Rega System One Review
- A sublime listening experience
- Very well made
- Flexible upgrade friendly specification
- No digital included
- Could wind up costing you a small but joyous fortune
Introduction - What is the Rega System One?
The Rega System One is a complete, plug and play system that is fronted by a turntable. It could be described as a very specific take on the all in one system in that it turns up in one box rather than it occupying one chassis as might traditionally be the case for such an object. It is the physical manifestation of a challenge that audio companies have spent the better part of this century grappling with; the first rung on the ladder.
In principle, the issue is simple enough to describe. If you make products that are often fairly expensive, how do you entice people to want those products? One approach is to market the living daylights out of the product and ensure that it is something you promise yourself when you’ve got the money. The other is to try and build a product that occupies a terrestrial price point that people buy and then proceed to use a stepping stone to your more mainstream offerings.
We’ve tested a few different products that demonstrate different ways of doing this. The Chord Mojo was one of the earliest attempts; the fundamentals of what makes a Chord Electronics DAC shrunk down to their irreducible minimums. Naim Audio takes a different approach. The Mu-so is perfectly happy to work on its own but, if you like what it does, it will join the same streaming platform as a Naim Uniti or Naim streamer if you decide to go further. For Bowers & Wilkins, the route to showing what its speakers will do is to build headphones that demonstrate the company's approach in a self-contained way. If you then decide to build a full system, the likelihood is you’ll at least give its speakers the time of day.
Rega has a different approach to this because it has a different range of products. Any ‘first rung’ has to be made from separate components that form a complete system (because Rega makes all the parts of a complete system), vinyl fronted (because, while they’re very good at digital, they’re synonymous with turntables) and built in the UK. This is a tricky thing to turn into a first rung system but in the fever dream of Bristol 2020, they showed the System One designed to do just that. It’s a mark of how debilitating to standard development and planning that the pandemic has been that it has been nearly two years between that first glimpse and production reality but the System One is ready to go and it is time to find out if it’s any good.
Specification and Design
The System One comprises three different products that are all available separately. They arrive in a single box with two runs of speaker cable to ensure that it will connect up with no additional items needed (the turntable has a captive lead out cable). Two of these products have been the recipient of solo reviews here; the Planar One turntable and the Io integrated amplifier. They are joined by the Kyte standmount speaker which you can also buy on their own for £499.
The Planar One (which was tested in One Plus form with a phono stage on board but which is fundamentally the same otherwise) turntable is the start point of the Rega Turntable range (which, bar the Planar 2, have all had solo reviews too). In miniature, it is built to the same design philosophy that applies to the mighty Planar 10. It concentrates on limiting the amount of mass in the design to the platter and ensuring that everything else is as light (but as stiff) as it can be. The Planar 1 also has one other feature in common with the Planar 10 in that the platter is not made from glass. While the Planar 10 gets a ceramic one, the Planar 1 has a platter made from phenolic resin (be warned, you’re going to hear these two words a lot) which isn’t as pretty but works well to create a solid and reasonably weighty platter.
The RB110 tonearm and Carbon Cartridge are designed to work together in a way that benefits the System One greatly. The arm does without a completely adjustable anti skate because it has been built around running with the Carbon. There is also a pre installed rubber o-ring on the stub, which if the counterweight is pushed up to gives you the correct 2 gram tracking weight (as checked here with a Rega Atlas force gauge, the review sample was 2.11g which should not make any appreciable difference). It means you can take a Planar 1 out the box and, with no recourse to tools at all, get it up and running; probably in less time than it takes to park a streamer on a network.
The reason why this is a Planar 1 and not a Planar 1 Plus is that the Rega Io has a phono stage. The recipient of our 2020 Product of the Year award is the same idea of taking what Rega feels is important and paring it back to basics. This means that the Io is class A/B. It has a phono stage and it is made from metal. The reduction process means that the power output is 30 watts into 8 ohms, the number of inputs shrinks to three (two plus the phono stage) and that the entire amplifier can fit on a sheet of A4 paper.
What the Io isn’t though is minimalist. You get a remote control and a headphone socket to help you integrate it into your listening. It’s small but it doesn’t feel toylike. I made my feelings known in its main review - and in the fact I handed it a product of the year gong - that I think it is a truly great product; the distillation of what an amp needs to be but without ejecting the things that make living with it day to day a pleasant experience.
The Kyte is the newest member of the family and we haven’t reviewed it on its own. It is genuinely technically interesting because taking a speaker to the same first principle as the Planar One and the Io has required a much more radical process. The turntable and the amp simplify processes that Rega uses at a variety of different price points whereas the Kyte has required a whole new process for the cabinet.
