Ian Peel investigates a slightly higher-than-entry-level turntable aimed at the returning vinyl lover who’s after quality for a reasonable outlay…
Price: £625. Additional equipment tested: Rega Brio amp and Neat Motive SX1 speakers.
Rega’s Planar 3 is perfect if you’re getting back into vinyl and hi-fi after having a few decades off to concentrate on other things. It’s robust and well built, but still looks the business. It’s also very easy to set up: with built-in phono leads and a factory-fitted cartridge, it’s just a case of plugging in the AC adaptor, removing the (included as standard) perspex lid – if you want to follow the fashion for topless, that is – and you’re up and running.
To get the best out of the system, you’d be well advised to buy from a dealer rather than online. Then you can have them balance the tonearm and set the tracking weight for you, before you install it into your system at home. It shouldn’t take them more than about 15 minutes.
As is the norm these days, only the essential controls are on display – and even those are hidden away. So you’ll find the start-stop switch tucked under the bottom left-hand corner of the deck. It plays at both 33 rpm and 45 rpm and switching from one to another is a manual process. You lift off your mat, lift off the glass platter and move the – somewhat delicate – drive belt from one notch to another, as you can see in the photo below. Not a quick job if you’re ploughing through a mixture of singles and albums, but a ‘typically Rega’ method: simple, hidden away, but allowing you to get inside the machine and get a little hands-on.
We didn’t pull any punches when putting this turntable to the test. First out of the rack: a very well-worn original copy of Peter Gabriel’s second eponymous solo album – aka Scratch – from 1978.
We took the needle inland and went straight for track three, Mother Of Violence, as it’s by far the sparsest, quietest song on the whole album – possibly in Gabriel’s entire canon. The Planar 3 coped surprisingly well. Mother is a simple piano-and-guitar track and I don’t think I’d ever heard the piano any clearer (and that’s having experienced both the ‘mini vinyl’ CD reissues from the early Noughties, as well as the more recent 45 rpm half-speed remastered vinyl editions).
Planet of sound
Next up, Silva Screen’s silver-vinyl reissue of the BBC’s The Living Planet soundtrack. I wasn’t hearing too much bass here (more a reflection on the music and its era). So while the Planar 3 wrestled with the archaic feel of some tracks, in others, it really enhanced it; overall, The Living Planet sounded as 3D and cinematic as you’d hope.
We teamed the deck up with a Brio amp (£598) also from Rega, a pair of Motive SX1 speakers by Neat, and racked the separates up some appropriately named Special Branch wooden furniture from Isoblue (£250 per tier).
With the cable for the turntable being captive (ie, integrally wired into the hardware at the business end), the only wiring needed was for the speakers, for which we used some Rega Duet. We also used a carbon-fibre anti-static disc cleaner, the Goldring Exstatic (that’s a dust brush, to you and I) from the team at our test centre, Winchester HiFi.
Listening to the system as a whole, both albums had a lot of space, and the silence in between tracks – as much a part of the hi-fi test experience as the actual music – was handled with aplomb. Curiously, the dust and crackle of the 1978 Gabriel merged into the music, while the Rega could audibly separate any specs of noise on the 2016 Silva Screen.
The Planar 3 is noticeably superior to, say, the Planar 1. That more entry-level model has a phenolic resin – aka plastic – platter, as opposed to the 3’s heavy glass. And it has a rather flimsy mat compared to the model we tested. So you can physically feel where your extra investment is going.
Available in black or white, with – as we go to press – a red version (akin to the near-burgundy of the Planar 1) just announced, the Planar 3 is a fashion-conscious model, but it’s not an airhead. Or a triumph of style over substance. It’s a turntable that’s aware of the vinyl revival and is here to relish it, as opposed to exploit it.
Shop Planar 3 on Amazon.