To give you an idea of how long Rega has been making audio products, its first record player – the Planet – was launched when Led Zeppelin's Houses Of The Holy was top of the UK album chart. Two years after that, in April 1975, the British manufacturer released the original Planar as a limited run of just 200 units. With its distinctive wooden edging and eye-catching aluminium platter, it looked every bit as good as it sounded.
Thirty-five years and several turntables later, Rega unveiled the Planar I (£249/$345/€293) – an entry-level budget turntable that harked back to that 1975 conception both in terms of its clean aesthetic and its impressive performance. In the decade since, this manual, belt-drive vinyl-spinner has been refined on a number of occasions, and the latest version boasts a handmade RB110 tonearm with precision bearings, an EBLT belt and a striking new matte finish.
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Rega Planar 1 review: Design
In terms of its looks, the Planar 1 isn't going to leap up and smack your houseguests in the chops as soon as they walk through the door. Like most turntable manufacturers these days, Rega has gone for a minimalist aesthetic, preferring to let the sound do the talking. Minimalist doesn't mean mundane, though, and whether you choose the matte black or the matte white version, the Planar 1 will add a little understated class to your living room.
As for whether the matte finish is an improvement on the previous iteration's gloss plinth, that's down to personal preference – for what it's worth, we think it brings the look bang up to date.
In keeping with the minimalist aesthetic, Rega has positioned the on/off switch underneath the front-left corner of the plinth this time around. While it's not exactly hard to locate, as a general rule we prefer our controls to be visible – but again, that's a matter of personal taste.
One thing that everybody should agree on is the Planar 1's build quality. Though it weighs a mere 4.2kg – significantly less than the similarly priced Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB – the higher-mass phenolic resin plinth and vibration-reducing foot assembly combine to offer a reassuring level of stability.
Rega Planar 1 review: Features
It's not just the Planar 1's aesthetic that's minimalist – getting the turntable ready for action is pleasingly uncomplicated too. The aforementioned RB110 tonearm comes with its bias already calibrated and its Rega Carbon cartridge factory-fitted, meaning set-up can be achieved in less than 30 seconds.
The tonearm is actually one of the most impressive things about this record player. Fitted with Rega's ultra-low friction bearings, it's smoother and steadier than it has a right to be at this price point. And lifting it onto the groove couldn't be easier, thanks to the ergonomically designed headshell. We felt like waggling it from side to side for a few moments just because it felt so good, but managed to resist the temptation.
The Planar 1 is powered by a bespoke 24V, low-noise synchronous motor – the first time Rega has used one in an entry-level turntable – and the lack of purr and whirr is applaudable. Coupled with the aforementioned EBLT belt, which is designed to deliver improved accuracy and speed performance, it makes for a very satisfactory user experience.
Note that the Rega Planar 1 does not come with a phono preamp built-in, meaning you'll need to use an external one. Alternatively, you could opt for the Rega Planar 1 Plus model, which does have a phono stage.
Rega Planar 1 review: Sound
Often when we test an entry-level turntable, we fear the worst. That wasn't the case this time around. Not only did we go into the soundcheck knowing all about Rega's reputation for manufacturing quality audio products, we were also aware that the company has been a partner of Record Store Day for quite some time. Surely, they weren't going to fob us off with a sub-standard listening experience – low price tag or not?
To find out, we reached for the only record that seemed fit for this particular job: yep, Led Zep's Houses Of The Holy. Trying to avert our eyes from the now slightly suspect cover art, we popped the disc on the platter, lifted the tonearm onto the record (ooh, we do like doing that), sat back and waited...
No sooner had the exuberant opening chords of The Song Remains The Same begun chiming through our speakers than an appreciative smile spread across our face. The Planar 1 definitely doesn't sound entry-level: each track was given room to breathe, from John Bonham’s breakneck beat to John Paul Jones’ intricate basslines. And when Robert Plant's heavily reverbed vocal kicked in, it sounded as smooth and as detailed as it would if the curly crooner were sat on the sofa next to us. The overall experience was punchy, powerful and precise… and that's exactly what Led Zeppelin are supposed to sound like, right?
Rega Planar 1 review: The competition
If you're prepared to dig a little deeper into your pocket, Rega's manual, belt-drive Planar 2 turntable (£399/$550/€470) is a very attractive alternative. Available in black, white or flamboyant red, this pricier model delivers a meatier sound with solid bass levels – though there's still no built-in phono stage.
There are also some very decent record players around that cost less than the Rega Planar 1. One of our favourites is the Audio-Technica AT-LP3 (£179/$248/€210), a fully automatic belt-drive turntable that offers a balanced, natural sound and a built-in phono stage, though perhaps not such a contemporary look as the Rega products.