Spin Doctor #6: Rega Planar 3 50th Anniversary Edition turntable

When I think about landmark years in the history of British hi-fi, 1973 sticks out. Three companies got their start in the first half of that year that went on to become cornerstones of the British audio scene: Linn Products, Naim Audio, and Rega Research. That means they’re all celebrating their 50th anniversaries in 2023.

The parallels among the three companies don’t end with their British origins and founding year. Each was started by someone born in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The late Julian Vereker of Naim, eldest of the three by a few months, was born on the very day that Germany surrendered to the Allies to end the war in Europe. Do the math, and you’ll find that all three founders were 27 years old, give or take a month, when they set up their respective companies. I guess that must be the right age for starting a successful hi-fi manufacturing business.

There was already a thriving British audio industry long before 1973. Great companies like Quad, Tannoy, Leak, Garrard, Wharfedale, and (as I will discuss a bit later) Collaro paved the way. British hi-fi was big business, but it really shifted into a higher gear in the 1970s as British baby boomers schemed to move up from their parents’ music systems, typically a standalone mono record player like a Dansette or Pye Black Box, to a more substantial component stereo system.

As you might expect now that it’s 2023, all three companies have introduced a product to celebrate a half-century in business, and it’s interesting to compare what each has brought to the table. Naim introduced the NAIT 50, a modernized, limited edition of their popular NAIT integrated amplifier from 1983, which retains the throwback style Naim fanboys like to call Chrome Bumper. The NAIT 50 looks nearly identical to its predecessor, but at $3599, it’s about three times the inflation-adjusted price of the 1983 amp. Despite that, a production run of just 1973 (get it?) units means that they’re likely to sell out quickly.

Linn decided to shoot for the stars with the Sondek LP12-50, which is essentially an upgraded version of their prior flagship, the Sondek LP12 Klimax, with a few special touches sprinkled on. A new plinth made from a compressed beech material that Linn is calling Bedrok promises to deliver improved performance. The stying has been given a subtle makeover by no less a figure than Sir Jony Ive, the design guru behind many iconic Apple products.

The catch is that the LP12-50 comes with an eye-watering $60,000 price tag, essentially double that of the standard LP12 Klimax reviewed by Herb Reichert last year. Despite the cost, I expect Linn to have no trouble finding enough deep-pocketed Linn and Jony Ive fans to sell out the limited run of 250 LP12-50s.

Rega Planar 3 50th Anniversary Edition

The second turntable I ever owned was a Rega Planar 3. As a college student with limited funds, I was cutting my teeth as an audiophile under the heavy influence of the late 1970s British audio press. They said that if I couldn’t quite swing the price of an LP12, my next-best bet was a Rega Planar 3 for about a quarter of the cost. Back then, Regas were hard to get in the UK and some dealers had long waiting lists, but here in the US they were easier to find. My Planar 3 came with the original S-shaped, silver R200 tonearm, and it got me through a period when I was consuming a vast amount of music in my tiny 7′ × 12′ college dorm room. I was on a fast and furious upgrading path, and within a year I made the next planned step prescribed by those British magazines: I got myself an LP12. But my memories of my Planar 3 remained fond and strong. So a few years back when I saw an original early Planar 3 just like mine for sale, I snapped it up just for nostalgia’s sake.

While it’s not quite the first product Rega made, I think of the Planar 3 as the company’s core product. Launched in 1976, the Planar 3 was Rega’s third turntable (footnote 1), but it’s not quite as simple as 1, 2, 3. The original Rega turntable was called the Planet—I own one of those. Instead of using a standard flat platter, the Planet supported the record on three round pods that rotated around a central hub like planets around the Sun. This was followed by the original Planar, which replaced the pod platter with a more conventional flat aluminum one. The real breakthrough came about a year later when Rega co-founder Roy Gandy was introduced to a way of making highly precise platters using float glass (footnote 2). This led to the development of the Planar 2 and Planar 3 turntables, and it remains a defining feature of most Rega turntable designs to this day.

For the next 20 years, the Planar 3 went through a series of incremental upgrades, most notably the introduction of the RB300 tonearm for the Planar 3 in 1983 (see below) and the slightly simpler RB250 for the Planar 2 a year later. Rega shortened Planar 3 to P3 in 2000. Since then, each significant upgrade of the Planar 3 has been accompanied by a name change, first to the P3 (2000), the P3-24 (2007; lower-noise, 24V AC motor + laminate plinth), then the RP3 (2012; RB301 tonearm, lighter, stiffer plinth), the Planar 3 (2016; new plinth, bearing, and RB330 tonearm).

It wasn’t until 1995 that Rega finally expanded its two-model turntable lineup by adding the upscale Planar 9, paving the way for future assaults on the high end that were simultaneously in line with Gandy’s iconoclastic thinking. Today, Rega’s lineup includes between eight and 12 models, depending on which variations you include in the count (footnote 3).

Roy Gandy has always been a sideways thinker when it comes to turntable design. He believes that most audiophile turntable designs focus on the wrong things. Since day one, Rega’s turntables have remained steadfastly focused on a few key principles. Gandy describes a turntable as a vibration-measuring machine, and if you want to measure tiny vibrations accurately, there needs to be absolute rigidity between the measuring tool and the item being measured, in this case, the stylus tip and the record groove. One step towards this goal was the introduction of the game-changing RB300 tonearm. By using a one-piece, pressure-cast aluminum armtube, which forms both the headshell and the bearing housing, Rega was able to eliminate the joints and couplings found in most arms and their inherent flex points. The arm bolted directly to the turntable plinth to get rid of the flexing introduced by using an arm collar with height adjustment. Later, Rega would add a rigid brace on both sides of the plinth between the arm base and the bearing to render this coupling even more rigid.

This obsession with rigidity resulted in an arm that was a breakthrough at the time for high performance at a reasonable price but which also lacked some of the adjustments used to fine-tune cartridge setup such as azimuth and arm height. Gandy believes that the increased rigidity achieved by not including these features results in far more meaningful performance advantages than adjusting azimuth or VTA, so every Rega arm, including the flagship RB3000, is built this way.

Another key design principle for Rega is minimizing the mass of the turntable’s plinth. As you move up in the Rega line, the turntables get progressively lighter. Gandy sees mass damping as a wrong turn, finding that the heavier something is, the longer it will resonate, at a lower frequency, while with lightweight construction any resonances will die off quickly. Add rigidity and those resonances, before they die off, will be high in frequency where they do less harm. With models from the Planar 8 up, Rega’s plinths use high-tech, lightweight materials and laminated foam core construction of increasing sophistication, including a cutaway, skeletal design that I like to call the pretzel plinth, that reduces the amount of material to the bare minimum required to maintain that critical structural rigidity. The platters, too, progress, from the flat glass used on the Planar 2 and 3 to the stepped, multilayer glass used for the Planar 6 and 8, which get thicker toward the periphery of the platter to maximize inertia without adding mass.

Footnote 1: See Sam Tellig’s 1984 review of the original Planar 3 and Michael Fremer’s follow-up from 1996. You can find both at here.

Footnote 2: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Float_glass.

Footnote 3: Rega Research. Southend-on-Sea, Essex SS2 5TE, UK. Web: rega.co.uk. US distributor: The Sound Organisation, 1009 Oakmead Dr., Arlington, TX 76011. Tel: (972) 234-0182. Web: soundorg.com.

NEXT: Page 2 »


Page 1
Page 2

Click Here: