Rega’s latest integrated fills a gap in the range with yet another highly entertaining and engaging amplifier that combines more musicality and precision than most of the competition can muster.
We are big Rega fans here at the Ear so when the company introduced the new Elex-R integrated it didn’t take long to get hold of a sample. Getting around to writing about it has taken rather longer however. That’s the problem with Rega products, they are so much fun to listen to that the chore of writing about them can take a bit of getting around to.
The Elex-R sits between the the Brio-R and Elicit-R and is described as a hybrid of the two deisgns, it has a £900 price point and slightly unusual 90 Watt into six Ohm power rating. That’s the first time I’ve seen a six Ohm rating but it relates to the impedance of Rega loudspeakers, the 72 Watt output into eight Ohms is a better comparator with other amps. Output power does not increase greatly into four Ohm loads, because as with all Rega amps it’s not about power alone. Build is as ever a little short on slickness of finish in places but high on substance, it weighs more than most at this because of its solid casework and what must be a decent size mains transformer.
Inputs include a moving magnet phono stage alongside four line inputs plus record and preamp outputs, so you could add a power amp in future should Rega get round to building one. Front panel controls are as minimal as ever but a few more options can be found on the simple remote handset, actually that only extends to mute, so not many more. The volume knob has a slightly insubstantial feel, it wouldn’t go down well on Knobfeel (the YouTube channel, no kidding), but that is probably because it’s motorised and was selected for sonic rather than fondle-ability reasons.
I photographed some vintage Naim kit recently and couldn’t help but notice that the feel and finish of the olive era kit is rather similar to the Rega casework these days. The sonic character is not dissimilar either, both possess an intrinsic ability to boogie, the differences are many of course but fundamentally they amount to greater power and finesse with the Elex-R. You have to pay rather more for Naim of almost any vintage that can deliver 72 Watts.
This is a usefully quiet amplifier, it makes this clear in the way that the low levels sounds in each recording are easier to appreciate, which goes a long way to increasing overall resolution. It times brilliantly as one expects of a Rega but it’s not quite as plush as a Roksan K3. The latter costs more at £1,250 and looks and feels the money, it also has more powerful bass, delivers a bigger soundstage and has a generally more refined delivery. However the Elex-R makes you want to listen to more music, its stereo imaging has greater solidity and you get the impression that it’s more transparent – there is less smoothing going on and more music getting through. The Rega may not sound quite so ‘hi-fi’ but its timing skills set it apart, that and a feeling of honesty, a sense that you are getting to the nub of the musical matter.
Those observations were made under the illuminating gaze of PMC fact.8 loudspeakers, an unlikely partner in the real world but a useful one for assessment purposes. I also gave the Elex-R a spin with the Cambridge Aeromax 6 floorstanders (£900), which are more appropriate in system balance and price terms. This pairing also proved to be rather good at communicating the message in the music, it sounds slightly warts and all but it’s in the grit and grime of the performance that you find its emotional depth. Detail resolution was also very good with this speaker, the clean mid and top allied to fast bass makes a good partnership with the Rega.
Nucleus’ Live 1970 with Leon Thomas is a rather good bluesy jazz album on the Gearbox label, one that offered up good dynamics and real power with this pairing. Chris Spedding’s guitar creating decent tension on Thomas’ epic The Creator Has A Master Plan. The backing has something of Bitches Brew about it when Ian Carr’s trumpet joins the mix, very engaging. Intensity is also in good supply on Melanie de Biasio’s No Deal, this positively crackles with emotional electricity over a well controlled bass line. With the audiophile recording Hot Lips by the Hot Club of San Francisco (Yerba Buena Bounce, Reference Records) you don’t get quite as much image height as I’ve encountered before but you do get the groove, which is less common in systems that are good at imaging. And to be honest this track has rarely sounded so engaging, the fiddle playing is easier to appreciate and there is lots of life in the recording, it made me realise why the original Rienhardt/Grappelli Quintette du Hot Club de France has proved so enduring.
Back with the PMC floorstanders and the Cantata streaming source it becomes apparent that the imaging could be more precise and the tone of brass a bit richer but that voice is as gripping as ever. Full scale with plenty of reverb, it’s clear that it’s a separate track in the recording but that doesn’t stop you becoming absorbed in the song, quite the opposite.
The volume control may not feel very sexy but it’s remarkable how much precision you can achieve with the remote handset, even in amps at this price it’s not always possible to make small changes in level but the Elex-R is very sensitive to your command.
Moving on to Can’s Tago Mago it’s instantly obvious that this was originally an analogue recording, despite a remastering to SACD (albeit with playback of the PCM layer). There is minimal use of studio effects but rather plenty of great musicianship, a quality that this Rega is particularly good at exposing. This album is not the easiest bit of listening, rather it’s a classic example of music you have to pay attention to in order to appreciate, and many systems stumble on its rhythmic density but not this one. A rather more recent album is Supa Dupa Fly by Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliot, here the FX are given full rein but not at the expense of the music. The beats on Hit ‘Em Wit Da Hee are lazy but precise and there is lots going on at the periphery, producer Timbaland was on it back in the nineties, that much is obvious. While some will crave more bone crunching grip with their hip hop, most will appreciate the rhythmic integrity, detail resolution and overall coherence of this amp’s presentation. And when the low notes come along there is no shortage of weight, the sample of thunder on I Can’t Stand The Rain reveals as much.
The Elex-R fits perfectly in between its sister amplifiers in Rega’s range, it’s more refined and revealing than the Brio-R but less so than the Elicit-R. I’d say it makes sense in the context of systems with source and speakers up to twice its price, and will be best served by nimble speakers and sources that can unearth detail and dynamics in an orderly fashion. The fact that it’s fast and clean enough to use with fact.8s is a sure sign that it’s an excellent amp that will enliven pretty much any music collection.