Price (RRP): $1799
Vinyl is continuing to make quite the comeback, with plenty of new music released on the venerable 12 inch analogue disc. For years, even extremely expensive home theatre receivers didn’t have phono inputs fitted. These days most of them do, and indeed most mid-level and some entry levels ones do as well.
If you want to join this retro trend then you need a turntable. And if you want decent sound you need a decent turntable, not one of those $50 plastic things.
While we’ve looked at some moderately priced models in the past, with the Rega Planar 3 we’re moving into more exotic territory. With the Rega Exact cartridge, this turntable comes to $1799.
The task asked of a turntable seems simple enough. It has to rotate a vinyl disc at a constant angular speed. It has to hold a stylus in place in a groove, firmly enough to ensure it isn’t flung out by the vibrations, but gently enough so that the stylus can track along the groove towards the centre, and lightly enough to minimise the damage the stylus inflicts on the recording (diamond is a lot harder than vinyl).
It has to convert the tiny vibrations of that stylus into an electrical signal. That signal turns out to be very low in level – roughly a thousandth of the level produced by a CD player – so it must be protected from interference.
Oh, and because the stylus picks up vibrations, and is in contact with the vinyl disc which is resting on the turntable, well the turntable itself – its motor and bearings – must be extremely quiet. Especially as the RIAA equalisation boosts the deep bass picked up by the stylus by a factor of ten.
Okay, maybe it isn’t so simple after all.
Rega was one of the first to use the massive platter approach to making the turntable run evenly. The platter is the turning part of the turntable. The Rega Planar 3 uses a 12mm thick glass platter. That gives it a rather high moment of inertia, which means it resists speed variation. It’s like a flywheel. A felt mat sits on top of that. The thing is driven via a belt that runs around a motor pulley and the hub upon which the platter sits. You change speed by moving the belt from one notch in the pulley to the other. Speeds of 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm are supported.
The plinth – the main body of the turntable – is a light weight design and braced with two metal struts, one on top and one below, between the arm and spindle. It comes with a high gloss finish with white, black and red available, and a clear perspex lid.
The tonearm is Rega’s RB330, a hand assembled unit. It uses spring loading to set the stylus pressure and anti-skating.
As reviewed, I had the turntable coupled with the Rega Exact cartridge.
The cartridge is the little dynamo that turns the physical vibrations of the stylus into an electrical signal to feed to your amplifier. Physically, it’s the gadget on the end of the tone arm. It has a diamond stylus on the end of a thin tube. In turntable talk, that tube is called the “cantilever”. At the other end of the tube is either a magnet or a coil. If it’s a magnet, then it is surrounded by a wire coil attached to the body of the cartridge. If it’s a coil, then magnets surround it. Either way, as the stylus moves up and down and side to side in the groove, the magnet and the coil are moving with respect to each other. That’s the very definition of an electrical generator.
If it’s the magnet that’s on the cantilever, it’s called a Moving Magnet (or MM) cartridge. If it’s the coil, it’s called a Moving Coil (or MC) cartridge. The latter tend to be more expensive. The Exact is the highest MM cartridge on offer from Rega. Like the tone arm, it’s hand assembled. It uses a “Vital” profile for the stylus (the shape of the stylus can affect performance) and is designed to track at 1.75 grams of stylus pressure.