Yes, a Rega turntable is the safest of bets – but that doesn’t mean the Planar PL1 isn’t always satisfying and intermittently thrilling.
- All the essentials – motor, tonearm, cartridge and so on – are judiciously specified
- Open, full and informative sound
- Wears the right badge
- Could have even greater low-end alacrity
- Sound can be just a little laid-back
TonearmRB110 tonearm with Rega Carbon cartridge
SpeedCan play records at 33.3, 45rpm
It’s safe to say that Rega knows what it’s doing. The company is fast-closing in on its 50th anniversary, and in that time, it has pursued a gradual, but relentless, process of improving and finessing its turntables.
The Planar 1 was first introduced in 2005 as the most affordable way into Rega record-player ownership, and every variant since then has been there or thereabouts when talk turns to ‘the best realistically priced turntables around’. For 2021, the Planar 1 has become the Planar PL1 – because it’s undergone some finessing over the model it replaces.
Of course, one man’s ‘realistically priced’ is another’s ‘really quite expensive’, and there’s no doubt it’s pricier to get into Rega ownership than it is some alternative turntable brands. So, does Rega give you what you pay for?
- UKRRP: £275
- USARRP: $475
- AustraliaRRP: AU$595
The Rega Planar PL1 is on sale now, and in the UK is yours for £275. Don’t expect any discounts – we’ve checked on your behalf, and there are simply no deals to be done.
In the US, you’re looking at $475, which makes it less of a bargain than it might be conceived in the UK. Australian customers, meanwhile, should expect to hand over AU$595.
As we’ve already observed, ‘entry level’ is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, you can buy turntables that are significantly more affordable than this – but how many are built by one of the most respected names in all of record player-land? Exactly.
- Tidy matte finish
- Acceptable build quality
- Ready to play in 30 seconds (if you hurry)
‘Design’ is too strong a word for what has happened here. After all, you can’t very well mess with the established template when form follows function so slavishly as it does where record players are concerned.
So yes, the Planar PL1 is – just like every Rega turntable that came before it – a rectangle with a circle on it. Once you’ve decided between the matte black or matte white options (which is one of the bigger changes between this PL1 and the Planar 1 it replaces), you’re pretty much done.
As an object, the Planar PL1 is nice enough – build quality and finish are both perfectly acceptable. But, as has always been the case with Rega decks, no matter the price, your money has gone on componentry and engineering know-how, not on gratuitous materials or design flourishes.
- 33.3 and 45rpm speeds
- Belt drive
- Pre-fitted cartridge
Even the most expensive turntables tend not to have all that many features, and certainly the feature-count where the PL1 is concerned won’t take all that long. Mind you, and at the risk of labouring the point, the features here are all properly specified.
The plinth stands on three engineered feet that provide impressive stability and reduce vibration transfer enormously. The bottom of the plinth also features a ‘power on/off’ switch.
On top is the latest refinement of Rega’s RB110 tonearm – this design features an integrated clip (for securing the arm when it isn’t in use) and automatic bias adjustment, as well as newly designed low-friction bearings. It’s pre-fitted with a very agreeable Rega Carbon cartridge.
The platter is of phenolic material, and of higher mass than before – it’s of greatest mass at the outside, which helps the flywheel effect and improves speed stability. It’s turned by a synchronous motor with a redesigned PCB and an aluminium pulley – the first time a motor this sophisticated has appeared on an entry-level Rega deck.
To be absolutely accurate, of course, the platter is turned by a rubber belt – and if you thought rubber belts couldn’t come under the microscope in order to maximise their performance, well, you’d be wrong. Rega’s new EBLT drive belt is moulded, cryogenically frozen and then barrelled to make sure its cross-section is perfectly round. This is apparently crucial for accurate speed and stability, and it means the lifespan of the belt is increased significantly too.
- Open, unified soundstage
- Great detail levels
- Solid dynamic ability
Having established that the asking price has gone on essentials rather than on fripperies, we need very little excuse to take our new 180g 30th anniversary reissue of Pixies’ Trompe le Monde from its sleeve and set the PL1 spinning.
It doesn’t take long for the Rega to set its stall out – and what an organised, easy-to-follow and expansive stall it is. To a lesser or greater extent, the Planar PL1 embodies the virtues that have established Rega’s turntables as among the world’s most desirable. Everything that’s routinely held up as enjoyable about the way music sounds on vinyl is evident here, and it makes the PL1 the easiest of listens.
That’s meant in an entirely positive way, you understand – there’s nothing too pedestrian or at all dispassionate about the sound the Rega makes. It establishes a big, open and well-defined soundstage, and manages to consolidate every element on it, even as it grants them all enough elbow room to do their thing. As a result, music sounds uncluttered and of a single piece.
There isn’t the out-and-out speed of some pricier Rega decks where the lowest frequencies are concerned, but it’s not like they hang around unnecessarily. And bass sounds are full, nicely textured, and full of detail – as a foundation for the rest of the frequency range to stand on, they’re everything you want from a (relatively) affordable turntable.
The opposite end of the frequency range is equally detailed, equally textured and equally convincing – there’s real solidity to treble sounds, even if the recording requires them to be as tinny and splashy as possible. And in between, the mid-range is packed with information about the singer’s character, his confidence, and his mic technique, as he switches and switches again between ‘croon’ and ‘shriek’.
Rhythm management, as you’d hope from a well-sorted turntable, is good. It’s given even more expression thanks to the PL1’s ability to identify and describe low-level harmonic variances, as well as the broad-strokes dynamic peaks and troughs (with which this album is packed). And the overall unity of the presentation, the impression of interaction between musicians, and the sensation of a piece of music being of a single entity is as strong here as it is with Rega turntables costing plenty more.
Downsides to the PL1 sound are remarkably few. In absolute terms it could show a little more rigour where the lowest frequencies are concerned – the Rega doesn’t wallow, but it doesn’t exactly snap into and out of bass sounds. And with the wrong recordings (something on the lush and/or pedestrian side – Joe Jackson’s Night and Day, for instance), the Planar PL1’s overall attitude can be just slightly cosseting.
In every meaningful respect, though, the Rega Planar PL1 delivers everything you’d want from an ‘entry-level’ turntable from a ‘proper’ turntable brand.
Should you buy it?
You want to dip a toe into the ‘proper turntable’ waters The Planar PL1 isn’t a bargain in and of itself, but as a gateway into the world of ‘real’ record players, it’s realistically priced.
You’re expecting to