Rega Aura MC

Hardware Review

Rega Aura MC
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
MC phono stage
Jason Kennedy

Vinyl record sales are at their highest since the eighties, the era when CD started to gain a foothold with its claims of perfect sound forever and the much vaunted but ultimately empty claim that they were immune to abuse. The irony is that the most mangled piece of vinyl can be played, it won’t sound great but it will sound a lot better than a skipping CD, which frequently won’t play at all. We now have far more robust, non physical media to store music on but these are being replaced by rented music on streaming services that lose your playlists if you go on holiday. No wonder the young are happy to embrace a format that takes a substantial and attractive physical form and sounds great to boot, or at least it does if you avoid playing it on one of the painfully bad cheap record players on the market, devices that are guaranteed to damage the grooves of today’s high ticket vinyl.

If you’re reading this you probably know that quality counts in audio hardware, when it comes to reliability, build and sound you can’t beat a decent turntable. But while some come with basic onboard phono stages the better ones need this critical piece of electronics to be in the amplifier or on its own. The Rega Aura is a pretty serious example of the standalone phono preamp or stage. It comes from a company that has been making very good turntables for nearly fifty years and started building electronics in the 90s. They also make pick up cartridges of both moving coil and moving magnet varieties and it’s the former that the Aura was created to make the most of.

 

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Aura is Rega’s flagship phono preamp and replaces the Ios. Ostensibly similar in appearance Aura differs under the skin by virtue of changes made to the front end or input stage. Where Ios used step-up transformers to provide the extra gain required with moving coil cartridges Aura has an active gain stage. This has come about because when Ios was developed engineer Terry Bateman incorporated a symmetrical input circuit but at the time there were no symmetrical FETs available. Last year however Terry managed to find a new manufacturer of these devices and this sparked the idea of revising Ios. Other changes include a removal of the tunable filters provided for Rega’s original MC the Apheta, this cartridge’s successor the Apheta 2 doesn’t need any filtering which means that the circuit is that much simpler and thus more transparent. The gain stage and RIAA stage have also been updated with SMDs (surface mount devices) that allow for a shorter signal path. Aura has input loading options for both capacitance and impedance and includes both a mono switch and a gain switch that adds an extra 6dB for particularly low output MCs/quiet records. I didn’t find it necessary even with a passive preamplifier but it will certainly be useful with some albums.

Build quality is exemplary, this is a substantial piece of electronics, more so than most of its contemporaries, and while mass doesn’t equate to sound quality it goes some way to inspiring confidence in construction. Input is single ended but output is available on RCA and balanced XLR sockets where rated output doubles. Impedance settings range from 50 to 400 Ohms and capacitance goes from 1000 to 5700pF, gain is 63.5dB in the standard position. Some cartridges like a higher input load than 400 Ohms but they are in the minority, and the one I tried worked very well into that load. It’s worth mentioning that Rega include one of their fancy power cables in the box, not something you get with many products.

 

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Sound quality
Listening commenced with a Rega Aphelion cartridge onboard an RP10 turntable, input load set at 100 Ohms/1000pF, this naturally worked a treat producing exceptional transparency to each and every slab of vinyl that was put on the platter. So Riley Walker’s Primrose Greenis clearly compressed and rarely escapes the space between the speakers but it’s full of inner detail and driven by solid, powerful grooves with some fabulous playing on ‘Same Minds’ for instance. The clatter of the steel strings is also very appealing on ‘Griffiths Bucks Blues’ as is the pace of the rhythm section on Rymden, Bugge Wesseltoft’s latest release. This has lots of low level detail with weird watery percussion sounds and lovely double bass, separation is exceptional with the Aura, it is always easy to pick out individual voices and instruments even when things get dense. Sarathay Korwar’s live album My East is your Westgets that way at times but is a great recording from the Gearbox label, it’s replete with tabla and percussion playing that is easy to pick out beneath the various lead instruments. The Aura let’s you hear how phenomenal this performance is, with tremendous atmosphere and speed of playing.

Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolutionis another example of good music that has been limited in an effort to make it commercially successful (a successful one at that), albeit not as much as her more recent releases. But the bass is full, rich and tuneful and the music highly engaging indeed, especially standouts like ‘Ebony and Ivy’. The Aura is not as relaxed as some phono preamps, if there are edges in the recording they appear through the speakers and with some records that can seem a little forward but in other respects I suspect that it’s more honest and even handed than most. This was most noticeable with a Dynavector DV17DX cartridge on a Well Tempered Amadeus 254, and this does seem to be a slightly gung ho cartridge. Tremendously fast but close to the edge, nonetheless it showed that the Aura has a tremendous ability to deliver complex rhythms without batting an eyelid, thanks no doubt to the remarkable ability it has to separate out the details in a coherent manner. Over time it also became apparent that the differences between recordings were revealed to be rather larger than usual, the better ones were incredibly open and deep with remarkable width of image. It’s this resolution of differences which sets the Aura apart and reveals just how transparent it is.

 

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With a Van den Hul Condor XCM (which prefers a 1kOhm input load) the sound is richer and fuller than the preceding cartridges with a relaxed but revealing presentation that’s very easy to enjoy. The nuances of Bill Evans’ playing are absolutely delightful, as is the way that his rhythm section plays along with him on Waltz for Debby. It’s easily the best result I’ve had with this cartridge on a Rega turntable, a point made all the more clear by playing the second side of Astral Weeks. The energy, breadth of tone and again separation on this is off the scale, even on the relatively calm ‘Madam George’ Morrison’s voice is remarkably powerful and nearly all the instruments have clear reverb around them, by the time I got to ‘Ballerina’ I was lost, that track is a beauty beyond compare.

