by a better flywheel then there you go.

Finally adding the Pro-Ject Speedbox [not SE] should put the finishing touches on the speed mess, I hope.

Is there something I am missing?

*** have mercy and don't tell me to get another table. That is a fiendish response due to cause hangwringing on my part and bad karma on yours. ***
If you have an old planar 3 then I think the motor upgrade should be your first action. The upgraded motor attaches directly to the plinth, and is not suspended with rubber bands, as with the old planar 3 motor.

Most users report greatly improved speed stability with the new motor. I have the new motor on my planar 3 (I did it when I moved to the US, rather than as an upgrade) and speed stability is excellent since my re-oiling.

I still maintain that the flywheel effect will not change, and could be reduced by going to an acrylic platter, and since the subplatter is of relatively small diameter I doubt if this contributes at all to the flywheel effect.

If the new subplatter improves speed stability it would probably be due to machining tolerance of the bearing shaft and the pulley surface, rather than a flywheel effect.

Google polar moment of inertia ... a good flywheel needs mass at the periphery of a decent size diameter. The acrylic platter will have less mass than the glass platter, and the subplatter has insufficient diameter.

Also watch for slightly off-center LPs. I have a number in my collection, and you can see the tonearm swing gently back and forth if viewed from above.
the motor is mounted directy to plinth with thick adhesive tape. I know that the new motor is different in several ways, less vibration, more steady[?], but what you said about the subplatter:

"If the new subplatter improves speed stability it would probably be due to machining tolerance of the bearing shaft and the pulley surface, rather than a flywheel effect."

really makes sense.

These subplatters are inferiorly machined, no doubt.
thanks for putting that in words, though, because a logical, reasoned reason is comforting. ... up until it fails, then I gotta come up with another one. ;-)

BTW, I have the mdf platter, not glass, so it will turn out that the acrylic platter will be heavier than my current one.

"These subplatters are inferiorly machined, no doubt"

I wouldn't say that. There is a good chance that they are machined at least as well if not better than a stock P3 subplatter. I was just meaning to say that this is the only possible aspect that could improve speed stability.

You can find glass platters on ebay occasionally. If you find one at the right price then that might be worth a punt.

I still think if speed stability is the goal the motor replacement should be top of the list. I would also be extremely careful to level the table, as the bearing can rub if the table is not absolutely level.

I still haven't got around to using 140w oil, but I'll report back when I do.
When you thik about it ... to have to upgrade an already paid for motor is really piss poor. I didn't spend tons of money on this turntable starting out, but the parts you get SHOULD WORK WITHOUT FAULT WITHIN NORMAL OPERATING USAGE. A tweak is to improve not maintain.

An off-speed motor, non-shielded motor, poorly machined subplatter, the flimsiest of felt rags as mat, crappy holds for the dustcover, ground in-line with signal, sheesh. and the way people go on about Rega's. Would it be fair to say "This thing ain't made right?".

I remember buying a turntable in the '70's and at the very least it was sturdy, silent, like my old Sansui which I dumped for the NAD533. Makes me wonder if I did the right thing.
put a new belt on and the speed/wow issues are gone.

i feel silly after all this grousing for the problem to be so trivial.

i suppose it was a dual issue oil + belt. i think i will make this a 6month new oil and yearly new belt maintenance thing.

the subplatter is still in the upgrade path as it has the ruby bearing which would make it a quieter single jewel movement but it's gotta wait untill i finish getting all the parts for and building a Hagerman Bugle Pro.

what tedious fun all this is. :-)
Well I got the DeepGroove subplatter and it has made a big improvement.

first thing i noticed after the subplatter settled is that when i spun the platter without the belt attached it spun for a much longer time than it did with the the plastic subplatter ... and it seemed smoother too. The ruby bearing probably causes less noise - this is a one jewel movement device now.

Oil used was labelled "SRM/TECH Ultimate Turntable Main Bearing Oil" which was supplied by the seller. (This was an ebay win.) It seems to work as well as the Valvoline 80W gear oil I had in the bearing well before.

How did it sound? I put on Jaco Pastorius which i had played the day before with the plastic subplatter and now the bass definition was really tight and detailed. previously bass thumped or deeply twanged but now there was much more noticeable definition in the bass note. the electric bass Jaco played on "Donna Lee" had a pebbly sense to it and the rest of the bass on that album offered up much more weird detail. Cymbals set in the air, drums tapped independantly and seemed more in the distance, strings had more definition. There was more magic. I expect cello will be very sweet. And trumpet and sax ... the sense of expectancy engendered by my first experience tells me something!

