First US Review: The Rega RP3

Roy Gandy, the founder of Rega Research, proceeds with new ideas and new products at his own pace. Two years ago, Gandy had a prototype table in his listening room that looked as if it could have been a replacement for the P9 turntable, the top end of Rega’s range. But with an impish grin, Gandy quickly pointed out that it was only an “engineering exercise” and that the concept could either make it into production in months, not at all, or “be incorporated somewhere else in the range.”

And now, we have the RP3. While the RP1 came to market as a replacement for the relatively recent P1, the P3 model that the RP3 replaces has been evolving for more than 30 years. Beginning its product life as the Planar 3 back in 1978, the P3 is not only the ‘table that put Rega on the map in the US but the one that gave the company the widest brand identity. It’s tough to find a veteran vinyl enthusiast that isn’t familiar with the P3.

So it isn’t at all surprising to see that, just weeks after its release, the $895 RP3 creating its fair share of buzz. From a technical standpoint, Rega upgraded a number of areas: The main bearing, tonearm, and plinth. (The 24-volt motor has not changed; it is the same motor found in the current P3-24 model.) What’s more, the company enacted the improvements while holding the line on the price. Fence sitters should grab an RP3 sooner than later. Its price already increased in the UK, and given the unpredictability of currency variations, there’s no telling how long the “introductory pricing” will last. Rega’s US importer, Steve Daniels mentioned that this is only for the US market and that it was his choice to keep the price down in order to build excitement for the new model.

Expecting a major overhaul? Move on. At Rega, it’s evolution not revolution, so current P3 owners need not worry that their current investment is worthless. Those that have an older ‘table lacking the 24-volt motor (P3, P3-2000, Planar 3, P2, and P25) can purchase an upgrade kit for $225. The new motor is better in every way—quieter and more balanced, translating into less rumble and a lower noise floor. The best reason for upgrading? The new motor allows you to add the TT-PSU power supply to the ‘table, and boasts the ability to change platter speed at the touch of a button (instead of removing the platter and moving the belt on the pulley) and further refinement of speed accuracy.

While Rega claims that the RP3 uses “virtually the same motor” as the P7 and P9, there is some variation on the theme. Higher-range models utilize more sophisticated power supplies, and the P9 uses a dual-drive belt system. This method follows Rega’s approach to tonearm design, where top-line RB 700 and RB 1000 arms start as the same casting but get machined, balanced, and assembled to increasingly higher standards. It’s one reason why Rega products offer such consistently high value; the firm doesn’t reinvent the wheel with every model.

On the new design, Gandy’s automotive engineering background instantly becomes apparent. He believes excess mass is detrimental to performance, and his ‘tables always champion low mass rather than a high mass approach that tends to go in and out of fashion. The RP3 advances this strategy, with a lighter-mass plinth than the P3-24. A careful look at the tonearm mounting reveals the new “double brace” that Rega incorporated. The machined part allows for increased stiffness between the tonearm and turntable bearing—perhaps the most critical area for structural rigidity. This is the key component in the RP3, and contributes to both the lack of midrange smear and generous soundstage width.

Apples to Apples

With a P3-24/TT-PSU already on hand as a reference ‘table, a direct comparison between it and the RP3 became painless courtesy of the two-input Audio Research REF Phono 2 preamplifier. Both ‘tables had a brand-new Rega Exact MM cartridge ($595) and were precisely set to 1.75g via the Clearaudio Weight Watcher digital scale. A quick check of turntable speed via test record and multimeter confirmed that both ‘tables were spot on at 33.3RPM. The REF Phono 2’s dual inputs were both identically configured for gain and loading, and thanks to a few sequential records from Mobile Fidelity, a direct comparison was only seconds away.

When using the Exact with the new RB303 tonearm, the plastic washer required for the third mounting screw is no longer necessary, a luxury that provides an even more secure mechanical connection between cartridge and tonearm. The three-screw mounting arrangement makes it much easier to get cartridge alignment right. It’s a shame more manufacturers don’t take advantage of this configuration.  For those wanting the ultimate convenience the RP3 can be ordered with the Elys 2 cartridge pre-installed for $1,095 or the Exact for $1,390.

