Rega Research Brio integrated amplifier Page 2

Kudos must be paid to Gandy, Bateman, and the Rega Research team. When almost every contemporary hi-fi manufacturer outfits its integrated amplifiers with DACs, VU meters, Wi-Fi, video processing, Bluetooth capability, and myriad digital inputs—to some, the equivalent of sonic whammy bars—the Brio's skill set is simple and minimalist.

"lt's kind of Roy's philosophy," Bateman explained. "The Brio is the amplifier equivalent of a Planar 3 turntable, which is no-frills. Digital would get in the way. It's like the old amplifiers of 40 years ago: the Creek CAS4040, Arcam A60, or the Sugden A21—a basic amplifier. Instead of spending the money on digital gadgets, we spent it on the phono amplifier and film capacitors. Get a pair of older KEF speakers, a decent good turntable, and some AC/DC! It rocks!"

Brio meets Music Hall & Quad
Scurrying to my secondary listening station 5' away from my big rig, I installed the Brio alongside my Music Hall MMF 7.3 turntable and a pair of Quad S2 minimonitors in-house for review ($999/pair; 87dB sensitivity, 8 ohms impedance) and prepared, as William Gibson once wrote, to "jack in" to the "digital matrix." Only this wasn't a virtual world, but a truly flesh-and-blood plane, as any vinyl devotee would surely agree. The Brio exuded, well, brio!


"Diary of a Taxi Driver," from side 2 of Bernard Herrmann's original score for the film Taxi Driver (LP, Arista/Simply Vinyl SVLP0060), presents this music in all its forsaken beauty and impending violence. Taxi Driver was Herrmann's final film score, and he translates the looming horror of principal character Travis Bickle's failing mind in a series of nightmarish, noir-ish episodes that have lost none of their power to enthrall since the film's release, in 1976. The Brio–Music Hall–Quad setup had me from Bickle's (the voice of Robert DeNiro) declaration, "May 10th. Thank God for the rain." I was instantly transported to the first of my 20 (so far) viewings of Taxi Driver.

As seems to happen more often with components of less than full bandwidth, the Music Hall–Brio–Quad was a magical combination of record player, amp, and speakers. That became fully apparent in Taxi Driver's orchestral sections, complete with swirling harp glissandos, mean-spirited reeds, and martial snare drum. Think Looney Tunes from hell. A less accomplished system would simply muck over the orchestral climaxes—which swoon as much as they hammer—and rob the music of its power. The Brio took a bolder tack: Not only did it expose nuances in Bickle's narration and all its menacing, seemingly drugged enunciation, it revealed the music's rich top-end and booming low-end notes: trumpets blatting and careening, bass drums pounding, low-pitched violas violently churning. The Brio also did a great job of expressing the rich, lustrous tonality of Tom Scott's tenor saxophone solo in "Theme from Taxi Driver," as lovely and sweet as it is heart-shattering.


Like all great components, the Brio so impressed me that I couldn't instantly be bothered with its deficiencies—in this system with this LP. I can't name one—and was instead totally caught up in the music. The Brio's top end was highly elucidating without ever sounding bright or forward. The Brio's sound was truly rich in all the right ways. The Quad S2 isn't the final word in small-box bass extension, but I never felt that anything was missing from the music's nether regions with the Quads driven by the Brio.

Brio meets Music Hall & Elac
This setup was not as revelatory but was equally engrossing. The Elac Debut B6 minimonitor ($279/pair, 87dB, 6 ohms) is loved by many, but playing Lykke Li's I Never Learn (LP, LL/Atlantic 1-543383)—another album of mournful reveries—not even the Brio could overcome the homogenized sheen of the Elac's presentation. The Elacs please in some major areas yet fail elsewhere under the scrutiny of the serious listener's magnifying glass: though they're lacking in absolute clarity and naturalness of tone, they tend to turn every record into a joyous experience.

Though the Elacs smudge the sounds of most recordings, they do so with spirit, a huge soundstage, and heartfelt ambition. The Brio was a prime enabler of the Elacs' need to please. Now Travis Bickle was in my face and scarier than hell. The Brio-Elac combo simply made everything sound full-scale, front-row, and more home theater than strictly hi-fi.


