July 13, 2012

Rega's David? Rega Apollo-R CD Player.

The shoe box sized Rega Apollo-R, physically petite, but with an enormous musical heart.

We've all heard of the David vs Goliath story. How many heroic Davids have we come across in our life time? Allow me to introduce one to you! We have here a Rega Apollo-R CD player, a budget, shoe box sized, top loading CD player with a big, brave musical heart. Sure David's brave, but big heart? After all David did go against Goliath and came out smiling, because some have said that the petite Apollo-R went head on with the mighty Playback Designs MPS-5 and very nearly taken down the big boy, on sound quality count! Another international review even challenged the Apollo-R to a stack of state of the art DCS digital components. That's how brave this little David is. By now you may ask, "are you guys serious?" Let's find out.
Open the top lid and the CD transport is exposed, the CD locks on to the transport spindle by pressing the center down. Remove the CD as you do when pulling the disc out from it's jewel box.

The Rega Apollo-R is a direct descendant of the very successful Apollo CD player before, with it's simplistic but elegantly functional styling and design cues pointing to that direction. The whole front panel real estate only has 5 buttons and a easily legible red LED display with large fonts. The other nice touch on the front panel is the "rega" logo lights up in red when the CD player is powered. The sensor-ed top loading lid feels some what thin on material and light weight in action, but the CD it self locks on the transport spindle with an assuring "click".  Close the top lid and the transport starts to spin the CD, and begins to reading it's TOC(Table Of Content). Press play and be prepared to wait like 10-15 seconds, before any sound appears from your pair of speakers, due to the Rega Apollo-R's buffer memory at work here, maximising it's jitter correction capabilities, by allowing the transport time to re-read the spinning CD surface. Clever but not new as some high end portable Discmans(remember them? The MP-3 generation would say huh?) had this feature too!

The back panel is equally simplistic as there's only an IEC power receptacle, RCA analog out put, and co-ax and toslink digital output, for those who want to use the Rega Apollo-R as a CD transport only. I listened to the Apollo-R via it's RCA analog out put exclusively as a CD player, connecting to my pre-amp with the pair of Chord Crimson Plus reviewed earlier(it goes together with the Apollo-R like peanut butter and jelly!).
The back panel has very limited options, but enough for a budget system.

From the moment I play the CD on the Apollo-R, it was clear that this is no ordinary budget CD player. It had pace, it had dynamic drive and best of all music just flowed freely. There was a bit of what I'd call up sampling trait, by sounding somewhat busier than a well loved music should. How to explain the up sampling trait? You asked. In the early days of up sampling conversion technology, music when played back via a CD player with selectable up  sampling feature, tend to sound more detailed, atmospheric airy and present a more layered sound staging, all good points except for one, after a while, it all seems some what etched, or un-natural. I thought the Rega Apollo-R was guilty of this, if only slightly so, with an accurate tonality presentation.

The high were smooth, non-jarring and well extended, high hats and cymbals had both sparkle and bite, sans the un-tidy splashiness. The mid range have warmness and enough body not to sound lean with vocals. The bass has a tight quality with sublime pace, which lays the foundation for the rest of the musical spectrum to build on.
One for Phil Collins fans. Most of his best songs are here. My local pressing suffers from varying gain and noise(hiss) levels from track to track.

Phil Collins and Philip Bailey never rocked harder with their "Easy Lover" performance on the Phil Collins... Hits CD.  The sound was propulsive, explosive even when compared to most budget CD players I've heard.  There was enough bandwidth, resolution and fast transient response to engage the listener on every level. As per the up sampling trait thing, the sound staging was wide and layered enough, with pin point imaging to boot. The Rega Apollo-R also had a relatively silent back ground, as I did not hear any digital white hash in the black back ground noise.

More importantly, while the Rega does score reasonably well on the subjective audiophile sound quality count, it does cut musically to the listener's heart and soul with ease. I found myself forgiving and forgetting what it did not do(it's sins of omission), but rather more emotionally tugged along by the music that is spinning. This is where the Apollo-R scores big time with music lovers.
That's how it looks like with a CD in place.

While the Rega Apollo-R is certainly a very capable budget CD player, I thought it did not beat the crap out of the thirty times more expensive, battleship like, reference grade Playback Designs MPS-5, yes on some respects it was close, but on the whole, it was just not expected to do so.  The Apollo-R which retails for RM$2,995.00 however, can certainly stand it's own, proudly even, against rivals costing up to RM$15k in price levels on sound quality. That it self is no mean feat, David or otherwise.
While obviously made with a limited budget, the supplied remote avoids looking cheesy and feeling cheap. The play/pause button is not very sensitive and the long memory buffer loading time of 10-15 seconds does not help things either. Some times I waited 10-15 seconds only to find out that I need to press play again before the music starts after another agonising wait. Life is way too short for this! 

The CD format is 30 years old now(it was officially launched by Sony and Philips in 1982), yet it all seemed like just yesterday when I bought my first silver disc back in 1987. Rega was one of the last hifi manufacturers to join the CD player market, but with the Apollo-R, they've surely a found way to celebrate the CD format's 30th Anniversary in style and a timely gift too for music lovers on a shoe string budget, but still looking for that often elusive "Made In UK" quality. Not this time! The gods are indeed smiling upon David.

Rega is sold by Asia Sound Equipment, contact Eddie Tan at 03-79552091.

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