Monday, August 15, 2011
The Famous White Belt from Rega
"A $59 rubber band?"
Fortunately I heard that negative comment only once, shortly after Rega introduced their new "white" upgrade belt for all of their turntables. I had a chance to compare one to the stock "black" belt before this accessory was available to the masses. The 'table in question was the venerable Rega P9, top o' the line so to speak; if any analog rig could readily define the differences it would be this highly resolving machine. And yes, the differences were profound during this particular A/B comparison, with the white belt making the sound so much larger and fuller that it seemed as if someone turned the volume up.
Three years later, the derisive comments are much rarer, presumably because so many people have tried the newer belt and seem unanimous in their praise. I had one engineer who was very knowledgeable in turntable design tell me that "if there's any one single component that WOULD make a big difference in sound, it would be the belt hands down." The white belt is manufactured with much higher tolerances that result in a $59 rubber band that is structurally even throughout its orbit with fewer material anomalies. That means the platter spins true, with less slippage, bumps and artifacts to deter the flow of music.
After much ballyhoo, I pulled the trigger on this little beauty while visiting Dan Muzquiz of Blackbird Audio/Gallery last week. I'll be honest and say that there is a modicum of wonder and disappointment when you see what you get for your $59--a white rubber band in a clear plastic envelope. Setting the two belts next to each other, you'll be hard-pressed to notice physical differences beyond the color. When I removed my old stock belt (which wasn't really that old--perhaps two years or so), I was surprised that it looked larger than the white belt, which seemed to imply that it had stretched and needed replacement. When I purchased my very first Rega in 1991--a P3--I was told that there was little servicing needed save for a replacement belt "every few years." Now Roy Gandy thinks a year is more appropriate, and here was the proof.
That brings up an important point: to what extent are the sonic improvements I immediately heard due to the fact that I needed a new belt? Well, I've owned a total of four Rega turntables now--the aforementioned P3 that I had from 1991 to 1998, the P25 I had from 1998 to 2003, the P2 I bought for a second system in 2005 and my current P3-24 which I've owned since I left Washington State in 2009. I've changed a few belts in that time, and not once did I notice a clear sonic benefit. If anything, I merely experienced a little peace of mind knowing that I wouldn't have to worry about a worn belt in the forseeable future.
But after a few days with the new white belt, I'm hearing many of the same things I heard with that initial A/B comparison with the P9. Everything does seem louder, fuller and more forward. I won't search for a technical reason why this is so, it just is. My particular P3-24 is a heavily modded example (which is why I didn't feel so bad when I replaced my Michell Orbe SE with this more modest rig), with the TT-PSU, a Groovetracer machined subplatter and a Funk Firm Achroplat platter. It's no P9, mind you, but it's an entirely different animal from that first P3 I owned 20 years ago. (Another consideration is that my first P3 had the budget Rega Bias cartridge on it, and now I use the excellent Zu Audio DL-103.)
When it comes to the $59 price, however, you really need to stop thinking about rubber bands and you need to start thinking about remarkable gains in performance. While the Groovetracer subplatter probably yields a more profound improvement in sound, it is more than $200. The TT-PSU is closer to $400. Here is a $59 investment that's in the same ball park. That $59 investment seems even more prudent when you discover that the stock black belt replacement is $39 these days, so you're really talking about $20 if it's time to replace the belt (and it probably is!).
Again, if you're looking to increase the excitement level of your lowly P1, you should probably start with a better cartridge than the Ortofon OM-5e and ensure that you've splurged on the glass platter/better felt mat package. A simple belt replacement may or may not get your heart racing. But if you're using a P3 or beyond, it's silly not to have the white belt too. I'm not sure why it took me so long to grab the white belt, but I'll never go back. In fact, I'll probably use the old belt as a rubber band if I need one.