AudioFile

Review

The ever-ruling Planar

Model: Rega P2 turntable with RB250 tonearm

Price: RM1,680; reviewed with Elys cartridge (RM799)

Distributed by TONG LEE COMPANY (Tel: 05-691 1049) 13/14, Jalan Lekir, Kampung Koh, 32000 Sitiawan, Perak also at (Tel: 03-2141 4366) G19 & 21, Ground Floor, Plaza Low Yat, Off Jalan Bukit Bintang, 55100 Kuala Lumpur / e-mail: tongle@pd.jaring.my.

AFTER a period of absence from the local market, the Rega brand is, thankfully, once again available in Malaysia. I suppose many kakis out there are eager to investigate the Rega CD players, especially the third generation Planet that has obtained some good press. But there will be just as many who are thankful to see Rega back for its famous Planar turntable range.

The Planar 2, or now known by its more fashionably shortened P2 designation, is one of the few hi-fi products that can boast a long production run without being so radically altered that it bears little resemblance to the first generation model. There have been numerous running production changes – the arm being the most obvious – but it is essentially the same basic design that hit the market around 1975. Hence the P2 is not just a different beast continuing on a recognisable name (for example, the Honda Civic of today).

A GROOVY MACHINE: The Rega P2 Turntable will extract good music from those vinyl grooves.
The bits that make up the whole

I remember the Planar 2 with the glass platter, wood surround frame plinth and S-shaped arm. Today’s P2 looks a lot less substantial than its ancestor – arm apart, of course. The plinth, sans surround frame, looks like any plain cheap medite board (the Rega website tastefully describes it as a low mass particulate core sandwiched by highly rigid phenolic laminates). The fibreboard platter that replaces the glass version looks like something you’d purchase to chop raw foods on.

Reading between the lines, the change of platter material must have been dictated by cost considerations (to offset the higher cost of the new motor/power supply, perhaps?) to keep the old girl competitive at its price point. The platter of the P3 and P25 continue to be of glass, and platter material is something Rega is dead serious about since it’s what it has placed such importance on in its top dog, the Planar 9.

Rega describes its platter to be CNC machined HDF, which is then metalised, giving a platter with good mass and accuracy.

I’m not certain what metalised means, as the only metal I could see was the metallic coating sprayed onto the circumference of the platter. However, I would like to say to the person who did the platter on the review sample: “Hey! You missed a spot!” since an obvious speck on it remained “un-metalised”.

Under the hood, there’s an improved motor and power supply, to reduce vibration. In contrast with the previous compliant mounting, the motor is now hard mounted with an adhesive pad (an upgrade kit is available for older Planar 2s). This new arrangement is important, not just from a sonic viewpoint, but for inducing confidence in the product as well. At no time did the P2 produce the start-up noise that was experienced with older Planar 3s. In all honesty, I am better acquainted with the Planar 3, having spent much more time with it than the Planar 2, but because of the similar motor mounting arrangement, start-up noise should equally have been an issue with the older Planar 2 as well.

As for available finishes, the P2 is limited only to basic black. If you’re the picky type and absolutely need some other colour to match your gear, you’re out of luck. Your only solution would be to strip it down and re-spray it with your colour of choice, unlike the P3, which offers alternative colours at a slight premium over the black variety.

The fitted RB250 arm is a celebrated design, being a simplified derivative of the RB300. Most of you would have seen photographs of or read about it in detail already, likely more so than the P2 itself.

The review unit came with a moving magnet (MM) Elys cartridge, itself a long running design. Considering it costs RM799, it would be an unlikely choice considering the P2’s target market segment. I expressed my reservations to Joseph whether the pairing would make a sensible review package.

After the listening period, I take it back. It didn’t have the somewhat tottery highs of the cheaper Bias that I remember, and its three screw-mounting regime makes set-up a breeze.

Three screws, and you can progress on to listening without agonising over overhang, azimuth, VTA etc. Do note that if you’re mounting one yourself, you’ll need an Allen key of requisite size (not supplied). Screwdrivers won’t do. And if you don’t have cartridge mounting nuts and bolts lying around, there’s only one set provided with the Elys – lose a screw and you’ll go nuts; lose a nut and you’re (finish that thought yourself)….

