With the horrific events of September 11th still burning in our collective memory, it almost seems silly to spill so much electronic ink on something so insignificant as a CD player, especially when so many innocent people have lost their lives and our world has been turned on its head. Music often serves as a distraction for people in times of personal anguish, but I must confess that I refrained from listening to any music for more than a week following the terrorist acts perpetuated by the scum of the earth (and contrary to the politically correct "think police" at CNN and Reuters, they are terrorists), and even found myself less than a willing participant in synagogue during the Jewish High Holidays. I don't know about anyone else, but I could care less about high-end audio right now. What I do know, is that I am not surprised that our loyal brothers in England are the only people truly willing to put it all on the line for us (for the record it should also be noted that Israel and Turkey volunteered to help us fight but Colin Powell felt it more important to coddle the nations that top our list of state-sponsored terrorism), which is something that we here in the United States should not forget when making future vacation plans or contemplating a major electronics purchase. Yes, the Rega Planet 2000 is made in England. Yes, it happens to follow the motto of the elite British SAS to the letter.
Sorry, but I needed to get that off of my chest.
When the original Planet CD player was released more than three years ago, it was received with a mixture of excitement and skepticism. Rega's legion of loyal customers finally managed to exhale, as their wait for an "analog sounding" CD player was finally over. At a time when competing manufacturers were still offering separate transports and DACs whose price tags reached into the thousands, someone in the accounting department at Rega decided that their first digital product was going to cost less than one thousand dollars. It sounded crazy to some in the industry, especially when its British counterparts, such as Naim and Linn were charging a lot more for their digital offerings, and especially in an industry where people have been brainwashed into believing that inexpensive products are full of compromises that make them less than "high-end".
Not only was the original Planet a fine sounding CD player (so good that I've been using one for almost forty months and have no intention of getting rid of it), but a runaway commercial success as well. Critics of the Planet called it "slow," "hazy," and "not the last word in resolution." Quite frankly, I've used the Planet with three of the best amplifiers on the planet (no pun intended) and if the Rega sounded good with the Art Audio Diavolo, Wavelength Audio Duetto, and Blue Circle BC6, then it clearly has at its core, a highly musical soul. No, it doesn't quite have the pace of the Naim CD5 or the intense low end of a Levinson 39, but we are talking about a CD player that costs less than a thousand dollars. Rega should have done a better job with the cheap and squishy feet, and the front panel buttons were ridiculously small, but this CD player makes music.
Misguided by the notion that it's possible for lightening to strike the same exact spot twice, and perhaps blinded by the almighty dollar, Rega decided to release a separate transport/DAC combination that did sound superior to the stand-alone CD player, but at almost double the price. I don't know how many Rega sold, but based on how quickly it was replaced by the Planet and Jupiter 2000 CD players, my best guess would be that it wasn't exactly a huge seller.
You Mean "Ronald Reagan" Isn't My Father?
With the exception of its top-loading mechanism and rectangular case, the original Planet and Planet 2000 share very little in the aesthetic or electronics departments. The 16 bit DAC has been replaced by a 24-bit Sigma Delta TC40 DAC (seen right), the power supply has been beefed up with a separate power supply feeding the digital section, the capacitors in the circuit path are now higher quality Evon film and non-polarized electrolytic capacitors, and a new and improved Sony mechanism is in use. The rear panel no longer has a fixed power cord and Rega finally produced a substantial remote, which they have dubbed the "Solar Wind". The new case is a major change from the original die-cast casing, which suffered from a lack of internal space. The new design is both taller and deeper, giving Rega's engineers enough space to implement the numerous circuit changes.
So can someone please tell me why I find the new design absolutely atrocious?
It's so "plain Jane" looking, it's almost hard to tell the Planet 2000 from the new Rega tuner and integrated amplifiers. When I removed the Planet 2000 from its box, I remarked to myself "all those trips to the gym are really paying off, I can lift this with three fingers."
Where did all of the weight go?
Another thing I don't like is the new top-loading mechanism. While it is certainly preferable to any drawer loading mechanism that I've tried (aside from the Naim which is superb), it doesn't seem as solid as the top-loading mechanism on the original Planet and feels cheap. Rega should spend the extra money and build a heavier one. A CD player that sounds this good deserves nothing less. The new remote clearly shows that some money went into its development, so why not the new top-loading mechanism?
