Rega System One record player, amp & speakers
At the last Bristol show, in the carefree days of February 2020, Rega launched its first all in one system and called it the Rega System One. Thanks to the pandemic the first examples of this system didn’t reach the shops until December last year, with a price only a bit higher than that given in Bristol which is quite an achievement under the circumstances. This system is Rega’s offering for anyone looking to enjoy vinyl to the full without breaking the bank, it’s fundamental elements are the Planar 1 turntable, Io integrated amplifier and Kyte loudspeakers, with speaker cables included. When bought as a system and supplied in one box the Rega System One saves £70 – £75 on the individual components.
There are of course less expensive vinyl replay systems available albeit not from a single reputable hi-fi brand, I don’t know of another company that makes decent budget turntables as well as loudspeakers. You can mix and match of course and that’s what a good dealer can do but even the best won’t be able to match the price of the Rega System One with British built components throughout.
We have looked at nearly all the elements in this system individually, the only exception being the Planar 1 which we covered in its Planar 1 Plus guise, this is the same turntable with a built in MM phono stage. The Planar 1 is Rega’s most affordable record player with an RB110 tonearm, phenolic resin flywheel platter, 24V synchronous motor and Rega Carbon moving magnet cartridge. It comes with a good quality dust cover and as the cartridge is fitted at the factory you just need to slide on the counterweight and plug in the power supply to get it up and running.
The Io integrated amplifier is the smallest in the range but has all the features required to form the heart of any decent system. These include an MM phono stage plus two line inputs, a headphone socket and remote control. It’s rated at 30 Watts per channel which while hardly heroic is sufficient for most loudspeakers so long as you don’t need bombastic volume levels.
The Kyte loudspeakers are the most extreme element in the system by virtue of their phenolic cabinets, using this material for a loudspeaker is a radical, even controversial move. All other Rega speakers have wooden cabinets, as do virtually all other speakers in the price zone, but none of those are made in the UK. Rega have been using phenolic in its turntable braces for some time now thanks to its combination of lightness and stiffness, in the Kyte they use ceramic bracing to increase stiffness and this approach when combined with Rega’s drivers makes for a very capable loudspeaker.
The 3m pair of Rega speaker cables supplied with the system are a decent stranded copper type with soft plastic insulation, they are marked for polarity so that you can ensure that the red terminal on the back of the amp connects to the same terminal on each speaker. Before connecting them up you need to remove a portion of the insulation that is pre-cut for the purpose and pull the ends apart, I noted that they are pre-split about two inches down which makes this a straightforward, tool free job.
Rega System One sound quality
You don’t need speaker stands for the Kytes if you have a shelf or sideboard to put them on but for best results that is the way to go, you also don’t have to use the plastic T bar that screws to the back of the speaker. This makes the front baffle vertical when the speaker is on a flat surface but makes it harder to put them on stands without a flat top plate. I Blu-tacked the Kytes to a pair of stands and put them fairly close to the wall, in some situations the rear port might make them a bit too bass heavy in this position so as ever it pays to experiment with placement. I put the Planar 1 and Io on a hi-fi rack but again these could go on furniture, I would recommend not putting the speakers and turntable on the same thing however as having a device that reads vibration next to one that makes them is a recipe for poor sound quality.
I am used to high end systems in which one piece of cable can cost as much as the Rega System One, yet within a few tracks it became clear that musical enjoyment has little to do with how much you spend. It’s what you spend it on that counts. This system has an uncanny ability to draw you into the music, it engages your mind and body in a way that few systems can.
Tonally the sound is on the dry and light side, it doesn’t have the warmth that wood brings to most loudspeakers and in the process reveals that that warmth is a colouration, something that most speakers add to the mix and not necessarily the actual sound of the recording. But that isn’t really important in the context of musical appreciation, we enjoy music through the crudest of speakers on our phones, computers and ear buds after all, what really matters and what this system does is present music in a coherent, precisely timed fashion. This is what Rega have always been supremely good at so it shouldn’t be surprising that they can do it in a budget system, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable that a week of listening can go by with little inclination to substitute ‘better’ components into this system.
I did make one change and that was to add the Silent Angel Munich M1 streamer to the system, vinyl is my first and deepest love but a lot of great music is stored on my server and this allowed me to test the Io’s line input, so I had a valid excuse. I used it to play Roni Size’s hit Brown Paper Bag where the immediacy of the system allowed the double bass riff to really dig in and gave the whole tune a momentum that was enthralling. Rather too often in this game the character of the sound, the texture and tone, gets in the way of the music which means that repetitive tracks like this lose their appeal after a few bars. That was definitely not the case with the Rega System One/Silent Angel combo and I ended up playing a wide variety of digital music files from all sorts of sources, both high res and Youtube via Airplay, and enjoyed them all.
Vinyl is naturally the winner here however, as there is no processing involved this format is intrinsically well timed and the Planar 1 does a fabulous job with all manner of material including John Renbourn’s Another Monday where the voice and guitar turn a song like I Know My Babe into a thing of radiant beauty. I also enjoyed the attack of the guitar on the oddly named Waltz, it reminded me that Renbourn was up there with Jansch and Martyn at the time.
Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution is a more sophisticated production and makes it clear that this system can do depth of image as well as speed. It is also very strong on lyrical intelligibility on the speedy intro to Ebony and Ivy. While bass power could be greater if the amp and speakers were both a bit more beefy, the music is more interesting than many more powerful systems can manage. In my larger than average room I had to limit volume in order to enjoy a comfortable sound but that did not limit the musical experience. The Rega System One reveals that we often use volume to increase the sense of a connection between artist and listener, but when a system is this clear and direct you don’t need level to engage with the performance.
It does space as well, Beck’s Paper Tiger on digital, opened up and expanded into the room, the electric guitar cutting in like a serrated knife and making the track that much more real. I enjoyed a lot of great music on this system, more than average in fact. Its strength has something to do with the restraints placed on the designers in the first place, they had to reduce cost wherever possible on each component and this forced them to focus on the parts that mattered most. The Rega System One is the very essence of less is more, it really does get to the parts that many systems do not and is a testament to its makers ability to turn spinning plastic into living music. In short, it’s an absolute corker.