Rega valve Isis CD player

Ar­chaic and mod­ern technology have a way of work­ing won­der­fully well to­gether.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By LIM JUAN

HAS the moment for a no-holds-barred, high-end CD player passed? The late-to-the-party boys from Rega (“the last ma­jor high-end com­pany to build a CD player”) ob­vi­ously don’t think so, and have seized the moment to launch their high-ticket state­ment Isis CD player, re­leased in valve and solid-state out­put vari­ants.

Like its solid-state sis­ter, which uses the same chas­sis, the Valve Isis is built like a tank (as in “war ma­chine”, not “for keep­ing fish”) and beau­ti­fully fin­ished in black and dark grey solid metal, with an­gled out cor­ners giv­ing the im­pres­sion of be­ing hewn from gran­ite.

A fa­mil­iar glow

Four top holes at the right of the trans­port lid al­low the low-glow­ing pairs of 5814A (ECC82/ 12AU7) and ECC88 (6DJ8/6922) valves to peek through to the out­side world. Rega em­phat­i­cally states that it didn’t use tubes just “to make the Valve Isis sound warm”, but paid care­ful at­ten­tion to im­ple­ment­ing the out­put stage for op­ti­mal sound qual­ity.

The rest of the player fol­lows closely the me­chan­ics of the cur­rent range of Rega CD play­ers – the sprung ball-chuck disc-load­ing mech­a­nism is a unique fam­ily trait, while the beau­ti­fully smooth-mo­tion, man­u­ally-op­er­ated top lid is ex­e­cuted to a higher stan­dard than the other mod­els.

Rega ap­par­ently keeps ded­i­cated spare disc mech­a­nisms for each Isis, so (much) later down the line, should the trans­port or laser fail, own­ers don’t have to worry about their prized unit hav­ing to go on to a new life as a boat bal­last.

The dig­i­tal chipset used in the Valve Isis is the Wolf­son WM8741 DAC, which is dif­fer­ent from that used in the solid-state ver­sion. Around the back, bal­anced (XLR) and sin­gleended (RCA) ana­logue out­puts are pro­vided, and there are TOSlink (op­ti­cal) and S/PDIF (elec­tri­cal) dig­i­tal out­puts. A USB dig­i­tal in­put socket al­lows the player’s DAC sec­tion to be ac­cessed to re­play au­dio files from one’s com­puter. The player can han­dle com­pressed MP3, plus WMA and WAV files.

A switch at the back of the unit of­fers users a choice of three fil­ter set­tings, each giv­ing a dif­fer­ent feel to pro­ceed­ings rather than sound­ing overtly dif­fer­ent; I ended up lis­ten­ing mostly to the mid­dle, and some­times bot­tom, po­si­tion set­ting, depend­ing on the sys­tem and disc em­ployed.

Au­then­tic style

It took no time to re­alise the Valve Isis is an ex­cel­lent per­former. At the price, noth­ing less would be ex­pected, or in­deed, tol­er­ated. Com­ing in im­me­di­ately af­ter time with the ex­cel­lent NAD M2 di­rect-dig­i­tal am­pli­fier, the more con­ven­tional set-up of the Valve Isis pro­vid­ing sig­nals for a bi-amped Eu­phonic Re­search ATT600-Amp80 combo and an old Krell KAV300i driv­ing Sonus faber Guarneri Homage speak­ers, was no less com­pelling, and in­deed ar­guably more “hu­man” in its mu­sic-mak­ing style.

The sound just seemed that bit less syn­thetic (not that the NAD sounded like this, in­deed far from it), yet the amount of de­tail on of­fer and all sonic as­pects were just as ex­quis­ite.

Re­ally spe­cial was the Valve Isis’ abil­ity to lend a sense of phys­i­cal pres­ence to vo­cals and in­stru­ments, with a level of pal­pa­bil­ity one as­so­ci­ates more with good ana­logue re­play than from 16-bit dig­i­tal. In the tre­ble, the crisp­ness of hi-hats rang true, and other cym­bals re­ally shim­mered ef­fer­ves­cently, with a more con­vinc­ing sense of metal struck by stick than I’d pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced from CD. Solo bowed string in­stru­ments sounded glo­ri­ous with re­al­is­tic tex­ture of rosin on strings.

Rock tracks sounded taut and punchy, weight­ier than most play­ers I’ve heard, and there was noth­ing slow or slug­gish about the pre­sen­ta­tion. The last thing I want to (mis)con­vey is that the Valve Isis has an overtly char­ac­ter­ful or stereo­typ­i­cal “tube-hyped” sound, or any­thing like that. How shall I put it? It sounded more, I sup­pose, “au­then­tic” to me.

To get a bet­ter sense of where the Valve Isis stands, I took it round to a friend’s, whose ex­cel­lent Es­o­teric X-05 player has been a ref­er­ence point for me. Sim­i­lar re­sults in terms of Isis’ bet­ter weight and pal­pa­bil­ity, and in­deed sense of tonal au­then­tic­ity against the X-05 were ob­vi­ous through his Bal­anced Au­dio Technology VK-300X Su­per­tube Edi­tion amp and PMC Fact 8 loud­speak­ers. To be fair, the Isis costs quite a bit more than the X-05, so at the very least, it makes a strong case that you are get­ting what you pay for.

And the prize (Is) is?

The Rega Valve Isis is one mu­si­cally com­pelling piece of gear which con­vinces that CD can still de­liver the mu­si­cal goods.

I’d strug­gle to call any CD player at this price ex­cel­lent value for money and may not be con­vinced re­sults are su­pe­rior to less-pricey vinyl spin­ners like a Rega P9 or VPI Clas­sic, but all this is be­side the point if one has in­vested sub­stan­tially in CD as one’s pri­mary mu­sic soft­ware.

If you can af­ford it (and I’m re­ally sorry that I can’t), you must go hear it. It is spe­cial in­deed.

REGA VALVE ISIS

Spe­cial, in­deed: The Rega Valve Isis CD player, a must hear for those with sub­stan­tial CD in­vest­ments.

WHAT IT IS: CD player with USB in­put-ac­ces­si­ble DAC sec­tion.

LUST FAC­TOR: Built like a bomb, to with­stand the im­pact of a bomb. Or­ganic, en­joy­able per­for­mance. Rega Cou­ple in­ter­con­nect and high bling power cord in­cluded.

RE­AL­ITY CHECK: Price, and not much else. PRICE: RM33,000 DIS­TRIB­U­TOR: ASI­ASOUNDEQUIP­MENT(M) SD­NBHD(%03-79552091/016-2733573)

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