As those of you who follow my posts here will be aware, my faithful Technics SL-1210 recently reached the end of its life – the culprit? A shorted power supply. I began searching for a turntable that could compete with the 1210 – whilst not breaking the bank.
The first step in my turntable journey was Pro-Ject’s Debut Carbon Esprit – a promising proposition that fell far short in terms of sound, and was soon returned due to a motor failure. The Debut Carbon suffered from an incurable case of inner groove distortion, not to mention the terrible design of the anti-skating system.
Next up? Rega’s RP3/Elys2 combination. Since the introduction of the iconic Planar 3, Rega have been a key innovator in the turntable market. Their turntables, tonearms, and more recently cartridges are renowned among audiophiles as some of the best available. Rega’s philosophy is simple – to offer the best cutting-edge technology at an affordable price, by leaving out unnecessary gimmicks and using the highest quality components to ensure longevity and the best possible sound reproduction.
The RP3 features Rega’s hand-assembled RB303 tonearm. This latest incarnation of the iconic RB300 tonearm builds upon Rega’s more than 30-years of expertise in tonearm design. Using the latest 3d CAD and CAM technology, the RB300 features a brand new tube with increased rigidity, intelligent distribution of mass, fewer points of resonance, and an ultra low friction bearing to draw as much detail as possible from your vinyl. The fixed headshell also features rega’s 3 point cartridge fixing to guarantee perfect alignment with Rega cartridges.
The plinth builds on Rega’s low-mass, high-rigidity design. Rega have pioneered lightweight plinths since the introduction of the original Planar turntable. The basic principle is that mass absorbs energy, lost energy equals lost music. Heavier mass can transfer unwanted energy, such as motor noise directly into the record.
Rega’s lightweight plinth design uses a particulate core with an extremely tough, rigid phenolic resin skin form the basis for the RP3’s plinth. Rega have also implemented their Double Brace technology – a phenolic resin brace between the tonearm mount and the main hub bearing helps to strengthen this important structure. Rega refers to this as a ‘Stressed Beam Assembly” – this design prevents energy absorption, thereby removing unwanted resonance and unnatural distortion.
A low-noise, low-vibration 24-v motor, hand tuned to reduce vibration, and a heavy 18MM glass platter completes the package.
The Elys2 cartridge sits in the middle of Rega’s cartridge lineup. Hand-assembled by Rega’s technicians, the Elys2 like other Rega cartridges features a stereo generator comprised of 2 parallel wound coils, carefully assembled on to custom jigs. Each cartridge is tested over 2 days to ensure rega’s strict quality control parameters are met.
The Elys2 features Rega’s 3 point mounting system (though it will of course fit standard 1/2” tonearms), and a non-replaceable, elliptical stylus tracking at 1.75G. You can choose to purchase your RP3 without a cartridge, or have the Elys2 factory fitted for an extra £75.
It’s clear upon opening the box that considerable effort has gone into the simplistic, cost-effective packaging. That’s not to say though that Rega’s packaging is ineffective – in fact, it’s quite the opposite and makes packing and unpacking the turntable a breeze.
Lifting the lid of the box reveals the turntable, fitted snugly between 2 blocks of polystyrene. A large block of polystyrene, resting on the plinth atop the main bearing supports a box containing the glass platter, and the turntable’s dust cover. This ingenious design also serves to keep the main hub in place, preventing the special factory-applied bearing lubricant from leaking and causing speed inaccuracy.
Plastic bags protect the finish of both the plinth and dustcover, while small piece of tape hold the arm and stylus cover in place. Finally,a small box contains the external power supply.
Rega provide little documentation but it is, for the most part, unnecessary. They do supply a basic alignment protractor though, which will come in handy if you opt to fit your own cartridge.
Setup is simple – after placing the platter atop the main bearing hub and removing the tape securing the arm, the arm must be balanced. The included counterweight is slid onto the back of the arm, until the arm floats horizontally – then it’s simply a matter of rotating the tracking force control to set the required downward tracking force for your cartridge (1.75G in the case of the Elys2). Finally, the anti-skate slider beneath the arm must be set to correspond to your desired tracking force (again, 1.75G for the elys2).
Upon setting up my RP3 for the first time, I noticed a slight channel imbalance. The right channel was roughly 2.5DB louder than the left – enough that the balance control on my amplifier required adjustment to centralise the sound. A quick trip back to the dealer confirmed that the problem lay with the Elys2 cartridge – a quick cartridge swap later, and perfect balance was restored. This doesn’t appear to be a common issue – and given that these cartridges are hand-assembled, I can forgive Rega for letting this one slip through their quality control.
While we’re on the subject of the elys2, there are 2 things i should point out. Firstly, the stylus is non-replaceable – bump the stylus on the edge of the record, and it’s game over. This is common in moving coil cartridges, where the cantilever (the shaft that supports the stylus tip) is connected directly to the coils, but is less common in moving magnet designs.
Similarly, the included stylus cover is something of a nightmare to fit and remove – it’s easy to knock the stylus, especially during installation, so I’ve found myself leaving it off unless i need to transport the turntable. I would’ve preferred a slide-on cover design, like those found on many other cartridges.
The second issue with my RP3 had to do with the arm lifter. Initially, the lift mechanism would lift the arm just nearly above the surface of the record – so little, in fact, that the stylus would catch if there was a small bump in the vinyl. Fortunately, the dealer was able to rectify this, by adjusting the mechanism with a tiny allan key. Rega doesn’t provide such a tool to the end user, which would be a nice touch. It would also be nice to see Rega provide the necessary tools to remove and reinstall the cartridge, especially given that the entire cartridge must be replaced when it comes time to change the stylus.