ARMED AND DANGEROUS: The Rega P2 Turntable comes stock with the famed RB250 arm.
Onto the catwalk

Freedom from start-up noise has already been mentioned.

The platter ran smoothly and quickly built up speed. I didn’t observe any noticeable platter wobble with the P2, although the motion of the felt mat observed at eye level did contrive to give such an impression. Speed was as stable and accurate as my old strobe disc would let on. I set the Ely’s tracking force at about 18mN and gave turntable and cartridge extended bed-in time since the review unit’s carton arrived still factory-sealed.

Initial listening impressions during this period were really positive as the cost of the turntable-cartridge probably wouldn’t equal the price of the stands for a pair of Sonus faber speakers. It sounded musically composed in high-ticket company. If listened blind, few would have guessed it was a ‘‘cheap’’ turntable.

Then the casting couch

Formal auditioning took place in two different systems – an Exposure X amplifier driving a pair of Rogers LS3/5a speakers and an Arion Acoustics Elektra driving Triangle Ikoto speakers. In both cases a Rotel RHQ10 provided phono preamp duties, since the Exposure’s phono section is MC-only and the Arion lacks a phono stage. Both systems were tripped out with equipment support and power line care products. The P2 mostly sat on a locally made Custom Magic Platform. I also got good results from an old Townshend CD sink.

The Rega combo just got on with making music with brio in both systems. It let the joy factor of the performances through relatively unscathed. You are greeted with a coherent, well presented sound with a rhythmic, foot-tapping drive. I did perceive a slightly congested upper bass, and it didn’t have the best bass definition, this character contributed to by the thick felt mat used to top off and damp the platter (transferring the Rega felt mat to an antique Dual 701/Benz L0.4 resulted in quite an improvement to the latter!). Bass had firmness and solidity – kick drums on Linda Ronstadt’s cover of Tumbling Dice and James Taylor’s Traffic Jam had fine impact, and extension was much better than what I was expecting from a table with a platter made of budget fibreboard! The Rega combo’s treble wasn’t very extended or detailed, missing the air and shimmer obvious with the Benz MC and sounding rolled off.

But all this seemed insignificant in view of the Rega’s ability to just get on with proceedings and letting the musicianship captured onto LPs shine through. I went thru my Los Lobos collection, playing three of their albums in a row non-stop. This is a remarkable band (those who’ve only ever heard them do La Bamba should check out their ‘‘normal’’ work), and their ability to play as a unit came thru amply via the Rega-front end. The P2/Elys’ self-restraintalso worked well with the Triangles, whose tweeters, even in the case of being driven by a valve amp, could (and did) show bouts of temper. I don’t think the cheaper Bias would have done the system any favours.

So it may actually be the case that a Rega P2 with Elys (or other similarly capable cartridge) would be a better choice than the more expensive P3 with Bias if funds are tight. I’d certainly love to get my hands on a current P3/Bias to see if my hunch is correct. The Elys’ price puts it close to the local price of some tasty alternatives, the latest Dynavector entry level high output MC for example.

The cheaper (locally) evergreen Ortofon MC15 should also not be overlooked. Such options are worth investigating if you trust your own (or the dealer’s set-up) skills and are willing to forego the simplicity of the all-Rega set up.

RIGHT ON TRACK: The Rega Elys cartridge is an excellent, albeit more expensive cartridge option for the P2 turntable.
Is it a turn-on, then?

It’s easy to see why the P2 has been the stalwart at the budget end of the specialist turntable market, and why it has survived and remained a class-leader.

It gets to the heart of the music, presents it in an upbeat and seriously enjoyable manner and does most things well without biting off more than it can chew.

If you’re looking for an entry-level table and can afford more than the cheapest debut model (hint!) in the range of Rega’s obvious rival, you must audition the P2.

Forget what your eyes see, and let your ears and heart lead the way.

For: Solid, foot-tappingly musical sound; elegant simplicity; arm as good as it gets for the class, and then some; easy set-up.

Against: Table looks challenged in the material value per Ringgit stakes; bigger bro P3’s reputation as the ‘‘better’’ buy.

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