Rega Brio £599
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