Had a fourteen year old Roy Gandy got his way when his mother asked him whether he wanted a record player or a TV, this object may never have existed. Despite pleading for the former, he got the latter, prompting him to get into hi-fi in his own unique way. Four years later, he had already designed and built his own loudspeakers, started going to gigs and buying records to play on an old Collaro deck he’d salvaged from a rubbish dump…
A little later in life, Roy found himself working for the Ford Motor Company, during which time, in his spare moments, he’d be building and selling his own loudspeakers. He then became a part time retailer, which necessitated him spending an inordinate amount of time repairing turntables (they were, of course, the primary source back then), so the story goes. Then finally in 1973 he and business partner Tony Relph registered the name Rega (RElphGAndy) and started making the very first Planet turntable.
It was an arresting looking record player, thanks in no small part to its diecast alloy ‘podule’ platter which made it look more like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey than an object intended for a domestic living room. Sadly, it was also the turntable’s greatest design fault, as it didn’t support the record terribly well, and nor did it assist speed stability. Rega soon decided to re-engineer the Planet into the Planar, with an expanse of thick glass taking over platter duties – complete with a chunky felt mat on the higher end Planar 3 to damp down the vibes from the glass and support the record better. On the cheaper Planar 2, the glass platter got a thin rubber mat.
By today’s standards the Planet’s plinth looks rather mundane. It’s just a nicely covered piece of MDF, with a few recesses in it drilled for the bearing housing, motor and tonearm. Ironically though, this is probably the most radical part of the deck – in its time. Because back in 1973, very few turntable plinths looked like this; almost all were suspended or spring for a start, following the Garrard SP25 paradigm, or that of the Thorens TD160. To have a slim ‘fillet’ of fibreboard sitting on three rubber feet was futuristic stuff. Of course, it didn’t handle vibrations terribly well, a feature it shares with all Rega turntables to this day, so the Planet (and its descendants) do need careful placement well away from loudspeakers, preferably on a wall shelf. But carefully sited and levelled, the vibration isolation issue becomes far less of a worry.
Like many other belt drives of the day, Regas used a multi-pole AC synchronous motor which drove a small plastic inner subplatter via a thin rubber belt. The manufacturer claimed 0.08% wow and flutter, a decent but unremarkable figure. Interestingly, Rega’s 24v high performance motor upgrade kit will fit the Planet, letting you use the special TT PSU which should bring a significant improvement in speed stability. Although not cheap, completists might think it good value.
A high quality smoked Perspex dust cover was fitted, far superior to that of most price rivals but as with all turntables, the deck sounded much better with it removed altogether though. Properly sat on the platter, and preferably aided by a record clamp (Michell’s clamp is a good choice here as it’s not too heavy and still fastens down the disc), the Planet can give a decent sound. Better still if you give it a proper turntable mat. Back in the day, the GA Audio Sounddisc was the thing to have, a high quality glass turntable mat. These days, a SoundDeadSteel disc gives far superior results for under £90.
The bearing is pretty much standard Rega fare, and turns in a respectable 65dB rumble. Any secondhand Planet (or indeed Planar) will be significantly helped by the removal of the old bearing oil with a cotton bud and isopropyl alcohol, and relubing with modern synthetic oil such as Redline 5W30. The metal motor pulley drives the inner section of the platter direct by a rubber belt which is still available from Rega today, so any old one is well worth replacing.
The deck was available both with a bundled Acos-derived S-shaped aluminium tubed tonearm (of 237mm effective length, overhang 15mm) of Japanese manufacture, and with an SME-cutout and no arm. A good number of Planets found themselves partnering SME’s then-ubiquitous 3009S2 Improved [pictured] with good results, although the supplied arm was surprisingly good too. A popular modification for both the SME and the Acos arms was the fitment of an ADC magnesium headshell, which was marginally lighter than the stock aluminium designs but much stiffer, reducing resonances and letting owners clamp their cartridges tighter.
Decently sited, with all the aforementioned modifications, and the Planet is a nice enough thing to listen to – smooth and warm and sweet, if a little soft around the edges. You get a decently spacious sound, and one that’s easy on the ear at all times; in this respect it’s a reminder of just how nice good turntables of that era were. Still, it is a long way behind a modern Rega RP3, or even a Planar 3 of twenty years ago.
As a used purchase the Planet is a nice thing; easy to restore and run, with most bits either serviceable or replaceable, and parts cheap. They’re highly variable in price, with examples ranging from £100 to £200 depending on condition – this isn’t that different to later Planar 3s, but remember that the Planet is a rarer thing. You don’t see many unidentified playing objects such as this!