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
Too bad the folks at Rega aren’t in charge of balancing the trade deficit. While a substantial amount of modestly priced hi-fi is now produced in China, Rega continues to make solid designs built by hand by skilled craftspeople in its UK factory. That the company produces a 50wpc integrated amplifier with an excellent phonostage is quite admirable; that the firm does it at this level without going to the Far East is nothing less than incredible. Rega’s main man, Roy Gandy, is fond of saying that Rega likes to build products that offer top performance in their respective class. But this time, Rega hit the ball way out of the park.Longtime Rega enthusiasts might be surprised that the price of the Brio-R is $300 more than that of the previous model, which has been around for about 12 years. However, the new version offers substantial gains even as it occupies a much smaller footprint. Think of the $895 Rega Brio-R as the Lotus Elise of integrated amplifiers; it’s not quite what you’d expect until you get behind the wheel. And yes, the “R” stands for remote. Make sure to use both hands when unpacking the Brio-R. The compact box is fairly heavy, weighing in at about 20 pounds. Peaking inside shows that Rega didn’t allow a square millimeter of space to go to waste. The Brio-R features the same enclosure as the Rega DAC we reviewed earlier this year, the shared approach keeping costs low and quality high. No detail is left to chance; the remote-control circuitry is even given its own separate power supply to ensure signal purity. Poking around inside reveals one pair of output transistors per channel, high-quality film caps, and a very short signal path. Small Yet Strong Despite its smaller box, the
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