Rega turntables are like buses it seems, you wait an age then two come along at once! It’s been a while since Rega made a Planar or P2 but back in the day there were only two turntables in the range and this was the more affordable option. The last P2 was introduced in 2000 and had an HDF wooden platter, it was nowhere near as good looking as this but shared the classic proportions and clear plastic dust cover.
At a glance the new Planar 2 looks similar to the Planar 3 that came out earlier in the year. They share a shiny plinth and a felt topped glass platter, even the arm looks the same if you don’t notice the absence of a bias adjuster and the different counterweight. But take a second look and you’ll see that the Planar 2 is a simplified version of its bigger brother, there’s no bracing between armbase and main bearing, the counterweight and its stub are not stainless and you cannot add a TTPSU power supply. In many respects it is very much like the Planar 3 was before it got its bracing and 24 volt motor, except this model has a version of the latter alongside a number of other key upgrades.
The plinth is laminated with acrylic skins to provide a stiff yet light chassis for motor, bearing and arm to lock onto, it has an 11mm self securing brass bearing that’s designed for minimum stress and thus low energy transfer, and a 10mm Optiwhite glass platter that is apparently more accurate than earlier designs. The Planar 2 is supplied with Rega’s entry level Carbon moving magnet cartridge ready fitted so that all you need to do is screw on the counterweight until the arm balances and then turn it in a full turn to get the required two gram tracking force. The RB220 arm is a new “ultra low friction model with zero play” bearings housed in a stiff and light aluminium housing. It has automatic bias which is set to suit the Carbon but will work with other cartridges that have two gram tracking weight, and presumably the Rega Bias that’s available as part of the Performance Pack upgrade with a 100% wool mat and upgraded belt for £85.
Operation is fully manual and very straightforward, the on/off switch is under the front left of the plinth and speed change is achieved by removing the glass platter and switching the drive belt to the other pulley. Some budget turntables offer electronic speed switching but unless you need to do this every day you’re better off taking the manual route because it’s more reliable in the long term and probably sounds better. Rega has a good reputation for making turntables that last because they stick to solid engineering principles and don’t cut corners when it comes to build quality. This is reflected in the fact that there are a lot of Planar 2s and 3s from the eighties still in operation today. The RB arms really stand out as great value, every other budget tonearm feels flimsy by comparison, which is bad for both durability and sound – without rigidity a tonearm is a major source of distortion. For best results only the stylus should vibrate, everything else should be as inert, notwithstanding the need to allow the stylus to track the groove.
The best thing about Rega arms is their finger lift, the little rounded hook on the headshell. As far as I can tell this shape has barely changed over the 30 plus years since the first RB300, you barely need a lift/lower lever because it is so ergonomic. Using it to drop the stylus into the groove of Binker and Moses Dem Ones (Gearbox) resulted in a tune where the drummer and saxophonist’s innate groove is delivered with all the drive and energy it needs to get your foot tapping and your head bobbing. This turntable is a lot of fun, it may not be as sophisticated as the Planar 3 but it gets to the parts that a great many turntables, both affordable and otherwise, do not.
The proof lies in its ability to make the differences between recordings apparent; playing three albums of similar music made this very clear. The first was Randy Weston’s African Cookbook (Pure Pleasure) from 1962, which is not a great recording in truth but contains a couple of excellent tracks featuring the saxophone of Booker Ervin. The Rega made the ensemble playing sound as nimble as a flea, the rhythm section as solid as a solid thing and the sax as articulate as any voice. The vintage and relative flatness of the recording was obvious but the quality of composition and musicianship a lot more so. The Marty Paich Big Band’s The New York Scene (Discovery) is an older recording from 1959 but has a lot more acoustic space, dynamic range and tone in its grooves. The playing from an all star cast including Victor Feldman, Art Pepper and Jimmy Guiffre is top notch with each instrument placed in either left, right or centre, the horns ironically being mono while the vibes are in stereo; it was early days for the format. All of this is immediately apparent in the context of a fabulous sense of swing that reflects the musicianship to a tee. The final disc in the series was Mike Valentine’s two disc release Big Band Spectacular by the Syd Lawrence Orchestra (Chasing the Dragon) which contains tape mastered and direct to disc cuts of the same live performance. The tape version sounded a lot more real and substantial than the Marty Paich, as you might hope with 21stC tech and a big band, but didn’t has as much ‘air’. However, the drum sound is spectacular and the whole thing sounds very natural. Switching to the direct to disc cut the bass got fuller and the timing moved up a good few notches and really started to swing. You can hear the compression required to cram so many instruments into two channels but the brass section had more blare and it was impossible to keep my foot still. With a lot of turntables the difference between these two cuts is a marked increase in naturalness with the direct version but that was not the case here, with the Planar 2 the band sounded more real and seemed to be more in time, something that Regas have always been better at than most.
Going from the Planar 2 to the new Planar 3 with its Elys2 cartridge and multiple other differences does make a good case for the more expensive turntable. You get more power from drums, a lot more fine detail, tighter timing and more precise focus on the various instruments; more is more. But going back to the P2 is not a painful experience because the fundamentals are still the same, the music is no less enjoyable but the resolution is lower. As soon as you stop comparing the two the more affordable turntable delivers rhythms and melodies that are more than engaging, it was Mop Mop’s Isle of Magic (Agogo Records) that caught me, it has an irresistible groove and the voice and lyrics of Anthony Joseph are sharply defined but devoid of glare or edginess. The Carbon is a remarkably civilised cartridge for its price but be careful when removing the stylus guard, it’s very easy to remove the entire stylus in the process, not that that’s a disaster, it is designed to be removed for replacement!
The Planar 2 is a more refined turntable than the old Planar 3 but it has the best timing in the business at this price point. Add in the drop dead looks and Rega’s enviable track record for reliability and build quality and you have a budget turntable that is nigh on impossible to beat. If you want to hear what vinyl is really all about get thee to a Rega dealer forthwith.