Rega Elex Mk4 Integrated Amp Review

On your Mks

by Ed Selley
Hi-Fi Review

402

Best In Class
Rega Elex Mk4 Integrated Amp Review
MSRP: £1,199.00
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Rega Elex Mk4 Integrated Amp Review

The Elex Mk4 isn't quite as good as the Elicit Mk5 but... you have to decide for yourself about 'isn't quite as good' versus £800 to spend on other things. This is an utterly brilliant bit of kit and very much the current class leader of the field at the asking price.

Pros

  • Sounds absolutely outstanding
  • Excellent digital board and phono stage
  • Superb build

Cons

  • No USB or Bluetooth
  • No direct input selection
  • Doesn't come in pink

Introduction - What is the Rega Elex Mk4?

The Rega Elex Mk4 is an integrated amplifier that combines a collection of analogue and digital inputs to give you a functionality suite that is gratifyingly of the moment. At the same time, it’s had the Rega generational refresh that is turning out some very good looking bits of kit indeed at the moment.

In fact, the Elex Mk4 induces a feeling of déjà vu that had me looking at the notes for the Elicit Mk5 and then checking the box label very carefully indeed to make sure I wasn’t going to commit the significant (and very mockable) offense of reviewing the same amplifier twice. This feeling was further (ahem) amplified by this review being written up in the gap between Christmas Day and New Year; the void time where all attempts of working out what day it is lead to insanity. Trapped in a void of time punctuated only by the insatiable urge to combine items of food you never would normally and eat them at times of the day that would have friends and family staging an intervention at any other time of the year, an amplifier that felt weirdly similar to another blended in perfectly.

Nevertheless, you will be reading this at a time when the passage of days has been restored and where a bowl of Ferrero Rocher topped with Baileys is no longer breakfast. Is the Elex Mk4 really an Elicit Mk5 in disguise or has something had to give in the move to this latest price point? Is Rega still turning out some of the best amps in the business or are there better options for your hard earned? We had best begin.

Specification and Design

Rega Elex MK4

The Elex Mk4 follows the Elicit Mk5 into the era of being fitted with both analogue and digital inputs; a fitment less noteworthy in terms of what it does as confirming that the Elicit Mk5 wasn’t Rega ‘testing the water’ to see what might work but the start of a migration over to integrated amps that are so equipped (and something that has some intriguing possibilities when the company returns to the upper echelons of their range). This digital board is exactly the same as the one found in the Elicit Mk5; a Wolfson DAC based board that takes design thinking from the DAC-R and that offers one optical and one coaxial input that both have a sample rate handling of 24/192kHz.

This is partnered with four RCA analogue line inputs and a moving magnet phono stage; a pair of numbers that the more diligent will note is exactly the same as the larger amp. You do lose the direct input that the Elicit has but retain the pre out and tape loop facility. The phono stage is moving magnet and has two stage RIAA implementation. Functionality is completed by a 6.35m headphone socket on the front panel. It’s not immediately clear as to whether this is the same phono stage used in the larger amp (and your reminder at this point that the two largest Rega amps don’t have a phono stage fitted internally). The long and the short of it is that, if you aren’t bolting the Elex Mk4 to an AV Receiver to be your front channels, it can do everything its bigger brother can.

Where the Elex Mk4 differs from the Elicit is the engine room. First up, on a basic level, the smaller amp has less power. Rega quotes 72 watts into eight ohms and 90 watts into six. No figure for four ohm operation is given and Rega also comments that the amp will run hot into sub 6 ohm loads (although it also notes that the amp has an effective thermal cutout so how much credence you need to place in this is unclear... and not for the first time, I am compelled to point out that reviewing products doesn’t extend to pushing them to the point where they glow and smoke comes out).

Rega Elex MK4

On a more detailed level, the Elex is a simpler piece of engineering than the Elicit. The latter is more closely related to the Aethos and takes many of the design principles of that volcanically powerful device and backs the horsepower off a bit. The Elex by contrast is closer in concept to the Brio but makes use of the larger chassis to beef up the output and improve the internal arrangements. There is a heart versus head caveat here though that the Brio is genuinely one of the most engaging, forgiving and generally lovely sounding amps anywhere near the price so the Elex being related to it is hardly a serious genetic handicap. Where the Elex differs from the Brio is that the power supply arrangement more close mimics the Elicit with a separate tap for the digital board and galvanic isolation for both sections.

Aesthetically, the Elex closely resembles the current Rega house style and it looks very similar indeed to the Elicit, with only the simplified volume control of the Elex acting as the at-a-glance difference (the Elicit has the more ornate control from the Aethos while the Elex has a more conventional knob with the indicator on the control itself). In fact, one of the other differences between the two amps comes out in favour of the smaller model. The Elex uses Rega’s smaller system remote and I personally feel this is a nicer device than the larger ‘Solaris’ remote that the Elicit comes with.

This similarity is less important than how the Elex feels as a £1,200 amplifier where the only answer I can give is ‘superb.’ With their current styling, Rega has managed to combine an instantly recognisable shape with a method of assembly that leaves most rivals at the price - even ones built in countries with rather less expensive labour than the UK - feeling somewhat insubstantial. Not everything is perfect; there’s still no direct input selection and the lower lip on the front panel is a dust trap that flush fronted rivals don’t have but I don’t think most people would perceive this to be the end of the world. Unbox an Elex Mk4 and it does an incredible job of avoiding that “I spent how much for this?” gut punch feeling that even some very well engineered bits of kit can suffer from. I cannot see many people not feeling it represents a lot of amp for the money.