Build quality is great across the board. The plinth, despite being super light, feels sturdy and strong – and remains firmly in place on its 3 large, tall rubber feet. The power switch, the only electronic control found on the unit, actuates with a loud, quality ‘snap’. The glass platter is weighty and solid – unusual for a turntable of this price. Once seated in the central hub it remains firmly in place, thanks to the supports moulded into the hub around the bass of the main spindle.
The arm itself feels very solid, too – there’s no wobble from the bearings when moved, and the mounting feels very secure indeed. The RCA cables are of great quality also – which, as they’re captive and non-replaceable, is definitely a good thing.
On occasion, I do notice a tiny scratching sound when the turntable is rotating – I’m pretty sure this has something to do with the sub platter and its lubrication. Rega don’t specify exactly which oil is used in the RP3 – only that it is a thick film – and do not provide any to relubricate the deck on your own. The sound is not picked up by the cartridge, and lifting and reseating the platter is generally all that is required to restore silent operation.
Upon first listen, the RP3/ELys2 gives off a rather dull, muffled sound – however, give the cartridge time to run in, and the sound soon opens up. It’s a warm, musical sound – there’s no chance of possible B&Brightness or harsh high frequencies here. Service noise is kept to a monism, as is tracking noise and sibilance – though the elys2 can, at times, exhibit inner groove distortion towards the middle of certain records.
That soft, warm characteristic perfectly suits the likes of Norah Jones – Seven Years flows beautiful through the speakers, sounding soft, gentle and relaxed just as it should. But the RP3/Elys2 isn’t afraid to rock out, either – as demonstrated by Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’. Those explosive, hard-hitting choruses delivered with bruit force, letting you feel every snare hit and bass note.
AC/DCs ‘Shot Down In Flames’ demonstrates the packages excellent sound staging and ability to accurately convey subtle components such as reverb in a track. It also emphasises the Elys2’s impeccable rhythm and timing.
It seems that, for the time being, I’ve found my perfect turntable in Rega’s RP3. Sure, it’s not the highest in the range – in fact, it’s near the bottom. But taking that into consideration, the RP3 becomes a far more attractive proposition – the technology, engineering, and sound quality this package gives you for the money is simply astounding.
That said, I do feel the RP3 turntable itself is the winner in this package – and, were I to change anything, I’d undoubtedly swap the Elys2 for another cartridge. It’s slightly dull sound can, at times, lack excitement – and that non-replaceable stylus on a low end moving magnet cartridge is, for me, something of a dealbreaker.
But if you’re looking for a turntable package that’s easy to setup, sounds great out of the box, and is built to provide many, many years of musical enjoyment, you can’t go wrong with Rega’s RP3. An excellent buy, highly recommended.
I bought a Rega Planar 3 with Elys 2 and find this review spot on.
I will eventually replace the Elys 2 and was wondering if you had any suggestions. The obvious one to consider is the Rega Exact 2, because it will fit the tone arm without modification.
Can you suggest some non-Rega carts that might work well with this table? My price range is anything between the cost of a new Elys 2 and a new Exact 2.
My phono stage requires MM or high-output MC, and I do not want to replace it anytime soon.
Cheers ROn. I usually stick to Audio-Technica carts. The AT440MLB if you can still get one is a good match, or the new VM540ML. The Exact is a good cart, most of the ones I’ve seen have had issues with channel imbalance but if you can get a working one it’s a great cart, if a little veiled at the top end. Some recommend Ortofon carts but I don’t care for their lower end options, 2M bronze up is where their range starts for me but they’re a bit tall to be used without a VTA spacer. Goldring also work well, the 1042 has been around for years, is tried and tested and can be used on the Rega arm with no spacer.
I have had a few problems with the rp3 turntable I bought. the first one had to be replaced as it produced distortion and now with the replacement 2 years down the track I have distortion in one channel. So I wouldn’t recommend the rp3 for reliability. When it is playing I am happy with its performance but you don’t want to be lugging it to the dealer for repairs every year. perhaps another brand known for reliability and better quality control.
I do agree with you. I’m guessing you have the Elys2 cartridge? My experiences of Rega cartridges is less than stellar. There’s a review of the top of the line RP10 coming soon which will discuss some quality issues I’ve had with that table, so sadly issues aren’t limited to the lower decks in the range. That said on a positive note Rega’s customer service is among the best in the industry.
Actually quality control seems to be a common issue with the Rega Elys. Mine like yours and many others also had severe chanell imbalance. One brand new example I had lost LH channel entirely – not good even when replaced without quibble. Also the cartridge body distorts/flexes if undue tightness is applied to the mounting screws which, again can affect channel balance. Probably why Rega dealers have the special tourq wrench – pity this is not supplied to end users. That said a good example, properly installed sounds quite good.
Interesting. I’ve also encountered the same issues with Rega’s Exact on an RP6. They also seem to be extremely sensitive to hum and other electrical interference.
I agree with you regarding the wrench. I guess Rega figure that most users are going to order one of their cartridges factory fitted to one of their turntables. But, that said, it would be nice if the wrench were at least available to purchase, if not included. I think some form of tool kit should be included with the Rega turntables, to allow you to adjust the arm lift height as well as remove and / or install the cartridge.