First , a bit of histor y: Rega Research is now in its fourth decade of building high -qualit y affordable audio products . Along the way it’s made some legendary stuff, including the glass-platter Planar 2 and Planar 3 (P3) turntables, the RB300 tonearm, and the Planet CD player. A wonderful expression of delight in recorded music, the current P3 is available in eight color combinations. Components in bright happy colors are the perfect antidote to audiophiles’ often all-too-serious approach to music.
While I have great admiration for U.K. companies like Linn, Meridian, QUAD, and Rega, I’m no Anglophile. I’ve especially never been able to grasp the appeal of British mini-monitors of the LS3/5a variety. Their laughable low-frequency potential makes them noncontenders for me. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I accepted Dallas-based Sound Organisation’s offer to take an entrylevel Rega system for a test drive—complete with The Chord Company’s interconnects and speaker cables, for what they called “a full British experience.” Not included: bangers, peas, warm beer, and a heartfelt rendition of “God Save the Queen.”
Most suspect were Rega’s R3 speakers, little baby columns no taller than the average tabletop. Not so doubtful were the Apollo CD player (praised by Chris Martens in Issue 165) and the Brio 3 integrated amp, the latest iteration of a piece that’s been quite well received in the audiophile community. The electronics are “affordable state-of-the-art,” but at less than 20 pounds each, the speakers shout, “Shangai knock-offs,” though they are made in England.
I share Chris Martens’ enthusiasm for the top-loading Apollo CD player. Put a disc in, close the smoothly operating, hinged disc cover, and the player automatically starts the “initialization” process. (Pressing the frontpanel play button or the corresponding button on the remote yields no results until the disc has been read.) Rega claims that the Apollo “optimizes” itself for each type of disc that it plays: Red Book standard CD, MP3, or WMA media. Opening the disc cover stops playback. Unlike some similar-looking designs, the disc cover doesn’t clamp the disc to the mechanism’s spindle—the disc is secured in place by the spindle’s three tiny spring-loaded nubs. The play button doubles as a pause button, a bit of ergonomic design that’s becoming commonplace. The only other buttons are back/forth arrows, a square stop button, and an illuminated power switch to the left of the display. The player’s look is clean and elegant, but I prefer blue LED displays to Rega’s red. Back-panel connections include stereo analog outputs on RCA connectors, and coax and optical audio outputs.
Simple, compact, easy to operate, and great-sounding, the Apollo is reasonably priced at $995. It’s also the most expensive piece in the Rega system, and justifiably so. With a precision disc transport mechanism, vanishingly low jitter, Wolfson WM8740 DACs, a Class A output stage, 20MB of buffer memory, and an overbuilt power supply, the Apollo competes both technologically and musically with some of the best players on the market.
Sharing the Apollo’s dimensions and style, the $645 Brio 3 integrated amp appears to be built on the same chassis. But because the Brio’s cover acts as a heat sink for its output stage, Rega cautions against the natural urge to stack the two. (You can’t put anything on top of the Apollo, of course, so the two need to sit side-by-side.) Two large knobs grace the Brio’s front panel—one for volume, the other for choosing inputs, each labeled for commonly used components: Phono, CD, Tuner, Tape (people are still using tape?), and the odd “Line1” (odd because there is no “Line2”—whatever happened to good old reliable “Aux”?). The back panel has goldplated RCA jacks for all inputs, and a pair to feed a recorder. Speaker outputs are two pairs of 5-way binding posts. Everything’s nicely labeled in white against black for goof-proof hookup.
Output power is rated at 49Wpc into 8 ohms and 64Wpc into 4 ohms—enough to drive most relatively sensitive speakers. The power supply features a toroidal transformer and large filter caps. The amp’s phonostage is a Rega “Planar” IC. In a nod to reliability, the 150-watt Sanken output devices are operated far below their limits.