Rega Planar 6

Hardware Review

Rega Planar 6
Monday, November 6, 2017
turntable and arm
Jason Kennedy

As the title of the company's book suggests Rega treats the turntable as A vibration measuring machine, a seismograph for the tiny variations in a vinyl groove. That doesn't sound very romantic but it's what you need if you are going to turn those undulations into a musical signal that resembles the signal that was cut into the vinyl master. Rega's theories about how to best do this have proven themselves over the last 40 plus years and boil down to controlling vibration in the turntable, arm and cartridge in order to maximise signal retrieval and keep distortion as low as possible. To this end Rega has always strived to make the plinth, the main body of the turntable, as stiff and light as possible. Even though their popular P3 and its predecessors look like a simple slab of composite wood they are far less straightforward under the skin. The extent to which Rega has gone in this pursuit is most apparent in the RP8 and RP10 models, on these the plinth is a sandwich of foam with phenolic skins either side, which forms an extraordinarily light yet massively stiff basis on which to hang a motor, arm and bearing for the platter. So much so that it cannot store energy in the way that a higher mass plinth can and as a result doesn't combine that energy with that of the signal being read by the cartridge.

 

 

The new P6 looks like a matte black version of a P3 but is much closer to an RP8. It's not got the skeletal form of the bigger model but it's built from a similar sandwich of materials in order to keep stiffness up and weight down, specifically a Tancore 8 foam core with high pressure laminate skins. It's predecessor the RP6 was closer to an RP3 albeit with a heavier, peripherally weighted glass platter.  It was a very entertaining record player indeed but having developed the foam core plinth for the RP8/10 Rega knew that more could be achieved and they were right. The two layer glass platter and ubiquitous Rega dust cover appear to be the only parts carried over from the RP6 to the P6 but even these parts look different because of the smoked colour they have adopted. It's a very eighties look but when combined with the matte black plinth makes for a stealthy looking turntable.

Key elements include the upper and lower braces between arm base and main bearing, this is to minimise movement between these two fundamental parts so that the stylus reads the groove rather than changes in the relationship between the vinyl and the tone arm. This is why Rega arms do not have variable VTA (vertical tracking angle), the facility to adjust arm height introduces a potential source of vibration into the crucial cartridge/arm/plinth/platter loop. They are not attempting to eliminate vibration completely as that's an unrealistic goal, instead the goal is to keep it at a minimum and avoid resonant peaks, frequencies which vibrate to a greater extent than the rest. These are also referred to as harmonic resonances and are most obvious in a tuning fork, which because of their shape, vibrate at a particular frequency and make a sound, which is the opposite of what you want with a turntable.

 

 

The P6 power supply dubbed Neo is a cut down version of the one created for the mighty RP10 and undoubtedly a major factor in the resolving powers of this turntable. It brings electronic speed switching and the ability to fine tune RPM which is a rare feature on Rega turntables. The motor remains a 24 volt synchronous type, very similar to those elsewhere in the range because it’s not the motor that counts so much as what’s driving it. The tonearm is an RB330, a more refined version of the arm found on the P3 but with very similar fundamental parts, the main difference is that the bearings are more highly selected.

Sound quality
The Planar 6 sounds as stealthy as it looks, by which I mean it doesn't sound very much at all. This is a good thing if you want to hear the music and not the character of the turntable. Rega aims for a less is more sound, less character in the turntable, arm and cartridge means more character from the recording, and this is abundantly clear in the P6. It is a stunningly revealing piece of kit, so much so that it makes turntables at two and three times the price seem coloured and poorly defined by comparison. This made it hard to get a handle on in truth, the more characteristics an audio components has the easier it is to write about, with this one it's very hard not to just talk about the recordings themselves, but I will endeavour to give an impression of its capabilities.

Most of the listening was done with the Ania entry level moving coil cartridge that can be bought with the P6 at a discount, phono stages included the Rega Fono MC that keeps the entire package price down to a very competitive level. I also tried more revealing phono stages just to get a better handle on the P6's capabilities.