Simply put, if you choose to build a speaker in the UK, it is no longer possible to build and finish an MDF cabinet to the standard that Rega requires, put drivers and a crossover in it and sell it with a profit margin for £500. This meant revisiting what you can make a cabinet out of and the answer transpired to be something that has cropped up in the review already; phenolic resin. In theory, it works like a charm. The resin is light, strong, has a perfectly respectable finish out the mould and costs a lot less than MDF. The catch was that it had never been tried. To their lasting credit, Rega went for it.
The result is something that looks and feels a bit different to almost anything else I’ve ever tested at the price, largely because it is. The Kyte is a single piece of phenolic resin to which a composite wooden front baffle mounting the drivers is added. The cabinet tapers along all its edges because that makes the moulding process vastly simpler. Inside, a single cruciform brace meets the cabinet walls, terminating in plates made of the same ceramic that the Planar 10 uses for its platter. It is rear ported and sports a single pair of usefully sturdy terminals. Because the lower edge also tapers, the Kyte naturally angles back when placed on a flat surface so Rega supplies a pair of outriggers (also made of phenolic) that attach to the rear of each speaker and tilt it forward.
The drivers are lifted directly from the RX1 standmount which is something that Rega, to their eternal credit, does in a few different categories. The company has long recognised that economies of scale, carefully applied can bring certain components into play at price points you might assume would be impossible looking at the flat ‘per unit’ cost. This means that the Kyte has a 125mm doped paper mid bass and a ‘ZRR’ soft dome tweeter that has specific engineered processes to handle unwanted reflections; something that Rega has been concerned about for years and that now seems to be cropping up all over the place. Impedance is quoted at six ohms and sensitivity at 89dB. No frequency response is given but it’s a compact standmount speaker so work on the principle that, in a normal room, it’s going to be all out of ideas at 40Hz including roll off.
The resulting system does two important things. First up, it looks and feels like a Rega system. With the Planar 1 and the Io, this isn’t too surprising but the Kyte; a speaker that looks and feels different not only to other Rega speakers but most other speakers full stop, still comes across as entirely Rega. I think it does this because, like most affordable Rega products, nothing that doesn’t need to be on the speaker for it to work is there and this absolute lack of adornment contributes to it looking excellent because what you’re looking at is effectively naked engineering.
Secondly, it doesn’t feel cheap, improvised or crude. Everything is well made, user friendly and more than up to the task of sitting in a lounge looking like it belongs there. The Planar 1 has a lid and, while the Kyte has no grill, it has a reasonably sturdy tweeter guard which should keep it safe and running in a world with children and pets.
We do need to close off this section by briefly mentioning the elephant in the room. As it comes out the box, this system only plays records and for a host of people reading this, that won’t make a huge amount of sense. It’s important to stress that adding digital handling to the System One is simplicity itself and it is not part of Rega’s core values to the extent that the other parts of the system are. Excellent options exist from not much over £100 and it falls to you to decide how you might want to crack that particular nut.
Everything is well made, user friendly and more than up to the task of sitting in a lounge looking like it belongs there
How Was the System One Tested?
The Rega was connected together, placed on a Quadraspire QAVX rack (electronics) and Soundstyle Z60 stands (speakers). The electronics were powered from an IsoTek Evo3 Corvus and I did not use the supplied runs of speaker cables because I have two pre terminated runs of Chord Company LeylineX cable in situ. In both cases, I don’t believe there are significant differences between what I experienced and what I think you will experience; it was simply easier to use existing ancillaries. I then proceeded to add and remove components that I will list in the sound quality section rather than here. Material used has largely been vinyl although, as we shall cover, FLAC, AIFF, Tidal and Qobuz have featured too.
More: Audio Formats
I imagine that many of you think that I’m going to make a great play of how upgradeable this system is, while going a bit light on how it sounds as it comes out the box. In fairness, I will presently discuss what happens when you change things around but to simply see the System One as a start line in a race to be run completely and gloriously misses the point. When I wrote up the Bristol Show 2020 (a document that feels as surreal to revisit as an exploration of Mars) I noted that the System One sounded a bit special. The simple most important aspect of the intervening two years is that it still does.
In concert with each other, these three components deliver a concentrated dose of everything that made British Hi-Fi what it is. Listening to Bloc Party’s The Prayer through it is just gloriously and invigoratingly immediate. I noted in a comment to a thread recently that affordable turntables like the Planar 1 have their work cut out to match the fundamental competence of entry level digital but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. There’s a flow to the Planar 1 that is undoubtedly a combination of measurement quirks from the stylus onward but it’s fundamentally ‘right’ in a way that I think you’re either wired for or not. In timing, immediacy and sheer ‘right bloody there’ emotional triggers, it’s simply how I want to listen to music.
