Rega may have started out as an audiophile turntable company in 1973, but it now offers a full line of amplifiers, CD players, digital converters, phono cartridges, and speakers.
They're all good, but to me Rega has always set the standard for affordable turntables. Most companies venturing into that market owe a lot to Rega's aesthetics and simple-is-better, functional design ethic. Take a look at the newreviewed just a few weeks ago and you'll see what I mean. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a clone, but the Rega influence is obvious.
It's interesting: mostnotice that when they play records, they stop multitasking and really focus on the music. When I interviewed a bunch of new vinyl converts last January they all commented on that, and one said, "I just started with vinyl a little over a year ago. I'm hooked. I cut my craft beer drinking by two-thirds so I can buy more LPs."
The $445 Rega RP1 doesn't look much different than the Regas I sold in the early 1980s when I was a hi-fi salesman, but every aspect of the design has evolved over the decades. The complete RP1 turntable, including the tonearm, is made in Rega's factory in Essex, England. Rega is one of the few high-end turntable brands that makes its own tonearms and sells them to other turntable manufacturers.
The RP1's base comes in three colors -- gray, titanium, and white -- and the standard felt mat is black, but you can pony up a bit more for a brilliant red or purple mat. The beautifully finished clear dustcover that will keep your RP1 in pristine record playing condition is standard equipment. There are five other, more expensive turntables in the Rega lineup, and the company will introduce a new model, the $5,495 RP10 turntable, at CES in a few days.
The RP1 is a breeze to set up. It comes with a Rega Carbon phono cartridge installed, so all you have to do is put the drive belt on, then the platter and mat, and then slide the tonearm's counterweight into place, and you're ready to start playing records. The whole deal should take less than five minutes, there's nothing to adjust or misadjust. The tonearm's cueing device lowers and raises the "needle" ever so gently, so even if you have unsteady hands you shouldn't have any problems or inadvertently damage the stylus. The RP1 is, like nearly all high-end turntables, a completely "manual" device. That means you have to place the stylus in the groove to start playing the record, and lift the stylus at the end of the record, with the cueing lever.
Great turntables extract more music, more bass and treble detail from LP grooves than entry-level 'tables. Think about it: the smallest groove wiggles are microscopic in size, so any tiny bit of turntable motor rumble or bearing play in the tonearm can obscure the subtle details of LPs. The best turntables are quieter than lesser ones.
Here's one way to see how quiet and noise-free a turntable is: try listening to records over headphones. Groove noise, clicks, and pops can be distracting on headphones, but even with LPs I've owned for decades noise levels were commendably low.
The RP1 is sold through Rega's 235 authorized brick-and-mortar dealers in the US, and on Amazon.