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July 2014
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
HIFICRITIC
Volume 8 No. 2
Rega's Top Turntable, The RP10
Rega is well known for high value products, and its new RP10 record player can rival far more costly alternatives, as Paul Messenger discovers.
Review By Paul Messenger

Rega's Top Turntable, The RP10  Rega has never lost faith in vinyl and analogue audio. It started out making relatively affordable record players, and at the core of its business has continued to develop and manufacture such products. The marketplace effectively forced the company to develop and introduce CD players in the mid-1990s, somewhat reluctantly it must be said, and Rega took some pride in being the last major brand to produce a CD player.

Although its CD players have had significant commercial success, and the company plans to be among the last to stop making them, Rega has always believed that vinyl is the true format for high fidelity music. It therefore very gratifying that the last several years have seen demand growing again for both vinyl discs and the turntables that play them.

Rega had already seen its turntable sales rising slowly but surely for some years, to the point when it had enough confidence to invest in the new RP series, round about 2008/9. Based on ideas and concepts that had been building over some years, this began with the budget price RP1, and now consists of a range of models that show incremental improvements in a number of areas tonearm tolerancing, motor power supplies, plinth stiffening etc. For example, HIFICRITIC compared and contrasted the RP3 and RP6 in Vol6 No2, and found the more costly model clearly preferable.

However, this review goes to the top and most costly model in Rega's relatively inexpensive range, the recently introduced 2,998 RP10 (or 3,598 complete with Rega's Apheta low output moving-coil cartridge). (Our pre-production review sample had a known software glitch in the motor drive, but with care we made it work without much difficulty.) However, before describing the RP10 in detail, mention should also be made of the Naiad. This player uses some very exotic and costly materials and construction techniques, including advanced carbon fibre composites, and Rega is planning to produce a limited number of Naiads for sale (albeit at very high prices). But the prime purpose of creating such a radical hi-tech prototype turntable was to act as a development tool, setting sound quality and performance targets for the various RP-series models.

 

Design Philosophy
Both the RP10 and the Naiad exemplify Rega's turntable design philosophy, which totally rejects the widely held 'heavier is better' approach, believing instead that high mass bases and platters have significant disadvantages. Rega believes that turntable theory is still poorly understood, and that the real key to a successful design comes in optimising the balance of all the various compromises.

The RP10 might not be a Naiad, but its design draws heavily on the lessons learned with that prototype, while at the same time being much simpler and less costly to build. Which is not to say it's either cheap or simple, though it's certainly a lot less costly than many 'high end' alternatives. The real question for this review must be whether this comparatively inexpensive record player can deliver a sound quality competitive with the very many much more costly and massive alternatives.

 

RP10 Details
Rega's Top Turntable, The RP10The only massive thing about the RP10 is the platter. It's shaped so that it's much thicker around the periphery than at the centre, concentrating the mass around the outer edge to maximise the rotational inertia, and is based on the platter originally developed some years ago for the earlier Planar 9 flagship model. It's particularly unusual in being fabricated from aluminium oxide, a ceramic that's exceptionally hard and has quite high density too. It's also very difficult to make, as it has to be cast at a very high temperatures and is very tough to machine afterwards. The result pure white in colour is a material close to the top of the hardness scale (and considerably harder than any metal).

The rest of the turntable has been designed to be as stiff and as light as possible. Rega calls its construction 'skeletal', because of the way all the important parts motor, main bearing/hub and arm base are mounted on a irregularly-shaped open form. Constructed from a sandwich of stressed phenolic skins above and below an ultra-light polyolefin foam core, the vital mechanical connection between main hub and arm base is then further reinforced by stiffening strips above (magnesium) and below (phenolic). The whole structure is supported on three blunt rubber-tipped feet. It's actually perfectly possible to play records on this curiously shaped structure (given a tonearm, cartridge and power supply), but a particularly clever trick is that this skeletal player also slots into place within the separate, conventional looking plinth and cover that Rega supplies. It's a little like fitting a (rather large) jigsaw piece into its puzzle outline. If the cover is kept closed, this should help reduce feed through from the acoustic soundfield, as well as keeping the dust off the platter. The plinth and cover also seem to be entirely and rather effectively decoupled from the 'active' skeletal section, so it's unlikely to couple any vibration even with the lid open. Very clever indeed.

