September 3, 2012

Bionic-R? Rega Brio-R Integrated Amp.

The Rega Brio-R integrated amp.

For the last 2 months, I've been doing the Rega R series of shoebox budget components. This is the last item of the highly successful series, the Rega Brio-R integrated amp, rated at 50W in to 8 ohms load. Don't be fooled by it's lowly output watt rating, or it's seemingly affordable price of RM$2,621.00/unit, and over look it when power shopping for a starter, second/bedroom, or even down grading in to a retirement music system. This entry level priced amp is rather capable for what it's designed to do.

The Brio-R does look and feel reassuringly solid in build quality and it even comes with a simple and handy remote, which manages to avoid looking cheesy in any way. The whole package just feels well designed, and will likely last many years in service, if well looked after. The front face plate has only two buttons and a largish volume knob. The button on the left is to power ON/OFF and the REGA logo glows red once power is turned on. The middle button is for source selection and the volume knob is on the right. There are no multi function switches to confuse potential users here, just plain functional and no nonsense design. The Brio-R's powder coated metal case is of the same size as the matching Apollo-R CD player used here as it's natural partner.      

I begin to wonder, what's it like to down grade my hifi, if the day comes that I no longer have the means and resources to pursue this increasingly expensive high end audio hobby? I used the Rega Apollo-R  and Brio-R duo to replace my full stack of Bryston and Pass Labs electronics and try to find out if I can still enjoy my music in a simplified, down graded hifi system?
The simplified Rega system, Brio-R(left) with matching Apollo-R CD player for partner.

As usual, I also used my pair of PMC Fact 8 speakers in this review, forming an un naturally speaker heavy biased system in this review, which is usually not the advisable case. The Fact 8s are super revealing speakers and will the Rega duo pass the sonic muster?

As I proceeded to hook up the system, I found that the IEC power receptor in the Brio-R's back panel to be located too close for comfort with the speaker binding post, which rules out the use of chunky speaker cables attached with spade connectors(a.k.a. my Siltech Classic Anniversary). I know Rega's or more accurately, Roy Gandy's touchy feelings for audio cables, so would not elaborate more on the matter. The RCA input/output side of things fare no better for space, which is tight, but still work able for the Chord Crimson Plus that's being put in to service. As for loud speaker cable, I had a spare pair of Ortofon SP-200, terminated with banana plugs lying around which really is suited for the job. The Rega duo sit on top of a dedicated audio stand with glass top resting on leveling spikes(a diy Mana clone if you will).
The supplied remote is a simple and functional affair, but just avoids looking cheap & cheesy. Well done Rega!

The sound of this Rega/PMC combo is robust and energetic. I believe this is partly due to the PMC speakers presenting a light 8 ohm load to the Brio-R amp. The treble response seemed a little rolled off, but still some what liquid in it's presentation. The high mids are slightly emphasized, pushing the vocals a bit more forward in to the room, with immediacy at lower or normal play back volumes. Simple girl guitar tracks are wonderfully reproduced by this set up. The bass is reassuringly solid and tuneful, but lacking somewhat in the lower end grip and extension. In essence, the tonal quality of this amp is neutral if, a little grayish in the back ground. Not bad for a budget amp so far.

The sound staging elements are all there, if a little flatter in depth compared to my multi box, many times more expensive reference system. For some strange reason, I also found that I only have a very limited use able volume range, as if I turn the volume knob above 11 o'clock setting, the slightly forward high mids becomes slightly pitchy and at times, ear pinching even. On the flip side, I know there many happy Maggie Mini users using this Brio-R amp as a partner without suffering the same experience. Could it be that the Rega Brio-R thrives with a bit of a though speaker loading?
Real estate is tight in the back panel.

The simplified Rega/PMC combo made for a system that is music genre unfussy and will allow the music lover to enjoy his/her music if the audiophile performance is not of paramount concern. There is no pretension here about been the super detailed and analytical hifi beast so prized by the audiophile community. It just simply presents music in the most unadulterated way possible for those with either space, or budget(perhaps even both?) limits.  Nevertheless I still found music some what enjoyable, if less technically accomplished sounding.
More so, when all the necessary connections are wired up. Note the almost touching IEC power plug and the speaker terminals! No chunky high end spade terminated speaker cables will be accommodated here, neither will chunky audio jewelry RCA design plugs!

For the money, it's hard to get made in UK quality these days, and Rega should be applauded for not being seduced by higher profits going the way of the MIC(Made In China). Let's be honest here, I find no shame in MIC goods at all, because they actually can produce some very good products under OEM arrangements. However, nothing beats proudly made in the country of design origin. Since we are talking about perceived values here, I shall state that the Rega Brio-R amplifier is no giant slayer like the Apollo-R CD player, but there are elements of musicality at work here, that should warrant it's consideration, if one is the market for some budget "hifi work horse".

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

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