April 4, 2012

3's The Charm? Rega RP 3 Turn Table, Elys 2 Cartridge & Fono Phono Stage Combo.

The aren't many hifi products as long lived as the Linn Sondek LP12 turn table and perhaps the various evolutions of Rega Planar 3 series?   I remembered clearly that I've always lusted for a Rega P 3 turn table during  my student days, so when I actually chanced upon a P 25 Anniversary Edition with an RB700 arm, a few years back, my school boy's dream finally came through, somewhat 20 years belated! Well, as they say better late then never.

My hifi dreams are insatiable, and I've since moved on, but Rega hasn't stood still either. They have continuously refined the Rega P 3 concept and take the basic design further as we past the a decade on in to the new millennium. The RP 3 is the latest evolution of the concept. I never got a chance to try out the previous version of the Rega P 3-24 series. So my basis for comparison would strictly be based on my experience with the recent RP 1 and my fond old memories of the P 25.
The new Rega RP 3 shown here in cool gray.

The Rega RP 3 looks little different from their previous incarnations at first glance, but spy harder and you'd find a new one piece construction Rega RB 303 tone arm, the new phenolic resin laminated plinth as per the RP 1, and a pair of spindle to tone arm mounting metal braces(called Double Brace Technology), clamping both points on the top and bottom of the plinth. I believe this pair of metal braces, for increased rigidity of the plinth, which allows the tone arm to track record surfaces on the platter more efficiently and quietly. The review sample is a cool gray coloured plinth unit, which makes photograph taking rather un-exciting.

However, setting up is pretty simple. For the sake of simplicity, to quicken plug and play effect, I requested the Asia Sound Equipment guys to supply me a unit pre-fitted with a Rega Elys 2 MM cartridge, accompanied by the Fono MM phono stage. This review conclusion is formed out of this trio of Rega combo, for the beginner just starting his/her journey in to the dark side!

I un-boxed the turn table on my hifi rack, loop the drive belt over the motor stub and sub platter, then top the glass platter and felt mat over. I check the tracking force of the Elys 2 cartridge and confirm that it's tracking at 1.75 grams. Since the Rega tone arm and cartridge uses a 3 point fixing system on it's head shell, no further cartridge geometry adjustment is required. Only setting the magnetic anti skating of the tone arm is required. I then proceeded to wire up the RCA connections and power cords and the Rega was spinning music 25 minutes after un-boxing.
Note the thin metal(DB Tech) brace running running from center of bearing to the tone arm mounting bracket. There are 3 rubber feet below the plinth as before. 

I was shocked by the total silence and a general lack of surface noise, which is very un-Rega like, from the moment the stylus dropped! This level of noise free turn table performance is just un-heard of at this price point just a few years ago, until the Clearaudio Concept came along that is! The totally silent back ground seemed to have wiped away most of that grayish back drop that was a Rega turn table signature, purifying the overall tonal balance of the RP 3. As a result, the highs seemed more extended and clean, while the mid range rendered more open yet still retaining that signature British mid range magic. The bass was clear, articulated and seem to extend lower than before, and driving the musical foundations with more authority. With the grayish back ground muck reduced to a trace, I hear more bandwidth and wider dynamic range. Overall instrument separation within the sound stage was more distinct too. Many used to accuse the older Rega P 3s to run just a little faster than 33 1/3 rpm, as if the turn table is in a hurry to finish the music. That hurried feeling is no more, as today's 24V motors are more tightly regulated than before. In other words, I did not audibly detect any wow and flutter or pitching issues with the RP 3.

Of all the sonic changes described above, one thing remained constant, Rega's signature rhythm and pace in keeping music's sense of timing is never off. I found the RP 3's tune easy to follow and gets my feet tapping infectiously. The RP 3, Elys 2 and Fono combo never let my musical play list down, as it plays every piece of vinyl, what ever the music genre to it's best ability.

At this entry/mid level pricing, some thing's gotta give, like if I could make a few more wishes. I'd wish for better detail retrieval, a smoother and more refined mid range, and increased dynamic contrast. But fret not, the Rega RP 3 is pretty up grade able, as I had once experience with my own P 25. When one craves for more audiophile attributes, just up grade the cartridge to any mid price MC offering from Benz Micro(the Glider works very well in my experience), Clearaudio, Dynavector or ZYX, and your vinyl enjoyment will be further heighten by no small margins! Couple that to the plenty of after market tweaks available for the Rega, your upgrade quest may never really come to an end, and the Rega RP 3 may end up as a prospect for potential life time ownership. Believe me, if any hifi equipment is going to last a life time, with some gentle TLC, this Rega is it, going by the thousands sold in the last 30 odd years or so and still in healthy service.
The Rega Fono MM is offers very quiet performance and is an excellent match to the Elys 2 cartridge. There is only a pair of RCA input and output behind. A red LED indicator power ON/OFF switch in the front panel. No loading or gain adjustments of any kind are offered.

The following are the retail price of the above review combo in Malaysian Ringgit:

1) Rega RP 3 turn table $2,500.00
2) Rega Fono MM phono stage $895.00
3) Rega Elys 2 MM cartridge $626.00

When Rega launched the RP 1 turn table, they proclaimed it's performance so good, even the more expensive, but older P 2 model was superseded. What I heard with the RP 3, I thought it's performance so good, it probably rendered the P 5 model obsolete(based on my fond memories with the P 25, predecessor of the P 5). My hunch was correct as I checked the Rega website today, the P 5 model is no more, seemingly replaced by a new, higher spec P 6 model!

The Rega RP 3 offers a toast to hifi equipment, whom one never needs to break the piggy bank to buy!

Rega is sold by Asia Sound Equipment, contact Eddie Tan at 03-79552091.

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