Hardware Reviews

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

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Rega Elex Mk4 integrated amplifier

Rega Elex Mk4 is the latest and arguably the best value amplifier the company has made. Is there another independent British brand that has been making hi-fi for as long as Rega? I can think of a couple but none which have been making such a wide range of products at accessible prices for the 50 years that Rega has been in business. In fact there is no one else that makes affordable audio electronics in this country, is there?

As the suffix suggests this is the fourth generation of Rega’s second tier amplifier, I guess that with the arrival of the entry level Io that should be third tier but that’s academic really. The latest Elex has received the facelift that Rega have been applying to all of their electronics over the last year or so, the change isn’t dramatic but the Mk4 is a bit slicker looking that the Elex-R it replaces and gains a headphone output on the front and digital inputs at the rear. It’s a hefty lump for the asking price, with a decent 72 Watts per channel on tap which should drive most loudspeakers and a good array of inputs that should serve the needs of most music enthusiasts.

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

Rega Elex Mk4 features

The digital inputs extend to coaxial and optical, USB is not even provided on the more pricey Elicit Mk5, which means it either costs too much to include or Rega don’t think it cuts the mustard in sonic terms. Both seem probable. Fortunately most digital sources have coax and/or optical outputs. The Elex Mk4 has a phono stage that will suit moving magnet and high output moving coil cartridges and offers four line inputs for sources with analogue output. Which includes things like CD players that offer digital and analogue yet quite often sound better via the analogue route because of transmission issues in digital connections. You can switch between inputs using a button on the front but it’s quicker and easier to do this with the new style remote that’s supplied with this amp. This allows inputs to be scrolled through in both directions and offers mute and volume control alongside functions for other Rega components, specifically CD players.

The fundamental amplifier electronics within the new Elex are unchanged from its predecessor, the circuit that Rega uses in pretty well all of its amplifiers is the same, what varies from model to model is the size of the power supply. Bigger power supply, more power and control. It’s a reliable and intrinsically great sounding circuit that Rega’s electronics guru Terry Bateman explained a few years ago, and which was originally introduced in the Brio-R. The design has probably been refined to some extent since then but like most decent Class AB designs it wasn’t broken then and thus does not need fixing now.

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

Rega Elex Mk4 sound quality

I was particularly enamoured of the Rega Elex-R, it was the most musically compelling sub £1,000 amplifier on the market, not the sweetest or smoothest but easily the one that made you want to play more music. The Elex Mk4 does exactly the same, delivering uncannily engaging results with all manner of material, it gets right to the heart of the musical matter in a way that many amplifiers cannot. I suspect that this is because it is so good at timing, which doesn’t mean that the beat makes your foot tap, almost any audio source can do this. It’s more that every note, every frequency is delivered at the same time as all the others, there is no lag, no blurring of leading and trailing edges.

The new Elex is at its finest with analogue sources and in my system that means vinyl played on a Rega P10 turntable with Aphelion MC cartridge, so no it wasn’t via the MM phono input but went through a Tom Evans phono stage before going into a line input. The Elex Mk4 may be an unlikely choice for this remarkable record player but it does a good job of showing why vinyl remains at the top of the audio enthusiast’s tree. Put on overplayed classics like Rumours and hear them revitalised, I was celebrating the work of the late Christine McVie and picking out her songs such as the beautiful Songbird, here the warmth of the artist is brought to the fore by this Rega’s transparency to the soul of the song, the expression and intent.

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

With an Auralic Aries LE streamer connected to the coaxial digital input the results are also very enjoyable. Once again it’s about timing, the foot and the pulse falling in with the way that the musicians interact and produce rhythms that none could achieve alone. You don’t hear the polish of the production on Babylon Sisters so much as wanting to sing along with the lyrics, regardless of how much worse you sound than Donald Fagen. So long as his voice is a little louder than your own who’s complaining. The Elex Mk4 does audiophile things like imaging and has decent grip on the bass so long as the partnering speakers aren’t too demanding. I used PMC twenty5.26i floorstanders for the most part and while these are a bit pricey they are revealing and let you know what the amp is doing, and this Rega was doing the important things very well.

Rega Elex Mk4 digital sound

It even kept a hold of the low kick on Deadmau5’s Seeya so that the tune took precedence over the gut churning bass. Lots of amps can shake the furniture with this track, not so many can put the bass into context so that the music makes sense. The DAC clearly isn’t too shabby either, delivering decent image scale and depth from a Haydn piece and putting the melody and vivacious playing by the Engegarde Quartet front and centre. Using an iFi Pro iDSD DAC (more than twice the price of this amp) instead of the onboard converter delivers a fuller, richer picture with more body and weight. The Rega DAC retains the upper hand in the pace department however, it’s a lighter balance with plenty of emotional impact which makes for inspiring listening, even with material that doesn’t usually hold my attention. The ability to get to the crux of the musical biscuit is arguably more important than the reproduction of the finer details.

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

Some will find the Rega Elex Mk4’s balance slightly on the lean side, there is none of what Metallica among others call ‘thickener’ in its presentation. This means that speaker matching is important and I would shy away from anything that is also lean, but that said when you have this degree of coherence tonal factors tend to take a back seat. I tried the Vivid Kaya S12 standmount speakers which are very even handed and extremely revealing, they made it clear that 72W is not quite sufficient in all circumstances but likewise that great musicians can be extremely beguiling via affordable electronics if they are as good as this.

Being committed to the cause I fitted a Goldring 1042 moving magnet cartridge to the P10 in order to give the phono stage a try. This delivered plenty of low level detail alongside fabulous groove when it was on the record, even Stephen Stills’ heavily compressed Do For The Others (Stephen Stills) sounded pretty special. A more familiar track revealed the small scale nature of affordable cartridges but musically the thrill power was very strong, it doesn’t deliver the refinement of a decent MC and external phono stage but the timing is bang on.

Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain

Rega Elex Mk4 sum up

A reviewer of my acquaintance is of the opinion that the Rega Elex Mk4 gives you 95% of what’s on offer from the Elicit Mk5 at a notably lower price, as mentioned earlier the only real difference is in power rating, tape loop and direct input not withstanding. Unless you want to party hard every night the Elex is likely to give you just as much enjoyment but the extra power does increase the range of speakers that the more pricey amp can drive. Either way the Elex Mk4 is a very, very musically satisfying amplifier that will keep you entertained for as long as there are tunes to play. The Rega Elex Mk4 is a hi-fi bargain, of that there can be no doubt.

Specifications:

Type: Integrated stereo amplifier & DAC
Analogue inputs: 4x line
Phono input: moving magnet
Digital inputs: coaxial, optical
Analogue outputs: tape out, pre-out
Bluetooth: N/A
Headphone output: 6.3mm jack
Speaker outputs: binding posts
Power Output: 72W into 8 ohms; 90W into 6 ohms
Dimensions (HxWxD): 82 x 432 x 340mm
Weight: 11kg
Warranty: lifetime

Price when tested:
£1,199
Manufacturer Details:

Rega Research
T 01702 333071
http://www.rega.co.uk

Type:

integrated amplifier

Author:

Jason Kennedy

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