Rega Brio Integrated Amplifier Review
The Brio does less to give you so much more
What is the Rega Brio?The Rega Brio is an integrated amplifier and the entry level model in the Rega range. The company is best known for their turntables – and they’ve been extremely active in this area of late as well – but they have been producing amplifiers for nearly thirty years. The Brio has existed in various incarnations almost since the very beginning. In recent years, it has settled into being a half width design with a selection of line inputs and a phono stage.
You only need to look at some of the amps we’ve reviewed recently to note that this specification feels decidedly ‘old school’ by the exciting evolutionary processes of 2017. For similar money you can buy amps that are largely independent of the need for source equipment and do any number of extremely clever things. By comparison, the Rega looks a little – dare I say it? – austere.
Of course, building something that does one thing well rather than a great many things indifferently is not a bad idea. It stands to reason that if you are fitting all manner of additional functionality to a product and keeping it at the same retail price, something will have to give somewhere and by reducing the ‘mission creep’ in their amplifiers, Rega will give you more actual amp. That’s the theory anyway – it’s time to see if it works in practise.
SpecificationsThe Rega is an integrated amplifier that uses a class A/B amplifier stage to generate a power output of 50 watts into 8 ohms, rising to an exactingly specific 73 watts into four. These are not the sort of figures that bring to mind a PA system on the rampage and compared to some of the class D based rivals we’ve seen recently it might feel that on paper at least, the Brio is considerably outgunned. They don’t however tell the whole story. The figures given are sustained rather than some sort of freak blip recorded moments before the output stage expires and at low distortion. The Brio is intended to take the sort of speaker that is encountered at the same price – or indeed slightly above, like Rega’s very own RX1 – and have more than enough power to drive them in a normal UK lounge.
Under the lid, there are some other clues that the Brio is more potent than the bare numbers might suggest. The pre and power sections of the Brio have their own rectification which is relatively unusual in amps at this price and ensures that there is less cross contamination between the two sections and that they have the required power to do what they need without running out of puff. Lurking in the circuits are components that are of unusually high quality for a £600 amplifier. Rega has long adhered to the idea that if you buy a larger number of a better component and use them wherever you can, the costings make sense and you can outperform your rivals. Also worthy of note is that the smaller amount of space under the lid of the Brio doesn’t have to include a heatsink as the casework now fulfils this function.
Beyond the four line inputs and record out fitted to the Rega, there are two items that are worthy of note. The first is a moving magnet phono stage. This is something that Rega has some very strong principles about. With the exception of the mighty Osiris which is Rega’s flagship integrated – and priced at a point where most owners will be looking for an external model – every Rega amplifier ever made has had a phono stage in it. This is perhaps not hugely surprising given that Rega remains a prodigious manufacturer of turntables but it also points to the unit in the Brio being something more than a box ticking exercise. The measurements are certainly impressive and mean that if you are a vinyl user, the asking price includes a solid solution for your turntable too.
The second addition is no less useful – arguably even more – and is something of a departure. The Brio comes fitted with a headphone amplifier, the first Rega integrated to be so equipped. Neither is it a box ticking exercise. Pop over to the Rega website and the page for the Brio lists the available output for various different measurements. This is information this is frequently almost impossible to secure for dedicated headphone amps and suggests that Rega hasn’t glanced at some circuits on the web and shoved one in there.
The rest of the Brio is pretty much as you see it. Rega supplies a remote that is of a size halfway between ‘normal’ and ‘lose it down the back of the sofa’. Many of the commands are for matching digital components but you can happily drive the Rega from the sofa with it.
DesignThere’s a curious dichotomy to Rega’s activities of late. On the one hand, they are utterly timeless – the Planar 3 and Planar 6 look like Regas have always done and there’s a level of continuity to what Rega does with analogue that is the envy of most rivals. This has to be seen against their electronics where almost the complete opposite is true. Rega has built some of the most distinctive and individual casework designs of the last thirty years and updated those designs on a regular basis. The Brio is now built in the latest casework from the company that appeared at the start of this year – other devices appear to be making the transition to this design too.
This is no bad thing because the Brio is a genuinely good looking product. Powered off, it's still pretty good with that hollow volume control especially looking very smart and feeling very pleasant to use. Light it up though and the effect is nicer still. There are tomes of text in design manuals about how red illumination isn’t suitable for domestic electronics. Rega has ignored it and the red Rega logo and input indicator really sets the front panel off. The Brio manages to feel more expensive than its asking price and that is always half the battle. This is helped by casework that feels solid and carefully assembled.
The half width design is handy too. With many DACs now taking up very little space of their own, you can combine the Rega with many of them and still take up less room that a normal 430mm wide separate. Rega makes the matching Apollo CD player for this role and it has to be assumed that the superb DAC-R will change its design to match soon enough. The styling of the Brio isn’t so radical that it won’t sit happily alongside a fair few other devices too.