Mighty Joe Young Versus King Kong
Over the past three years, I've tried more than a dozen brands of cable with the Planet and only one cable really made me appreciate just how good this CD player can sound. Unfortunately the cable in question costs almost as much as the player itself, but the results are rather hard to dispute. The best cable is the Nirvana S-L interconnect and that applies to both the original Planet and Planet 2000. Take it as food for thought.
Tori Amos' latest album Strange Little Girls [Atlantic 83486] contains a number of interesting covers, the most notable being a rather well done version of Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence". The Planet does a better job of fleshing out Amos' voice, but the Planet 2000 just sounds more transparent, detailed, and smooth to my ears. The improvement in transparency also has a significant impact on the scale of the music, with a rather significant increase in soundstage depth and width. Music does seem to envelop one to a greater extent through the Planet 2000, but there is price to be paid for this improvement with a loss of warmth, especially when listening to vocals. The Planet 2000 does not sound analytical at all, but with some recordings I found myself enjoying the "fullness" of the original Planet more.
The difference in this regard was amplified even more when I compared both CD players using Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's superb The Pizza Tapes [Acoustic Disc ACD-41 HDCD, see full review by Steven Stone], and Grant Green's I Want To Hold Your Hand [Blue Note ST-84202 Import]. Both the Planet and Planet 2000 are superb in the area of tonal reproduction, leaving no doubt as to the differences between the various guitars being played. The Planet adds richness to the sound, whereas the Planet 2000 strips away some of the grit and creates a greater sense of space around the musicians. Musicians do sound more congealed through the original Planet.
From a pace perspective, neither CD player sounds as fast as a Naim CD5, but that's more of a compliment directed towards the superbly agile and fast sounding Naim than a serious jab at the two Rega players. Until I tried the Naim CD3.5 and the CD5, I was rather impressed by the timing of the Planet, but over time I've realized that the Naim are clearly better players in that regard. The Planet 2000 definitely sounds faster than the Planet, but it still lags behind the Naim. Both Rega players boogie hard enough to make rock and techno move along without requiring a break for some oxygen, but they are not the last word in that regard.
One of the criticisms of the original Planet was that its bass response rolled off too early and that it lacked the ability to keep its composure when bass heavy material was fed to it. To best understand this criticism, I recommend the superb original soundtrack to Thin Red Line [BMG 09026-63382-2 HDCD], which possesses a number of very demanding organ tracks that will push most speakers to their limits. Through the Planet, the bass extended fairly deep, but as I increased the volume the notes began to converge, the music lost its focus, and power of the moment was gone.
The improvements in transparency and depth, gave the Planet 2000 a rather substantial edge with this recording, as its sound was more coherent and controlled. It still lacked the weight of the original Planet, but who cares about weight when you can't even make out the notes at loud listening levels.
Another difference between the two players that stands out, especially when listening to vocals and music such as the Thin Red Line, is how much more restrained the Planet 2000 sounds. The differences at first did not seem that significant, but it is clear to me now that the original Planet sounds more "in your face," which may bother some with analytical sounding systems or forward sounding speakers. Both Rega CD players sound great with single-ended tube gear, but I would also suggest that they sound exceptionally smooth with either the Rega Mira integrated amplifier or the Naim Nait 5 integrated amplifier as well. You don't have to break the bank to build a highly resolved sounding system around either of these CD players.
Cult Of Personalities...
At its asking price, the Planet 2000 seems like a no-brainer, but I'm not prepared to give up on its elder sibling just yet. There is no doubt in my mind that the Planet 2000 sounds cleaner, is better at reproducing the last little smidgen of detail, and that it does a much better job at reproducing space around musicians. Even with its improved coherency and control, it still lacks something that makes me prefer its predecessor. Please don't get me wrong and think that I don't like this CD player, because I happen to think that it is a tremendous bargain and something that I would easily recommend over a number of more expensive players on the market. In the context of my system, it just doesn't push my buttons quite as convincingly as the original Planet. It is more than possible that in this time of great uncertainty, I'm looking for something that is willing to speak to me with force, conviction, and a strong sense of emotion.
To use an analogy that most of you should understand without too much difficulty...
Rega Planet CD player... John Wayne combined with Harry Truman and Vin Jones
Rega Planet 2000 CD player... Colin Powell with Jimmy Carter and Tom Cruise.
I'll stick with the Duke.
Digital Outputs: coax digital, optical digital
Rega Research Limited