Rega Elex MK4

Unbox an Elex Mk4 and it does an incredible job of avoiding that “I spent *how* much for this?” gut punch feeling that even some very well engineered bits of kit can suffer from

How Was the Elex Mk4 Tested?

The Rega has been connected to an IsoTek Evo 3 Aquarius mains conditioner and much of the testing has taken place with the iFi Neo Stream running as a Roon Endpoint acting as the source. The Roon Nucleus has also been fitted with an M2Tech HiFace USB to SP/Dif converter to allow for direct running into the coax input. An AVID Ingenium Twin with SME M2-9 arm and Vertere Sabre cartridge has been used to test the phono stage. Speakers used have been the Mission 700, Neat Petite Classic and the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S3. Material used has been FLAC, AIFF, DSD, Tidal, Qobuz and vinyl.

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8
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Performance

Rega Elex MK4

Even though the Elex is not simply a stripped down Elicit, I suspect that most reasonable ears sat blind in front of the duo, using the same source and speakers would note the family resemblance. Running with the iFi Stream and Neat Petite Classics, the Elex is able to achieve the feat of being ‘enough.’ Listening to The Sheepdogs Outta Sight, the manner in which you listen to it isn’t analytical and neither are you particularly conscious of things that the amp is or isn’t doing. Instead, there is a compelling sense of sufficiency. Sure, you could spend more and things would probably get better but… right now, the performance on offer sounds pretty damn good.

This sufficiency makes itself felt in two different ways. Like the vast majority of Rega devices I have ever tested, the Elex is not on conversant terms with harsh or aggressive. It manages to have impressive levels of top end energy; listening to the peak eighties toppiness of A Certain Ratio’s I’d Like To See You Again the Rega fizzles with excitement without sounding bright or fatiguing. This is an amplifier that makes being exciting something that seems effortless right up to the point where you try it on something else.

The tonal balance is also exceptionally well realised. The ‘studio live’ version of My Baby’s Mad Mountain Thyme is a riot of great musicianship going hell for leather and the Rega manages to ensure that every instrument sounds believable while ensuring you don’t overfocus on any one of them. The Elicit does have more going on with material like this; my notes do suggest it’s able to create more space and find a little more fine detail in these dense performances. Once again though, the Elex pulls the neat trick in isolation of taking a medley of instruments and singing styles and convincing with all of them.

Rega Elex MK4

That’s not the only neat trick being pulled here either. As I have gone on record as noting that amplifiers with barely more than twenty watts can sound entirely room filling in this space, you might correctly surmise that the 33 watt deficit that the Elex has to the Elicit have not exactly made a night and day difference to my listening experiences. There are very few speakers I can think of at the sort of price you would reasonably be looking to partner the Elex with where I imagine it will struggle. The 705 S3 at more than twice the price of the Elex and with a 3.7 ohm minimum impedance simply doesn’t register as a challenge. I can see owners with large rooms and big speakers getting closer to the notional performance limits of the smaller amp but I’m not sure many will exceed them.

There’s something else too. I can’t 100% prove that the phono stage in the Elex is the same as the one in the Elex and I didn’t use the same turntable (although I did use the same cartridge) with both devices. What I will say is that my notes suggest that the two amps are very (very) similar and this means that the £1,200 Elex is equipped with a tremendous asset for turntable users. Rega has confirmed that the digital board is the same though and it means that listening to the Elex over the coax converter is a very satisfying experience indeed. The same characteristics of the Wolfson I found with the Elicit (and the Saturn MkIII) makes for a listening experience that gels with the amp section of the Elex extremely well. The headphone output lacks the huge clout of the bigger Rega integrateds but it partnered with the T+A Solitaire T in a way that was extremely enjoyable.

Rega Elex MK4

Even though the Elex is not simply a stripped down Elicit, I suspect that most reasonable ears sat blind in front of the duo, using the same source and speakers would note the family resemblance

Conclusion

Rega Elex Mk4 Integrated Amp Review

Some slight contextual framing needs to be made in the context of the Elex Mk4 and the Elicit Mk5 because it is extremely important not to do the more expensive amp a disservice. The Elex is not as good as its big brother which, in turn has to yield to the sheer, imperious ability of the larger Aethos. Rega hasn’t done anything crazy here; like a number of companies, it’s shaved off functionality, power and detail features from a more expensive model as it updates the range. If you have a full £2k to spend, the Elicit Mk5 is still one of the very best ways to spend that money.

But…but… having said this, even typing this in Chrimbo Limbo, I’m pretty sure that when reality resurfaces, it will be hard to ignore that Rega has shaved a big chunk off cash off without shaving anything like as much functionality away at the same time; indeed, by keeping the same digital board and what feels like a very similar phono stage, they’ve really only served to emphasise this. There’s no other amplifier I’ve tested recently at the price that offers the imperious ability of the Elex Mk4. The latest refreshed Rega therefore has to be seen as a Best in Class.

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115

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Rega Aethos Integrated Amp Review

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9
Best In Class

Scores

Build Quality

.
9

Connectivity

.
9

Ease of use

.
9

Features

.
9

Audio quality

10

Value for money

10

Overall

10
10
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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