Launched back in 1978, the Planar 3 was a development of Rega Research’s very first vinyl foray, the Planet. This was a zany looking creation with three large cast aluminium alloy spokes to do the job of supporting the record. As this didn’t work so well, a popular mod became placing a glass mat on top of the Planet’s platter, which was pretty much what Rega did to make the new Planar. Instead, the metalwork was junked for a thick slice of glass and tipped with a felt mat…
The Planar 3’s great strength was its arm, a Japanese S-shaped affair made by Lustre, it was more than good enough for the deck’s already capable motor unit. In conjunction with the Philips Impex AC synchronous motor, as seen on the Linn and a thousand other belt drive decks, Rega were able to offer an extremely cost-effective product. Given a decent cartridge, like Rega’s own Supex-derived R100, or A&R’s P77, the Planar 3 made very sweet music indeed. What it did, it did brilliantly, which was to give a very capable all round performance and a rock-bottom price. Wow and flutter was low, rumble inaudible, and if you placed the deck properly it wasn’t really troubled by acoustic feedback either. This made for a sweet, smooth, open sound that just seemed to play music without the fuss that suspended subchassis decks like Thorens’ TD160 made. Once installed, a Rega never went out of tune.
By 1979 the Planar 3 was in such great demand there were actually waiting lists at dealers. So good were they that people were using them with extremely capable and costly ancillaries, often costing three or four times the price of the deck. Sales soared, despite Rega’s boss Roy Gandy’s refusal to advertise in any hi-fi magazines, or even supply review samples for that matter.
By the summer of 1983 Rega went and did the unthinkable and modified it. Suddenly Planars started appearing with curious looking, long straight black tonearms, and the RB300 had arrived. A far more significant product than even the Planar 3 itself, this little gem stunned everyone who came across it. £90 bought you what was arguably the best tonearm in the world at that time. The numbers spoke for themselves – Linn’s Ittok LVII superarm cost £253 and was less neutral, less transparent in the midband and lacked the Rega’s soundstaging and information retrieval characteristics. Rega had played a blinder.
For the princely sum of £188, the new Planar 3 came with an RB300, and what a cracking deck it was! It completely trounced rival all-in-one designs, for the tonearm if nothing else. It brought bags more detail and sophistication to the sound, and also the chance to use far better moving coil cartridges. If anything, the RB300 was far too good for the poor old P3, and only served to highlight its faults. It became less musical (and more analytical) sounding than the Lustre-armed deck, and slightly duller too – the old silver S-shaped arm had added a bit of life-enhancing coloration.
Still, well set up and with a cartridge like Audio Technica’s AT-OC9 (a synergistic match, sonically if not financially) it really came close to the super decks. In truth, it was more likely to be used with Linn’s new K9, with which it worked well enough, but one of the best sounds I heard from a Planar 3 was from my own Rega R100 cartridged version, mounted on a Target shelf screwed into the wall. Rega subsequently launched their updated range of cartridges, some with Linn Troika-style three point mountings, but they never quite sounded as special to my ears.
In 2007, the RP3 replaced the Planar 3, and is only slightly better, with just a few subtle modifications and corporate facelift. Most useful is the option of Rega’s high performance TT PSU motor power supply upgrade kit, which makes the RP3 sound a good deal more speed-stable, something that’s sadly not available for the Planar. However, the company now makes a bespoke motor upgrade kit for the original Planar 2 and 3, which includes a new motor and a new way of mounting it – the brings an appreciable improvement to its speed stability and, consequently, sound.
Today you can pick up a second-hand Planar 3 for around £100, and £200 should buy you a mint example in an interesting colour – 1985’s mauve/pink is a particularly exotic beast. Check the tonearm and main bearings are sound, and that the motor’s quiet. If there are any other problems like speed instability, it’s highly likely a new belt will fix them. Spares are cheap and plentiful, like the deck itself. So if you’re new to vinyl or sick of your CDs, this is one to get.