Rega Research Brio integrated amplifier

"Looking back, my life's passions have mostly been sensual: food, females, fast cars, music, wine, sailing and skiing. My motivations, activities and work have stemmed from the need to fuel these passions rather than enjoyment of the process."

Who said this? John Atkinson? Art Dudley? Dr. Dre? These are the thoughts of Roy Gandy, innovator, venerable designer, and founder of Rega Research, quoted from his company's recent biography, A Vibration Measuring Machine, a hefty, 311-page, large-format hardcover co-written by Gandy, Bill Philpot, and Stereophile's Paul Messenger.

Throughout the book, Terry Bateman, Rega's chief electronics designer, and various Rega employees weigh in with Gandy on the company's 40-year history, and their collective history of doing things in a singular way, every time. Who among us doesn't hope to one day cast an eye over his or her life and see a long continuum of passions felt and passions shared? Those at Rega have consistently put their passion, the reproduction of music, front and center—from their pioneering turntable and CD players through multiple iterations of their entry-level integrated amplifier, the Brio, the latest version of which costs $995.

"Rega is often described as different, and appreciated by many as musical," Gandy muses in the chapter "On Music and Hi-Fi." "We are a manufacturing company with engineering ability that we use to try and preserve as much as possible the musical communication contained in the recording." The passage I've italicized describes why the Brio integrated, introduced in 1991, has been, as Gandy states, "our best-selling electronic product ever, part of the resurrection of Rega really, part of our huge growth" (p.114).

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Design
The sound of the first Brio, reviewed by Wes Phillips in September 1998, was based on that of Leak's ST20 tube amplifier, and its circuitry was loosely based on a circuit design Terry Bateman discovered in a 1970 issue of Wireless World magazine: a solid-state amplifier then proposed by engineer John Linsley-Hood as being capable of class-A sound, without class-A heat. Implementation of this design was impossible in the '70s, but with the subsequent miniaturization of transistors and advancements in surface-mount technology, Bateman believes he has more closely emulated class-A sound in Rega's latest iteration of the Brio, which is class-AB.

Bateman claims that the upgrades comprising the new Brio circuit are subtle and cumulative. "I used ideas not used in the Brio-R [the new Brio's immediate predecessor]," he said on the phone from England, "such as MUSES operational amplifiers in the line stage and in the second stage of the phono amplifier. I applied some of the blueprint ideas from Linsley-Hood's original design to the new Brio's power supply. That gave it a sonic lift. We added metal-film resistors in the feedback circuit, and good-quality film capacitors as opposed to electrolytic. Paying attention to small details gave us improved sonic performance to go along with the newly designed casework. It's a class-AB design with a different configuration of the output stage. It's class-AB, but the driver stage simulates class-A operation. That was the [essence] of Linsley-Hood's article in Wireless World in 1970. It has a lovely sound."

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The semi-budget Brio is packed with quality parts. Evox, Arco ("now both Kemet," Bateman noted), and Epcos film capacitors are used in the signal path. Evox or Wima polypropylene capacitors supply phono equalization. Like all Rega transformers, the Brio's 154VA toroidal transformer is made by EMV, a two-man company in nearby Suffolk. The Brio's volume control is Japanese, by ALPS. Forgoing the usual construction of screws securing case to chassis, the Brio's two-part case of black aluminum is joined internally by four case-length steel rods that basically clamp the shell's two halves together.

The Brio's newly designed case (still made in Switzerland) sheds the former's contoured shape for a more tapered, graceful appearance that should fit any décor. From across the room, only the Brio's lush, red-lit Rega logo and silver power button are visibly obvious. Completing the front panel are a headphone jack, a row of tiny input buttons, and a large volume ring—a sort of hollowed-out knob; all functions save power-up are also selectable from the small, rectangular remote-control handset (supplied).

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On the rear panel are five pairs Emuden-made RCA inputs (including moving-magnet phono), one pair of Record output jacks (RCA), two pairs of gold-plated speaker binding posts made in the Far East to Rega's specifications, an IEC outlet, and a fuse bay. The ground-screw post is on the bottom plate.

The Brio is small, almost portable, at 8.5" wide by 3.1" high by 13.6" deep. It's specified to produce 50Wpc into 8 ohms or 73Wpc into 4 ohms with both channels driven—the manual warns potential headbangers and mosh-pitters that "Continued high-level use into 4 ohms may cause the case to exceed 40°C above the ambient temperature." The Brio may have a class-AB output stage, but this black beauty ran very warm to the touch—almost hot.

Bateman used LPs and CDs to voice the new Brio. His CDs included Hawkwind's In Search of Space (One Way CDLL-57474), Stevie Wonder's Innervisions (Tamla MCD09052MD), Joan Armatrading's Willow (Spectrum Music 5302771), and "various '70s glam-rock tracks." His LPs included an unidentified AC/DC album, along with Elton John's Madman Across the Water (UNI ?93120) and Queen's Sheer Heart Attack (Elektra ?7E-1026). The vintage system he assembled for this process comprised Rega's Planar 5 turntable, Rega Exact and Ortofon 2M Red cartridges, and KEF Concerto minimonitor speakers. Old school!

COMPANY INFO
Rega Research Limited
US distributor: The Sound Organisation
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, TX 75207
(972) 234-0182
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

Geez, I was selling Air Containers of Linn LP12s, back in the 1980s.

I never sold a single Rega turntable and didn't wonder why, I just knew that people wanted better than a noisy Rega and still do, although they can't afford a $17,000+++ "proper" record player/arm/phono cart and Riaa Pre-amp. Phew

Can they justify the pricy vinyls and misc. cleaning & storage systems?

Well, I suppose that someone just starting out can now own an entry level Rega Turntable & Rega Electronics. For well under $2,000 US. Hmm.

Why not just buy a "Jumbles Sale" Pioneer SX 60W Reciever & garage sale record player?

Dealer thoughts:

Magico & Wilson High End dealers should have & stock some interesting entry level stuff. Can they live off the points from a $2k Sale ( probably 40 points equaling $800 bucks )? Maybe they could sell one of these cute little "dorm" systems to Daddy Big Bucks who is already a D'Agostino Customer.

The darn good thing here is that there ain't no dam Chinesium inside the Rega box!

So, I have to give Rega two thumbs up, it's a Brit when being Brit seems long of tooth, Stereophile seems to assure us of it's sound qualities but didn't quite compare it's value to a little Schiit ( made in USA ) system.

Well done, Rega, I've always loved the Brit stuff.

Tony in Michigan

ps. someone with a "jiggle-cam" did a nice multi-day tour of Rega that's well worth watching. I noticed that Rega has only one resident Audiophile on Staff. hmm

geoffreyvanhouwaert's picture

Lovely amplifier. Top of the list.

Marvelousmarkie's picture

Use it with the top off or a fan to dissipate heat?

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