Review of the Rega IO mini amp, a compact stereo model that is minimalist and easy to use. Released in March 2020, it has already been awarded 5 stars by the magazine What Hi-Fi? and the Best Buy labels of trade magazines The Ear and AVforums.
The Rega IO delivers 2 x 30 watts of power into 8 ohms and has 3 RCA inputs including one MM phono input. Its large toroidal transformer predicts a good reserve of current to efficiently power a pair of compact speakers or even a “small” pair of column speakers.
The Rega IO also has a front mini-jack headphone output compatible with in-ear headphones and hi-fi headphones from 32 to 300 ohms. Offered at 499 €, can this Rega IO mini amp play in the big leagues?
Founded in 1973, the British brand Rega has stood out since its inception by the atypical design of its turntables and the performance of its phono cartridges. It was not until the early 1990s to discover its first stereo integrated amplifiers, notably with the first Rega Brio in 1991.
The amplifiers of the British brand benefit from Rega’s know-how in warm analog sound, a mastery acquired during decades of development of turntables. Offering a full and rich sound with solid bass, the Rega Elex and Rega Elicit amps, also appearing during the 90s, have been and still are today the delight of several generations of audiophiles.
The Rega amplifier is delivered with a power cable, a remote control and its two batteries as well as an instruction manual. The assembly is held in place with foam wedges in a reasonable size cardboard box marked: “Rega – Made In England”.
The Rega IO stereo integrated amplifier is a bit of a daddy’s amp, no frills, easy to set up and use. The facade is very sober, not to say spartan. She hosts
The only coquetry conceded by the manufacturer: the Rega logo and the number designating the selected source, in white on a black background when the Rega IO amplifier is switched off, change to red when switched on. It’s both chic and understated.
With its compact dimensions, this Rega IO mini stereo amplifier will have no trouble finding its place in a bedroom or an office, and a fortiori in a living room.
The two stereo RCA inputs can be connected to different hi-fi sources such as a CD player, a network audio player or a DAC. The phono input is intended for any turntable equipped with a moving magnet cartridge.
Finally, the headphone socket of the Rega IO amplifier can supply hi-fi headphones or in-ear headphones whose impedance does not exceed 300 ohms. The signal is picked up directly from the power amplification stage and then modified by carefully selected relays to preserve its integrity.
The Rega IO stereo amplifier uses the same type of power amplifier and the same phono stage as the Rega Brio amplifier. More compact and more affordable, the Rega IO is equipped with a class A / B amplification circuit, like the other amplifiers of the British brand.
Although this is the entry ticket to the Rega amplifier range, this Rega IO mini amplifier is not a discount model, the manufacturer having chosen with great care its components, integrated in a robust metal frame. Under the hood of the Rega IO, there are Sanken output transistors, an Alps volume potentiometer and a linear power supply served by an imposing toroidal transformer which allows it to deliver 30 watts per channel into 8 ohms with a good current reserve. This generously sized power supply and very rigid chassis account for a large part in the 2.9 kg of this amp.
The Rega IO amplifier is delivered with an infrared remote control which allows you to select the source and adjust the sound volume. The other keys are used to control Rega CD players.
Compact and pleasant to handle, this remote control does its job perfectly. Note however that it does not allow fine and precise adjustment of the sound volume. Pressing the Plus or Minus button increases or decreases the volume quite strongly. Adjustment by hand with the volume knob of the amp allows against a finer adjustment. This is a non-notched ALPS potentiometer whose stroke extends from 7h (minimum volume) to 5h (maximum volume).
For this Rega IO test, we paired it with the Elipson Prestige Facet 8B compact speaker pair using NorStone Silver 150 speaker cables. We used the Pioneer UDP-LX500 as a CD player and a network audio player. for streaming music files in Hi-Res stored on a smartphone but also from the Qobuz application.
To test the headphone output of this Rega IO mini amp, we used second generation Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones (28 ohms / 113 dB) as well as Sennheiser HD540 Reference hi-fi headphones (600 ohms / 94 dB).
We started our listening session with the CD of the soundtrack to the film Birdman by filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. Composed and performed by Mexican percussionist Antonio Sanchez, the first 16 pieces of this soundtrack were recorded as close as possible to the artist. We really have the impression when listening that he is right in front of us, a few tens of centimeters.
The presence and impact impressed by the Rega IO in the low register allows you to immediately immerse yourself in the sound bath when the bass drum and bass tom resonate. The amplifier has no trouble moving the loudspeakers of the Elipson speakers, which output low frequencies of an intensity rarely heard. Even at moderate volume, this register has body. We feel that the amp has it under its feet despite only 30 watts of power per channel.
On the second track entitled Dirty Walk, the cymbal playing is well transcribed with the hits on the toms which emphasize the rhythm. In absolute terms, the high frequencies could be more precise and the midrange a little more nuanced, but the whole is balanced and coherent. The songs are linked together and we take pleasure in savoring the Mexican percussionist’s craftsmanship with this mini amp at the controls. The Rega IO follows the rhythm with a very good sense of rhythm and an obvious ease even in the lower octaves.
