Rega Research DAC-R D/A processor Page 2

This means that the DAC-R actually has six filters, optimized by sampling rate. I didn't realize this at first, and was a bit puzzled when I preferred Filter 1 with 44.1k material, though not by much, but ended up definitely preferring Filter 3 with high-resolution recordings. In the end, this resulted in my leaving the setting on Filter 3, the apodizing setting, most of the time.

I later learned that Bateman refers to the DAC-R's three Filter responses as "standard," "extended," and "gradual." He wrote to me: "The extended filter extends to the maximum response allowed by the sample rate. The gradual filter rolls off sooner than the standard filter." So it turns out my preference was for a slightly rolled-off filter! We'll see what John Atkinson's measurements reveal, but I stand by my choice, made before Bateman sent his e-mail.

Setup Details
When first plugged into my computer's USB port, the Rega DAC-R came up in Audio Preferences as "XMOS USB 2.0 Audio Out." I found that my MacBook Pro recognized the USB connection from the DAC-R whether or not the Rega was powered up, and that I was able to select sample rates on the Mac even before powering up the DAC-R.

I also found that the Rega was around 1.5dB louder than the other DACs on hand. So when I compared the DAC-R with Benchmark's DAC2 HGC, for example, I calibrated the adjustments to ensure comparable listening levels. Also, since I wanted to listen to the original 24/96 WAV-file recordings we were making for my friend's album directly from the computer, I needed to connect my mix computer and recording interface to the Rega via S/PDIF.

I called Stephen Mejias at AudioQuest headquarters (actually, I think he may have been home on the East Coast when he answered the phone, wearing one of his ironic T-shirt-and-hipster-jeans ensembles), and one credit-card debit later, AQ's best S/PDIF bulk cable and connectors were on their way, to link my main listening room to my studio, 30' away. Everything worked perfectly.

Music Details
When working with a new singer, one of the first things on the agenda is to test different vocal mikes. We'll record multiple passes with each mike and then, over the next few days, do some listening. When I did this with the Rega DAC-R, it was easy to hear each mike's character, for better or worse.

Which brings me to the complicated part of this review. Microphones color the sound, and engineers, artists, and producers generally pick the colors they like for any situation. But in making these decisions, how do you know you're not hearing colorations produced by the rest of your recording and/or monitoring system, added to or subtracted from the mike's colorations? Stories are legion of albums mixed on boomy monitors that end up with weak bass and a bright top end. Unless you've gained perspective by working with a lot of different systems, and unless you have listening tools you trust, you don't really know (footnote 2).

One of the tools in my system that I trust is the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, which I use for both music and recording playback. I've found it to be clean as a whistle, which works great for my needs. Others may want a little sugar on top, and here's where the Rega DAC-R comes back in. Listening to these vocal tests and subsequent final takes, and going back and forth between the Rega and Benchmark, I detected a slight warmth or sweetening with the Rega that I didn't hear with the Benchmark.

And I liked it. The singer preferred it. You might, too. At the end of the day, I'll pick the Benchmark DAC2 HGC—I default to a more analytical sound—but the Rega DAC-R produced a wonderful soundstage, floating aural images in space where they should be, with plenty of detail and depth.

Over the next two weeks, we recorded mandolin, five-string fretless electric bass, and double bass (another mike shoot-out: a small capsule condenser surprised us all). In each case I used the Rega to choose which mike and mike placement we'd use, and to guide us to a final mix. But for that mix I ended up preferring the Benchmark, which sterilized the sound just enough to make me think I was hearing more accurately what was on the hard drive. A very subtle thing, but there it is.

However, it could be that my preference for the DAC-R's Filter 3 for enjoying music may have had something to do with my preference for the Benchmark for mixing. For sitting back and listening to music, especially hi-rez files, I preferred Filter 3—although, as Rega's Terry Bateman noted, it gradually rolls off at the very top. I chose Filter 3 before the recording sessions began, while going through my library of go-to test tracks stored on the Meridian Digital Media System server. But the cool thing is, I can change that flavor of the Rega's presention a bit by using a different filter.

Final Detail
At $1195, the Rega Research DAC-R sits at the center of what I consider the sweet spot of price: $1000, plus or minus a few C-notes. Rega has spent enough in R&D to get the most cost-effective use of solid engineering, careful design, and parts choice, without passing the point of diminishing returns. The things it doesn't do include headphone listening, DSD, and volume control, yet the DAC-R is clearly well built, with money spent in all the right places to fulfill its single purpose: to convert a PCM datastream into an analog stream.

A couple years ago, when I first auditioned the Rega DAC, I noted its heavier bottom end and thicker sound compared to everything else I then had on hand. I feel that the new DAC-R is similarly voiced, but has moved in the right direction, especially when used via USB—which makes it a very pleasing choice for listening to music.

If you have $1195 to spend and prefer your digital music with a slight bit of warmth, but without losing any of a recording's details, the Rega DAC-R is a DAC for your short list—especially since you can tune those filters.

Footnote 2: A timeless As We See It" by J. Gordon Holt from almost 40 years ago hits this right on the head.
Rega Research, Ltd.
US distributor: The Sound Organisation
1009 Oakmead Dr.
Arlington, TX 76011
(972) 234-0182

doak's picture

I expect that not all agree, though for me: DAC - DSD = DOA.

Venere 2's picture

If it is so important for you have a DAC that can play all of the 20 albums available on DSD, then knock yourself out.

And a lot of the so called DSD albums are just converted to DSD from PCM. DSD will join SACD in the trash bin of failed audio media.

doak's picture

The nearly 300 DSD albums on my drive(s) are hard evidence that your "facts" are incorrect, and IMO your conjecture is in the same category.

Venere 2's picture

300 albums, wow! I buy that many albums in a single year. I've probably misplaced or lost double that number of CDs without noticing. Still a very small number of titles on DSD. 20 or 300, 1000, still insignificant.

As for the rest of my post, do some research.

doak's picture

I've over 500 DSD albums and the collection continues to grow.
Why? Because there's great and great sounding music available in this format and there's more being added daily. Why be artificially limited?

Not to worry. I have done my homework.

Venere 2's picture

So between 1:46 and 3:28PM you bought 200 more DSD albums?! Or as you say, you miscounted...

I believe in your ability to miscount. I believe even more in my ability to count properly. Have fun with your DSD. I am glad you're happy with the format. I am happy without.

daviddever23box's picture

Hey guys - make sure you correct that old SoundOrg address:
159 Leslie St, Dallas, TX 75207
(972) 234-0182

Jon Iverson's picture