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Rega Planet Turntable Reviewed

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4 Stars
Value
4 Stars
Overall
4 Stars

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Buying into certain 'schools' of audio thought requires the same kind of metaphorical lobotomy as becoming a slavish football supporter or joining a religious cult. In real terms - if you let the mind-set supplant part of your personality - it means voluntarily denying one's self the freedom to choose components outside of a specific and usually narrow selection 'approved' by the cult community. If that sounds like I'm describing the immaturity of an 11-year-old who refuses to go to school because he doesn't own a specific pair of trainers, well, if the shoe fits...

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• Read more Denon DVD-Audio and SACD player reviews here.
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And Rega has always been one of those brands of trainers, ever since the Dark Ages of, roughly, 1977-1987. A brief history lesson is needed if you're under 35 and want to understand the Rega Planet CD Player.

During that miserable decade, certain British hi-fi manufacturers had a vice-like grip on the testicles of the hi-fi press, a grip so tight that it enabled them to dominate the specialist sector of UK hi-fi market to the detriment of the entire community. Briefly, 'Flat Earthers' bought only certain brands - there was a core of roughly a dozen approved makes - which happened to adhere to a specific way of presenting sound. Like, uh, to hell with soundstage depth, smoothness, mid-band warmth and everything else that is now recognised as desirable. (But which has been taken to its own extreme by that other cult, the Worshippers of S.E.T.)

At best, these approved pieces worked adequately with each other. At worst, these pieces worked with each other. So, if you couldn't afford a Naim amp, you could avoid excommunication by purchasing a Nytech or a NAD 3020. [Note: Not all approved amps began with an 'N'. There was the Arcam A60, or, for true masochists, the accursed Cambridge P50.] Can't afford an LP12? Then you could buy a Rega Planar I or II. And Rega, more than any brand from the Base Metal Age, has stuck to its guns by never selling out, nor giving up its eccentric image. Rega has stayed true to its roots.

But therein lies a problem if you aren't a Regan. So distinctive is the sound, so unique the behaviour of the Planet CD player that its appeal is restricted to a certain set of circumstances. This non-universal, limited-symbiosis character isn't the only feature, though, which characterises the Planet as a throwback to the Age of Unreason. The upside is that, for £399, you can buy a CD player which will give you a feeling of individuality, of separateness, of not having purchased a faceless black box - which pretty much describes every affordable CD player on the market. And for this alone I'm prepared to forgive the Planet just about any sin it could commit. And it commits many, which is why it has elicited in me more of a love/hate response than any item I can recall.

Top-loading is a conceit which serves as a sop to CD users who wish they'd never given up vinyl. But given that it also offers a break from front-loading samey-ness, Rega is to be commended for including it in such an affordable design. Indeed, the overall look, aside from making the Planet THE choice for owners of other current Rega components, is the freshest I've seen in a budget player since Musical Fidelity's late, lamented 'frog' with the tubes on top. The Planet's clever, cantilevered lid is a nicely-made, beautifully damped affair that will let every die-hard analoguist feel as if he or she is lifting a turntable dustcover. The only element of concern is that the CD clamp passes through the lid and rotates during play; you will soon learn not to place a jewel box on top of the Planet's lid.

To its right is a vast ridged expanse which serves as a heat sink on the amplifier equivalent, but which acts solely as a dust trap here; the Planet needs no extra cooling as far as I can tell. One could suppose that it's a further reminder that you want some space above the Planet, because there's a risk of scratching CDs if you don't open the lid to its full 70mm. Even then, it doesn't completely expose the CD 'well', so be careful.

At the front, it's another mix of good and bad. The bright red display is visible from across the room, you can switch it off or set two levels of illumination, and you can set it to display track number, time elapsed or remaining, programmed tracks and other configurations. The drag is that these options are only available from the remote control, as are the programming functions - and I just can't bear minimalist front panels when it means screwing up or sacrificing control, even if I did like the equally naked Monrio Pluri. The insult is that the Rega's remote control - I kid you not - is . Seriously. Like, uh, £25. And you're gonna want it when you see the absolutely useless pushbuttons that they were generous enough to leave on the front panel.

OK, so the graphics surrounding the play, pause and skip/scan buttons are large enough for even a bat like me to see, but the buttons themselves? 3mm diameter 'tits' with the feel of a 39p ballpoint pen pusher. Why didn't they go all the way and make the buttons the size of the graphics? Whatever, go for the remote.

The rest of the outside is no less uninspiring. Poorly made feet which look like Sorbothane lumps trapped between plastic discs, non-gilded phono sockets for coaxial digital output and analogue output - and the latter were mounted so far off centre that I had a hard time fitting cables with decent plugs without fouling them on the back plate. A one-off, perhaps, but this was purchased from a shop in the same manner you would acquire one.

Then the really hard work began because the Rega is so fussy. Not only did I experiment with cables ranging from costly Shinpy and Transparent down to the sensible stuff in Musical Fidelity's X-Series, I ended up trying the Planet with more amplifiers than I would have expected to be necessary before feeling comfortable with the listening results. No kidding: it took me longer to find out what the Planet could do, to deduce what was its innate sonic character, than any CD player I've tried in recent memory. It was even crankier than the Jadis JD-1.

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