The Comparo

Staff member Jerold O’Brien was enlisted to preside over the turntable connections and provide comic relief. To avoid any pre-conceived bias, he did not tell me what turntable was playing at any given time. He merely started both records, letting me switch between the two via the REF Phono 2 remote and take notes. It only took a few choice cuts to decide on “Input 2,” which ended up being the RP3. O’Brien arrived at the same conclusion a day later when he returned to check my progress.

Rega turntables have always had a fast, lively sound that some have found slightly thin. The RP3 offers a robust improvement in bass weight over the prior P3-24. While listening to favorites from Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Deadmau5, I noticed a firmer low end and additional texture. The new ‘table offered superior pace and bolder bass lines.

The RP3 also claims the edge in HF detail and freedom from grain. The P3-24 never sounded grainy before, but when listening alongside the RP3, the difference was clear. The gap widened when I added the TT-PSU external power supply to the equation.  The decrease in noise floor and increase in low-level detail allowed the RP3 to take advantage of the Exact cartridge to a degree that the P3-24 could not. Listening to Godley & Creme’s L revealed a density that’s always eluded me on ‘tables in the RP3’s price range. Much like a Frank Zappa composition, various layers of overdubbed information are present on the record, and while this characteristic won’t reveal tonality, it does reveal resolution. The RP3 kept the pace intact on “Sandwiches of You,” a particularly tough track that features spastic vibes, numerous vocal layers, and fitful drumming. Where the P3-24 becomes somewhat vague at the peak of such activity, the RP3 presents the layers sorted. Again, adding the TT-PSU paid considerable dividends.

The new RB303 tonearm is another major factor in the new ‘table’s increased clarity and resolution. While the two arms look similar, a rigorous examination of the pivot area reveals the new arm to be beefier than its predecessor. Combining the latter aspect with careful attention to mass distribution and improved bearings further explains the additional detail I experienced—particularly with acoustic music. When comparing nearly identical pressings of Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die, sax and flute solos possessed more body with the new ‘table, regardless of what pressing I spun.

Almost as telling as its performance with music, the RP3 handled the occasional pop and tick much more efficiently. Whereas such sporadic bits of noise had a certain amount of duration and overhang on the P3-24, the new ‘table quickly disposed of the annoying components. The resultantly improved transient attack gave drums a refreshing vitality, whether it was the processed Roland Space Echo solo during Peter Criss’ “100 Thousand Years” from Kiss’ Alive! or the pristine rhythms of Art Blakey’s “Elephant Walk” from Orgy in Rhythm.

For those fearing the REF Phono 2 too upscale for a pair of $900 turntables, the difference between the RP3 and P3-24 is still easily discernable when listening through the Croft Micro 25/Series 7 combination we reviewed earlier this year, via a pair of recently restored JBL L-100s. To make the test even tougher, the highly un-audiophile speakers were connected to the Croft combo via 16-gauge Radio Shack lamp cord.

A New Benchmark

With so much chatter about high-resolution digital files and new $1,000-and-under DACs introduced on what feels like a monthly basis, it’s refreshing to see this much dedication spent on an equally priced turntable. The RP3 stands as one of the best price/performance ‘tables on the market today. If you can add the Exact and TT-PSU to your budget, all the better. But if not now, they certainly make for a great upgrade path as you go further down the road. Enthusiastically recommended.

Rega RP3

MSRP:  $895, TT-PSU $375, Exact Cartridge $595

Manufacturer Information (US) (UK)

Consonance XBB Turntable:

It’s a great time to be a vinyl enthusiast. Despite all the excitement over five- and six-figure turntables, many audiophiles are not spending that kind of dough on record players. There are a lot of music lovers exploring vinyl for the first time and getting their feet wet with a $300 to $500 table-and-cartridge combination, but if you really want a stronger dose of analog magic (and remember, digital keeps getting better all the time), you need to spend some more money.

