Words by Travis Blake
A British hi-fi company with international renown, an inspirational founder and a fascinating history, a true gem of British manufacturing design and development!
Founded in 1973 Rega Research is an award winning British audio equipment designer and manufacturer. Operating from a custom built factory unit based in Southend-On-Sea in Essex, Rega gets its unusual moniker from the first two letters of its founder’s surnames, Roy Gandy and Tony Relph. The company is best known for its award winning turntables, but the business also designs and manufactures a range of audio products including CD players, amplifiers and loudspeakers. Interestingly Rega may be a brand you have never heard of as they don’t advertise preferring to invest in research and development rather than marketing!
Roy Gandy, who still owns the company and works in product design, was born to musical parents. His natural ability to repair and recycle, be it bicycles or motorcycles, and with a keen engineering interest and talent, a young Roy rebuilt one of his Mother’s students James 150 motorcycle from a box of bits. The student said if Roy could get it running he could keep it, but once he saw results he took the motorcycle back. With a harsh lesson learned, Roy then bought a BSA 500 basket case for 10 pounds, completely dismantled it, refurbished and reassembled it and freedom and mobility was secured!
From his early years spent repairing and recycling and making from scratch a whole host of items from bicycles, clarinets, electric guitars and motorcycles, through necessity as well and a healthy interest, Roy came to appreciate the fact that trial and error and therefore real world testing is how you learn and develop.
In the 1960’s Roy was lucky enough to share his Mother’s house with a lodger who owned great records and a quality hi-fi system further developing his love of music and sound. Roy was once asked “When did your passion for hi-fi begin?” He replied, I’ve never had a passion for hi-fi. I have a passion for music.” Hi-fi systems at this point in time from the quality brands were expensive and to Roy’s ear the reproduced sound did necessarily justify the cost. Being newly married with a new home meant money was needed for domestic items and not the luxury of hi-fi. Using what little cash he had Roy began to build his own hi-fi. What eventually became Roy’s home, home built, hi-fi system, which included speaker cabinets made from concrete slabs, was featured in Hi-Fi Sound Magazine in 1972 and generally acclaimed by the reviewer. Due to a growing demand for his products Roy was spending his weekends and evenings building speakers and turntables.
By 1975 the company was fully operational and working out of a factory unit in Rochford with the newly developed Planar 2 turntable gaining recognition amongst those in the Hi-Fi know as the best budget turntable available. In the seventies a turntable was of course a necessary part of every hi-fi system due to the main medium for recorded sound being vinyl records, cassette tapes and eight track were used as a more portable format for listening on the move. There is nothing better than removing your favourite record from its sleeve, placing it on onto your turntable, plugging your headphones in, lowering the needle into the groove and moving to where only the music can take you, while pouring over the lyrics and credits on the record sleeve and admiring the album artwork.
With the development and introduction of the compact disc in the early 1980s vinyl record sales slowly diminished meaning that sales of turntables inevitably went the same way. However, this was not an insurmountable issue for Rega as the business produced other audio equipment that was as well designed and thought of as its turntables, including amplifiers, loudspeakers and ultimately compact disc players. By 1991 Rega were expanding and introduced two amplifiers, the Elex and the Elicit, both fitting into the company’s ethos of high quality, sensibly priced, reliable hi-fi components.
Moving forward to the 21st Century and Rega is thriving now employing over 90 people and exporting to 40 different markets around the globe, producing around two thousand turntables per month. Vinyl has also had a marked increase in popularity with the vinyl revival, be that those collecting and discovering the old classics but also it has become an important format for modern popular artists to release their latest offerings as a way of establishing an aura of cool.
Checking in with my local Rega stockist, Mann Audio, situated at 42 Upper Tything, Worcester, just seven miles from the Morgan factory, I was surprised to see just how reasonably priced Rega turntables are, starting with the Rega Planar 1 turntable retailing for just £249, right up to the latest offering the Planar 8 which comes in at £2,439, with an Apheta2 cartridge. Jason Kennedy, Editor of “theear.net” wrote of the Planar 8, “it truly is a triumph of analogue audio engineering”. All Rega products come with a lifetime warranty against manufacture defects, which gives a real confidence when buying. The company’s list of awards, which is long and prestigious, features six most recently received in the “What Hi-Fi?” awards 2018 and these are the people that know their hi-fi.
Not only do Rega produce very good looking, well designed products, there is also a superb, fascinating and very informative hardback coffee table book about all things Rega and the Roy Gandy back story, entitled “A Vibration Measuring Machine” by Bill Philpot, Paul Messenger and Roy Gandy. It is also possible to take a virtual tour of the Rega purpose built factory at the company’s website www.rega.co.uk.
When you are planning to upgrade your hi-fi system or any of your audio equipment make sure you look at what Rega has to offer as their products suit most budgets are British built and comply to the Rega company ethos of “Excellent build quality, long life and amazing value for money all backed up by a lifetime warranty against manufacture defects!”
You can find your nearest Rega stockist by visiting the Rega website www.rega.co.uk or telephone 01702 333071