Rega Brio £599

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Awards 2018 -

A 2016 re­design of the much-loved Rega Brio-r gave birth to this cur­rent Brio, and those im­prove­ments – along with the de­sign’s in­nate bril­liance – keep this ex­cep­tional am­pli­fier not only at the top of its price bracket but also King Of All Stereo Amp-land.

An ana­logue-only unit with a half-width de­sign, the Brio sounds ter­rific. It dis­plays an in­cred­i­ble sense of rhythm, punchy dy­nam­ics, in­stant agility and a fine sense of de­tail. De­spite all that, it still man­ages to re­mem­ber that lis­ten­ing to mu­sic is, much of the time, about hav­ing fun.

One of the Brio-r’s few weak points was a sonic lean­ness that spawned a ten­dency to be­come a lit­tle overex­citable, mean­ing you had to be care­ful with your choice of speak­ers. This Brio, on the other hand, is much more for­giv­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor, hav­ing a fuller, richer sound that has a gor­geous so­lid­ity run­ning through every note. A mod­est-sound­ing 50W per chan­nel (into 8 ohms) runs through the am­pli­fier’s veins and, while that might not sound like much, you only have to crank up the breath­less wall of sound that is Ju­dith from A Per­fect Cir­cle’s Mer De Noms al­bum to feel the sheer force of wail­ing gui­tars and thun­der­ous drums from the sec­ond you hit play. It goes loud. And it’s thrilling.

De­spite the sat­is­fy­ing oomph with weighty mu­sic, it’s this amp’s nim­ble foot­ing and rhyth­mic prow­ess that’s the true high­light and the thing that makes us play song af­ter song through it.

A uni­fy­ing force

It ducks and weaves its way around tricky com­po­si­tions, ty­ing all mu­si­cal strands to­gether in a way that’s au­thor­i­ta­tive and skil­ful with­out ever los­ing that sense of fun.

The sus­tained build up of ten­sion in Arvo Pärt’s Fra­tres is a real test of the Rega’s tal­ents: the strings are light but ur­gent, and you can hear the screechy tex­ture of the bow scrap­ing across them. The lead­ing edges of notes are stun­ningly pre­cise, and there’s a depth to the qui­eter mo­ments that’s as im­pres­sive as the crescendo is con­trolled.

Lis­ten to the same songs through the Brio’s new head­phone socket and you’ll find the same pre­sen­ta­tion: it’s a ter­rif­i­cally mu­si­cal amp.

Thought­ful de­sign and close at­ten­tion to build qual­ity are cru­cial in­gre­di­ents in the Brio’s mu­si­cal ban­quet. Cir­cuit paths in­side the ro­bust alu­minium case pro­mote com­po­nent iso­la­tion and so max­imise sound qual­ity.

Around the back you’ll find four line-level in­puts, the in­puts for the mov­ing-mag­net phono stage and a pair of out­puts for record­ing. A sin­gle pair of speaker ter­mi­nals is also present – and that’s it. We can imag­ine many want­ing dig­i­tal in­puts, too – like the sim­i­larly priced Cam­bridge CXA60 – but that amp doesn’t have a phono stage, nor does it ap­proach the Brio’s sonic heights.

The Brio more than jus­ti­fies its £600 price. We just want to leave it on and play all our mu­sic through it.

Power, de­tail, en­thu­si­asm and pre­ci­sion – those are just some of the Brio’s qual­i­ties

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