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Review: Rega IO Amplifier- A great companion

Review: Rega IO is for less than five hundred euros you can buy an amplifier that, despite its modest appearance, delivers great performance.

That the name shows a relationship with the Rega Brio is logical when you look at the specifications of this small IO. The same phono stage and power amplifier are used. Although the latter delivers somewhat less power in the IO, 30 Watts per channel at 8 Ohms in class A/B. Sufficient to drive a not too demanding speaker and to fill an average room with music. Despite the relatively low price, this amplifier is equipped with quality components such as Sanken output capacitors and an Alps volume control. At the rear we find three sets of analog inputs, one of which is reserved for a turntable with MM cartridge. The power cord is detachable and can be replaced with a better one if desired. The speaker terminals are sturdy, accept spades, banana plugs or bare wire. Fortunately, despite the modest dimensions of the cabinet, 180 x 68 x 290 millimeters, there is enough space to use somewhat larger connectors. On the front left a small push button to switch on the IO, next to it the headphone jack flanked by a small button to switch between the different sources. Three small red LEDs indicate which input has been selected and whether the amplifier is muted. To the right the volume control. Unfortunately, the volume level cannot be read from a distance because an LED or display is missing. The Rega IO does come with a functional remote control. During use, it is noticeable that the cabinet gets quite warm, something to take into account when installing. Rega consciously opts for a fully analog setup in order to achieve maximum sound quality for the relatively low price.

Setup

I have listened to the IDE in different setups. Connected with Supra Classic 4.0 speaker cables to a set of Audiovector QR1 monitor speakers and secretly also the Audiovector R3 Arreté on my reference speakers. As a source there was a Bluesound Vault Gen2 available for listening to digital files, coupled with an Inakustik Rhodes interlink. The built-in phono stage of the IO was signaled by a Pro-Ject T1 SB turntable with Ortofon cartridge. The headphone jack was listened to with Sennheiser Momentum headphones. The compact IO easily found a place in my Quadraspire audio rack. Making settings is not an issue with this IO, plug and play is the message. You just have to make sure that the turntable is connected to the correct input.

Pictures and files

I’ll start by reviewing the headphone jack. On the plateau of my Pro-Ject T1 SB is Bruce Springsteen’s album Tunnel Of Love. What is striking is that it sounds extremely detailed and that the bass reproduction is pleasantly firm. Bruce’s voice has character and is separate from the instruments. The different guitars are realistic. What stands out most is the rhythmic quality displayed by this small Rega IO amp. Despite the fact that the T1 SB turntable falls into the budget class, it is still sufficiently capable of showing the difference between Springsteen’s album and Danny Vera’s most recent album, The New Now. This is of course only possible if the amplifier used is sufficiently transparent. No problem for the little Rega IO. Although Danny Vera’s album is musically high on my list, the recording technically has to acknowledge more in Bruce’s Tunnel Of Love. It’s great that this budget amplifier exposes this difference so painfully. Now that I have a clear first impression of the quality of the IO, it’s time to listen with a pair of speakers instead of headphones. It is of course a combination that, based on the prices, will never be made. But I still decide to connect my Audiovector R3 Arreté speakers to the small IO amplifier. Even if it’s just to listen where the boundaries are. To get straight to the point, that limit is quite far away. One in the performance of Johnny Cash from the beautiful American Recordings is performed with verve. The stereo image is perhaps a bit narrower than I am used to from my Devialet 220 Pro and the organ has less weight. But the voice reproduction is top notch and the acoustic guitar sounds lifelike, which ensures that you are really listening to music. It plays easily, stress-free and without any sharpness. To make it a bit more difficult for the amplifier, I select Dorian from Agnes Obel. A track that contains a lot of deep continuous lows. The layer rendering has less impact but remains controlled. The difference between the first and the second voice is less clear, but it is still audible. Pretty clever considering the significant price difference between the Rega IO and Devialet 220 Pro.

Before plugging in the less revealing, and easier to drive, Audiovector QR1 bookshelf speakers, I listen to Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing. The drums in the intro have less impact and the snare drum lacks some detail. However, when Mark Knopfler and Sting sing together, both voices are clearly distinguishable from each other. The IO deserves the biggest plus with the swinging and rhythmic reproduction, which really gives the music a boost! Time to connect the QR1 speakers and put together a more logical set. With an amplifier that is a bit spicy in the high range, the QR1 loudspeaker with its transparent and fast band tweeter can sometimes sound a bit “bright”. This is not the case with the Rega IO. The light-warm character that the amplifier shows, this combination is nicely balanced. This can be clearly heard on several tracks from George Michael’s album Songs From The Last Century. The S and T sounds are quite predominant on this album, but the combination of Rega IO and Audiovector QR1 beats it with verve. The volume can be turned up considerably before it becomes disturbing. What is striking is that controlling the volume with the remote control does not work very subtly. The steps are quite rough, so you have to be careful. With the physical volume knob on the IO it is possible to take small steps. The above music was all listened to from the hard disk of my Bluesound Vault. Let’s hear whether the built-in phono part sounds just as good through the QR1 speakers as through the Sennheiser headphones. From Elvis in Memphis contains one of my favorite tracks, In The Ghetto. The Speakers Corner reissue is sound very nice and played on my Pro-Ject T1 SB turntable with the Rega IO as amplifier, it is a lot to enjoy. The voice of Elvis takes advantage of the slightly warm character of the IO and makes the song even more melancholic. The backing singers can be heard separately and the acoustic guitar is lifelike and the strings can be followed individually. The strings in the background remain clear of sharpness, which makes the overall reproduction very pleasant. To further assess the aforementioned rhythmic quality, pace and rhythm, I pick up the OST of the seventies movie Saturday Night Fever. The disco bangers like Night Fever and Stayin’ Alive have a super tight rhythm and the IO again does not disappoint. Sitting still while listening to this album is not an option. It swings like crazy and the display puts a grin on my face. The voices of the Gibb brothers blend well but don’t get bogged down. The bass reproduction is fine and the Rega IO keeps the woofers of the QR1 speakers well in line. The high view is surprisingly transparent and clear without being overpowering. Due to the above character traits, the IDE has no specific preference in terms of music genre and can therefore be used universally.

Final verdict – Rega IO

I’ve said it many times in my reviews, quality rendering doesn’t have to cost the top prize. This is once again apparent when listening to this Rega IO amplifier. For less than five hundred euros you can buy an amplifier that, despite its modest appearance, delivers great performance. An excellent headphone amplifier part, a nice phono stage and a pleasantly light warm reproduction. This makes the Rega IO an excellent companion for many different loudspeakers. Even my large Audiovector floorstanding speakers were driven with gusto, although the IO felt even more comfortable when connected to my QR1 bookshelf speakers. The IO is an excellent choice for the aspiring vinyl enthusiast. In combination with, for example, an affordable Pro-Ject or, perhaps even more obvious, Rega Planar 1 turntable, you can achieve analog reproduction that far exceeds the asking price. And what about the spoiled audiophile who wants to build a nice second set in his or her office? The IO is an excellent choice if you are looking for a versatile heart of an affordable music system, with an emphasis on music!

Price:

Rega IO € 489,-

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