How much money you ask? I’ve always felt that about $1,500 to $2,500 is an excellent plateau for a turntable and phono-cartridge combination. If you can increase your budget to this range, you’ll get a much more substantial analog experience than an entry-level table has to offer without heading off to never-never land. Of course, this number is not in stone, but this is where I’ve always felt you can really enjoy the subtleties that make analog fantastic. For the time being, I’m assuming that you already have a phono stage built into your preamplifier or have a suitable outboard phono stage already on hand. If not, budget about another $1,000 here and you will be well rewarded.

If you can afford to make this kind of investment in an analog front end, there are a plethora of choices when shopping for a new turntable. There are some bargains to be found on the web occasionally, but more often than not, used-turntable transactions end up with a frown instead of a smile because precious few people take the necessary care to pack a turntable so that it reaches its destination in one piece. So for now, let’s talk new.

The competition

There are some great tables in the $1,000 to $2,000 range from Rega, VPI, Pro-ject and a few others, not to mention the outstanding Clearaudio Concept we reviewed just recently. Add one more to your list: the Consonance XBB is the real deal, and it takes a different approach than the others in its immediate price range, making it very intriguing.

Ian and Rachel at Grant Fidelity have been importing some great gear from China over the past few years combining high performance with some very reasonable prices, and their customer service has been exemplary. We just reviewed their Shugyuang Premium EL-34 tubes last issue and they are fantastic. And well-worth mentioning, their customer service is second to none. So I was very excited to receive their latest turntable, which has an MSRP of $1,465 with the standard nine-inch tonearm. For an additional $210, you can add a 12-inch arm tube that will require configuring the turntables’ base differently so you can achieve the proper spindle-to-pivot distance required for the 12-inch tonearm.


The XBB is a plinth-less design that goes together quickly. Once you remove the metal bars that make up the base and lower the one-inch-thick acrylic platter onto the bearing surface, the only remaining step is to attach the unipivot arm and dial it in with your favorite cartridge. And what a cool tonearm it is! The long, carbon-fiber shaft is somewhat reminiscent of the one featured on the Well Tempered Arm, with a quick disconnect so that additional arm tubes can be easily substituted. Once exposed, the main bearing can be filled with the supplied oil to damp its movement.

The Consonance arm uses a threaded tube that allows you to set the VTA easily for any cartridge, which is a rarity at this price point. Once you snug down the two round washers on top and below the arm mount, there is a 4mm Allen bolt in the turntable base to snug the tube the rest of the way. Fail to take this last step and low bass will suffer.

The other side of the tonearm connector has a short pair of unshielded leads that connect to a pair of RCA jacks, allowing you the flexibility of choosing your own phono interconnect. While convenient in theory, this was my only complaint with the table. With these just hanging loosely from the tonearm mount, I see this as an area that could be problematic for someone who accesses this on a regular basis, changing cables. You could very easily bump the counterweight and send the tonearm bouncing across a record. Set-it-and-forget-it types will be fine, and in all fairness, I’d still rather see this arrangement than have such a good turntable be handicapped by a mediocre tonearm cable that is hardwired in place.

When unpacking the Consonance turntable for the first time, be careful not to misplace the belt; it is a very fine, monofilament material (much like fishing line) wrapped around a tiny paper bobbin. It does not stretch at all. So again, caution is the word when installing it.

Cartridges and setup

Once assembled, a quick speed check with the Acoustic Sounds test record and my digital multimeter revealed that all was well. The 1000 Hz track played at exactly 1,000 Hz right out of the box.

The Consonance arrives sans cartridge, but I did try a range of cartridges in the $400-$1,000 range, settling on the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM. I was able to achieve excellent performance with the Lyra Dorian as well, but staying with a moving-magnet design really kept with the ethos of not getting too carried away with the checkbook on this setup. If you already have a MC preamplifier, a great MC cart in the $1,000 to $2,000 range will not embarrass this table.

Cartridge setup is straightforward, but if you’ve never used a unipivot arm before, the “floppiness” at the pivot point is somewhat unnerving until you get accustomed to it. When setting the azimuth, it’s critical to have the half-moon shaped counterweight perfectly level or you will have some serious channel-balance issues. You will spend a bit of time going back and forth between optimum tracking force and perfect azimuth adjustment, but your cartridge will be much better off for it. Anti-skate is set with a small hanging weight, as is common on many of the Pro-ject arms.

