What Hi-Fi (UK)
Michael Phelps wouldn’t be considered the greatest Olympian of all time had he settled for his gold rush in 2004 and not persevered by coming back every four years to win some more. Likewise, the Rega Elex-r has been nothing if not persistent since its arrival, when it was rewarded with a first Award in 2014.
It managed to keep hold of that Award right up until 2019 when Cambridge launched the excellent – and slightly pricier – CXA81. Still, the Elex-r remains a class leader and a great alternative – especially in the context of this roundup; the CXA81 has no phono stage.
Built to last
The build quality is as solid as we expect from Rega, and while the casework is functional rather than luxurious, it’s finished neatly and everything feels as though it will last for years.
In fact, our sample has been a staple in our hi-fi test room for three years without any problems. We’re a little disappointed with the remote control, though, which works well enough but lacks the solidity of rival handsets.
By using the much admired last-gen Brio-r as a base, and adding circuit elements from the talented Elicit-r (£1679) into the mix, Rega has created one of the most talented sub-£1000 amplifiers we’ve heard.
Anyone acquainted with any of the models in Rega’s current amplifier range will find the Elex-r’s sonic character familiar. It delivers a fast, agile sound that’s as rhythmically surefooted as we’ve heard at this level.
With Macklemore and Lewis’s Thrift Shop, it’s head and shoulders above most similarly priced competition and not far short of the Naim when it comes to rendering rhythms. A combination of impressive timing, space and dynamics means that beat can be a true ally of the backing vocals, with nothing sounding remotely random or as if the Rega is freewheeling.
There’s an addictive sense of liveliness and energy, something most rivals tend to tone down in the search for greater refinement; and it demonstrates authority and scale better than most we’ve heard at this price too.
It’s equally at home with a classical or vocal-led piece such as Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You. There’s a pleasing sense of rawness and realism in her deep, guttural delivery, and the Rega conveys nuances excellently.
Tonally, the Elex-r edges towards leanness, though if partnered with care – avoiding sources and speakers that err too far towards brightness or harshness – then all will be fine. We use a range of speakers from Dali’s Oberon 1 and the B&W 606 S2, through to the KEF LS50 Meta and Proac Response D2R, and at no point does the Rega fail to shine.
Of course, a power output of 72W per channel into 8 ohms isn’t enough to make the floor shake in really large rooms, but we think this amplifier is capable of decent levels in most set-ups.
It’s as happy picking out finer threads of detail in the convoluted sections of Hans Zimmer’s Mountains from the Interstellar soundtrack – often the first to be overlooked by less scrupulous amps
– as it is unveiling the variation in hammering electrics in Band of Horses’ NW Apt. We are pleased with the resolution on offer, and there is no sense that the Elex-r is overlooking subtleties for the benefit of the bigger picture.
We notice, again, that this amplifier is terrific at communicating the drama of the music. It has us hooked from the first note, right to the end of the piece.
On sure ground
If all you want is a traditional stereo amplifier, 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, such as Rega’s own RP6.
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 snag, considering its inclusion in so many rival amps.
It’s no spring chicken, but the Elex-r remains 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. Despite the increasing number of decent amplifiers around the £1000 mark, the Elex-r has more than enough talent across the board to continue to shine above most of its peers.