Hardware Reviews

Rega Naia: a vinyl revelation

Rega Naia turntable and arm

Rega Naia turntable and arm

Rumours about this turntable were circulating a couple of years or more before it was finally revealed at the Bristol show in February, it even had a phantom name, Planar 12, but it took Rega quite a while to nail the Naia (pronounced niya/nigher) down and put it into production this autumn. This is because the Naia has a daunting role to fill, on the one hand it had to be better than the exceptional Planar 10 and on the other it needs to live up to the legend created by Rega’s first and most exclusive skeletal turntable the Naiad.

Naiad has been in existence for a decade but only saw the light of production in 2015, I don’t know how many have been made in that time but it will be a tiny amount by Rega’s standards albeit not by the expectations of £35,000 turntables. The limitation is the totally handmade nature of the design and the fact that only one man makes them and he is also the company co-ordinator, you can see the problem. Naia is a synthesis of the key elements in Naiad with the production engineering of a P10. It looks almost exactly like a P10 until you get closer and see that the skeletal plinth has a carbon fibre skin over the foam core and not a phenolic one, look a little closer and you can see the legs are largely aluminium albeit very lightweight, while the eagle eyed will spot that the bottom of the bearing housing and the centre of the platter are white ceramic alumina rather than brass and steel.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

The white alumina Naia platter looks like that on a P10 but turn it over and you can see that the shape is much smoother as it curves out to the peripheral mass that gives it a flywheel effect, this is in fact a more complex shape than under a P10 platter and removes sharp edges that can cause resonant peaks. The profile was designed so that it amplifies all frequencies equally because peaks would be picked up by the stylus in the groove and blur the information it retrieves. One of Rega’s aims in turntable design is to keep the sides of the line contact stylus glued to the groove at all times, only by reducing vibration in the platter to the absolute minimum can this be achieved.

The perfect number

The platter is supported on six points by a sub-platter which is skeletal and larger than that on other Regas, it’s driven via three O section belts by a 24V low noise motor that is selected with the tightest tolerances from the thousands that Rega uses across its turntable range. The motor is bonded into an oval aluminium chassis and bolted to the plinth from the top, making it more rigidly mounted than on any other Rega turntable. It’s possible to do this because the motor is so highly selected and Rega are able to trim out or balance each one using the partnering power supply.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

A reference power supply sits in a separate case and controls the speed using a DSP generator based on a high stability crystal, not unlike the clock in a streamer or CD player, this creates a “near perfect” sinusoidal waveform to power the motor. Each power supply and motor pairing are factory set in order to keep vibration at a bare minimum. In the unlikely event that the speed drifts over time there is an adjustment option that owners can tweak to achieve maximum accuracy, but “be careful with that axe Eugene” as Pink Floyd used to say.

The bearing supporting the platter is in zirconium toughened alumina, an exceptionally hard material very similar to industrial diamond and very complex to make. Both bearing and spindle are made as a pair for a perfect fit and separated by an extremely thin layer of synthetic oil to keep wear to an absolute minimum. Rega say that it’s the “hardest, most accurate and longest lasting bearing assembly we have ever produced.”

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

The skin on the Naia plinth is actually graphene impregnated carbon fibre which increases its stiffness significantly and this combined with the Tancast 8 core makes for an incredibly stiff and light chassis for the turntable. The critical connection between tonearm and bearing is reinforced with ceramic braces on the top and bottom of the plinth, this is critical because any movement between these two points will be read by the stylus as a vibration in the groove and added to its output thus blurring the signal. The whole plinth, in fact the whole turntable is designed to keep vibration at a minimum and to avoid resonant peaks at all costs.

