Rega Elex-r

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

We doubt for many peo­ple read­ing this that nearly four grand go­ing miss­ing from their bank ac­count is likely to go un­no­ticed, so per­for­mance gains at this price need to be matched by ver­sa­til­ity.

Luck­ily, the Cam­bridge Azur 851N streamer has us cov­ered on both counts. As well as its full-bod­ied, spa­cious sonic per­for­mance, the Azur 851N dou­bles as a pream­pli­fier and can plug straight into a power amp thanks to a vol­ume out­put con­trolled by a 32-bit Black­fin dig­i­tal sig­nal pro­ces­sor.

Mu­sic sig­nals pass through two 24-bit Ana­log De­vices DACS in dual dif­fer­en­tial mode, mean­ing lower lev­els of dis­tor­tion and noise giv­ing, we hope, bet­ter sound.

Con­nec­tions are plen­ti­ful too – there’s a pair of coax­i­als and op­ti­cals and three USB in­puts, as well as an AES/EBU in­put – and in terms of build it’s more Hulk than Pop­eye to look at.

Mus­cle with fi­nesse

The Azur 851N de­liv­ers a mus­cu­lar, full-bod­ied pre­sen­ta­tion, lath­ered in en­thu­si­as­tic drive, bone-rat­tling punch and class-lead­ing in­sight. De­spite this, ev­ery­thing is served with ex­tra help­ings of ex­pres­sion and dy­namic skill, not to men­tion ex­tra space.

It’s punc­tual, de­ci­sive and quick on its feet with the fluc­tu­at­ing tempo too; rhyth­mic ca­dence and pre­ci­sion comes to the fore. With bal­ance on point, there’s punch and depth down low and sparkling bite up top, with all-you-caneat so­lid­ity flesh­ing out a clear and ar­tic­u­late midrange.

Such an ar­tic­u­late source needs its de­tailed and rhyth­mic per­for­mance matched along the chain, and in the Rega Elex-r the 851N finds an ideal bed­mate.

Think of this in­te­grated amp as a more mus­cu­lar Brio and you’ll be pretty close to the mark. By us­ing that as a base, and adding cir­cuitry from the tal­ented Elicit-r into the mix, Rega has cre­ated one of the most tal­ented am­pli­fiers we’ve heard at this price.

As well as its mus­cle, like the Azur 851N the Elex-r de­liv­ers a fast, ag­ile sound that’s as rhyth­mi­cally sure­footed as we’ve heard at this level – and that can’t be stressed enough.

And even if all you want is a tra­di­tional stereo amp, it re­mains on sure ground. There are no dig­i­tal in­puts; in­stead you get a good-qual­ity mov­ing mag­net phono stage, one that’s tal­ented enough to make the most of £1000 turntable pack­ages, such as Clea­r­au­dio’s Con­cept.

Com­ple­men­tary ser­vice

There’s no value in such an en­ter­tain­ing per­for­mance from your source and am­pli­fier if you’re go­ing to dampen it with your speak­ers, of course. No chance of that hap­pen­ing with Neat’s Iota Al­phas, how­ever. They sound as fun as they look. They’re odd-look­ing things, thanks to the mix­ture of knee-high stature and strangely an­gled ap­pear­ance, but they are as ex­pres­sive as they come and time just as well. A 50mm Emit mag­netic/pla­nar tweeter sits along­side a 10cm polypropy­lene mid/bass unit. They’re in a sealed com­part­ment in an ef­fort to help in­te­gra­tion with the down­ward-fac­ing 13.5cm pulp paper bass unit. Bass is aug­mented by a rear-fir­ing port.

The three driv­ers are linked through a rel­a­tively sim­ple cross­over that uses first- and sec­ond-or­der slopes for fil­ter­ing. All the com­po­nents are hard-wired to main­tain sonic in­tegrity, and in­clude Mun­dorf ca­pac­i­tors and air core in­duc­tors.

There are some dis­tinc­tive spikes in the pack­ag­ing. You’ll need these be­cause they set the gap be­tween bass driver and floor, and so to a large ex­tent gov­ern the qual­ity of the low fre­quen­cies.

A dif­fer­ent an­gle

If you were think­ing short speak­ers mean a sound­stage aimed at your knees, you’d be wrong. That an­gled baf­fle helps throw the sound up­ward, re­sult­ing in a sur­pris­ingly ex­pan­sive and spa­cious pre­sen­ta­tion that wouldn’t be out of place from ri­vals twice the height. There’s a good amount of pre­ci­sion here, and the pre­sen­ta­tion stays sta­ble even when the mu­sic be­comes de­mand­ing.

The Al­phas’ pre­sen­ta­tion is won­der­fully co­he­sive, the three driv­ers in­te­grat­ing seam­lessly, and the sound is ap­peal­ingly ro­bust. Dy­nam­ics are strong too, with larger-scale dy­namic shifts han­dled with con˜dence, even at vol­ume.

Tonally these speak­ers aren’t wholly even, but the de­vi­a­tion isn’t enough to worry us. Once we start lis­ten­ing, the Neat’s abil­ity to cap­ture the essence of the mu­sic grabs our at­ten­tion, rather than any tonal short­com­ing.

While there is a good amount of low-fre­quency ac­tion, it’s fair to say that some larger, sim­i­larly priced tra­di­tional floor­standers dig deeper and hit harder.it would be un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect such com­pact speak­ers to fill a large room prop­erly, but in a small-to-medium space they’re more than ad­e­quate for any­thing be­low night­club lev­els of vol­ume.

If you thought ex­pen­sive hi-fi meant dour, ex­pres­sion­less per­for­mances de­signed to have au­dio­philes stroking their chins as they mar­vel over de­tail and in­sight, these three have the per­son­al­ity to prove you wrong with­out for­go­ing any of the ma­tu­rity nec­es­sary for deep lis­ten­ing.

As a team, they dig deep into the emo­tion of the mu­sic, with sprawl­ing dy­nam­ics and a reg­i­mented sense of tim­ing. Sim­ply, they com­bine to present mu­sic ac­cord­ing to its pri­mary pur­pose: to en­ter­tain and to make us feel.

“There’s punch and depth down low and sparkling bite up top, with all-you-can-eat so­lid­ity flesh­ing out a clear and ar­tic­u­late midrange”

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