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Rega Super Elys

MM Phono Cartridge

[Italian version]

Product: Rega Super Elys
Company: Rega Research - UK
US Distributor: Lauerman Audio Imports
Approx. cost: Eur/$ 400 USD
Reviewer: Scott Faller
Published: March, 2002

Trivial Bits

[Super Elys]
The Super Elys

With Geoff's recent articles on turntables it's made me think a bit more about my analog setup. I've wondered if I might be able to squeeze some more out of my turntable. Trouble is, have you seen those prices? Good grief, if I ordered a new cart ..... a serious cart ..... like a Benz or one of the high end Dynavectors, that could end my marriage, or at least result in a pretty severe flesh wound or two.

So, letting my preservation instincts drive my want to upgrade, I decided to give Steve Lauerman at Lauerman Imports a call. Steve is the North American distributor for the Rega line.

I thought about contacting one of the other manufacturers out there but after living with my Elys for the best part of two years, I like the way it sounds. My Elys nice detailed presentation with good bass and treble extension, especially considering it's cost at $225. The Elys was a nice upgrade from my previous Grado Gold.

The Rega name hardly needs any introduction at all. This is a company that has been around for years making loads of respected equipment such as the Planet CD player, a host of turntables, great sounding tonearms and cartridges. In 1973 Tony RElph and Roy GAndy formed REGA and began a long, rich history of manufacturing HiFi components.

By far, the most recognizable product manufactured by Rega is their line of turntables. The Rega P2 and P3 offer the audiophile on a budget a very nice table, complete with an arm for the $500 to $700 range. If you can spend a little more take a serious look (and listen) at the P9 and their anniversary issue P25. Each of them have received great reviews from both the rags and audiophiles.

So lets talk about the Rega cartridge line for a bit. They have offerings that start with the Bias at $110 and range to the Exact at just under $600. I've been using the Rega Elys for the past two years or so. It came mounted to the Rega RB250 that sits atop my Systemdek 2X2. I've always been relatively happy with that mating. The Elys is a fairly well detailed cart for pretty reasonable dollars.

The Manufacture

Enter the Super Elys. The Super Elys is the identical cartridge as the Exact with the one key difference being the stylus (and the color of course). The Exact is fitted with the "Vital" diamond tip where the Super Elys is fitted with the Super Elliptical tip. The Super Elliptical tip is cut just a bit differently than a standard elliptical tip to provide more surface area contact with the groove.

Each of the Rega carts is manufactured by hand. No automated machines here. Nothing much more than a guy (or girl) with a microscope and a pair of tweezers, hand winding each coil. How would you like to have that job ?

When the typical mass market cartridge is wound, the coil can end up with big "humps" of wire amassed in the center of the magnet. The Super Elys and the rest of the Rega carts don't. Since these are hand wound, the layers of wire wrapped around the coil are carefully and evenly placed, making a smooth distribution of the coil wires. This tedious, time consuming, hand wrapping of the wires, results in (usually) 1/3 less coil wire being used in comparison with the conventional cartridges (which aren't hand crafted). Another key difference in the manufacture is the fact that Rega maintains a .25mm gap between the pole piece and the moving magnet structure, where most manufacturers allow up to a .7mm gap.

The body of all the Rega carts are made a material called Pocan PBT. Pocan is a polyester based thermoplastic that is glass reinforced. This polymer is molded and precision ground to fit exactly flat when it is mounted against the Rega tone arm or another head shell. Surprisingly, this polymer is harder than most industrial aluminum's. The body is also a one piece manufacture. Most other carts are two or more pieces using a glue to hold them all together. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it ?

Needless to say, the Rega series of cartridges are one of the highest outputs carts available on the market today. The Super Elys is no different. It has an output of 6.8mV. That's way the heck up there. The closest cart I can think of, with that high of an output, is the Grado line at around 5mV.

Just a couple of other quick stats on the Super Elys. The SE has an effective mass of 13 grams and an actual mass of 4.7 grams. Steve Lauerman tells me that this cartridge is recommended for low to medium mass tone arms. The load impedance of the Super Elys is 47k ohms and has a tracking force of 1.75 grams. Interestingly enough, Rega doesn't list the frequency response or the channel separation of this or any of their cartridges but don't let that concern you at all, read on.

