I'm not sure why the Brits call a fully featured 'integrated amplifier' an 'Amplifier'. I'm sure it's just another example of the many idiosyncrasies of the English language and its enigmatic [eccentric] users. We've all got our favourites. Mine, a car 'hood'. In England it's called a 'bonnet'. Cute. What's the phrase? 'Two nations divided by a common language.'
Rega Research is known primarily for its benchmark analogue products -- turntables, arms, cartridges. I use the top of the line, RP10 turntable myself. It's a fantastic piece of equipment.
Audiophilia has reviewed other Rega products over the years, including the first published review of the original Rega Planet CD Player. If the first draft was not entirely successful, chief designer Roy Gandy would swing for the fences on version 2. Rarely has he swung and missed. He has had some success with his amplifiers and speakers, too. But if truth be told, Rega is best known for vinyl playback.
It was fortuitous that I made the Elicit-R's acquaintance at a local audio store. I was intrigued by the sexy look and the initial sounds I heard. As I am a great admirer of Rega, it went to the top of the review request list. Following are my thoughts.
The Elicit-R is a full figured line stage preamp with a MM phono stage thrown in for good measure [Rega, may I suggest an MC, too? It would make it almost perfect]. The photographs demonstrate what a looker the Rega is, with typically square, tactile Rega buttons and a multi function control potentiometer [volume control and input selector].
The Elicit-R has 105W per channel into 8 ohms. The back panel has a single set of speaker terminals, five line-level inputs, one of which is the aforementioned moving-magnet (MM) phono stage. Weight is 13 kg.
Rega's describes the design topology. 'The output amplifier used in the Elicit-R was born after extensive research by our engineers to develop a low source Class A driver stage, based around a complementary pair of Darlington output transistors, forming an emulated Class A driver stage. It includes a high quality, built in, moving magnet phono stage designed to maximise the potential of your vinyl system. A simple switch on the rear panel allows the same input to be switched to a secondary set at line level. This input is specially configured to offer further isolation and reduce noise. This makes it ideally suited for connection of more sensitive products such as an external MM or MC phono stage.
If your system is not vinyl based, the same socket allows this line input to be used with any line level product (such as a CD player or DAC), ensuring maximised connectivity via the back panel. These features, coupled with Polypropylene capacitors throughout the signal path, improved power supplies and increased output power to 100 watts per channel, all housed in a brand new custom designed case, combine to give the best performance Elicit to date.'
Rega insists that the unit be broken in and fully warmed up before use. My first listening was with the store unit almost stone cold. I was surprised at just how good it sounded. I heard the Elicit-R on both Sopra 2 loudspeakers and my reference Raidho X-1s. The 100 watts drove both speakers easily. The Rega, at $9000 cheaper, could not match my reference Jeff Rowland Continuum S2 Integrated Amplifier for power handling (400 watts) or aural refinement, but it certainly held its ground. At US$3000, the power delivery, timbral quality, functionality and sheer musical enjoyment, makes the Elicit-R an easy choice in its price range.
One of the problems, at least for North America, is that Rega does not jump to the front of the line when audiophiles think about amplification. That's a shame, especially with such inherent value.
The Elicit-R is a punchy, hard driving chassis that does not turn its back on most source material. Smack Up, the seminal jazz album by alto saxophonist, Art Pepper, sounded very good. Each of the five players held their own space, with the drums and the bass in the background and the solo instruments up front. Even though the balance was typical, each instrument's timbre was beautifully conveyed, no matter the dynamic. And when Frank Butler on drums played quietly on the high hat maintaining a groove, the rhythm was right there. Everything and every one gets their due. It was great to hear Jack Sheldon on trumpet [remember him from the Merv Griffin Show?]. A very underrated player, Sheldon's bepop chops sounded fantastic on Smack Up. And when things got loud, the Elicit-R kept everything under control. Smack Up usually takes a back seat to Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, but it shouldn't. Pepper is wonderful, as usual. A brilliant album.
Listening to the latest album 'Secular Hymns' from Madeleine Peyroux was a distinct pleasure. The album is a natural for audiophiles and lovers of great vocal artists. Accompanied by only guitar and bass, Peyroux weaves magical tales from diverse covers. The balance was a little upfront on the Rega compared to my Rowland, but it did not suffer by comparison. The bass was deep and rich and the guitar hovered beautifully in the acoustic of an old Norman church in Oxfordshire. And the vocals sounded sublime -- every inflection, either in the musical line or the lyric was captured spectacularly by the Elicit-R and my Raidho X-1s.
Large scale orchestral music did not inhibit the Rega in any way. I cranked Varese's Arcana (on a Decca reissue - LA Phil/Mehta). This piece, written in 1925, has sounds and rhythms that would make Le Sacre blush. It's a knockout of a piece, and the performance and recording are its equal.
It begins ugly, and with the exception of a march pastiche, ends even uglier. It's as loud a piece as I know, too. It's my test of tests for amplifiers. No sweat, here. In my small listening room, the Rega was up for it. In a really large room with less efficient speakers, I think there may be trouble. Be sure of your environment before purchase. But in the right setting, the Rega is a no brainer.
If you are in the market for a fully featured integrated, best to not overlook this remarkable gem from Rega. It's reputation and performance should be known far wider than the shores of Blighty. Very highly recommended.
Further information: Rega Research