Rega Research, based in Westcliff-on-Sea, Southend was founded in 1973 and was located in an old mill that was later expanded to a fully functional hifi-factory. The last thirty years they have been building their road to success with a philosophy of quality products at decent price levels. They wish to make products that recreate music as correctly as possible. Their catalogue contains record players, phono amps, cd-players, amplifiers and even speakers.
We test the DAC and the Brio-R amplifier, but there are also a couple of new products that have won several international awards. The RP6 turntable with RB303 arm which, despite its attractive price tag, delivers an exceptional performance with solid and reliable quality. Same with the Apollo-R cd player. This cd player has the same housing as our test models, and is available in both black and white (safir). As an added bonus, it also enjoys earlier developments that were developed during the production of Rega's flagship, the Isis.
What's in store for us
In front of me are two solid boxes, but knowing that not only a DAC, but also a integrated amp is in there, I find them rather small. I had to rethink my opinion, however, when I opened the box and removed the protection from the amplifier. What a heavy, decent and beautiful piece. Its front easily matches the DAC, and by their build and width they can even stand next to eachother on a rack perfectly. And that's great news for potential buyers, that already have a rack or a different location, on which all shelves are occupied already. An extra DAC normally means an extra spot, so in this case its a great first bonus. And we haven't even started properly.
The exclusively English manual is very clear and arranged logically. I get to know this DAC is 8.5 inch wide, 3 inch high and 12 inch long. It has everything to measure itself with the big boys. It's a 16/20/24-bit 32kHz to 192kHz digital to analogue converter that can handle 'all' two-channel digital sources.
But what exactly is a DAC? DAC basically means digital-analogue-converter. A DAC can be stand-alone, or part of a digital source. This converter makes sure that all music from any digital source that is encoded digitally (ones and zeroes) is converted to an analogue, decoded form. This analogue music signal is then amped, and from thereon goes to the speakers. The better the conversion, the better the result. Every drive needs a DAC, and in a lot of integrated players in the past not much attention was given to this. But because of the ever growing medium of computers, that with its WAV-, FLAC- and ALAC-files is trying to best the cd, with variating results, Rega has put in a lot of effort and research in the optimisation of their existing DAC. The base DAC is used in all of their cd players, but now they have made it into a stand alone unit. A major point of attention was the suppression of noise, a hard to tame spoilsport in a lot of converters. Is it ready then, with its two Wolfson Ics and five freely selectable digital filters, one of which is USB type B, two optical and two coaxial, and then another optical, coaxial and analog output?
Connecting to a DVD/Blu-Ray/cd-player, a game console, all kinds of TVs, computers, even a satellite receiver, it's all possible. Dolby Digital or DTS are a bridge too far, though.
Onwards to the Brio-R integrated amplifier. It has RCA-inouts for an MM cell or high output MC cell from a record player, four others for possible accessories and one record output. Noticably there's no grounding connection next to the input, but rather on the bottom of the amp. No problem for a single connection, but when you wish to demagnetise your cables and cell regularly, it's not an easy solution. Besides, you have to keep in mind that when connecting a fifth source shuts down the record output. Rega itself advises the use of 8 Ohn speakers. Of course this does not exclude the use of 4 Ohm speakers.
Once connected this amp packs 50 Watt RMS on two channels when two 8 Ohm speakers are attached. This rises to 73 Watt at 4 Ohm. A warning: the amplifier might become warmer than 40 degrees centigrade in this setup. If you want more technical specs, be sure to check out Rega's great website.
Connecting and playback
One of the basic sources is the DTR 6-9 dvd player by Integra. I know from experience that this was lifted to a higher level by the first version of the Musical Fidelity DAC a few years back, and almost blew away my cd player. Curious whether this DAC by Rega will to the same, or even better, raise the standard. The other source is an Apple iPad, but most tests happen with a HDD, hooked up to a Western Digital Life tv, which is connected to the DAC by means of an optical out. As my speakers I use Focal's Diablo speakers, connected to Nordost's Red Down.
A good friend of mine put several songs on a Hard Disk Drive, ranging from 16bit/44kHz to 24bit/96kHz, compressed or not, most of the time in FLAC, but sometimes as WAV.
Basically there are two standard, both of which copy all 'zeroes and ones' from a cd completely. Windows uses WAV and Apple uses AIF. The difference between these is that one method works from front to back and the other method the other way around. I presume this was thought out well, I just think it's hard to understand the difference in approach. Complimentary to these systems there's also FLAC which as its trump card has the fact that it can operate independently. Compressing means the removal of some zeroes and ones, thus reducing the file space. This happens mostly on quiet parts in the song. Depending on the method used, this can reduce the file size up to 50%.