The Reg Aura is clearly a top notch phono preamplifier, its build quality, range of features and sheer transparency put it in the premier league. There’s no shortage of competition at and above this price point but you don’t often get the combination of qualities that the Aura offers, and as these results show this is not exclusive to Rega cartridges by any means. So if you are looking to go deep into your vinyl grooves and have a turntable, arm and cartridge that can dig out the details in a shining and beautiful manner then the Aura is definitely a contender for your budget.

Specifications: 

Type: Solid-state, MC phono stage
Phono inputs: RCA sockets
Analogue outputs: single ended RCA, balanced XLR
Standard input sensitivity: 
67 μV - 69.5 dB Gain Setting I
131 μV - 63.5 dB Gain Setting II
Input impedance: 50, 100, 150, 300, 400 Ohms
Input capacitance: 1000, 2000, 3200, 4300, 5700 pF
Output impedance: not specified
Output level: Unbalanced 200 mV, Balanced 400 mV
Signal to Noise Ratio: not specified 
Dimensions (HxWxD): 88 x 435 x 350mm
Weight: 13kg

Price: 
£3,999
Distributor Details: 

Rega Research
www.rega.co.uk

Comments

I purchased the Cyrus Signature Phono preamp last July to upgrade from my 1997 Audiolab PPA but despite the claimed variable capacitance, this function made no difference to the sound of my Van Den Hul MC1 Special cartridge. It was sent back to Cyrus for checking but they claim that it is operating as per specification.
A friend then made for me an adapter to go between my record deck and Cyrus which has a couple of 2nF military grade capacitors in parallel with the live and screen of the cables. Result? Excess sharpness on LPs with that characteristic cured. But try again to raise or lower cartridge sharpness using the internal Cyrus options with the adapter attached? No difference.
My dealer has agreed to take back the Cyrus for a full refund to towards a Rega Aura now on order..
My turntable is the Michell Orbe (upgraded to DC motor
and power supply) with the SME Series V tone arm
and as stated, the Van Den Hul MC1 Special cartridge.

Hi Steve, as a rule MCs are much more sensitive to impedance than capacitance. MMs on the other hand do vary with the capacitance of the load so you may be better off experimenting with impedance. That said the Aura is a superior phono stage to the Signature Phono so you should get a better result either way.

To The Editor...
I forgot to mention that I also tried all of the various impedance settings on the Cyrus as well, all to no avail,
The fixed impedance and capacitance settings on the Audiolab 8000PPA are 100 ohms and 3.8nF which gave a smoother sound than any of the
various available settings on the Cyrus Signature. That said, the Cyrus with 2/3rds of my vinyl collection gave a most impressive sound, the clarity and phenomenal bass response particularly with some Classical recordings was impressive, but with the remaining 1/3rd of my collection just sounded that little bit too sharp. Despite my age, 65 I have luckily managed to retain extremely good hearing. I was once left partially deaf with ringing in the ears for a couple of days after being second row from the front at a Genesis concert at the Rainbow Theatre in January 1977 after which I always used ear protection to good long term ear health...

Have had my new Rega Aura for three weeks and I am
EXTREMELY...happy with it!
I do not have the same issues with cartridge matching that I had with the Cyrus Signature phono preamp and with intense listening sessions, the Rega is definitely the winner over the Cyrus. The mids and highs are reproduced with remarkable smooth clarity and the bottom end just carries on descending! My ATC SCM40 loudspeakers are loving it! From Classical to Rock to Electro Pop, the Rega Aura just carries on giving, none of the slight ear fatigue as with the Cyrus’s top end with certain pressings. My next upgrade just ordered is the Van Den Hul Frog Gold to replace my now 21 year old
MC1 Special.

That's good news Steve, so glad that it's living up to expectations. It is a truly excellent phono stage. One day you should have a listen to Rega's P10 turntable, I think you will be very pleasantly surprised.

Since my last entry re: the Rega Aura phono preamp,
I have upgraded my cartridge from the Van Den Hul
MC1 Special to a VDH Frog Gold.
The MC1 Special was over 20 years old and though still sounding good was obviously in need of a service.
I picked up on line some interesting reviews of the Frog Gold and one in particular did a direct comparison between both cartridges. Though the MC1 Special performed well, the Frog Gold stood head and shoulders above it.So I went ahead and ordered one which was made to order by Mr Van Den Hul himself as are all the higher end VDH MC cartridges.
The prescribed running in period has now passed (100+ hours Album playing time) and what can I say?
The former cartridge was good, but the Frog Gold is unbelievable!!! The clarity and detail and powerful solid bass have to be heard to be believed!
The 2 x 8 micron stylus as opposed to the original’s
3 x 8 really digs down into the groove extracting
stunning detail and more importantly, the Frog Gold compliments the Rega Aura hand in glove, a perfect match. I am listening to my LPs with new ears, It has literally given me a brand new vinyl collection!
My Marantz SA-10 SACD player purchased last year, has seen little use in recent months, I am totally focused on
the wonders of the revived record deck.
I have also been purchasing some of the new half speed vinyl pressings now available...Two stand out examples are Peter Gabriel’s 4 and So albums, truly that good that they deserve to be used as Audiophile Test LPs..

That's great news Steve, there's nothing like a serious cartridge upgrade to reinvigorate the record collection. I've been doing the same with the Rega Aphelion 2, review coming soon.