Turntables Awards – Q1 2013

3/18/2013 9:15:52 AM

The tactile art of needle-on-vinyl music reproduction is alive and kicking. And these three proponents are right in the groove

Product of the year

Best turntable $750-$1,125

Rega RP3/Elys2: $825

For the best part of a decade Rega has dominated the mid-priced turntable category. The RP3’s predecessor, the P3-24, won no fewer than four awards in this price band, and this is the RP3’s second win, the first also being a Product of the Year title. That’s an impressive track record.

Rega RP3/Elys2, the best turntable $750-$1125

Rega RP3/Elys2, the best turntable $750-$1,125

Like every Rega deck we’ve ever reviewed, the RP3 is a simple design. It has little in the way of suspension, bar a trio of rubber feet, and is as manual as these things get. Want to change speed? You’ll have to move the drive belt from one step of the motor pulley to the next by hand.

That simplicity is half the charm of this product, but it’s not the reason Rega decks tend to do well in our reviews. That’s all down to the excellent engineering. These are carefully conceived, immaculately engineered decks that have evolved over decades. There are no rough edges in the design.

The RP3 may look just like previous offerings, but look closely and you’ll see the plinth features bracing between the arm-base and main bearing, and the long-running RB300 arm has been given a gentle makeover.

While it’s possible to buy this turntable without a cartridge saving around $112.5 on the price we’ve quoted – we would recommend going for the complete package. That package includes Rega’s excellent Elys2 moving magnet cartridge, which is a capable design that – as you would expect – works seamlessly with arm and deck.

Careful installation brings rewards

The lack of suspension means the RP3 is a little fussy about its positioning and support, but get it right and this record player shines.

It’s doesn’t matter if it’s the rock of REM, or the jazz of Coltrane, this Rega has the insight, sure-footed timing and dynamic discrimination to impress.

This is the kind of product that concentrates the listener’s attention on the music and nothing else. Yes, if you want to analyze the recording the RP3 will oblige, but we suspect it won’t be long before you just sit back and enjoy the music. It’s what Rega’s decks have managed for years.

Best turntable up to $750

Pro-ject Debut Carbon: $450

It’s a shame that Pro-ject decided to use the well-established Debut name for this record player. As good as the company’s Debut models have been over the years, this is a far more ambitious design than those that have gone before. That design ambition translates into a brilliant sound for the money.

Pro-ject Debut Carbon

Pro-ject Debut Carbon

The major technical highlight is the use of a carbon-fiber arm. Such things are normally reserved for far more exotic offerings, usually involving four-figure price tags. Remember, the Debut Carbon retails for just $450 and comes pre-fitted with a cartridge.

There have been other upgrades over earlier models too. The Carbon has a heavier platter, revised motor mountings and a better cartridge in the form of Ortofon’s hugely capable 2M Red, which usually retails for around $120 on its own. That represents serious value when included in a package of this price.

As with any turntable, care in set-up is rewarded richly. The debut doesn’t have any isolating suspension bar a set of compliant feet, so make sure its support is as rigid and vibration-free as possible. Keeping the deck perfectly level and well away from the speakers is always a good idea too.

Get it all right and this is a deck to savor. Play The xx’s debut set and it’s the insight and sure-footed portrayal of rhythms that impress. The groups’ understated vocals are presented with subtlety, and the high frequencies are clean without being bright. Most of all, it’s the Pro-ject’s ability to reveal the emotional core of the music that appeals.

This is a far more ambitious design than those that have gone before, and that ambition translates into a brilliant sound

Unfazed by musical complexity

Shift musical genres to the likes of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and this package’s confidence with huge dynamic swings and complex instrumentation comes to the fore. For a deck at this price level, the Carbon delivers a surprisingly polished performance.

Pro-ject has been producing call-leading budget turntables for many years now, but we think this is one of the company’s finest achievements and more than deserving of Best Buy status.

Best turntable $1,125+

Rega RP6/Exact: $1,500

If Rega’s RP6 has a problem it’s the visual similarity to its little brother, the RP3, winner of this year’s Product of the Year. If the cheaper deck is so good, and looks pretty much the same, why spend the extra money?

Rega RP6/Exact, the best turntable $1125+

Rega RP6/Exact, the best turntable $1,125+

A casual glance won’t reveal much, but take a closer look and there are many engineering differences between the two. The RP6’s glass platter has a greater concentration of mass towards its rim, which increases inertia (so helping speed stability) without adding too much to the overall weight. Rega engineers have long felt excessive mass spoils sound quality.

Other upgrades see the inclusion of an outboard power supply, which gives the RP6 an electronic speed change – something we’re always happy to see on a turntable.

We’ve heard rivals that deliver similar amounts of information but none that does it in such an attractive manner

Keep the Exact specification

The plinth and arm designs are much the same as on the cheaper model, and none the worse for that. Both are well-proven.

You can buy the turntable without Rega’s Exact cartridge for $1200, but we wouldn’t. The complete package works so well that there’s little to gain from a mix-and-match approach.

Once the listening starts the RP6 outpoints its little brother as much as the price difference suggests. This is fast and agile-sounding package that delivers loads of detail without emphasizing the fact. There are clear gains in transparency and definition over the cheaper RP3, though the sonic character of the two decks remains consistent.

In full flow the RP6 is a magnificently engaging turntable that’s as happy charging along to Nirvana’s Never mind as it is delivering large-scale symphonic pieces such as Holst’s Mars. This package’s wide-ranging dynamics and sure sense of rhythm make it a real treat to listen to, while the sound staging is suitably precise.

Most importantly, this Rega organizes the mass of information it digs up into a musically entertaining whole. We’ve heard rivals that deliver similar amounts of insight but none that does it in such an attractive manner. We think this is the finest turntable package at this price.

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