Next I put on a VOX disc, Alfred Brendel playing Schubert. This record has NEVER sounded this good. Piano sounded real. We have a piano in the house and my daughter plays so it was sensational to hear that record sound so realistic. Piano notes are more delicate or have more weight as the instance requires, wow and flutter are _non-existant_ and the flow of the music was noticeably sweeter.

I was considering the OriginLive DC motor over the Heed powe rsupply because on the OriginLive there is a feedback control which helps to compensate for 'moments' of change and you can switch from 33/3 to 45 by a setting on back. But I may not have to go there so soon now. The whole point of going to the DC motor was to eliminate the speed issues that I thought might be coming from the cogging AC motor ~ That cogging motor still must go but, for the moment, it seems the speed issues are almost fully extinguished due to the DeepGroove.

personal aside: the best part about incremental upgrades is the thrill you get from each 'noticeable' upgrade and the childlike expectancy you get get looking forward to the next. I have been made convinced that this turntable will exceed my expectations and it will probably be the last turntable I buy. [this is where i hear an evil laugh in the background bwahaHAHAHAHA]

one small note: I put this subplatter on a NAD533 and the centering ring prevented the medite platter from dropping down. The centering rng had to go, then the platter sat flat on the subplatter. Removing the centering ring was easy with a toothpick.
Also the drive belt is important to keep fresh as it ages and becomes less compliant (much like your windshield wipers) it is more prone to slip and transfer noise at a higher level. This I found out when I decided and sold a perfectly good table because I did not realize that both the belt and also the bearing oil, which is a hypoid 85 weight, needed replacement / freshening. It turned out those were the only issues. Word to the wise...learn from my experience.

I have just noticed that some relatively simple vibration control/reduction products, reviewed by a couple of British rags, said to be effective, offered by SMR/Tech. They look to be individual elastomer dampers for the Rega platter, bearing and motor along with some other items (motor thrust bearing, spindle support pad, etc. They claim they damp & obsorb the mechanical vibration to reduce both the motor and bearing vibes even further.

Other considerations that are not just Rega specific but will raise the performance of any TT include Pete Riggles awesome VTAF on the fly adjustment / decoupling device, the Universal RSR LP stabilizer ring including a light weight version, or the heavier VPI LP ring weight with appropriate spindle weight, a really good record mat / platform - either or the Boston Audio MAT 1, Funk Firm Acromat or full platter, DIY or Gingko Cloud device, a really good phono preamp ie Gram Slee Reflex or Bent Audio step up transformers or ..., which can all be transfered to what ever TT you may get in the future or have now. The list goes on .... Have some fun and enjoy the process. You may find you really appreciate and enjoy your own personal custom audio hot rod TT...

Hey, as promised above, did anyone test any of the power supply units like the Heed Audio Orbit, or Project Speedbox or Vpi SDS, Linn Lingo, or DIY Armeggio for true 60 hz supply with your P2 P3?

Shama - to hear intelligently causatively
Jon
Enjoyed learning about these Ferrari, even if I don't and never have owned a Rega. I always wonder though, what exactly are the mechanisms by which differently-configured counterweights of roughly similar mass are supposed to make noteworthy audible differences, and especially tracking differences, in fixed-pivot arms.
Zaikesman,
Check out the Analog Forum titled "Strange Tonearm Tweak Long" which talks about polar weighting effect & benefit in relation to stiffer suspended cartridges primarily but not exclusively on Rega RB series arms. The " groovetracer " aftermarket counterweight is probably the leading proponent of this design although the Michell tecno weight and tecnoarm are using this design to a lesser degree.
Jomoinc: If you page back through Tom's thread, you'll find I was all over that thang. However, the purpose of his "Hi-Fi" tweak and an underslung counterweight are not the same. Specifically, Tom's tweak doesn't affect vertical mass (tracking force), as does a counterweight, it's deliberately limited to increasing horizontal mass only.
Acrylic platters, why?
The manual for Rega 9 states that if they could improve on their new extra-hard platter they would have made it out of diamond. I am total novice at audio tweaks, but how acrylic material is better than hard carbon/diamond/or glass crystals in corresponding platters?
Acrylic platter just seems to me like another hockey puck solution.
As in: "It is not a hockey puck it is "Audio Vibration Dissipater".