Brio meets Heed
Early in the burn-in phase I ran a Heed Quasar phono preamplifier into one of the Brio's line inputs, before running my LP player direct to the Brio's internal phono stage. The Brio's phono stage is a champ in its own right, and if anything sounded very similar to the Quasar except in two regards: First, the Brio's soundstage was not as large (and inner soundstage resolution wasn't quite as keen); second, where the Quasar leaned toward a midrange-to-low end focus, the Brio's demeanor was, again, sparkling and more lit-up. It took to the Quad S2's ribbon tweeters very well, creating dramatic dynamic shifts that made music come alive.

The performance of the Brio's onboard phono stage confirmed Terry Bateman's comments to me that Rega's history making turntables has given them a wealth of resources when it comes to dialing-in their phono electronics; that it sounds so natural, elegant, and robust is testament to Rega's successful evolution.

Brio meets DeVore Fidelity
The Brio controlled bass notes fairly well. But its crowning glory was its extended and natural top end. When I paired it with quality ancillaries, it got only better. It stepped up and took me—heart, soul, and booty—before I had a chance to ponder its lack of absolute control of the low end. The Brio's top end is inarguably lovely, as is its warm, liquid midrange, but don't expect it to produce taut, extended bass frequencies. The Brio didn't cleanly grip the DeVore Fidelity O/93's 12" woofer, though it fared better with the Quad S2's 5" woofer. I've never heard a budget-oriented amplifier reproduce clean, tight, solid bass frequencies through floorstanding loudspeakers in my listening room. At Ken's penthouse listening party pad, only the GamuT Di150 LE integrated amplifier ($12,990) and Octave Audio V 80 SE integrated amplifier ($10,500, footnote 1) have achieved that feat with my DeVores. The Rega Brio didn't wow me, but it charmed and made musical love to me, album after album.


Inserting a $995 integrated amplifier into a music rig totaling about $17,000 (sans CD player) may sound crazy, but the Rega Research Brio was hardly out of place, and was only barely outpaced. The Brio revealed itself as a consummate music maker that conducted itself as if to the manor born. It didn't deliver the last word in transparency or absolute detail, but it did something more important: It made me toss away my reviewer's cap and take to the dance floor—I got to boogie down! Can you tell how much I like this mighty mite? I'm unashamed to quote Watts's own titans of 1970s R&B, the Sylvers, to make my several points: the Brio makes music swing, jump, and dance.

At the end of the day, I want to forget the gear, pull on my faded old-man jeans, pour a glass, and let the music have its way with me. Rega Research's Brio integrated amplifier understands me. It's a cracking brilliant music maker with big tone, big beat, and big ambitions. With the Brio as my guide, I felt totally sated with the sound of music. It lets me forget my cares, forget websites and hi-fi mags, and simply be one with my music. At $995, the Brio is better than it should be. Roy Gandy has done it. Again.

Footnote 1: Herb Reichert encountered the Octave Audio V 80 SE at the January 2017 Consumer Electronics Show.
Rega Research Limited
US distributor: The Sound Organisation
1009 Oakmead Dr.
Arlington, TX 76011
(972) 234-0182

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?

CorumUK's picture

Rega choose not to publish their SNR data, something I didn't appreciate until after buying. I'm on my second 2017 Brio at the moment and both have an audible hum that can be heard when in close proximity to the speakers (at all volumes and inputs).
The first one was definitely worse though and louder in the right channel. It also had a hum that could be heard through the right earpiece when headphones were connected.
I ended up returning the first unit. The dealer stated its normal for some humming to be heard through the speakers but that the unit was much louder than what he would consider acceptable, so they agreed to replace. The second unit still hums but only faintly and crucially not through the headphones.
I started a thread on a well known forum (pfm) discussing the above and myself and others who spoke negatively of Rega were trolled and verbally abused, with one particular troll being encouraged by a Rega rep who also frequents the site. Within a week the thread was completely deleted and I was banned.
So although I've still got my second Brio and think the sound is great (humming aside), my experience has been somewhat bitter sweet and I'm not sure I would consider a Rega product in future.

lozsgo's picture

My 35-yr-old Perrauex SM-2 preamp and Perrauex PMF-1150B amp need to be replaced, and I'm considering going with the 2017 Rega Brio integrated amp. Will that amp match well with my GoldenEar Triton 2 towers?