It’s about time Rega incorporated a phono stage into its entry level turntable. With the world awash with cheap, flimsy turntables that are more likely to destroy vinyl than do it any justice the market is crying out for easier solutions. Unlike all other forms of music players in the home the turntable is the only one that requires an extra box to make it usable in the majority of systems. The phono stage is an amplifier and equaliser for the small signal that’s produced by a phono cartridge, it’s essential yet so few decent record players have them integrated into the design. It’s understandable that high end vinyl nuts should want to be able to upgrade every element in the replay chain but if all you want to do is appreciate the joy of a format that looks like outliving all others then a one box solution is the way forward.
The Planar 1 Plus is a combination of the Rega P1 with the company’s Fono Mini A2D phono stage albeit without the analogue to digital converter and USB output of the latter, which makes it slightly more affordable package than the two units combined (£329 rather than £339). More importantly it’s more compact and less messy, and you don’t need another interconnect cable. It seems like a no-brainer but what are the pros and cons of this approach, the main advantage is that the signal only has to travel a few centimetres from the base of the arm so should be less compromised when it gets amplified. The drawback is that you can’t upgrade the phono stage and if you want to use a moving coil cartridge you can’t. But at this level that’s not really appropriate, and unlike other Regas you can upgrade the cable that goes to the main amplifier.
The P1 Plus comes with a Rega Carbon cartridge ready fitted and has a stop point on the arm so that you can fit the counterweight without having to find a downforce gauge. It even comes with its phenolic resin platter and drive belt fitted so there’s no real setting up required, stick the weight on and off you go. But take that stylus guard off carefully, I managed to pull the stylus off with it and it’s a bit of a fiddle to get back in. The tonearm has a finger lift at one end and a lift/lower lever by the bearing so is very easy to use, speed change is manual so you need to remove the platter and switch the belt to the other pulley for 45rpm, finally on/off switching is via a switch under the front left of the plinth which keeps the top clean and makes the turntable slightly child proof. The clear acrylic lid is much more useful in this regard and a major bonus unless you live in a dust free vacuum.
It’s worth pointing out what you can’t see in the pictures which is that the build quality is very high for a turntable at this price, it’s a lot more solid and inspiring of long term durability than the majority of budget turntables some of which are more expensive. The gloss black or white finish, the decent bearing and nicely machined arm are all a cut above average, and when you consider that it has an onboard phono stage the price looks very reasonable.
What it doesn’t have is a Bluetooth transmitter or a wifi connection so that you can add tracks to your Spotify playlist, features found on a few competing decks, nor does it have USB output, but unless you really want to go to through the palaver of recording your vinyl to computer that is not a necessity. If you want to hear how good your records are it is a very useful device indeed, one that makes some of the more heavily featured alternatives sound flat and weak by comparison. It does all the key things required for musical enjoyment, first on that list being timing which is the sense of cohesion between musicians not the thumping of the beat and is at the heart of why vinyl sounds so good. It also does dynamics, giving you impact with the kick drum and goose bumps when things get quiet. It shows you how well recorded an album is by reflecting its tonal balance and the sense of ‘air’ around acoustic instruments and voices, and at the same time it can deliver surprising bass weight and power which brings body to the sound and makes it seem three dimensional and real in the room.
Violins can be a bit of a challenge, the high frequency capabilities of the Carbon cartridge are inevitably limited but if that’s your bag it’s worth upgrading to one of Rega’s single piece cartridges. If you want to play more contemporary music then it’s perfect for the job, producing clarity of voices and depth of image that would shame pretty well any mobile phone and DAC combo. You also get the naturalness of vinyl in full effect, a good recording sounds very special on the P1 Plus, better in fact than I had expected.
Put this turntable on something other than the same piece of furniture as the speakers and plug it into a decent amplifier and it will reward you with a true indication of the musical glory that is vinyl. You can do better of course but not without almost doubling your spend on turntable, cartridge and phono stage, and really you should save any spare cash for more music. If you don’t want to become a vinyl junkie avoid the P1 Plus, but if you want to hear more of what your favourite artists are trying to communicate beat a path to the dealer’s door and don’t forget your records.