The new black
By Brent Burmester
Rega P2 turntable. $800
It's a design dating back 30 years, but, if you didn't know better, you'd take the Rega P2 to be vinyl's answer to the convenience of CD, so straightforward is it. In the age of plug-and-play, the only hope for anything as old-fangled as a record player has to be ease of operation. After all, everyone knows record players are a bummer to set-up properly and maintain, and the dumb records have to handled, you know, carefully, and you have to, like, flip them over halfway through. Dude, it sucks.
The P2 is a no-frills, no-nonsense unit available in the Model T Ford's wide selection of colours. The plinth is 'a low mass particulate core sandwiched by highly rigid phenolic laminates', or plastic-coated MDF. Mounted underneath there's a good AC motor, producing very little discernible vibration, despite the fact that it's stuck like a limpet to the plinth without any form of isolation. The plinth sits on three rubbery feet, so the P2 needs to be placed with some care, as heavy vibrations in the room, caused by your clubfooted dancing or a sub-woofer wound up to 11, might upset it.
Although the P2 is based on the famous Planar 2, it differs significantly in that its platter is not glass, but high density fibreboard, which inspires very little confidence. For a glass platter, you must splash out extra on the P3, next up the ladder in the Rega turntable line.
The P2 comes fitted with Rega's famous RB250 tonearm. Not much needs to said here about this device, as it's been the subject of consistent praise for many years, but for practical purposes it's useful to note two features. First, the three-hole mounting in the head of the tonearm, to mate with Rega's own cartridges and, second, the lack of VTA adjustment, meaning it may be necessary to fit a spacer-ring under the arm to lift it should your preferred cartridge be deeper than Rega's.
To begin the reviewing process, I fitted the RB250 with my Goldring 1022 moving magnet cartridge, which went on without any problems. Turning on the P2, the rubber belt connecting pulley and sub-platter chafed as the platter picked up speed, but this settled down once the P2 reached the requisite 33rpm. This slippage may be normal although it wasn't so prominent on the P5, and I didn't hear anything amiss with respect to speed variation during the listening sessions. Eyeballing the platter as it rotated suggested Rega might want to recalibrate their CNC tools, but slight deviations from perfectly round don't amount to anything in sonic terms.
The sound that greets you from the P2 contains all the immediacy that sets a good vinyl front-end apart from digitalia. Record noise is low, although not vanishingly so, and there is far less added to the signal from the turntable than its simple construction might lead you to expect. The Rega's sound is nice and solid, with a strong sense of rhythm that makes anything beat-driven a real pleasure to hear. Bass was quick and springy, not as fulsome as on pricier decks, but more than a match for similarly priced CD players. Treble was reasonably detailed, but seemed a little flat in comparison to the more open midrange.
Switching to Rega's Elys cartridge yielded a slightly drier and more distant sound, with a more precisely defined top-end, and a bit less surface noise, but the same positive and very listenable character came through. While I eventually switched back to the Goldring, the difference was more mid-afternoon and evening than night and day.
Black is beautiful
From an audiophile perspective it seems a little odd that CD got a foot in the door back in the 1980s when affordable decks like the Rega Planars ruled the roost. The P2 is quite capable of embarrassing today's entry-level CD players, not to mention cheap DVD players. You pay a lot more than $800 for a CD player able to match the tangibility of music siphoned off a record by a capable turntable.
If you have a bunch of disused records lying around somewhere from back in the day, or you fancy collecting a few 50c bargains down the local Op Shop, the Rega P2 should be auditioned alongside the likes of Pro-ject's similarly-priced models. It reveals the virtues of the black stuff in no uncertain terms.