The table was auditioned primarily in my second system, consisting of the McIntosh C500 preamplifier and MC 1.2kw power amplifiers driving a pair of B&W 805D speakers with JL Audio Gotham Subwoofer. Near the end of the review period, it was transferred to my main system to provide direct comparisons with my reference table/cartridge combinations.


I was immediately struck by the openness of the presentation with the Consonance and spent an uncharacteristically long time listening to female vocalists. When listening to K.D. Lang’s All You Can Eat LP, there was a wealth of inner detail that is not normally present to this degree on similarly priced tables. It seems like Consonance and Clearaudio have both raised the bar substantially for turntable performance in the $1,400 range. I noticed the same effect with Fleetwood Mac’s self titled remaster on Mobile Fidelity; as Christine McVie’s voice faded out on “Warm Ways,” there was a longer gradation between the softness in her voice than that delivered by my trusty Technics SL-1200 on input 2. This is indicative of a solid-bearing design, not letting the finest details get lost in the noise floor. And just like the Clearaudio table, the DC motor responds very well to battery power, giving this table even better low-level resolution. But that’s an article for another time.

In fear of mellowing out too much, AC/DC’s 12-inch 45 maxi single of “Let’s Get It Up” was the next selection, and if you are an AC/DC fan, searching one of these out is a must. Although the album on which this track is originally featured (For Those About to Rock) is somewhat compressed, spreading this track out on a full side of vinyl spinning at 45 rpm is a tour de force of rock dynamics, giving you a tremendous insight into what a wall of Marshall amplifiers really sound like. Make no mistake, this table can rock and even though the Consonance is a suspensionless design, it is relatively impervious to acoustic feedback, even at high SPL.

While the battery power will increase the resolution of this table, the parameter that might drive you crazy is making the choice for a mat. The table comes supplied with a 2mm thick, spongy rubber mat. Ian told me that the table’s designer prefers to use the table with no mat, but that was a bit too harsh for my taste. If you have a cartridge possessing a more lush tonal balance, this may be just perfect. Experimentation on the mat is a worthwhile endeavor and will help you fine tune the table to your liking.  For now, the standard issue, Rega felt mat is my favorite and easily removable arm wands make it easy to use multiple phono cartridges.


Add the Consonance XBB to the very short list of fine turntables in the $1,500 to $2,000 range. It offers everything that an analog lover would want (great sound, ease of setup and a tweekable upgrade path) with no downside at a very reasonable price. This one is joining our long-term turntable fleet.

Exclusive-The Rega RP1

RP1-1Rega met the budget turntable challenge in 2006 with their entry-level P1 turntable, offering the budding vinyl enthusiast a way to join the Rega camp with a brand new table and Ortofon OM5e cartridge for only $400. While Rega has always been one of the best values going in turntables, inflation and world currency markets have taken their toll everywhere. I remember purchasing my first Planar 3 turntable (back in 1979, without cartridge) for $389. Those were the days.

The P1 was a strong seller, though the table did draw criticism for its MDF platter, which did not yield the best wow and flutter specs. Many P1 owners spent an additional $65 and quickly upgraded to the glass platter that used to come on the older versions of the P2, with a definite improvement.

Rega founder Roy Gandy is a mechanical engineer to the core and is always looking for a way to improve his products. When I visited the Rega factory last summer and again this spring, Gandy made it a point to tell me how much thought goes into his entry-level turntable. (Though he wasn’t spilling the beans about the RP1 in March…) “Every fifty cents that you spend at this price point is a challenge, and it’s always a great exercise to see just how much performance can be incorporated into the final design.”

Enter the RP1 four years later than the introduction of P1 and with only a $50 increase in MSRP; this table is a massive improvement. In all aspects the RP1 is now on par with the P2, but more about that as we continue… Now I know why Roy Gandy’s Acura NSX has a heavy layer of dust on it, he’s been spending a lot of late nights in the lab.