The vibe

Most materials have a resonant frequency, which is a frequency at which they will start to vibrate. Tuning forks are designed to vibrate at a very specific frequency and acoustic instruments are built such that the vibration in the wood or metal contributes in a harmonic way to the overall sound when they are played. This is not something you want with a turntable which is a device whose sole job is to read the tiny modulations in the wall of a vinyl groove, the smallest vibrations in the turntable itself whether they be caused by the motor or external forces will combine with and often mask the smallest signals that the stylus is trying to trace in the groove.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

The RB Titanium tonearm supplied with Naia is very similar to the RB3000 of the P10 in its polished appearance but has a one piece titanium vertical bearing and spindle assembly that is said to achieve near frictionless movement in both the required planes. The arm lift and clamp are standard Rega parts but they are fixed to a machined aluminium base that is specific to this turntable. It’s worth mentioning that with its generous finger lift and ergonomic cueing lever the Rega arm remains the easiest I have used in many years of reviewing, it’s simple yet highly effective. The counterweight is in tungsten to keep it small, this means it can sit closer to the bearing which makes it easier for the stylus to trace the groove. The arm has spring downforce to dial in the correct tracking force and there’s a scale on the housing to help, however this job is best done with the aid of suitable scales such as Rega’s Atlas.

The Rega Naia is undoubtedly the easiest high resolution turntable in the world to set up, this is partly because Rega’s own moving coil cartridges have a three point fixing that means you don’t need an alignment gauge, and partly because of the company’s rejection of the idea that VTA needs to be adjustable. They see fixed VTA as the best option because it means that the tonearm mounting is more rigid and thus less inclined to vibrate. The results speak for themselves but those who really want to adjust VTA can do so with shims between cartridge and headshell, but these too will compromise performance. The only other set up element apart from levelling the turntable is the anti-skate or bias which is done with a magnet. Rega say that this is not critical but recommend it be set at about the same figure as the tracking weight. With the Aphelion 2 that’s 1.9g but 1.9 or thereabouts on the bias scale proved too high so I backed it off to around 1. The Naia is available as a package with the Aphelion 2, Rega’s ultimate moving coil cartridge, the package price saves nearly a thousand pounds on separate purchases and as the RB Titanium is optimised to work with this cartridge, it’s the surest way to hear the Naia’s full potential.

Sound quality

I have been using a Planar 10 since that model was launched in 2019, it is an extremely revealing and neutral turntable that can extract more musical information from a vinyl groove than alternatives at many times its price, in fact I can’t say that I’ve found a better turntable in that time. The Naia sounds almost exactly the same as the Planar 10 in all but gets significantly more information out of records, has a lower apparent noise floor and even better timing. That last comment is perhaps the most surprising because the Planar 10 has class leading timing, but Naia is in a different class again, by effectively eliminating the potential for movement in key parts such as the bearings and plinth to a greater degree it becomes the most resolute record player that any of us are likely to be able to afford, if not the most resolute full stop.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

When I say that it sounds like the Planar 10 that is a compliment, the majority of turntables have a distinct character when contrasted with that Rega, they usually sound thick, slow and opaque and occasionally bright and a little too exciting. They usually have identifiable tonal characteristics that while they might be appealing are of course colouring the sound of the records being played. Vinyl’s revival is often put down to the warm ‘analogue’ sound that it is said to offer, however that sound is more often than not produced by the turntables playing them. It’s an attractive even euphonic sound which has the advantage over digital systems that tend to sound hard and thin when not done well.

More is more

What this means is that you hear more of what’s on the record, I am hearing stuff on albums that have been played regularly for decades. This includes subtle stuff like expression in voices and playing as well as more extreme details like the dynamic impact of kick drums, the latter have always been audible but never as fully formed and dynamic. This is because the Naia has such low noise, by eliminating extraneous vibration it gets a lot closer to vinyl’s potential for signal to noise than most. And this makes for big contrasts and next level transparency, there is so much in every record that we have not heard that it takes some getting used to. Tom Waits’ Shore Leave (Swordfishtrombones) is a regular in my stack of review vinyl but there has never been so much depth in the voice, the whole glorious phantasm is spread wide and clear on the Naia. The gospel backing vocals have never been clear on Bonnie Raitt’s Angel from Montgomery before, neither has the full weight of the bass and the snap of ‘Stephen’ Gadd’s drums.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

