Best premium turntable system 2018

Best premium turntable system 2018

For all of its inconvenience, storage issues and less than perfect reproduction, vinyl is the format that refuses to die. Having seen off tapes and CDs, its appeal means it’s still worth investing in a record player-based hi-fi system. 

We’ve already laid out our thoughts on a budget turntable system, but if you’ve got the cash, why not join the vinyl revolution in style? Here are our tips for putting together a premium turntable system, starting with a deck.

Unbox the Rega Planar 6/Ania, and you’d be forgiven for expecting a turntable experience not dissimilar to the company’s long line of Award-winning turntables. But this new and improved deck marks a huge step up in performance from the last generation, and that was hardly shabby.

The Planar 6 doesn’t go for immediacy to grab your attention. ‘Boldness’ isn’t put at the forefront as much as an unnerving ability to juggle balance, subtlety and timing in an understated way.

It’s a refined and mature sound, which more than justifies its price. Deep, steady basslines have no hint of flab or boom. The beat’s build up is gradual, but once it peaks, the Rega keeps that momentum steady. You’ll find your foot tapping along to the beat without even noticing it.

The Planar 6 looks similar to many Rega turntables over the decades, but there have been major changes throughout.The plinth is now made of lightweight foam core, sandwiched between thin but rigid laminates. The deck uses the improved RB330 tonearm with stainless steel balance weight.

Along with the technological upgrades, Rega has given particular care to the finish, with every aspect looking and feeling classier than before.The Planar 6 comes in a single grey matte finish, instead of numerous bright colours – yet another sign that this deck demands to be taken seriously.

The Rega Planar 6/Ania demands a higher class of partnering equipment to do the deck justice, including a quality phono stage. But with this musical and insightful performance, the extra trouble is worth it. 

The phono stage has one of the hardest jobs in hi-fi, amplifying the tiny signal put out by the turntable’s cartridge by as much as a thousand times, while adding a minimum of noise and distortion.

Built-in phono stages are a rare beast these days, so if vinyl piques your interest, you should consider Arcam’s rPhono. It’s a small aluminium-cased unit with a smart, understated appearance, and feels as solid as a brick.

An indicator light on the front shows the unit is working, but around the back there are dedicated inputs for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges, with adjustments for impedance (MC-only), input capacitance (MM-only) and a range of gain settings that range from 30dB to an impressive 82dB. 

Once we optimise the rPhono’s various settings, we’re impressed by what we hear. It sounds big-boned and powerful, delivering a sound of generous scale and pleasing stability. There’s a level of transparency that’s rare at this price. 

Switching to the moving magnet input, the rPhono continues to impress, retaining its composure, insight and drive. The tonal balance is smooth and refined without restraining the music’s enthusiasm. This is an accomplished phonostage, with a combination of insight and entertainment few can match. 

As the most visible, and audible, part of your home hi-fi, a system lives or dies by the quality of its speakers. So here, we recommend complimenting the Planar 6 with KEF’s R3s, part of the company’s premium R series. 

KEF’s distinctive Uni-Q driver array is at the heart of these speakers, with this configuration claimed to improve dispersion and integration. It uses a 25mm aluminium dome tweeter with a 12.5cm aluminium midrange unit and features a host of refinements to the motor assembly, suspension and drive unit structure to reduce distortion and improve performance.

The R3s have a clean appearance with crisp edges, and are available in gloss black, gloss white or a traditional walnut finish, and look well worth the money.

Despite standing just 42cm tall, the KEF R3s are capable of delivering a good amount of bass weight and authority. They capture the natural acoustic of the recording, showing a level of insight and detail resolution beyond most rivals.

Tonally, the presentation is balanced and natural, with its even-handed nature meaning that the R3s sound at home with a wide range of recordings, and don’t favour any particular musical genre above another.

The R3s are brilliant all-rounders – give them a top class feed such as the Rega Planar 6/Ania, and they deliver a sound good enough to worry most standmounters below two grand.

The final piece of the system jigsaw is completed by the spellbinding Moon 240i integrated amplifier. Moon’s entry-level amp has the performance and looks of something far pricier. It is an understated, yet terrifically talented amplifier that puts subtlety and dynamism to the fore. 

It’s rare for an amp to sound so engaging at quiet volumes. Turning the volume up simply makes it louder – it doesn’t harden the sonic character – showing how clean and distortion-free the Moon’s performance is.

The Moon is versatile and you can connect a laptop, CD player, a streamer or even a TV to it. As for analogue, there are two pairs of RCA inputs, a moving magnet phono stage for turntables and a 3.5mm input in front for hardwiring portable music players or a smartphone. There’s a 6.3mm jack for plugging in your headphones, too.

The Moon 240i’s sturdy metal chassis has the kind of build quality reserved for products higher up the price range. The silver curved edges and two-tone effect of our review sample make it look smart and understated. There’s an all-black option, too. 

The OLED display is crisp and clear, buttons are responsive and the volume dial turns smoothly. The remote could be better designed, but is easy enough to use. 

The Moon is a gorgeous bit of kit, and it will tie this system together beautifully.

What Hi-Fi?

What Hi-Fi?, founded in 1976, is the world's leading independent guide to buying and owning hi-fi and home entertainment products. Our comprehensive tests help you buy the very best for your money, with our advice sections giving you step-by-step information on how to get even more from your music and movies. Everything is tested by our dedicated team of in-house reviewers in our custom-built test rooms in London, Reading and Bath. Our coveted five-star rating and Awards are recognised all over the world as the ultimate seal of approval, so you can buy with absolute confidence.

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