Rega Planar PL1 review: the best cheap turntable you can get

Rega Planar PL1: one-minute review

The Rega Planar PL1 is the latest version of an entry-level record player first introduced in 2005 – and this may be the best version yet, which is saying something. For very nearly 50 years now, Rega has been setting turntable standards – and at all price-points.

The Rega Planar PL1 is not a very luxurious item, no – paying out for this doesn’t buy you something that looks deluxe. But everything about the Planar PL1 is fit for purpose, and where the real essentials are concerned, it’s worth every penny. The motor, bearings, tonearm and cartridge are all carefully designed and engineered, and the attention to detail here is apparent in the sound quality. 

In almost every way, the Rega explains what it is people love about the best turntables as a way to enjoy music and, by extension, why vinyl has dodged the coffin all these years. It presents music as a unified, integrated whole, as a tangible performance rather than as a collection of individual strands or events. It does great work making rhythms and tempos feel natural, it extracts an awful lot of fine detail without getting uptight about it, and it has the sort of dynamic heft that can make your hair stand on end.

Not every turntable brand considers this sort of money to be ‘entry level’, it’s true. But if you want to know why vinyl is still a preoccupation for so many music-lovers, and if you perhaps want to be lured into a lifetime of tonearm adjustment, cartridge upgrades and vinyl subscription services, well… you know what to do.  

This ‘entry-level’ Planar may just be Rega’s best version yet (Image credit: Simon Lucas)

Rega Planar PL1 review: price and release date

Released in 2021£299 / $595 / AU$645

This version of Rega Planar PL1 was released in 2021 (it’s taken a few different forms since the P1 launch in 20005). In the United Kingdom it costs £299 or thereabouts. In America it’s a rather more prohibitive $595 or so, while in Australia you’ll need to part with AU$645.

No matter the territory in which you’re shopping, there’s no denying this is quite a lot of money for what the manufacturer blithely calls an ‘entry level’ turntable. But then not every manufacturer has the hard-won reputation of Rega. 

Rega Planar PL1 review: Design

Matte white, black and walnut effect finishesWell made and finished, with pre-fitted cartridgeBelt drive

‘Design’ is to overstate it somewhat, of course. Not much designing has gone on here – only the cheapest or the most expensive turntables try to do something other than follow the template that was set down three-quarters of a century ago. There’s a reason all turntables look like this, after all.

As an object, the Planar PL1 is perfectly fine. It’s properly made and quite nicely finished. But, as always with Rega, the bulk of your money is going on components and top-of-the-line engineering rather than on luxurious materials or other fripperies. 

The plinth is now available in three different finishes, and no matter which one you choose, it stands on three quite assertive feet that provide both stability and vibration-rejection. There’s also an ‘on/off/ switch under here.

On top, the latest version of Rega’s well-regarded RB110 tonearm is pre-fitted with an equally capable Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge. The arm features new low-friction bearings, automatic bias adjustment and, just to prove Rega isn’t as hair-shirted as you might imagine, an integrated clip for keeping the arm secure when it’s not in use.

The RB110 tonearm is pre-fitted with an equally capable Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge. (Image credit: Simon Lucas)

Rega has fitted a synchronous motor with a reworked PCB and an aluminium pulley to drive the platter – technology that has trickled down from the company’s more expensive models. The platter itself is made from phenolic material, and is relatively high-mass, especially at the outside, in an effort to guarantee speed stability and assist the flywheel effect.

You might not expect much from the belt drive, but Rega has had just as much of a think about the rubber belt on this product as for the rest of the Planar PL1. The drive belt is moulded, cryogenically frozen, and then barrelled to ensure its cross-section is perfectly round. This is in an effort to provide accurate stability, too, and it apparently extends the lifespan of the belt by a margin at the same time.

The drive belt is moulded, cryogenically frozen, and then barrelled to ensure its cross-section is perfectly round. (Image credit: Simon Lucas)

Rega Planar PL1 review: Sound quality

Open and convincing soundstageGood dynamic heftImpressive detail levels

What sort of records do you own? What sort of music do you like? Whatever it might be, the Rega Planar PL1 likes it too.

Really, it doesn’t matter the vinyl you play, the PL1 relishes it all. In this test we slipped on everything from Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends to Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus via Arrival by ABBA, all of which was easy to listen to – and that’s meant in the least pejorative, most positive sense.

The vinyl format hasn’t survived this long by accident. There are virtues to the way it presents music that make it the only way to listen, for some people at least, and the Rega Planar PL1 embodies all of them to a lesser or greater extent. 

The soundstage it describes, for example, is open, well-defined and easy to understand. It locks individual elements of a recording securely, and it allows each contributor to a recording all the breathing space they need in order to express themselves. Yet it manages to do this without letting anything sound remote, or estranged, or in any way dislocated. Recordings are delivered with a unity and a coherence that makes the word ‘performance’ entirely appropriate.

It’s equally confident where tonality is concerned. Bass sounds are robust, properly textured and loaded with detail. Yes, some other turntables (inevitably more expensive than this) can give the low end a little more speed and momentum, but the PL1 is no slouch in this regard. At the opposite end of the frequency range, treble sounds are similarly detailed and so similarly articulate. Again, there could conceivably be even more sparkle to the sound, but don’t imagine the Rega is in any way dull or blunt. And in the midrange, which is where the action is for singers and so on, the PL1 is just as eloquent, just as information-rich and just as direct as it is elsewhere.

Integration through the frequency range is smooth and convincing, and the Rega has the sort of low-end positivity that allows rhythms good expression. It’s helped by the dynamic headroom that’s on offer here – the distance from the quietest moments of a recording to the most raucous is considerable – as well as the harmonic variations the turntable can identify and describe. 

If we’re being picky (and we usually are),  the PL1 is a little too ready to indulge lush or luxuriant recordings. The Simon & Garfunkel album, for example, can sound a little less perky than is ideal – the Rega seems seduced by the warmth of its sound. But let’s not get carried away, this is a minor shortcoming, one we mention really for no other reason than it doesn’t suit us to be utterly uncritical.

Should you buy the Rega Planar PL1?

Buy it if…

Don’t but it if…

Related posts

Leave a Comment