Change of register with the CD album Feels Like Home by Norah Jones. Once again, Rega IO immediately sets the tone in the low register. The bass playing that opens the first track (Sunrise) is reproduced with depth and intensity. The artist’s voice is smooth and well articulated, although we would appreciate it being even more velvety and nuanced. It’s round, it’s soft, it’s warm, like a big woolen sweater in the middle of winter: not the height of refinement but you feel good inside!
On titles in high resolution via Qobuz, listening gains in clarity and detail, without losing what makes the charm of this amp, a round and deep bass. Listening to The Girl From Ipanema (Stan Getz / Joao Gilberto – 24 bits / 192 kHz), the double bass score reveals all its depth and intensity, emphasizing even better the phrasing of the saxophonist, the delicate playing of Milton Banana on drums and the haunting vocals of Joao and Astrud Gilberto.
On the headphone output, we find the same characteristics with a well-structured, dense and deep bass, especially with the Sennheiser Momentum with a slightly downward signature. The soundstage is slightly cramped but the different elements that compose it remain distinct. With our open high impedance headphones (600 ohms), the headphone amp section is a bit sore. The serious lack of body and the midrange is less well embodied than with Momentum. The manufacturer recommends a maximum impedance of 300 ohms. We will have to stick to it.
The Marantz PM-6007 amplifier won us over with its ability to spatialize the soundstage with ventilation and precision, but also with its impact and energy. Equally energetic, the Rega IO hits the mark in the low register, more intense and deeper, although a little less lively. The Marantz is a step above when it comes to clarity and fluidity. Its second pair of speaker terminals and its digital inputs slaved by the excellent AK4490 DAC are also serious assets.
For 200 € more, the Marantz M-CR612, offers a CD player, an FM / DAB + tuner, a 24/192 and DSD compatible USB audio port as well as Bluetooth connectivity as well as Internet and network for wireless streaming. Well in its day in the era of (almost) all digital, the Marantz also offers amplification that holds the road and can drive two pairs of speakers, delivering balanced sound with a nice energy.
More spartan in presentation and functionality, however, the Rega has other strengths to highlight, starting with a significant power reserve despite only 2 x 30 watts on paper. In addition, its round and generous sound in the bass will undoubtedly appeal to lovers of warm sound. The Phono stage borrowed from the Rega Brio is also an advantage in the midst of the vinyl record revival. The Rega IO is therefore the ideal partner for a Rega Planar 1 turntable, for example.
A little more powerful and equipped with 5 analog inputs in total (phono input included), the Rega Brio is just as charming to listen to as its descendant. A little more authoritative in the bass and capable of feeding any type of speaker, it also offers more detail and articulation when listening. With the Rega Brio, the music breathes even more freely, the tones are right and the available power is perfectly controlled.
It is undoubtedly the strong point of this mini amp to be able to envelop us in a very comfortable sound cocoon. The extension of the soundstage in width is appreciable, the ventilation could be better but overall, the instruments are well clipped and do not overflow on each other.
The bass is of a depth and intensity that you did not expect on such a “small” amp. Some might wish it to be more incisive in this register with tighter bass. But that would be losing what, in our opinion, makes all the charm of this integrated stereo: its roundness and its warmth. English sound, in short.
The Rega IO will do wonders with a pair of compact loudspeakers like the Elipson Prestige Facet 6B and the Focal Aria 905 with 13cm drivers, but also with the B&W 606 and Elipson Prestige Facet 8B for example, whose 16.5cm speakers will deliver an even deeper and more expressive bass.
We can of course regret the absence of DAC, Bluetooth and digital inputs, present on competing models in the same price range. But we must not lose sight of the fact that at a time when many electronics are seeing their manufacture outsourced, the Rega IO has for him to be designed entirely in the United Kingdom, in an almost artisanal way.
To compensate for this lack, we can easily associate a Bluetooth receiver such as the Real Cable iPlug-BTR HD or a compact audio network player such as the Audio Pro Link1 or the D-Stream Primo HD, without adding too much weight.
I rather see fairly senior people interested in this amp rather than totally “digitized” young people. So does “Rega IO” mean “Rega I’m Old”? 🙂
Excellent! It would be quite typical of British humor 😉 Joking aside, I think this integrated can also reach a younger audience, a little more hi-fi, who would not like to give in to the sirens of the all-in-one but would like rather, build up a small made-to-measure channel with well-chosen elements… As I said in conclusion, all you have to do is associate a network player or a Bluetooth receiver with the Rega IO, even entry-level, for it to be connected!
Good evening Christophe, The association with these Tannoy speakers seems possible to me as long as you don’t want to add sound to a too large room or want to obtain an excessive sound volume, which these speakers are not made for. But for close listening, even at “relatively” high volume levels, you should enjoy these speakers associated with Rega, especially on the medium range in which they excel. Another clarification: the Autograph Mini does not go very low, a subwoofer could be a good thing to explore the lower octaves. How about a Rel Acoustics T-Zero or a Rel Acoustics T-5i?