Rega Round-up: the Apollo, Saturn and Brio-R
Yesterday was a pleasant day at the Rega dealer's where I got to play with other Rega products before taking my DAC home. I was curious to see how the DAC stacked up against the Apollo and Saturn, both of whom double-dipped HFC's cdp awards in the same year they came out, 2006 iirc. It's easy to hear that these three sources share the Rega imprimature for digital sonics whose traits are: rhythmic elan, smooth-flowing mids, an absence of metallic treble harshness, and with certain music, a turntable-like performance. With the Apollo, I reckon that the DAC's arrival has made it redundant. This oldest Rega spinner sounds a tad undernourished in comparison. Against the Saturn, hmmm, it comes down to personal preferences. I have to agree with fellow Eliciter CultureCrammer that the DAC (which has the newer Wolfson 8742 DACs) is more full-bodied, especially in the bass where its chunkiness contrasts with the Saturn's spry reediness. The Saturn is probably more amp-friendly and best matched to bass-confident floorstanders. As I no longer use CDs, I don't forsee myself getting another cd spinner anymore, so DAC it is for me.
When I got the Elicit I said that I'm unlikely to buy another amp in my lifetime, but it doesn't mean that I'm not going to buy half an amp. I have a strong fetish for half-width amps (owned all of MF's X series in the past) and the new Brio-R is very delectable in the flesh. I certainly liked what I heard. It's not an Elicit with half the power though. So the Elicit's high resolution and tube-like fluidity are not quite on the cards, nor is pairing with 4-ohm Elacs or Dyns ideal. But I can see it working some magic with Dyn's easier-load DM 2/6 or even 2/7.
In use, I didn't get the impression that this 50-watter Rega had the dynamic reserves of my previous MF shoeboxes the X-A1 (50W), X-80 (55W), and X-150 (105W), or my current X-A2 (75W) and X-T100 (BIG 50W!), so it restricts choices for ambitious speaker upgrades. But I'll say this, used within its power range the Brio-R sounds wonderfully natural with good reproduction of instrumental tonalities; which seems to be a Rega virtue. And it is devoid of the slight greyness and sibiliance that marred the treble of my X-150 (a £800 amp and EISA award winner in its time). It is also rhythmically adept and casts a decent, layered soundstage. And there is more dynamic backbone than an Italian shoebox I'd coveted in the past, the £475 Audio Analogue Primo Settanta (70W), which will be warm and soft-sounding in comparison. The stop-gap NAD C326BEE I had last year is punchier but it suffers from a softened treble, veiled midrange and mid-bass looseness which are mercifully absent in the Brio-R. Bravo! I like this Brio-R and may replace my flower-shop X-A2 with it when the time comes.
For now I'm not stepping into the Rega shop till next year lest I develop the enabler-addict relationship I had with my MF dealer.