This review has been some time coming. I’ve always been a fan of Rega products — we’ve been reviewing and listening to Roy Gandy’s kit for many years but getting a review sample of the RP8 has been like capturing a unicorn. Our Canadian distributor was out of stock. Always out. ‘I’ll get back to you’. We were not getting the run around — the distributor is a wonderful guy and always accommodating. Simply, a very popular item.
I first saw the very cool looking RP8 at a couple of audio shows. Cool look, but cool sound. It surprised me. I filed my disappointment under ‘show conditions’. Yet, at both shows (Montreal and Denver) all the other top brands seem to be partying, some to great heights. I was confused. Gandy had only hit one foul ball since he began designing and manufacturing — the original Rega Planet CD Player, his first foray into digital (and quickly replaced by a much better v2). Was this his first analog foul ball?
The RP8 benefits from some heavy trickle down engineering from Rega’s wonderful (and very expensive) Planar 9 (no longer in production). The RP8 is now the second from the top turntable in the Rega product line, the RP10. The RP10 replaced the Planar 9.
Much like recent turntables from Clearaudio, VPI and other top manufacturers, you can order your Rega RP8 with a cartridge fitted and adjusted at the factory. This is more than good news. Many think they can fit a cart, but the fine adjustments — azimuth and the like are sometimes better left to the professionals. The RP8 comes with the Rega Apheta MC cartridge (now in its 2nd generation). I’m not a fan of Rega’s inexpensive, moving magnet cartridges — too rough and ready for my ears, though a good match at the price of Rega’s entry level ‘tables. But I feel they’ve had more success with moving coils. The Apheta is no exception. I’ll do a full review later when I hear the latest generation. I will tell prospective buyers that it needs lots and lots of break in. But at its best, it’s a doozy.
As delivered, the RP8 comes with Rega’s RB808 tonearm. Anyone who knows anything about vinyl reproduction is aware that Rega’s famous tonearms are improvements (micro, not macro) on its venerable RB300 tonearm design. The arm’s end point is the RB2000 used on the RP10. And like the 2000, the 808 is handmade. The tonearm is the zenith of Rega’s design technology. It’s a superb, stable and musical platform for cartridges and would be in most audiophiles’ top ten of iconic audio design.
The RP8 has an impressive looking ‘skeletal’ plinth design and uses an updated version of the Planar 9’s engineered hub bearing assembly (more of the trickle down). The outer shell that turns the turntable from skeleton to full body does not touch the curves of the main plinth and is primarily a platform for the dustcover. Rega uses a 24v low voltage motor that is controlled by an outboard, customized power supply. The glass platter is a triple layer design and the sub platter is made of aluminum.
If all that tech was not enough in a reasonably priced turntable, Rega adds a bespoke phono cable.
But what impressed me most was the magnesium and phenolic bracing of the plinth. Described by Rega as ‘…a super lightweight plinth combined with a double brace mounted specifically where the increased rigidity is required (between the tonearm mounting and the main hub bearing) forms a structurally sound “stressed beam” assembly. This design prevents energy absorption and unwanted resonances which will add un-natural distortions to the music.
The RP8 takes our double brace technology to the next level. Not content with an unprecedented stiffness to mass ratio, Rega have obsessively reduced any resonant properties by using two different materials for the new stressed beam. The top layer is magnesium and the bottom layer is phenolic (two of the lightest and stiffest materials available). Incorporating two different materials into the brace structure lowers their ability to pick up unwanted airborne vibrations.
Simply put, different materials have different natural resonance. By using two different materials together they decrease the natural frequency of each other by self-damping.’
The knock test delivered a welcome thud with zero ring. I’m not sure what material is sandwiched between the magnesium and phenolic layers (looks like a particle board), but the mix of materials works extremely well.
To suspend or not to suspend? The never ending turntable question.
I’ve had great success with Rega’s unsuspended tables using various isolation devices — squishy feet, wall mounted turntable racks, air bladders, floor racks, etc. A must is a solid floor surface. Joist floors can be real problems. A basement floor listening solution is best. All my listening for this review was done on a solid floor. My other experiences with RP8s under show conditions were on spongy hotel floors. ‘Nuff said.
