The resurgence of vinyl is sure fun to see for us old goats, excuse me, veteran audiophiles. Young folks can hardly believe that LPs were our only format of quality up until 1982 when CDs made their mark. Yes we had pre-recorded cassettes & 8-Tracks, but I’ll stand my sentence #2.
While the wave is riding high for vinyl, let’s look at the best way to enjoy it.
First of all, you should consider buying NEW RECORDS. The difference between new LPs today, and those we bought for $5-6 back in the 70s is night and day.
LPs back in the day were made mostly of recycled vinyl. If it didn’t sell quickly enough, it just got melted down, paper label and all, and got sent back through the system. Today’s records are made from virgin vinyl.
LPs back in the day were thinner and subsequently much more prone to warping and damage from shipping. Most LPs today are 180-200g vinyl, a far better product.
LPs back in the day were pressed from stampers that were often worn out. It is generally agreed that a stamper can produce about 5000 clean records. As you stamp more than that, the product suffered tremendously. When you bought a very popular record, what were the odds that the one you got was stamped with the first 5000 from a stamper? Today record companies charge $20-30 and pay attention to this detail.
We are happy to see a lot of young guys in particular get excited about records and all that it takes to play them. These guys are actually reading LP jackets and appreciating what they are hearing. We love the enthusiasm! As for their equipment…
Too many hobbyists fresh on the band wagon are using clunky old turntables with worn out cartridges- whose styli are damaging their record collection! Most of those turntables are 30 plus years old, don’t spin at the right speed and have styli that are scoring their records like spears.
Even when you had a nice record back in the day, which table/arm/cartridge did you have? The consistency among LPs was poor. Your cartridge was actually designed to play with a very specific alignment, overhang and VTA. If you don’t pay attention to these things, not only does your sound suffer, you damage your records. Pretty complicated, huh? It doesn’t have to be.
Rega is a family owned company from the UK. They make their own tables, arms and cartridges. They even do their own machining. In large measure, the improved sound of one turntable or tonearm going up the ladder above its little brother- is based on the improved machining of the higher model.
With less friction in the main rotating bearing, and less friction in the tonearm, your sound will improve. The stylus will ultimately be able to read the undulations in the grooves with less interference from extraneous vibrations- which means you hear more music, less debris in the road.
To get the best shot at having your stylus ride at the correct angle in your grooves, it would be ideal if the people making the cartridge knew which tonearm and table you were going to use. If you stick with the Rega family of products, you can be assured that important aspects of alignment, azimuth and rake angle will be geometrically correct. When you buy brand X turntable and brand Y cartridge…. someone who knows what he’s doing will still have to jump over a bunch of hurdles to be sure this conglomeration of parts interfaces correctly. We say, stick with Rega all the way through the chain, you can’t go wrong.
The best sounding cartridges usually have one thing in common- a single piece cantilever. Information is transferred from the LP groove through the stylus, up the cantilever and into the cartridge body. If the cantilever is a two piece design, you are guaranteed to get worse performance. The transfer of energy is guaranteed to suffer through a two piece design. From the Bias 2 ($165) on up, Rega uses one piece design construction- the most efficient transfer of energy with less loss. Improved models Elys 2 ($300) and Exact 2 ($600) are also single piece/7.0 mV output.
High output from a cartridge is a real plus, all things being equal. The typical cartridge has an output of about 3.5mV. Let’s say you have to turn your volume control to noon on your preamp or receiver to get a volume you like. Rega cartridges have an output of 7.0mV- double what most of the other guys have. What that means is, you are asking for LESS GAIN from your phono preamp- which is often laden with hiss/hum. You will find Rega cartridges much more forgiving of what you use them with compared to low output cartridges.
Rega Planar 1: $475 With Rega Carbon Cartridge, $575 With Ortofon Red Cartridge
Planar 1 comes with Rega’s Carbon cart. It’s a decent entry level MM cartridge. You can dive into vinyl in a good way for $475.
Buttt, you really would much prefer Planar 1 with Ortofon’s Red cartridge. It only raises the price a C-Note and is a substantial upgrade musically.
Rega Planar 2: $675 With Rega Carbon Cartridge, $840 With Rega Bias 2 Cartridge
Rega’s Planar 2 has a better, motor, arm and float glass platter. It is an upgrade from Planer 1.
However Planar 2 comes packaged with the Carbon cart, which isn’t good enough for the table, says ME! If you’re stepping up from Planar 1, you want us to install a Bias 2 cartridge, made by Rega.
Bias 2 runs $165 and is well worth it. Output is 7.0mV, vs 2.5 for Carbon. Bias 2 has a single piece
cantilever. Trust me, Bias 2 is worth the upgrade.
Rega Planar 3: $945 with no cartridge, or $1145 with Rega Elys 2 Cartridge
Planar 3 with the Elys 2 cart hits the law of diminishing returns in turntable world. Planar 3 has a better motor, arm, float glass platter and isolation bracing compared to Planar 2. You should get it with Elys 2. Elys 2 has 7.0mV output. It has a single piece cantilever. It has 3 hole alignment so overhang, rake angle and azimuth will all be RIGHT when you buy this combo. Since Elys 2 sells for $300 on its own, some quick math will show Rega is giving you a $100 discount to buy this package-
that’s how much they want to get you into the big leagues of record playing.
Rega RP-6/Exact 2 Cart $2000
Rega’s RP-6 comes with improved mechanics, arm, and an outboard, hand tuned motor. The Exact 2 cart is a line contact design with high output. This combination can go in the best of systems.
Each step north gives you more information from your LPs. Each bigger brother lets you hear more of what’s in the groove instead of allowing debris to get in the road. The moral of the story is to stick with Rega for your phono hobby. Many competitors buy parts from China and slap them together. They don’t compete with Rega’s TLC of in house machining and cartridge design.