There are one or two slight idiosyncracies to the design. There is no direct input selection button so you need to cycle through the inputs 1,2,3 etc to go back to where you were which is slightly annoying. The phono stage also has a slightly curious feature. Rega turntables do without a separate ground wire and this means that at first glance, the Brio hasn’t been fitted with one. Rega isn’t that mean though and there is a ground terminal only it’s hidden under the chassis. This is fine for the bulk of turntables but if your ground wire is very short – designed to attach to a terminal right next to the input, you might have a problem.
The Brio manages to feel more expensive than its asking price
How was the Rega Brio Tested?The Brio has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Sigmas mains conditioner tested with an Oppo Sonica DAC as the main source. Some additional testing has been carried out with a Michell Gyrodec and SME M2 arm with a Gold Note Vasari Gold cartridge that has allowed for testing the phono stage. The main speaker used for testing has been the Spendor A1 although some testing has also been undertaken with a pair of Neat Momentum floorstanders. Test material has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as some DSD and Tidal along with vinyl.
Sound QualityOver the last year, the quality of some sub £1,000 amplifiers I have tested here and elsewhere have honestly blown me away. Even with this caveat, there was a heady fifteen minutes where I sat down and listened to the Brio in earnest for the first time and still went “blimey” (or words to that effect – this is a family friendly environment after all). There’s no clichés to be unleashed here; the Brio doesn’t rewrite the rules or lift any veils but it does sound exceptionally good.
These qualities are principally down to the extremely convincing overall balance that the Brio has. You can spend a few hours meandering around Tidal throwing anything you like at it and the Rega will deliver the musical message without breaking a sweat. The frequency response feels absolutely even and free from emphasis of any particular area meaning that when the music itself has emphasis, the Brio conveys it effortlessly. This is by any stretch of the imagination a neutral amplifier but there’s a little more to it than that.
First up, there is a refinement to the frequency extremes of the Rega that means that pretty much regardless of what you choose to play on it, the result is utterly free of harshness or aggression. This is never at the expense of detail though. Listening to a 16/44.1 rip of Rage Against the Machine, the Rega does a great job of delivering the staccato, machine gun lyrics of Take the Power Back without losing any of the huge energy of the track but at the same time ensuring the result is still, against all odds, impressively refined. Every auditory experience can be attributed to a measured characteristic somewhere but I am stuffed if I know how the Brio does it.
At the other end of the scale, the bass response of the Rega is also exceptional. As I noted in its review, the Spendor A1 is not a bass monster but it shows exactly what the electronics up stream are doing. The Rega elicits a bass response out of the Spendors that suggests there is plenty of bottom end to be had (and a quick test with my Neats suggests that while this is realistically a little too much speaker for the Rega to really master, there is indeed some excellent bass available).
And tying all this together is an innate rhythmic ability that takes music of any tempo and ensures that it sounds immediate and believable whatever you play. Royal Blood’s Ten Tonne Skeleton moves with absolute fury and power while you can change tack completely and play Terry Callier’s You goin’ miss your Candyman and the Brio is perfectly in sync with the shifting tempos without ever once sounding unsettled. Combine this with tonality that has an unforced and unshowy realism and you have an amp that pulls you into the music and has you forget about the delivery system. And that, when all is said and done, is what this equipment should be seeking to do in the first place.
Finally, while the Brio can’t recognise a Bluetooth signal from a hole in the ground, the extra features that Rega has supplied are really very good indeed. Connected to the Gyrodec with Gold Note cartridge, the Rega has low noise, plenty of gain and the same tangible, balanced and engaging presentation as the rest of the amp. The result is consistently entertaining and more than up to the job of showing what the Gold Note – which on its own costs nearly two thirds the cost of the Rega – can do. The headphone amp is also very accomplished and replicates the basic presentation of the amp via the headphone socket. People with very insensitive headphones – planar magnetic types mainly – might find gain slightly limited but for evening listening, it is more than good enough.
There’s no clichés to be unleashed here; the Brio doesn’t rewrite the rules or lift any veils but it does sound exceptionally good.
- Superbly lively and involving sound quality
- Excellent phono stage and headphone amp
- Compact and well made
- Rivals do more
- No direct input selection
- Ground terminal oddly located
Rega Brio Integrated Amplifier ReviewThe ultimate suitability of the Rega will come down to exactly what you need from your amp. If you are building a system from scratch, a device that will negate the need for sources like the NAD C338 will be more immediately appealing than the Brio which needs rather more system around it to function. Let’s be clear, the NAD is no slouch sonically either. £200 more also buys the Audiolab M-ONE which is the best all round amp I’ve tested this year as it is an astonishing combination of a great amplifier with a peerless digital section.
If you just want an amplifier though – something to which you will attach sources to suit and your speakers and you have £600 to spend, stop looking because this is the amp you need. There have been times during the testing of the Brio where I have felt that although I have been spoiled in terms of some of the amps I’ve had the privilege to use over the years, the performance of Rega’s baby is quite sufficient for me to spend the rest of my days with it. This is – unapologetically – an ‘old school’ amplifier but it is one that does what it does so well, it is unquestionably a Best Buy.
Ease of use9
Value for money9
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