Felt mats. I like them. Rega loves them. I like the look and feel. Many Rega owners get rid and replace them with a ‘RingMat’. I’ve used one at length. They did seem to tighten up the sound of my old Planar 3, but I never did get over how ugly it looks on the table. I’m pretty sure the RP8 will not need one, but you may feel differently.
To puck or not to puck?
The audiophile in me says puck on not puck off. But Rega purists would shoot me for writing that. Other inexpensive record weights like Pro-Ject designs greatly improve the listening experience. I will follow up in the Comments with some sort of device on the RP8, but my listening sessions had no clamps on the 'table of any kind.
I was fortunate that my review RP8 had been played a significant number of times with the Apheta cartridge attached to the 808 arm. Break in sounded complete — other examples of new Aphetas show a real fizzy top end and not much meat in the midrange. Bass is also boomy. Broken in, all those nasties disappear — what remains is a first class moving coil cartridge, with enough sophistication to give some of the more esoteric (and far more expensive) cartridges on the market a run for their money. More details about the Apheta cartridge in the review forthcoming.
Synergy. The most important word in high end audio. Room synergy. System synergy, And component synergy. Especially turntables, where each part has to play together nicely. Arm, cartridge and all the geometry and electronics in between. Plinth, sub plinth, platter, motor, arm, cartridge, phono cable, etc, all in perfect harmony. Synergy.
You have just read about all the trouble Rega’s engineers have gone to marry all the variables into a coherent piece of kit. They succeeded admirably with the RP8. I have never heard a Rega turntable with a Rega cartridge sound so confident in every tessitura. Every tenet I’m looking for — naturalness, musicality, power, and the knack of replicating that natural sound without effort, without strain — was here within the RP8. The lads in Essex got it right. My last lengthy sessions with Rega turntables were with the Rega 25 and Planar 9 — both ‘tables had their idiosyncrasies. One can have precision, power and a little English charm (eccentricity). The RP8 achieves it. The best of both worlds without diluting either.
The natural sound — accurate timbre from voices and instruments within the accurately recorded acoustic — made lengthy listening non fatiguing. It never gilded the lily. Well worn LPs like Steely Dan’s Katy Lied had trouble getting the musical information through. But, the Apheta (and RB 808) tracks likes a champ. Through a flurry of cracks and pops, and distortion aplenty, musicality was still shining. On virgin vinyl, the best of analogue was there to behold. Lots of that power, magic and muscle, but under the supreme rule of vinyl 'presence'. The RP8 had the knack, like all well designed turntables, to suspend aural belief. On original Deccas and Bluebacks, the resolution of the event was uncanny.
Other, inexpensive, factory set ‘tables like the Clearaudio Concept had great results, but the RP8 was matching the musicality of much more expensive ‘tables. With the Clearaudio and others, your heart may be singing, but your feet are still on the ground. Under the right conditions, the RP8 will elevate your experience.
Even poor pressings, like a mid price DGG reissue of Karajan’s Schumann Symphonies can be elevated to something far more substantial. Strings are separated where they were once congealed, woodwind and brass blend where they previously were far too much to the fore.
And when new 200 gram vinyl of the latest pressing from Linn Records is played with no surface problems, just state of the art recording and an incredible performance of Haydn symphonies from up and comer Robin Ticciati and his Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the results are spectacular. Refined sounds, strings as only vinyl can replicate them and perfectly balanced winds and brass. And capturing the magic essence of why we all bother with analogue.
On my solid floor surface, I tried to thump my way to skipping the arm. Never could get it to budge. Unless you’re a clumsy oaf on the world’s springiest floor, footfalls should not be a problem. But go for the basement or some use some support. Your Rega will thank you.
I’m always happy to write such pleasant truths about Rega. It’s a fantastic company, full of people with forthright ideas and solid engineering.
I’m in new reference turntable purchase mode. The RP8 runs US$2,995 ($3,995 with Rega Apheta2 MC cartridge). I’ll be listening closely to VPI and Clearaudio products, too. Unless I win the lottery and can purchase a Bergmann Magne Turntable. The RP8 is a fantastic piece of kit, decked out with appropriate accessories, all for a very reasonable price. Very highly recommended.
Further information: Rega