 

RB2000 Tonearm
Rega's Top Turntable, The RP10The fitted tonearm is an RB2000 (available separately at 1,198), which is an improved derivation from the already excellent RB1000. Across its various ranges (and those of some other companies it supplies), Rega probably makes more top quality tonearms than any other company, and this enables it to select the very best bearing sets for the relatively small quantity of RB2000s that are made.

The long established RB-series of tonearms are unusual in combining headshell, arm wand and bearing housing in a single alloy casting, to maximize mechanical integrity. Said casting was recently redesigned to improve the mass distribution and reduce resonances and stresses, though it has to be said that the only obvious visual difference between the '1000 and '2000 lies in the latter's shinier finish and new lead-out cables. Tight tolerances allow interference fits around the bearings, obviating any need for adhesives. The chunky lead-out cables claim low capacitance and high performance, and are fitted with good quality locking phono plugs.

 

Drive And Supply
The platter is driven by a twin-phase 24V synchronous motor that's mounted on the same stiff but light 'skeletal plinth' as the main bearing and tonearm. This offers closer coupling between drive and platter than, but great care needs to be taken to minimise motor vibration. In this case the motor is driven via a substantial and quite complicated RP10-PSU outboard power supply, packaged within a 'half-width' case similar to that used in Rega's DAC and Apollo CD player. This synthesises the two-phase waveforms that drive the motor to rotate the platter at either 33.3 or 45rpm, and a couple of pre-sets on the rear (labelled 'speed adjustment' and 'speed program mode') are in fact factory-adjusted to match the precise characteristics of the individual motor, and minimise the vibration signatures. (The instruction manual warns that these pre-sets should not be altered by the customer.)

The main bearing is 'oiled for life', and drive is transmitted to the hub from a very accurate CNC machined pulley via two neutral-coloured, round section belts. Why two? Because this tends to smooth out any irregularities found if just one is used.

Why neutral-coloured? Because adding colouring materials are detrimental to sound quality. I spent some time chatting with Rega's Roy Gandy about the ins and outs of belt design, materials and alternative manufacturing techniques, and while this is arguably a little too arcane for repeating in a review context, it did illustrate the lengths to which Rega goes in order to refine every last detail.

 

Apheta Cartridge
As supplied, the turntable was fitted with Rega's low output moving-coil Apheta cartridge. This adds 600 when included with the RP10, but normally costs 920 as a separate item. We reviewed an early example of the Apheta when it was first introduced nearly eight years ago, and found a cartridge that was rather different from the norm, as the suspension for the moving assembly is entirely undamped. It had a lovely immediacy and great dynamics, though measurement showed a rather obvious (though not particularly audible) treble peak (see full review in hificritic Vol3 No1, Jan-Mar 2009).

The new sample supplied with this turntable looks and performs much the same as before. It has a transparent body (shaped more for strength and to avoid parallel sides than for accurate lateral alignment during installation, it must be said), so the physical alignment of the coils within the magnetic field is clearly visible. This has the advantage in that the correct tracking weight (or downforce) for each individual cartridge may be easily and precisely defined by inspection, and the value is included in the supplied data our Apheta required 1.65g to give the correct internal coil alignment. In the interests of improving cartridge-to-headshell mechanical integrity, Rega uses three bolts in a tricycle configuration (which, however, is incompatible with Linn's 'tail-wheel' approach). One point of criticism is that the only protection for a rather exposed cantilever is a bent wire loop: no proper stylus guard is provided, which is particularly significant here as the stylus assembly is fixed.

