The vinyl craze seems to have no end in sight. Many companies, even those that aren’t traditionally known for turntables, are taking advantage of this retro trend. So who do you give your hard-earned cash to when it comes to hardware? Consider English manufacturer Rega, which has been making turntables since 1973 — that’s longer than some of our parents have been around!
The highly skilled workforce inhabiting the audio manufacturer’s 38,000-square-foot facility in South East England is a model of diversity, teamwork, and efficiency. The last time I paid a visit to Rega’s factory, in 2018, “the new people” had been around about 15 to 20 years. This is a job that people typically keep for life, and founder Roy Gandy has found the perfect balance of motivation, benefits, and working conditions. The first thing you see walking past the giant, bright green numeral “6” on the front door is a foosball table. There’s no big corporate office, either. Gandy is one of the most laid back, yet uniquely successful, businessmen you’ll ever meet.
While Rega is best known for its turntables, the company also makes a full line of electronics and speakers that have all achieved worldwide acclaim. Rega’s entire product lineup is built in this factory, though some minor bits are sourced locally. Thanks to Rega’s full line of speakers, amplifiers, and, of course, source components, audio consumers can build an entire Rega system at any Rega dealer (or, as they say in the U.K., “specialist”). Rega components work well together, with obvious synergy, but also play well with other components.
The only thing missing from the Rega lineup is a streamer, though it does produce an excellent lineup of digital-to-analog converters (DAC) with integrated CD transports. No surprise here: Rega is maybe one of the most evolutionary companies in audio, so don’t expect it to jump on the streaming trend anytime soo
Back to Spinning Records
Because of Gandy’s background as a mechanical engineer in the automotive industry, he has ensured that Rega turntables are based on simplicity, light weight, and low mass. Everything in the design has a purpose, with all of the tables built around Rega’s exclusive tonearms — four in all. As you go up the range, the bearings are of higher quality, and the level of machining tolerance becomes tighter. Even so, all turntables are hand-assembled, -tested, and -calibrated to provide extremely low levels of friction. This allows Rega tonearms to extract the maximum amount of information from the tiny record grooves.
If you spend any time talking to your customers or perusing various internet forums, the amount of arguing about just how to set a turntable up properly is staggering. Rega addresses this issue by offering a full range of moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) cartridges that offer a unique mounting system.
Other cartridges have two mounting holes. This allows for a tremendous amount of installation error, and a coterie of tools and expertise is needed to pull it off properly. These days, there are fewer people with this knowledge and fewer customers with the patience to get this right. In the end, it often leaves vinyl lovers new and old with frustration that can drive them away. Rega solves this problem by optimizing its tonearms for the physical dimensions of its cartridge bodies. VTA (vertical tracking angle) does not need to be adjusted by the dealer or end-user. Additionally, a three-screw mounting system is utilized, so the cartridge body is perfectly aligned at the end of the tonearm. It’s simple but brilliant.
Range of Refinement
Eight tables make up the entire range, from the Planar 1, at $475, to the Planar 10, at $5,695, offering something for every level of budget and music lover. Rega even provides a table for dedicated 78 r.p.m. use (with a cartridge optimized for these discs), should you have some truly old records in your collection. Ditto for the cartridges, which range from the entry-level Carbon ($65) to the Aphelion ($4,995), with six other models in between.
Having a Planar 1, Planar 6, and a Planar 10 all together makes it even easier to see and hear what you get as you go up the Rega range. The Planar 1 uses a basic MDF platter (also used by others like Pro-Ject and Avid, to name a few) with a belt-drive system. The Planar 10, which has just become a permanent reference in my system, uses a ceramic composite platter, something that Rega pioneered with its P9 turntable almost 20 years ago. At the time, the cost of the P9’s ceramic platter was higher than the cost of the parts of an entire P3.
Moving up means more mechanical refinement, which in turn does a better job at isolating noise from the motor and drive system to get to that delicate record groove. Playing the same record on a P1, then the P6, and ultimately the P10 makes for a bigger, broader, and more engaging presentation.
A Few Words from the North American Importer
Steve Daniels is the owner of The Sound Organisation, located in Arlington, Texas. He’s been importing some of the top British hi-fi brands since 2003, but his journey started with Rega. A long-time veteran of the hi-fi industry, Daniels started in retail in London before moving to America. He answered a few of my questions about the changes the company has seen in the industry, its customer base, and vinyl enthusiasts in general.
For many of us covering the high-end audio beat, vinyl enthusiasm never waned. Still, Daniels noticed a slight — though “not dramatic” — downturn in the early 2000s. What’s changed in the Sound Org’s customer base is the newer crop of analog customers and audio purchasers in general. “Thirty to 40 percent of our customers are new, but they are not hobbyists in the way that the generation before them was,” says Daniels. “They want a good music system, but playing records is not the ritual it used to be.”
Rega’s sales bear this out, with purchases of the P1, P2, and P3 through the roof. “We are ordering turntables by the shipping container these days,” Daniels says. Rega is a brand with a superlative reputation, thanks in part to all the good press it has received over the years.
Rega still engages the higher-end audiophiles in addition to entry-level consumers, especially with the top three models: the P6, P8, and P10. Its turntables have always offered high performance for the price point, but the P8 and P10 easily compete with models that cost considerably more. Regardless of price, simplicity and ease of setup are as consistent on the top-end models as on the base models.
In the end, Rega is a company that proves experience makes the difference, and its engineering-based, evolutionary approach to product design continues to delight music lovers the world over. When I asked Daniels if Roy Gandy would ever retire, he just laughed.
- Rega has been making reference turntables from $575 to $5,695 since 1973.
- Its entire line of turntables, speakers, amplifiers, and source components are
hand-assembled in its 38,000-square-foot U.K. factory.
- Thanks to the current vinyl boom, the brand is experienc- ing a new wave of younger buyers.