This turntable has taken way too long. I visited Rega in 2012 and saw what was to become (in fact, make that has yet to become) the Naiad, the carbon fibre chassis turntable that Rega designed to mark its 40th anniversary. The Naiad’s not finished yet, but the process of creating it helped spawn the chassis of the RP8; in a way, the process is not so much ‘trickle down’ as ‘inverted trickle up’. The RP8 is not made of carbon fibre, but something with a very similar weight to stiffness ratio: a foam core with phenolic skins. It is the ultimate incarnation of Rega’s approach to turntable design, the most advanced that has yet been put into production, and it makes for a very different looking turntable.
The plinth is in two parts; all the key elements of the turntable proper are attached to a skeletal chassis, which can be placed within a rectangular surround that allows the RP8 the luxury of a hinged dust cover. It looks a lot more interesting without the surround, but there’s nothing like a shiny black surface for showing dust. And then there’s the dust you can’t see on the mat. You can see the nitrogen expanded, closed cell, polyolefin foam core of the turntable, but fortunately you don’t have to remember what it’s called. Some feel that this detracts from its appearance. It doesn’t look as clean as an RP3, for instance, but this is a high tech design. First and foremost it has been created to get as much information out of a vinyl groove as possible. Look at the interior of many a super car and you will see a similar thing; this is a very low compromise design and it is more resolute than most.
The theory behind the lightweight, rigid plinth involves a simple insight: turntable motors vibrate. Rega uses a 24 volt, twin phase synchronous motor that has an anti-vibration circuit and each one is hand tuned to produce as little noise as possible, but it’s still a motor and its vibration has to go somewhere. A foam core has an enormous surface area from which to dissipate that vibration as heat. The platter on the RP8 is made of glass – three layers of glass in fact. Rega found a glass company that could bond two different size rings to the underside of the piece that supports the record and (this is the tricky bit) make them concentric. So the weight is on the periphery, which provides inertia with minimal mass. As ever with Rega, the RP8 has a felt mat, a device that while by no means high tech seems increasingly effective with every new model that the company introduces.
The aluminium sub-platter is driven via twin, round section belts by the aforementioned AC motor, which sits very close by. It gets its power from a TTPSU with electronic speed change. As with all but the least expensive Rega, there are braces between platter bearing and arm mounting on either side of the plinth, to provide maximum rigidity between those two points. The arm itself is called RB808; it uses the same casting as the RB303 (found on the RP3 and RP6) but with improved and higher toleranced bearings. It also has a new low capacitance cable in a fetching shade of off white, and apparently Rega had to change cable suppliers to find one that was able to build this particular topology. It’s terminated in phono plugs that have a twist clamp action not dissimilar to a certain high-end brand. But these are not made by that brand. As ever with Rega, there is no separate earth lead, a convenience that I wish more arm manufacturers would emulate. Downforce is dynamic via a spring mechanism and anti-skate/bias achieved magnetically; both are familiar from previous Rega arms and they work well and make set-up easy.
This RP8 was supplied as a complete package, with Rega’s Apheta moving coil already install and aligned at the factory. You just have to dial in 1.65 grams of downforce once the counterweight is in place. Rega also supplied an Aria phono stage, which is an excellent partner for the Apheta.
Unlike the RP6 that I reviewed last year this this turntable imposes little if any sonic character of its own and much less than the great majority of turntables I’ve heard. This means you hear more of what’s on the record – quite an astonishing amount more in truth. It competes with the best digital can do in terms of detail, which is high praise in my book. Vinyl usually has the upper hand in terms of vitality, tonal shading, and timing, but when it comes to sheer detail a good streamer or well sorted computer is hard to beat. This has such low colouration and so little masking or time smear that you can hear seemingly everything. The denser the music the more obvious it becomes, I didn’t start out dense, however; I went with Joni Mitchell’s Mingus [Asylum], ‘God Must Be A Boogie Man’ to be precise. This piece has Jaco and Joni spanking their respective planks with some relish and delivering a degree of attack that brings the performance alive. The RP8 exhibits no apparent overhang. Notes start and stop precisely as they should, which means that there is more space and air, more light and shade to enjoy. The next piece was a bit thicker – Stevie Wonder’s ‘He’s Misstra Know It All’ – a song that is dense with layers of percussion and, it turns out, vocal parts. It’s not the greatest of recordings, but it is the greatest of music and to hear what’s going on throughout the piece is a revelation. The track doesn’t have quite the emotional impact that it should through the RP8, however; I couldn’t pinpoint what was missing as there is so much coming through but this did lead me to experiment. Before that happened though, the record had to be allowed to finish. This is a hard turntable to turn off because you hear stuff that has been buried for so long. The Rega worked wonders with the song’s extended fade out, remaining engaging to the very end.
This turntable is significantly more sophisticated than anything Rega has made before, and more sophisticated than many competitors, too. What it does better than the majority is let you know exactly what’s going on in the music. It focuses your attention away from sound quality per se and toward the way that the musicians are playing and the precise nature of the composition. The quality of recording is part of this; Burnt Friedman and Jaki Leibzeit’s Secret Rhythms [Nonplace] is a German dub album with simply monstrous bass that overpowers most turntables; they can’t cope with all the low frequency energy. Here, it has rhythmic coherence, serious extension, and room-filling phase effects that immerse the listener in a full surround experience from just two speakers. This was the but one example of the RP8s freedom from smear, but it’s a quality that appears on everything you play. The Rega’s nimbleness means that phrasing, sustain, and harmonies are presented without embellishment or distortion.
Perhaps as a result it can sound dry, so I tried a different phono stage, a Trilogy 907. This emphasised the RP8’s ability to extract detail and let Nitin Sawhney’s OneZero direct to disc recording [Cherry Red] inhabit my listening room in more tactile fashion than previously encountered. I also tried a Dynavector DV-20X2L moving coil, which sounded relatively ‘phat’ and lush compared to the Apheta, but didn’t really do the trick. So I went quite a bit further and bolted on a Van den Hul Condor cartridge. This brought out more detail, especially in the high frequencies and added finesse, but something was still missing.
Eventually, I used a small add-on power conditioner to the improve the power going to the TTPSU power supply. The words “that’s got it” were down on the pad within a few bars; then, the air drums started flailing and we were, to coin a phrase, cooking with gas. By the time I was half way through ZZ Top’s ‘I’m Bad I’m Nationwide’ the tears were rolling! This was not a particularly expensive conditioner (Martin Bastin’s Wave Mechanic, at £450), but it turned the RP8 into a no-holds barred giant slayer. I guess this is why the new Rega RP10 has a rather more sophisticated power supply.
With the caveat that ultimate performance can only be achieved with decent AC, the Rega RP8 is the best sounding, sensibly priced turntable and arm I’ve ever heard.
Tonearm: Rega RB808
Speeds: electronic 33/45
External TTPSU power supply
24V AC twin phase motor
Skeletal plinth with polyolefin foam core
Triple layer flywheel effect platter
Magnesium and phenolic bracing
Size HxWxD inc plinth: 120 x 450 x 365mm
Price: Rega RP8 – £1,598. Rega RP8 package with Apheta moving coil cartridge – £2,198
Manufacturer: Rega Research
Tel: +44(0)1702 333071
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