 

 

It produces remarkable midband clarity so voices sound fabulous, at least they do when they belong to Esperanza Spalding and other great singers. With the latter’s ‘Ebony and Ivy’ the drums are also particularly well served with excellent kick and the bass guitar line is juicy and sinuous. Reflecting the calm clarity of this turntable lyrical intelligibility is very high even during the fast semi-spoken passages, it delivers an awful lot of finesse for the money but unlike competing products doesn’t smooth over the energy and life in the music. This is a Rega speciality that in the past has been accompanied by a slightly forward presentation, in the P6 you get the vitality that’s on the record without any extraneous excitement from the turntable.

Timing is what turntables do better than most alternative sources and the P6 is better than most, this means that you can appreciate not just the tempo(s) but the interplay too. Music is a form of communication that starts out between the musicians before it’s transmitted to the listener, if it’s live that communication or conversation if you like is loud and clear, but the reproduction process can easily disrupt or muddle the message. The mechanically calm nature of this turntable means that very little of the message is lost, and the way that the musicians are working together is presented in pretty much full effect when the recording is up to the job.

The P6/Ania pairing has a slightly leaner balance than a lot of the competition but this is because it has so little overhang, the bass in particular doesn’t lag behind the mid and treble which can give a warmer/thicker balance but comes undone when complex rhythms are involved. The Grateful Dead’s Blues for Allah makes so much more sense on this than it does on some well regarded alternatives that it’s almost uncanny, the music goes from technically interesting but incoherent to a vibrant, meaningful and engaging experience when you move to this Rega. This comes down to great timing and very high resolution, the harmonics on Monk’s Criss Cross for instance help to make sense of the shifting tempo on his entrancing solo ‘Don’t Blame Me’,  a track that can sound stilted on less nimble turntables.

 

 

 

I contrasted it with a Rega P3 using the Elys2 moving magnet supplied with that turntable, here you get lots more openness, that is the acoustic from the studio is better represented, and better separation of notes thanks to deeper detail. Then there’s the dynamics, which are in another league thanks to lower noise levels and the power produced by the heavier platter. It brings out the percussion on Patricia Barber’s Postmodern Blues alongside the power and energy of the drumkit. I love the way it can deliver high power without glare, the mids and highs are so clean that nothing grates even when you turn it up. Using it with a Tom Evans Micgroove phono stage reveals so much of the acoustic on Tom Waits’ Shore Leave that I was very tempted to take the P6 to the Indulgence show rather than the RP10 from the same company. The P6 extracts the brightness of the electric guitar so well that it comes alive in the room, as did pretty much all the music I played.

The Rega Planar 6 is a heck of a turntable. Not just for the money but in the general scheme of things, only the obsessives like myself really need anything better. If it weren’t for the RP8 I would challenge you to find a better turntable and arm combo for less than three times the asking price here. Yes it needs decent isolation and a good cartridge and phono stage, but every turntable does, and the P6/Ania package is very competitively priced. The RP6 was a more powerful and lively version of a P3, the P6 is a whole other beast, one with considerably greater subtlety and finesse. So don’t let it’s discreet styling fool you, this is killer turntable that gets to the heart of the music in an effortless and high resolution fashion the like of which is still very rare.

Specifications: 

Type: Turntable and arm with lightweight double braced plinth, dust cover & separate power supply.
Rotational Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Tonearm Length: 9 inch single piece armtube
Drive Mechanism: short belt driven via 24V synchronous motor
Speed change: Electronic via separate PSU
Platter Type: Peripherally weighted dual layer float glass
Bearing Type: Precision brass bearing housing
Plinth Configuration: single piece foam cored with three feet
Dimensions (HxWxD): turntable 120 x 448 x 365mm (lid closed), power supply 50 x 180 x 155mm
Weight: turntable 5.2kg, power supply 0.6kg
Finish: Matte Polaris grey

Price: 
£998
£1,398 inc Ania MC
Manufacturer Details: 

Rega Research
www.rega.co.uk