Keeping it simple

Rega has always stood for simplicity, but in recent years, they’ve added some stylish finishes to their turntable range, especially the P3 models that are available in a rainbow of colors. For the RP1, they stripped it to the bone, and have three finishes available; white, grey and platinum, which looks like white with just a tinge of grey mixed in.

There is no external power supply like the P3-24, which allows the turntable speed to be changed at the push of a button. If you want to spin 45’s, you’ll have to take the platter off and move the belt manually to the other groove on the pulley, just like in the old days. The new RB101 tonearm uses a three point mounting platform, just like the rest of the Rega tonearm range, and utilizes composite materials as in the RB301 arm.
Unbox and go… almost

There’s no easier turntable on Earth to set up than the RP1. It comes with the cartridge already mounted. Breaking out the Clearaudio test record and portable strobe showed the speed to be spot on at 33 r.p.m. The OM5e has a tracking force range of 1.5-2.0 grams with a suggested tracking force of 1.75 grams. If you slide the counterweight all the way up to the ridge at the back of the tonearm, you will have a tracking force of 1.8 grams. Bias/antiskate was left at the factory setting of just over one gram and I was spinning my first record in about five minutes. This is the perfect table for vinyl newcomers; anyone can set it up.

In my hurry to start spinning records I did notice some inner groove distortion on the first few records I played. Checking the cartridge setup with MoFi’s Geo Disc revealed that the alignment was indeed off a tiny bit. I’ll chalk that up to being bounced around on a variety of carriers between the UK and my doorstep. However, a quick adjustment was all it took to put things right and five minutes later I was back to Neil Young.

The sound and some comparisons

Having owned every turntable Rega has produced so far except for the P7, the lineage was apparent as I played the first track. The RP1 has a substantial helping of the “Rega Sound”, with speedy attack, and a clean midrange. I had saved some 24/96 digital samples of playback from the P1 (courtesy of my Nagra LB digital recorder) and there was no mistake that the RP1 is a major step up. Listening to samples of both turntables playing selections from The Netherlands Wind Ensemble’s Beethoven Wind Music, the dramatic reduction in wow and flutter in the new table was instantly apparent. Flute and oboe had a woodier, more solid texture to them. In case you don’t have a copy of this record around, a more accessible selection would be Jethro Tull’s “Song for Jeffrey” from their Living In The Past album. You should be able to draw the same conclusion with Ian Anderson’s flute playing.

RP1-3The combination of an improved platter and bearing are a big hit on the RP1. Listening to samples from both tables on the MoFi edition of Genesis’ Trick of the Tail had the RP1 again trumping the P1 in bass weight on “Squonk” and HF definition and delicacy on the title track. Cymbals definitely had a smoother decay on the RP1 as well.

Borrowing a friend’s P2 with an identical OM5e installed, allowed for a real-time comparison. The ARC REF Phono 2’s identical inputs, gain and loading could be set identically for both tables allowing a rapid switch between them, minimizing aural memory losses. I was also able to compare the RP1 with the standard platter and the glass platter of the P2. Since Rega is discontinuing the P1 and the P2 in favor of the RP1, feeling that it provides comparable performance to the P2, I must concur with their findings. Even on my reference system, featuring a $12,000 Audio Research REF Phono 2, these two tables are too close in performance to hear a difference with the supplied cartridge. I think that speaks volumes for the performance of the new RP1.

Rega has done a lot of work on their new phenolic resin platter and again, this is a success. Repeated swaps between it and a standard Rega glass platter were impossible to define, so even though your brain might be telling you that the plastic platter can’t work, it does. The familiar felt turntable mat that has been with Rega turntables since the beginning is present and accounted for on the RP1, though I suspect the new platter’s textured surface provides a better mat to platter interface than the old glass platter did on the P2 and P3.