 

Sound Quality
This turntable has required extensive descriptions to explain its many unusual construction details, but the real test comes when it's used to play familiar vinyl discs. I placed it on the ancient and very lightweight Sound Organisation wall shelf support I tend to use for turntables, and initially connected it up to an early version of Rega's Ios phono stage (now obsolete, and allegedly not quite as good as the current model), feeding my normal Naim NAC552/NAP500 amplification and a pair of PMC IB2 SEs. Accessories included Townshend Seismic speaker supports, Vertex AQ platforms, plus EnKlein David and Vertere Pulse cables.

Happily, auditioning immediately revealed the RP10's strengths, as it seemed able to cut right through the vinyl medium in order to bring fresh insights to the underlying recording and mastering processes. The variations in recording quality between different discs was very obvious, which means that the really great discs sound quite exceptional, though sometimes recordings that had previously seemed quite acceptable can turn out quite disappointing.

This made a re-exploration of my record collection both mandatory and fascinating, bringing a succession of surprising insights. Ironically (though perhaps not entirely unpredictably) some of the very best recordings were some of the oldest, and I found that the greatest musical pleasure came from relatively simple recordings, mostly made in the 1950s and 1960s, an era when recording technology was comparatively simple and unintrusive. I wouldn't go so far as to state that all recent recordings are poor, but this turntable did reveal rather too clearly some of the less desirable aspects of modern practice. The main reason seemed to be the very wide dynamic range, achieved in part by an exceptionally low noise floor, but also by unusually vigorous dynamic expression, particularly through the broad midband. Arguably even more important, however, is this record player's superior timing and freedom from time-smear. This is where the undamped Apheta cartridge slotted firmly into the overall package, and seemed to suit the RP10 particularly well.

Damping is anathema to the Rega philosophy, because of the way it interferes with the finely judged timing that is the very essence of musical performance. It is of course the ability to manipulate time that for me fundamentally distinguishes digital from analogue audio techniques, and this record player's superior time-domain behaviour, especially with pre-digital recordings, is a major factor that singles it out from the herd. (It might also perhaps help explain why an increasing number of today's consumers are returning to vinyl discs out of choice, and why Rega continues to plough the analogue furrow.)

My record collection doesn't include a great deal of jazz material, though I'm sure that numerous readers will share my great respect for many of its 1950s and 1960s practitioners. This sort of material usually acoustic instruments playing live and recorded using relatively simple techniques often sounds quite superb when played on this vinyl spinner. Move up to more recent recordings and much reissued material and one still gets to enjoy some very fine musical performances, but these are frequently overlaid by some arguably rather less desirable studio artefacts, so that the musicians seem to be surrounded by an artificial 'tinge'. The result is quite often musically entertaining, but doesn't exactly have 'reality' stamped all over it.

I tried the RP10 in a number of contexts, including taking it to MC's house and system, where it performed very capably on his Finite Elemente support notably fast and dynamically expressive, if somewhat lacking in warmth and low bass compared to MC's Koetsu- and Aro-equipped Linn. With hindsight, and after subsequently trying alternatives when I got back home, I reckon much of the difference was due to Rega's mildly idiosyncratic Apheta cartridge. My Soundsmith strain gauge cartridge certainly sounded very different from the Apheta when it was mounted in the same record player, but (somewhat ironically) the best all round compromise of bass weight, dynamics and timing was probably my venerable Linn Akiva cartridge.

 

Conclusions
The RP10 is not only relatively affordable, it also delivers a truly exceptional performance, so much so that both Best Buy and Audio Excellence flags are well deserved. Going for stiffness rather than mass might court controversy, but the proof is in the listening, especially when taking into account this record player's excellent timing, dynamic expression and low noise floor.

 

Specifications And Manufacturer
Rega RP10 Turntable Key Features:
Belt drive
Handmade RB2000 tonearm
Precision engineered bearing
Aluminium sub platter
Ceramic oxide diamond cut
2.4kg flywheel platter
Adjustable external power supply tuned to fitted motor
Skeletal plinth design

Contact:
Rega
Voice: 01722 333071
Website: www.Rega.co.uk

 

 

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