Is Rega Planar 1 the Best Entry Level Turntable?

Paul Rigby, The Audiophile Man, thinks so. He compares the Planar 1 with older entry Rega turntables and gives you the scoop. 

Rega has been producing a turntable to compete in the lower price arena for 10 years now. In that time they've learned a lot about designing for the entry level and what it takes to extract the maximum amount of performance for the lowest cost possible. That sounds an awful lot like Rega's credo to start with. Paul Rigby compares the first P1 from 2005 with the latest Planar 1 to see just how far Rega has come.

Part of long stretch of redevelopment that includes the new Planar 6, and last years' Planar 2 and 3, the Planar 1 sets out to offer performance at a very high level compared to other entry priced turntables. It shares many core technologies with its more expensive brothers, including a high-strength, low-mass plinth that keeps vibration from spoiling your music. A low-noise 24VAC motor spins a heavy phenolic platter, which itself has many virtues in comparison with the competition. The platter is naturally non-resonant, non-magnetic, stiff, and well balanced. These are remarkable improvements from the cheap steel platters you see elsewhere. Oh, and don't forget the tonearm! Long a Rega hallmark, the RB110 fitted to the Planar 1 not only has better bearings and overall construction than the competition, it's also a real snap to setup. No need for expensive scales or indecipherable anti-skating. Truly plug-n-play.

Keep reading for excerpts from The Audiophile Man's review.

Planar 1 is $475 here in that states and comes pre-fitted with the Carbon MM cartridge. Available in gloss black or gloss white and includes a hinged dustcover. Find a Rega retailer near you.

One of the more appealing aspects of Rega’s design policy is the lack of fuss. The new Planar 1 – like the RP1 – is minimalistic in terms of general design. Actually, the new Planar 1 takes that notion to the extreme because it moves the power switch from the upper front left of the platter. The new switch is still around the front left area but you can locate it underneath the platter instead to enhance the clean lines of the Planar 1’s piano black finish: it’s far more stylish than the textured vinyl of the original P1.
Both turntables include a built-in tonearm and cartridge. Both are set up correctly from the factory. Rega’s P1/Planar 1 are both very easy to set up and both score over the immediate competition in terms of the amount of steps and parts you have to play with. This is a ‘good thing’. Firstly, it reduces set-up time but also frustration. The latter is minor but definitely there on some competing designs. It irritates the hell out of me whenever I have to review a piece of hi-fi and, before I can power up, I have to attach the right set of prongs to the plug. And I’m given three sets to choose from too. If you’re not used to this sort of thing, this one simple and relatively minor task can cause some tension as the prongs often do not easily fit the first time or require an odd orientation. It’s a silly thing in the grand scheme of this turntable but I still applaud Rega for giving me a ready-made plug!
I decided to use Connie Francis’ original pressing Sings Bacharach and David (MGM) from 1968 in which she fronts a large orchestra. From the off, I could tell that the Planar 1 offered a reduced noise environment. Noise masks musical information. Remove it and more music comes though. That’s what I was hearing here.

Secondly was the lead vocal which was far more focused than the P1. The P1 suffered from a touch more noise which meant that mids on the vocal smeared a little producing a touch of stridency on crescendos. I say this as a comparison to the Planar 1 only. In comparison to many other budgets turntables the P1 is sonically superior. Nevertheless, the Planar 1 provided a clearer and very stable lead vocal performance that not only helped clarity but Francis’ diction.
Midrange, in general terms, provided a smooth output with both trumpet and the string section flowing with a sense of elegance and ease. Piano was both rich and full with a new air of lightness about the notes which now seemed to dance politely across the wide and broad soundstage.

The stereo image was a busy area. Behind the Francis vocal was a tight guitar strum, thought most of the song that sat alongside a series of cymbal taps. Both the guitar and cymbals provided new information and detail with, for the cymbals, open and delicate treble response with a characterful guitar sound. Character was also what the bass provided in terms of the bowed double bass and the firm yet detailed lower frequencies.
This drum heavy LP offered gloriously tight, punchy but not dry percussive bass. It’s all very well having a strong bass but if it lacks any sense of the organic then it tends to lose emotion (unless that’s the artist’s intention, of course). If there’s one thing that annoys me is when a piece of hi-fi makes the decision for you. The Planar 1 offered strength and a bass impact that was potent and convincing but always with a sense of the emotional.

Vocals also provided emotion, giving texture to the lyrics with midrange subtlety and nuance that, added to vocal emphasis, provided a sense of performance to the song. Again, the music provided a humanistic feel. Budget gear can often strip this important element from its design. The Planar, for the price, had it in spades.
...if you can save up for a new Planar 1, go for that instead. The more I used the turntable, the more I realised that this is not just a budget turntable, it’s the ultimate budget turntable. It does everything that a budget turntable can do and should do in terms of its consideration towards the customer but also its respect for the ears of the same in its search for top quality sound for the asking price.

In those terms, the Planar 1 sets itself up as the standard which every other budget turntable seeks to emulate. From the installation to the final play, the Rega Planar 1 is not just outstanding, it has actually changed the nature of the market at this level. On this basis, I have no choice but to award it the highest rating I have in my armoury, the ultra-rare Golden Groovy. I have details of almost 250 products reviewed on this site. This is only the fourth time that I’ve awarded such a rating. That’s how good this turntable is…