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
Thanks to its newly acquired sonic weight, the Brio is evenly balanced across the frequencies. The top end sparkles and yet there’s a sweetness to it, while basslines enjoy depth and rumbling textures. Voices are intimate and expressive: you can hear the restraint in Corey Taylor’s usually roaring vocals in From Can To Can’t, while Tom Waits’ gravelly tones are textured and full of rawness in Alice. At this price, the Brio’s main rival is the Award-winning Cambridge Audio CXA60 (£500). While the affable Cambridge is more open and delivers a bigger scale of sound, it sounds soft around the edges compared with the Brio’s punchy, articulate sound. And we get another surprise as we jump up the price range to the Rega Elex-R (£900) and Elicit-R (£1600). The £600 Brio can’t match its bigger brothers in terms of scale, subtlety and dynamism, but it does have the crisp top end and sense of fun that holds up against its fiercer siblings. The sonic character remains the same, which is impressive for Rega’s budget amp.
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