Let's start testing
The first test use 16bit/44kHz uncompressed: my own cd's and FLACs. We start with 'When You Say Nothing at All' by Allison Krauss, and it sounds somewhat sharp. Do we have a possible too high jitter which makes the sound seem harder, and more unpleasant? I'm not convinced and keep on testing. 'When I Dream' by Carol Kidd on the other hand sounds way better, with great but tempered heights in her voices and detail supported by guitar. Emi Fujita's 'Desperado' is crystal clear. A sharp sound, but not bothersome. Next up is Eva Cassidy, with 'Ain't No Sunshine' and 'What a Wonderful World'. A lot of detail is present, especially with the instruments. For the first time I'm feeling this DAC, together with its amp controls the speakers in a grown up way. I use the same recording quality to listen to 'Isn't She Lovely', by Livingstone Tayler, and yet again I hear this pure and convincing vocals and guitar. A great compromise between being low budget and delivering great results.
The next test is still 16bit/44kHz uncompressed, but in AIF(F), the Apple configuration. ‘Cat Walk’ by Sabine seems flat from the very beginning and ‘Die Tanzerin’ by Ulla Meineke sounds better, but still less than we heard previously. RUM’s ‘Muzette’ makes you happy though, but that’s more to do with the song than the recording, which seems a bit too sharp again.
We head back to FLAC, but compressed this time. I listen to a few songs and the number that brings out the difference with the cd the best is ‘Wheel of Fortune’ by Allen Tayler. The DAC/Brio-R combination gives a lot of detail and places the voice well, but I’m missing the stability the song needs to sound more pleasant, and more importantly, more convincing. The Eagles with the most recent version of ‘Hotel California’ sound great, perfect bass, clean guitars and in the foregrond a believable crowd. Sadly the voice lacks body and sounds less full. Gorillaz’ ‘Clint Eastwood’, Melano’s ‘Figlio Della Luna’ and Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’. It’s great to hear Janis’ near acapella voice. It’s as rough as it should be, a joy to listen to, and it’s surprising that this low budget setup can produce it so well. ‘Vienna by Ultravox sounds mature and room filling, with a penetrating bass that stays.
Now let's get on to 24bit/96kHz, recorded in FLAC from 180g vinyl. The funny thing is the DAC stays on 16bit/44kHz, while I assumed it'd change to 24bit. I'm not sure whether it's the source or the recording, but the analogue is definitely present. The first proof is 'Private Investigators' by Dire Straits. Marc's modest voice complemented by the band's instruments; this is the better stuff, and listening blindly will daze most listeners. I also put on 'Romeo and Juliet' and again, pure enjoyment. How does this set then perform playing 'Hotel California' by the Eagles? This time and old and familiar version. The bass sounds rounded, the guitar is part of the song and Don Henley regain his real voice. Again, credit goes to the recording, but the Rega combination deserves some as well.
A hard problem: is there much difference between 16 and 24 bit recording/registration? It's a discussion that is still being conducted by niche magazines, but sadly I cannot be the conclusive voice in this.
The next test is a WAV copy of my own cds. I know the Chinese He Xun-Tian's 'Earth Drums'quite well, so I'm curious. The space is filled in perfectly, mids and high have a nice presence and the stereo effects make this song sound great. But apart from that I find the highs of the drums sounding a bit to metal-like. I redo the test later on with the cd itself and I have to say: it's less. Not much, but there is a difference. Later on I play 'Monks' by the same artist, and again it's great. The quiet parts are very silent, so another plus for the Regas. Same with Phillip Grass' 'Kayaanisisqatsi', the difference between the cd and WAV is tiny.
Can mp3-recordings convince me as well? Alan Parsons Project's 'Genesis' seems to flat, Dave Brubeck with 'Take Five' on the other hand is pleasant to listen to. In this case it's the source making the difference. But that's because of the Regas that bring out the best in this source.
First I want to make the point that I was very surprised by the great results from this small package. I never expected them to be able to handle tough speakers such as the used Focals. I want to give a couple of points of criticism, but compared to its qualities, they are minor. The test results from the DVD were great, the results with the iPad were a bit less. Most of the attention went to the HDD and Western Digital Life tv with optical connection, and those results are brilliant. We have some negative points, but the set proves that a good source and recording produce an attractive sound, which can compare to many other combinations.
The set stays upright in the case of light vocals, or instrumental songs. The stuff that's a bit heavier seems to lack some precision here and there, though, but that depends on the recording. Again, I blame the source, because when it works properly, it gets displayed decently as well. I cannot say much about the digital filters. I tried them several times, but I'm sad to say I could hardly hear any difference. Possible future owners might think different, however.
Pros and cons
+ Simple but efficient finish, small form factor
+ Impressive sound and stable power produced by the amp for this price category
+ A wide range of connection possibilities
- The remote control has a tendency to 'sleep' sometimes, and it might take some time to react
- For vinyllovers: the mass connection is at the bottom of the device