FOR Articulate performer; fine rhythmic ability; solid build AGAINST The feature count is rather limited “The Rega Elex-r delivers a fast, agile sound that’s as rhythmically surefooted as anything at this level”
Michael Phelps wouldn’t be considered the greatest Olympian of all time had he settled for his gold rush in 2004. Likewise the Rega Elex-r, which won its first Award in 2014, and then beat the Arcam A29 and Audiolab 8300A last year. It must now defeat yet another wave of competition to earn a third consecutive What Hi-fi? Award. But with that competition including new entries from Cyrus and NAD, the Rega has certainly got its work cut out this time.
Sense of energy
Build quality is as solid as we expect from Rega and, while the casework is functional rather than luxurious, it feels as though it will last. In fact, our sample has been a staple in our hi-fi test room for almost three years. We’re still a little disappointed with the remote, though, which lacks the solidity of rival handsets.
By using the much admired Brio-r as a base, and adding circuit elements from the talented Elicit-r (£1600) into the mix, Rega has created one of the best sub-£1000 amplifiers we’ve heard.
Anyone familiar with Rega’s current amplifier range will recognise the Elex-r’s sonic character. It delivers a fast, agile sound that’s as rhythmically surefooted as anything at this level.
With Macklemore and Lewis’ Thrift Shop, it’s head and shoulders above the Cyrus One, Audiolab MONE or Rotel A14 when it comes to rendering rhythms. A combination of impressive timing, spaciousness and dynamics means even in complex pieces of music, nothing ever sounds remotely random or like the Rega is freewheeling.
There’s an addictive sense of liveliness and energy, something some rivals tend to tone down in the search for greater refinement. It demonstrates authority and scale better than anything we’ve heard at this price too.
It’s right at home with a vocal-led piece like Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You. There’s a real sense of rawness and realism in her deep, guttural delivery, and the Rega conveys nuances better than any of its peers.
Tonally, the Elex-r edges towards leanness, so avoid pairing with bright or harsh speakers – we use a range from Dali’s lively Zensor 3s and Dynaudio’s Emit M20s to ATC SCM11S and PMC Twenty 26s, and at no point does the Rega fail to shine.
It’s as happy picking out finer threads of detail in the convoluted sections of Hans Zimmer’s Mountains from the Interstellar soundtrack, as it is unveiling variation in hammering electrics in Band of Horses’ NW Apt.
Of course a power output of 72W per channel into 8ohms isn’t enough to make the floor shake, but this amp is capable of decent levels in most set-ups.
A fine achievement
If you want a traditional stereo amp, the Rega remains on sure ground. There are no digital inputs – instead you get a good-quality MM phono stage, one that’s talented enough to make the most of £1000 turntable packages like Rega’s own RP6, for example.
It’s a relatively quiet circuit, one that keeps all the good sonic points we noted in the line stages. There are four line-level inputs, one tape out, and a single preamp output should you need to add a bit more muscle.
That’s probably enough for most purist stereo set-ups, although the absence of a built-in headphone output is a slight snag, considering its inclusion in so many rival amps.
The Elex-r is a mighty fine achievement – the kind of product that gets straight to the heart of the music and conveys all the emotion in the recording with ease. Two years have passed since it first scooped an Award and, despite the increasing number of very good amps around the £1000 mark, the Rega has more than enough talent across the board to continue to shine.
KEY FEATURES Power output: 72W MM phono stage No headphone output The casework is functional, but the Rega Elex-r feels like it’s built to last
The Rega Elex-r is a traditional stereo amp, no digital inputs here