Rega P1 Review: Best Turntable Under $500

Rega has been making turntables since the 1970s. At the time, Rega took a simple approach by focusing on basic engineering and performance, eliminating gimmicks… in essence, paring their product down to what was needed to make music sound engaging and real. The Rega P1 constitutes the first time that one of the industry’s top designer has made a record player this affordable, as in cheap. The P1 has an austere appearance: a clean-looking, lightweight wooden plinth covered in dark semigloss laminate. The P1 uses the same sort of molded subplatter, with the same sort of interference-fit bearing spindle as the more high-end P2 and P3.

Features :

  • Two-speed belt drive
  • RB100 aluminum-alloy tonearm
  • MDF platter
  • Comes with Ortofon OM5E moving magnet phono cartridge with replaceable stylus
  • Precision main bearing and sub-platter assembly
  • High Quality low vibration motor
  • All new Phenolic resin flywheel effect platter for excellent speed stability
  • Rega sound quality at an unrivalled price

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 17.5″ (450mm) wide, 4.5″ (115mm) high (with dustcover), 15″ (385mm) deep
  • Weight: 12 lbs
  • Tonearm spindle to pivot distance: 222.8mm
  • Tonearm effective length: 240mm
  • Downforce: noncalibrated counterweight
  • Antiskating: calibrated sliding magnet

In order to sell the P1 for as cheap as $475, Rega had to make savings in some major ways. The first is the included RB100 tonearm, a simplified version of Rega’s successful RB300 arms: the one-piece armtube casting has been replaced with a simple alloy tube with a bonded aluminum headshell, and the spring-actuated downforce of the more expensive tonearms has given way to a simple adjustable counterweight.

Rega designed the RB100 tonearm’s counterweight so that the user could push it all the way forward, to the limit of its travel, to accomplish a tracking force of about 1.75 grams when used with a 4.8 grams cartridge, which is exactly what the pre-installed Ortofon OM 5E moving magnet cartridge weighs. The OM 5E is near the low end of Ortofon’s long-running OM cartridge line, but it offers an easy upgrade path with the simple substitution of a stylus (see the upgrades section further below). The cartridge has already been aligned for you and this makes setup of the turntable ultra simple.

The second fundamental change is that Rega’s famous glass platter has been rolled back, in favor of a black medium density fiber (MDF) platter. The new fiberboard platter is 11/16’’ thick, and is machined in an attempt to concentrate a bit more mass toward the periphery than toward the center – although we doubt it makes much of a difference. Now while the MDF platter is admittedly a compromise, it should be appreciated that it would be impossible to make this entry-level price point with a glass platter. In fact, the MDF platter is shockingly good for a product in this price range. There are platters on four-figure turntables, made of both alloy and acrylic, that aren’t nearly as good.

Performance

The P1 produces a rich, warm sound and a large soundstage that immerses one within the music. It is pacey, but not bright or crisp. Listeners whose analog experience runs deeper and with arguably more sophisticated tastes might consider the P1 a bit dark sounding. However, the P1 will make even your worn-out, crappy-sounding records tolerable, and actually make you enjoy them more than some other more expensive turntables. It is especially excellent with 33 rpm records.

The Rega P1 captures the tension of your music, to fine, dramatic effect, and does a fine job of putting across the momentum, depth and flow of even the most challenging musical pieces. The instruments sound present and solid.

The Rega P1’s performance changes noticeably during the break-in period (You need to break in the drive motor by letting it run non-stop for 24-48 hours. This is critical.). The sound becomes cleaner after the first week, with an audible decrease in flutter.

The only shortcoming of the P1 is a lingering trace of pitch instability, as heard in sustained piano chords, but it will not intrude on your average record-listening experience.

Actually, some more expensive contemporary turntables and more than a few CD players don’t even sound as good as the Rega P1.

Set up

Armed with the simple setup instructions that are provided, event a complete beginner can setup this turntable up in less than ten minutes. It couldn’t be easier.

Getting the P1 rockin’ requires little more than putting the P1 on a level supporting surface, installing the belt and putting the platter and mat on the subplatter, positioning the anti-skating slider toward the notch labeled ‘2’, and screwing on the tonearm’s counterweight as far as it will go. Quick note on the counterweight: although Rega says that it provides the proper tracking force for the pre-mounted Ortofon, make sure to do a quick check with a calibrated scale. You may find that it’s slightly higher than the cartridge’s 2-gram recommended maximum tracking force. Backing off the counterweight by about a [1/4]-turn will get things right where they should be.

As we said earlier, the cartridge is already aligned for both overhang (front to back position) and zenith (rotational position), and while the RB100 tonearm doesn’t have a height adjustment, the fixed position appeared to be about right for the Ortofon.

The RP1 uses a highly accurate manual speed change rather than an automatic mechanism. This approach eliminates speed inconsistencies and also reduces wear of the drive belt.

For those new to turntables or those accustomed to the automatic ones, a fully manual turntable means that aside from the power switch to start the turntable, everything else is manual. For instance, after starting the turntable you will need to place the tonearm at the beginning of the record to start playback. When the music is over, you will manually need to lift the tonearm off the end of the record as there is no automatic mechanism that will return the tonearm. Furthermore, if you would ever like to change the speed of the turntable, there is no simple switch that you can flip. To change the playback speed of the Rega P1 to 45-rpm, you need to remove the platter and then loop the belt by hand to the larger pulley step, and vice-versa. All of this is very simple to do, but it is worth mentioning for those who are not familiar with how manual turntables operate.

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