Numerous comparisons between the new platter and the glass platter on the RP1 was inconclusive; you can spend the extra dough on a glass platter thinking you are getting an “upgrade” but I couldn’t hear it. The only area that the P2 bested the RP1 slightly was when I swapped the OM5e for the (almost $400) Denon DL-103R moving coil cartridge. I suspect this was due to the RB-251 tonearm on the P2’s tighter production tolerances than the arm on the RP1. Using a $400 cartridge with a $450 turntable may be negating the “budget” concept of the RP1 though. And remember, I was hearing a miniscule difference on a six-figure reference system.

Substituting the new Croft Micro 25 preamplifier and Series 7 amplifier currently in for review ($1,395 ea.) and a pair of the KEF XQ20 speakers ($1,995 pr.) for my reference system made for a more realistic showing of the RP1. I also spent a fair amount of time with the RP1 plugged into my Marantz 2275 receiver and JBL L-100 speakers with excellent results. In both of these systems, the difference in sound quality between the RP1 and the P2, with identical cartridges was non-existent. Those looking for a great table on a budget can feel very confident with the capabilities of the RP1. And the handful of RP1 owners that will feel the need to upgrade, spending a few extra hundred dollars on a more resolving cartridge will also be justified, the table is that good.

After extended listening sessions in three very different levels of systems, the RP1 definitely delivers a solid helping of analog magic. When comparing the Rega to the sound of the OPPO 83SE digital player, the Rega table definitely had the edge over digital playback, sounding much more open and natural.
A great place to start your analog journey

While plenty of budding audiophiles will argue to the ends of the Earth over the merit of the RP1 versus a few other contenders that are similarly priced, the fact is that the RP1 offers solid performance, excellent value and is a great place to start listening to vinyl. Remember, while the others are discussing minutiae, you could be spinning records, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

The Rega RP1
MSRP: $449 (UK) (US)


Croft Micro 25 preamplifier, Series 7 amplifier, KEF XQ 20 speakers, Running Springs Haley
AudioQuest Columbia interconnect and speaker cables

Fantastic Value From Clearaudio:

full tabelIf you pose the question, “What turntable should I buy for $1,500?” on an internet forum, have your hazmat suit on and be prepared to be bombarded with insults and advice. You’ll get suggestions from all over the audio spectrum; new, used, and modded this or that. Of course, everyone knows what’s best for you and God forbid that you question any of the self-proclaimed experts should you choose not to take their advice.

All spirited debate aside, two of the top choices seem to be the Rega P5 and the VPI Scout. While I must admit my bias goes more towards the Rega than the Scout (I’ve never been a VPI fan, though I’ve owned a few), I’ve even tried the highly modded Technics SL-1200 with good results and currently have a vintage Denon direct-drive table sitting on top of one of my equipment racks that’s spinning records rather nicely, so I’d like to think I’m not too closed minded.

However, the $1,500 price point is probably the hottest part of the turntable spectrum, because it represents a healthy jump up from a strictly budget turntable; by the time you add a decent phono cartridge in the $500 – $1,500 range and a similarly priced phono preamplifier, you’ve invested a substantial amount of change to support your vinyl habit. But you will get a huge jump in performance from the budget LP spinners as well. For many, this is the sweet spot where many will stay and for good reason.

I submit a new guest to the party – the Clearaudio Concept. Priced at $1,400 without cartridge, the Concept brings a lot of Clearaudio’s engineering excellence to the table at a price that most audiophiles can afford. To sweeten the pot, Clearaudio dealers are offering a package price when you purchase the table with the Concept MM cartridge for an additional $100, or step up to the Concept MC for $2,000. These are the only two cartridges that ship from the factory preinstalled, however your friendly neighborhood Clearaudio dealer is offering a 20% discount on any Clearaudio cartridge purchased with the table.

As the Clearaudio Maestro Wood MM cartridge was already in my reference fleet of cartridges, it made perfect sense to investigate here rather than with the bottom of Clearaudio’s cartridge range. For those unfamiliar, the Maestro Wood is Clearaudio’s top moving magnet cartridge that has an MSRP of $1,000. Definitely at the top of the price range for an MM cartridge, but remember, you won’t need to have a Moving Coil preamplifier or other step-up device, so the Maestro is indeed a bargain.

