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Audio

If you love music, you'll love it even more with this turntable

The legendary Rega Planar 3 turntable gets a total makeover.

I go way back with Rega, back to the 1980s when I worked in high-end audio sales. Rega was my go-to 'table for aspiring audiophiles on a budget, and Rega only made two models: Planar 2 and Planar 3. Those two were very similar, but the '3 had a slightly different plinth/base, platter and mat. I typically sold one or two Planars a week, and that went on for many years. So when I heard Rega was going to reintroduce the Planar 3 I immediately requested a review sample.

The Rega Planar 3.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

The new Planar 3 ($945, £550, AU$1,199) is a far more sophisticated turntable than the Planar 3 I knew in the 1980's. The gestalt of the design is similar, but fit and finish are light years ahead of original Planars. In fact, the new Planar 3 is so new it shares almost no parts with even last year's Rega RP3 turntable!

The tonearm features a brand new bearing housing, and a die-cast aluminum tonearm tube. The Planar 3's solid glass platter's polished rim doesn't have the green tint all the older glass platters had; the new platter's edge is colorless, and the platter is covered with a black felt mat. The high gloss laminated plinth/base looks more contemporary than the matte finish from last's year's RP3, and the new 'table incorporates thicker braces fitted between the platter bearing and the tonearm mounting structure. The plinth/base's three rubbery "feet" are also all new, and designed to enhance stability and reduce vibration transfer from the shelf or furniture the Planar 3 is sitting on.

The turntable is available in gloss black or gloss white, and measures 4.6 inches tall by 17.3 inches wide by 14.1 inches tall, or 11.7 x 44.7 x 36 cm. Rega claims the new Planar 3 is the biggest redesign in the model's nearly 40-year history! The warranty runs three years.

My Planar 3 sample came pre-fitted with a Rega Elys 2 moving-magnet cartridge, and one design feature immediately jumped out: instead of the usual two screw mounting hardware, Elys 2 is held in place with three screws to not only provide a more rigid coupling between cartridge and tonearm. The three screws locate the cartridge in exactly the right position on the tonearm. Neat!

Unlike other parts of an audio system like speakers or amplifiers, you come in direct contact with your turntable, so the touchy-feely aspects of putting records on the platter and moving the tonearm reveal the design's innate quality. In that department the Planar 3 scored high. It feels like a much more expensive design, and it's a joy to use. As for the sound, while spinning David Bowie's "Young Americans," the sound was full-bodied, lively and spacious.

The Rega Planar 3, shown with black felt mat.

Rega

No doubt about it, Bob Marley's "Kaya" LP's deep reggae grooves had more "bounce" and the music was more fun to listen to, you connect with the music in a deeper way with the Planar 3. I can't explain why exactly, but I've always loved Giorgio Moroder's dazzling electronica score for the film "Cat People." I've played this LP countless times, and it sounds great on the Planar 3, but the recording's explosive dynamics and pulsing rhythms jumped like never before.

I also spent time listening to the Planar 3 with my Hifiman Edition X headphones, and even with 30-year-old LPs I've played many times, the sound was remarkably free of clicks, pops and other types of surface noise. I've always taken good care of my LPs, and while not every one was super quiet, the best of them were.

Most of the time I listened with the Planar 3 plugged into the optional Rega TT-PSU ($395, £198, AU$399) power supply, but when I replaced it with the Planar 3's standard wall wart the main thing I noticed was a loss of dynamics, so the music was a little less lively. You can either buy the Planar 3 with the TT-PSU, or upgrade to it whenever you like.

As I mentioned at the top of this review when I worked as a salesman I sold lots of original Rega 3s in the early 1980s, when the price was $600, which converts to around $1,300 in today's money. But the current Planar 3 price is $945, so in real dollars it's actually less expensive now than it was in the '80s, and the new one is vastly better made. Those savings didn't occur because Rega now makes the 'tables in China, no, Rega still makes the Planar 3 in its UK factory, with UK sourced parts. Rega even builds its phono cartridges in the UK.

If you already have a decent audio system, a Rega Planar 3 would be a wise investment that will provide decades of listening pleasure.