YOU have an old Rega Planar or “P(number)” turntable, being other than an original 1970s Planet. You are aware belts wear out when subjected to constant friction and stretching, that being true whether the belt is of natural rubber, polychloroprene/neoprene or other synthetic material. You will inevitably need to replace it.
Your Rega has been in regular daily play for quite some years and you decide now’s a good time to make the change. You phone your Rega dealer for the price of a replacement belt. After suppressing a profanity, you ask if (s)he’d repeat the prices you just heard, not one but two different ones. While still somewhat shaken, you hear him (or her) relate to you that Rega claims that the performance of their current belts are significantly better than what came before and that the company has invested heavily into research, development and production of these new and better belts. Plus, they now last longer too.
You’re sceptical, but realise that if you want an original manufacturer’s belt, you are now going to have to shell out if the risk of acquiring a cheaper third party belt doesn’t appeal to you. If this sounds like your situation, as the late Michael Jackson sang – you are not alone.
I had the opportunity to test both the latest Advanced and Reference belts lately. Obviously, I can’t speak on any claimed improved longeavity aspects, but am able to share my observations of what I heard. Firstly, I have to relate that the tests were not done with fresh, mint old original belts as comparison. I had two older belt samples, one worn to the point it should have been used to tie stalks of kailan together years ago; we’ll ignore the comparative results. The other looked and sounded as if it was still able to give decent service.
Two Rega units were used, one a Rega P2 from the early 2000s (old Premotec motor with MDF platter), the other a Rega P5 with a Michael Lim aluminium subplatter (loud groans heard in Essex noted) with addition of Rega’s TT-PSU motor power supply (not the new NEO version).
Substituting the old belt with the new Advanced one on the P2 (Rega Exact cartridge) led to improved results which I didn’t need to strain to hear. Better pitch stability, a more precise bassline, and a more finely layered and clear sonic picture where individual voices in harmonies and distinctness of the backing vocalists behind the lead singers became more apparent. Better rubber, better pleasure, which to me was worth the money if seen/heard from the performance improvement and not the “you paid what for that rubber band?!” perspective.
Making my way to my friend’s house, we first listened to his Rega P5 (also with Exact cartridge) where he had already installed his Reference belt. Everything sounded fine from the pitch and speed stability perspective so we proceeded to install the Advanced belt, both anticipating a diminution in performance level, with curiosity to hear how much the Reference would better the cheaper Advanced belt.
What happened next was a bit of a shocker – the cheaper Advanced belt proceeded to outgun the Reference noticeably, and not by just minor margins. Immediately apparent was a crisper, more precise midband with sharper image outlines, with a much snappier, better defined bassline that really drove the music along better than with the Reference belt. The music sounded more organic and expressive with better timing and interplay between instruments and more distinct voices in a large choir recording – a significant uptick in musical engagement.
When we next tried the respective belts in my Rega P2, I did feel the Reference belt had the edge in pitch stability over the Advanced belt, but the latter countered by producing slightly better transients coming off cymbals, snare drums, and vocals where their leading-edges just seemed clearer.
Oh my, so what does one make of this? Obviously, this was not an all-out test of every combination of Rega turntables out there, some of which have different subplatter materials, or have had modifications or component substitutions from third-party providers. For myself, I felt that one gets better performance for the increased belt prices over the older belts, the imperfections of the test method and limited models tried notwithstanding.
The local Rega sales rep suggested that the Advanced belt would amply suit the lower models but for those capable of being, and had been, upgraded with Rega’s turntable power supplies, the Reference belt would give a better performance justifying the extra money spent. Obviously, he didn’t take into account third-party tweaks coming into the picture, where results were going to be unpredictable as my tests here showed.
So, where does that leave us? For those replacing an older Rega belt, the Advanced belt is the lowest cost option unless you are able to get a new old stock (now discontinued) original belt or decide to go the third party cheaper non-original belt seller route. I did hear the Reference belt as being better at pitch and speed stability with slightly better bass depth with the old Rega P2 I had on hand, and have no reason to think this will not be the case for other all-original Rega record players out there.
But once variables like use of third-party substitute parts come into the picture, I suspect you will still get improvements over the older belts but whether it is worth paying the extra for the Reference over the Advanced belt is best backed by trying for yourself. At the time of writing, the Advanced EBLT Belt costs £17 while the Reference EBLT Belt is £28, with the respective Malaysian prices being RM119 and RM179 respectively.