Speed is easily switched between 33, 45 and 78 r.p.m. with the selector switch on the left side of the table. While you will probably want a different cartridge to accommodate your 78 collection, the Concept could easily be pressed into service as a “78 only” table at minimal cost, if you have a large collection. Definitely another plus.

Top shelf construction

The Concept is a belt drive table, featuring a DC motor that is powered by a wall wart power supply. The platter is made of the same “POM” material that is used on their Innovation tables, albeit not as thick as the Innovation platter. The tonearm looks stunningly familiar to the Schroeder arms that also use a magnetic bearing in the place of a traditional bearing. This is the debut for a new series of magnetic bearing tonearms that will begin to be featured on some of their other turntables in 2011. If this is the entry level model, I can’t wait to listen to the models further up the range.

cartIf you buy the Concept with one of the cartridge options, it will arrive with the cartridge installed and optimized at the factory, so all you will need to do is install the counterweight and set the tracking force. Be sure to hold the tonearm with one hand while installing the threaded counterweight, as it fits very snugly and could damage the arm otherwise.

The factory VTA and anti-skate settings worked perfectly for the Maestro, and setting tracking force was a snap with the Clearaudio Weight Watcher scale. A quick check of the speed with Clearaudio’s Speed Light confirmed that everything was perfect. This is another table, like the Rega’s that will have you spinning records in about 10 minutes.

The sound

The Concept has a very neutral overall sound, with a weight and openness that I’ve yet to experience at this price point. I’ve used the Maestro Wood on a number of different tables at various price points and it is one of my favorite MM carts, offering a high level of detail and punch, without being harsh.

Listening to Madeleine Peyroux’ latest release, Bare Bones on MoFi, you’ll notice that this record, like her others have somewhat of a loose, natural, whumpy, almost underdamped sound in the lower registers. Where the Scout tends to overdamp the bass and the P3 doesn’t have quite as much bass there, the Concept comes through with enough weight to reproduce this accurately. I was as impressed with the quantity as well as the quality and definition of bass that this table was able to extract from the grooves.

It’s rare that a table at this price point has enough low-level detail to really define the hall characteristics of the recording, but again the Concept passed with flying colors. Extended listening to Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall on Classic Records, or Cream’s 2005 Royal Albert Hall performance opened up a level of three-dimensional sound that I didn’t expect.

Close up 2During a moment of temporary madness, the Maestro was swapped out for Clearaudio’s $5,500 DaVinci MC cartridge, a master of detail retrieval. Granted, the small but mighty Concept did not offer as big a presentation as it did when mounted to the Clearaudio Innovation we reviewed a while back, but it wasn’t bad. If you are a real vinyl fanatic, I don’t think this table would be out of it’s league with your favorite cartridge in the $1,000 – $2,000 range if you care to take it that far, so this is definitely a component you won’t easily outgrow.

Extra credit

For those of you in the audience that can’t resist the urge to tweak your gear, here’s an easy upgrade for the Concept, take it off the grid! After the first peek at that inexpensive wall wart, I suspected that there was room for improvement with this table. A quick trip to Radio Shack confirmed my findings; making a custom cable for my Red Wine Audio Black Lightning power supply and running the Concept on pure DC made a marked upgrade to the sound.

Not quite convinced to drop another $700? Grab a pair of MN-918 6V lantern batteries from Batteries Plus ( and wire them in series for 12VDC. The middle post of the plug going to the table should be positive, which you can easily verify with a voltmeter. If you don’t have a voltmeter, you’ll know it’s wrong if the table spins backwards, so don’t put a stylus down on the record until you confirm the direction.

The first track played for comparison was “Day Dream” from Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi. Immediately after switching from AC to battery, the music comes alive with more texture and low-level resolution. Toussaint’s’ piano went from being constrained inside the space of the speakers to being about two feet beyond the speaker boundaries, with the other instruments having a better delineated space. I had similar luck with solo vocals and any other recordings having a lot of low level, airy passages. If you find yourself wanting to take the Concept to 11, this is an easy, no fuss upgrade. While you’re at it, pick up Clearaudio’s Concept clamp; this too wrings a bit more performance out of the table, especially with slightly warped records and is only an additional $100.