What’s important here is that all three components feed into this presentation. The Io is a usefully forgiving little amplifier but it has the same innate grasp of tonality and timing as the Planar One. It’s fun in a way that many of the supremely capable one box systems you can secure for a similar amount of money don’t always manage to be. There’s no DSP, noise shaping or pre processing at work here and while I don’t want to come across as some sort of ‘the old ways are better’ Luddite, it’s a wonderful thing to experience and I admire how present it is in this system.
Delivered a fine signal, the Kyte takes it and runs with it. In fact I’d go further and say that this is one of the most singular affordable speakers I’ve listened to in a while. All the basics are there; detailed but refined top end, decent tonal realism and a compact but consistent soundstage. The bass response isn’t seismic but, on a pair of stands, it’s quite sufficient. All the basics are present and correct.
What elevates them isn’t part of the basics though. It’s something speakers, regardless of price, either do or don’t do and that is the coherence and sheer speed on display here. The Kyte brings to mind the Acoustic Energy AE1s that live upstairs. There is an insatiable, head nodding, toe tapping urgency that is utterly grin inducing. What’s really clever though is that the Kyte does this while being easier to drive, sweeter and far more forgiving than the AE1s could ever be. Listening to Ode to the Big Sea with its quirky and challenging time signature on the System One is to experience something that considerably more expensive systems that have passed through this room have struggled to do. It simply sounds utterly right.
More than the pursuit of headline measurements (although for the sake of accuracy, Rega equipment rarely puts in anything other than a good show in this regard too), the System One has nailed the ‘music as an experience’ phenomenon and there aren’t many combinations of equipment (source/amp/speakers) I can think of for £1,200 that do it as well, let alone better. What’s no less important is that most (not all but most) of this same ability survives when the Io and Kytes are used with a digital source. I’ve tested the System One with both the iFi ZEN DAC MkII and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M and that same glorious energy infuses the performance. It has long since departed the house but I suspect that, for physical media types, adding a Rotel CD11 Tribute would result in something rather special.
And now, given we have established you likely won’t rush to this point, when it is time to find more performance, you have both options and a remarkable scope for the other components in the system to cope with the change. The Planar 1 will accept a cartridge change (a member of the Audio Technica VM95 family is a simple swap) as a quick boost and, being a turntable there are any number of other little tweaks that you can apply. More importantly though, you could take a Planar 3 or even a Planar 6, plug it in and the Io and Kytes will reflect the improvements. Being the showy sort, I used a Planar 10 with a Vertere Sabre moving magnet cartridge (yours in total, £4,345) and amp and source responded faithfully. Did they reveal the full potential of what the Planar 10 can do? Of course not. Did they have a damn good try? You bet.
In fact, some tinkering here with components to hand leaves me willing to make the following bold statement. You can replace any of the three constituent parts of this system with a component that costs up to (and possibly a little beyond) £1,000 and the other components will handle the change admirably. I added the Q Acoustics Concept 30 in place of the Kytes and the result was magnificent. A Roksan Attessa streaming amp in place of the Io was barely less impressive and my comments about adding a Planar 10 suggest a Planar 3 will be a breeze. It’s a level of stretch that one box and just add speaker rivals can only dream of. It is as much a part of what Rega does as any single engineering decision taken and it needs to be factored into its perceived ‘worth’ when stood in a dealer.
There’s no DSP, noise shaping or pre processing at work here and while I don’t want to come across as some sort of ‘the old ways are better’ Luddite, it’s a wonderful thing to experience and I admire how present it is in this system
Rega System One Review
You don’t need to be clairvoyant to have made it this far and know that I feel the System One is worthy of the highest praise. This is the real deal; all the things that got me hooked in the first place over twenty years ago, only now it turns up in a single box and can be set up by anyone willing to stop and think for ten seconds. Rega understands that suffering for our art is no longer part of the deal that most of us are looking for but they’ve done this without losing the means of their equipment feeling special at the same time.
I have spent parts of December 2021 with the Vertere MG-1 MkII - a device I liked so much, I went off the financial deep end to buy it - sat mute and inert because there was no compelling reason at that moment to stop listening to the System One. I don’t think I can give anything much more praise than that. And do you want to know something truly magical? The full effect of what the System One can do is diluted for me by twenty years of my messing about with audio equipment and being privileged enough to experience devices like the Planar 10 and the MG-1. For many owners, where this is the first time they’ve owned anything like this, that experience is going to be more glorious and visceral than I will ever know and I’m honestly a little jealous of that. This is a Hi-Fi experience like very little else anywhere near its price point and it is an indisputable Best Buy.
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