I thought I’d try some Massive Attack to check out the bass performance and was more impressed with the way that the dense, dark and distinctly distorted sounds on Man Next Door (Mezzanine) are handled so calmly. There is plenty of power here but it never gets overblown or messy, the compression is very evident however but that is the price you pay for truly even handed, high definition vinyl replay. You don’t just get to hear the music you hear the way it was engineered and the effects used to give it the sound that the artist/record company were after at the time. Frank Zappa’s Roxy and Elsewhere starts with him speaking to the audience, the nature of the room, the noise of the crowd, everything is revealed in high clarity but as soon as the band starts playing compression is applied and the scale and atmosphere is reduced. This was done so that the needle wouldn’t jump out of the groove back when this record was made, or possibly so that the cutting head on the mastering lathe could cope with the energy, but either way it’s a big contrast. Fortunately the performance is so strong that you soon forget and get carried away with the music, not least when they play Pygmy Twilight.

I contrasted a stream from a pretty decent streamer and DAC with the Naia but wasn’t surprised that the turntable left the digital in the dust, the subtlety of playing, the nuances of timing and the depth in the voice on Patricia Barber’s version of Ode to Billy Joe made it clear that vinyl still has a strong edge even when tonal anomalies are removed from the picture. I should mention that the Naia was sitting on a Townshend Seismic Platform as is usually the case with my Planar 10, this affords it a good degree of isolation from vibration in the equipment rack. This isn’t something that Rega recommend but I have found that it is clearly beneficial in situations where the loudspeakers are in the same room. I also used a Tom Evans Groove+ SRX Anniversary phono stage which is a pretty revealing piece of kit albeit not in the same price league as the Naia, so it’s possible that there is still more to be heard.

Rega Naia review https://the-ear.net

Double the data

While the initial impression is that all the quiet stuff is now easy to appreciate with extended listening it becomes clear that a lot more is coming through, in fact it feels like a doubling of data compared with Planar 10 which as I have said is an exceptional record player. I played Unity by Dan Berkson and his band, this is acoustic jazz with brass and keyboards and another heavily played track, the sound here was in another league, the life, atmosphere, groove and depth of detail in the very top class. In the wee small hours things get even better, late night listening has always been the best but when you have a record player of this calibre things get a lot more interesting. Now there is no tendency to scroll or be distracted at all, the music grabs your attention and holds it, the only thing that pops into your head is what to play next. But it’s very hard to change discs until the side or at least the track is over, so good albums end up being played right through as their creators intended. Timing has always been a Rega speciality and the reduction of background hash, the removal of blur and the clarity of each leading edge mean that the Naia delivers better timing than 99.9% of audio sources be they analogue or digital. Put on dub and you are gone, there’s nothing quite like perfectly timed bass notes to salve the soul, not in my book anyway. The control and extension are fabulous, all you need is a system that’s capable of revealing as much.

Naia verdict

Extraordinary about sums it up. That any turntable can deliver so much musical information, so much of what the musicians who made each record laid down in the first place is truly remarkable. I have always known that vinyl is the finest format, the medium with the greatest sound quality available to the music lover and the Rega Naia proves this to be true in no small way. The Planar 10 is one of the best turntables in the world and this is significantly better, I seriously doubt I will hear another record player that comes close.

Specifications:

Type: skeletal plinth, AC-drive turntable and arm with external power supply and dust cover
Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM.
Supplied tonearm: Rega RB Titanium, 9-inch, spring downforce
Drive mechanism: EBLT triple belt drive 24V AC motor with anti-vibration circuit
Speed control: Crystal based DSP sinewave generator
Platter Type: 12-inch alumina with peripheral weighting and felt mat
Platter weight: not specified
Bearing type: zirconium toughened alumina
Plinth configuration: ultra-low mass foam cored carbon fibre plinth with ceramic bracing
Accessories: dust cover, Rega cartridge torque tool
Dimensions inc dust cover (HxWxD): 125 x 420 x 315mm
Weight: 4.7kg
Warranty: lifetime limited

Price when tested:
£9,999
£12,499 with Aphelion 2 MC
Manufacturer Details:

Rega Research
T 01702 333071
http://www.rega.co.uk

Type:

turntable and arm

Author:

Jason Kennedy

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