Whether you power the Clearaudio Concept with the standard issue power supply or take it a step forward with pure DC power, I feel this table is the new benchmark in its price class. It combines simple setup with stunning good looks and performance to match. We are happy to award the Clearaudio Concept one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2010.

ExValue Award09
Manufacturer’s Information (US distribution)


Preamplifier: McIntosh C500
Power Amplifier: McIntosh MC1.2kw monoblocks
Speakers: B&W 805D with JLAudio Gotham subwoofer
Cable: Cardas Clear

Record Cleaning For Fanatics

Record cleaning 1Just drop by any internet forum and you can make enemies instantly by bringing up the subject of record cleaning. LIke every other aspect of the HiFi hobby/obsession, you can do this on a few different levels, and your budget can determine the results. I’ve seen plenty of DIY ways to clean records (with most of them ending in tears, or at least ruined records), but nothing that works consistently or convincingly.

After years of screwing around with this myself, here’s a method that works. You don’t necessarily need two record cleaning machines, but I admit I’m obsessed and it really makes the job move more quickly. If you don’t use two machines, at least try and use a machine like the VPI 16.5 or Clearaudio Smart Matrix that allows you to swap cleaning wands, so that you aren’t cleaning overly dirty records with the same surface that touches your brand new (or nearly new) records.
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Here’s an extra step that will make the record cleaning machine’s job easier. Start with a carbon fiber brush like the Audioquest one shown here and go around your record in a circular motion, almost like sweeping the dust up on the floor to the center of the record.

crudSee that gigantic pile of dirt? Grab a handy can of compressed air and blow that right off the record. This will make it that much easier for your RCM to get right at the tough dirt and it cuts down on the crud that sticks to the cleaning pads.

Getting down to business

For now, we’re going to assume you are cleaning a record that is somewhere between brand new and moderately dirty. My favorite all around cleaner for records in this state is the MoFi Enzyme cleaner. The directions specify leaving this on your record for 60 seconds, but if you have a fairly dirty (and possibly fingerprinted) record, apply a heavy dose of fluid and let it soak for five minutes. Otherwise, if only moderately dirty, go with 60 seconds. Once done soaking, give your record cleaner a spin and vacuum up the grime. The reason I prefer the Clearaudio Smart Matrix RCM is its ability to clean in two directions, which is very helpful if you have a moderately to very dirty record. So, if you have an extremely dirty record or are just paranoid, apply the cleaner one more time and spin the record the other way, vacuuming as you go.

You’re almost home, but don’t let your excitement get the best of you. Even the best RCM’s leave a bit of cleaner residue on the record’s surface, which will eventually require a re-clean and will accumulate on your stylus. That’s not good in either case, so we’re going to take this one step further and use MoFi’s Pure Record Rinse, and vacuum our record one more time.


Home Stretch/Bonus Round

Once you’ve done all of this, take that compressed air and make one more pass, to make sure that record is completely dry before our next step. For most of you, this will be the point that you either put that super clean record in a fresh sleeve or take it for a spin to marvel at your cleaning prowess. But if you’re really a maniac, gently place that record on the Furutech DeMag and zap it for 45 seconds. Again, we can argue about this until the cows come home, but the bottom line is this gadget that looks like a prop from the first season of Lost In Space really works. It will take that last bit of grain and harshness from the presentation.

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Now put the record on your turntable, relax and enjoy. If you’ve followed the steps carefully and the record has no surface damage, you should be enjoying analog playback that rivals a CD in quietness. No more of that “vintage sound, consisting of clicks and pops” that the mainstream press likes to go on and on about whenever they talk about the vinyl resurgence. This is the analog magic at it’s best.

While there are a number of different cleaning solutions, cleaners and brushes, I guarantee this process will work. And while I’m a fanatic, I’m lazy. I use this combination because I can get it all from one place (Music Direct) and they always have it in stock. Feel free to experiment as you get comfortable, there are a few more variations on the theme, but only if you are even more fanatical than I am.

And by the way, is that turntable level? Just checking!