Rega’s long-running Brio has always been a fine budget amplifier, but this latest version is arguably the best one yet. It’s built into a half-width casing, similar to the one used for the company’s excellent DAC, and feels immensely solid. The feature list covers the basics: four line-level inputs, a moving-magnet phono stage and a remote control. Most rivals add at least a headphone output and switchable speaker to that list, but Rega has chosen to keep things simple in the pursuit of better sound. And one listen to the Brio-R is enough to convince us that the company has achieved that commendable aim.Agile, musical and rhythmicThe Brio-R is an immensely musical amplifier. It sounds agile and detailed, and sniffs out a rhythm track brilliantly. More after the break Despite a relatively modest output of 50 watts per channel, the Brio-R can get decent volume levels out of most speakers and deliver large-scale dynamic sweeps such as those from Holst’s Jupiter with ease. More than that, though, it’s the way this amplifier ties together musical strands that really impresses us. It’s the kind of product that puts the music, be it Eminem and Rihanna on Love the Way You Lie or The xx’s debut set, centre stage. Start listening, and it’s the music itself that always grabs your attention, rather than any particular hi-fi virtue. And that, of course, is exactly the way it should be. Excellent phono stageThe phono stage delivers a great performance too. It’s impressively transparent, and consistent in character to the line stages. And that means that it’s vastly better than what we usually hear – or expect – at this price point. This Rega is a clear level better than the best of the budget amplifiers, and
I was two glasses of Barossa Shiraz into the evening and had already begun to talk bollocks. An audiophile buddy was over to infuse my Audio-gd DI with some clock mods (and a transparent lid). He began pulling on my coat about what I thought of the Metrum Octave. That’s where the word association shenanigans began: “Fast, Perrier, Schweppes tonic water, detailed, light, airy, crisp.” Me? Pretentious? Ha. That’s the Metrum Octave, up-sampling Redbook FLAC to 88.2KHz. He’d also spied the Rega Brio-R on the shelf and then asked about its accompanying DAC. Previously reviewed here, the Rega DAC shares the same case and exterior styling and the Brio-R integrated. Some word association tumbled again: “Earth, soil, dirt, trees, nature, heavy, detailed, cocoa.” Readers looking for the audiolandia cliches of ‘tight bass’, ‘transparent mids’, ‘sweet highs’ and – worst of all – ‘competes with rivals 1-2x the price’ will likely be recoiling in horror right now. (With my tongue planted in my cheek) I blame Jeff Dorgay. Let’s wind it back a coupla months. October 2011, RMAF. TONEAudio’s head honcho Jeff Dorgay and I sat over a beer at the Denver Marriot. We discussed writing styles. He opined that people who complain about a given reviewer’s writing style are nothing to worry about. “They’re just not your audience”, he said. Damn straight. I’ll take it further. Describing a box o’ tricks as the best you’ve ever heard is as hollow as praise can get – a fast-track to reader-buyer’s remorse. Without contextual relativity, absolute-isms got nuthin’ going on. The question asked by the consumer is rarely, “How good is X?”. It’s more often, “How does X compare with Y?”. Therefore, better to first tap the flavour of the sound on offer – and
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