The Setup

Steve told me to expect about an eight to ten hour break in period to get the cartridge close enough to make a real evaluation. So I went ahead and installed the Super Elys and started the spin cycle. Since I've got a Rega 250 (with the Heavyweight mods) the exchange was really easy. The Rega arms and carts are equipped with a three point (hole) mounting system. This makes it almost idiot proof to install the cart and at least get it close to correct. The only thing left to do is some very minor side to side aligning with the Rega cartridge setup protractor, then set the tracking force.

When it came to the tracking force, I used my Shure stylus force gauge. If you don't have the cash to drop on one of those electronic, multi-hundred dollar stylus force gauges, this will be the best $20 you'll ever spend.

The Sound

>From the very first piece of vinyl I spun, you could immediately hear a difference. Forget about the break in time, I heard huge audible improvements between the Elys and the Super Elys. Enough of a change that it made me wonder if my Elys was worn out. After some real quick calculations, I'd guess I've got about 500 hours on it now, so it's not an 'end of life' difference I'm hearing. It's that the Super Elys is that much better.

The most immediate improvement I heard was the amount of detail. The Super Elys has a similar presentation as the Elys but the amount detail it reveals is drastically better. The next improvement I heard was at the extremes of the audible scales. The treble showed a more extension than the Elys with far more, ultra fine detail. On the low end of the audible scale the bass changed. I can't say that it got any deeper or more pronounced, but it did change for the better. I'm having trouble trying to describe what exactly changed. The Super Elys exhibits more control over bass notes. And not just a little more control, it's a lot more control. The bass is now taut, and extremely well defined.

The first record I popped on was Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down, side two, Back in NYC. The opening bass notes are just awesome and now with the Super Elys installed those same notes are almost heart stopping.

The other album I go to quite a bit to check bass is Paul Winter, Canyon, Grand Canyon Suite. This is the guy who runs around the Grand Canyon and records himself playing various saxophones in these ultra reverberant parts of the Canyon. Once he has his base tracks laid down, he overdubs other instruments into the track. It kind of an interesting listen actually. Anyway, on Grand Canyon Suite, Paul has overdubbed a Cathedral pipe organ onto this song. The first time I heard this song, the pipe organ cut in (at about 20hz) and I almost injured myself trying to get to at my volume control to turn it down before I killed my woofers. I actually thought for a second or two that woofer amp had gone to ground. The Super Elys reproduced these pipe organ notes to near perfection.

I always thought the Elys did a good job in reproducing bass, but after listening to the Super Elys, I can hear what a difference a little more expensive cartridge makes. It's pretty dramatic.

After I got though putting the Super Elys through the bass torture test, I decided to sit down and really listen to how well it performed. For this session of tests I played some of my best vinyl just so I could see how much information this cart could squeeze out of the grooves. Through this entire process of listening, I would exchange the cartridges from my Elys to the Super Elys just to keep everything in perspective.

The first album I listened to was Count Basie, Chairman of the Board, Classic Records re-issue. Man, you want to talk about some great music, here it is! Side 1, Blues in Hoss' Flat, is an upbeat Basie tune that has trumpet, trombone and sax taking the leads. The reproduction of tenor sax is stunning. Warm, lush, it's just as it should sound. Henry Coker's trombone has so much detail you can almost hear the slide rubbing.

Just a quick word about the soundstage. On the song Segue in C, the Elys had the trombone placed about a foot left (1/3 meter) and a foot behind my left speaker. The Super Elys placed that same trombone about three feet (1 meter) back and three feet left of my left speaker. Over all the soundstage actually gained about 3 feet (1 meter) outside of the speakers and about 6 feet (2 meters) in depth. That's a pretty healthy improvement.

The next album was Graham Nash, Songs for Beginners, Classic Records re-issue. Sleep Song is my absolute favorite on this album. With the Elys, I described this song as the Voice of God. Well, I was wrong. With the Elys, it was just a telegram letting me know the Voice was coming :-) Man, does this sound good!! I am dumbfounded at the amount of detail and realism that is coming out of my speakers on this song. So much so, that I find myself taking really shallow breaths so I can take in every last little bit of sound that I find myself now drenched in.

This same effect got repeated over and over again with every album I played. My wife even said how much better the sound was, and she could care less about what kind of system she is listening to.

Some of you might be concerned about the high output of the Super Elys. At times, high output moving magnets cartridges can cause the surface noise of an album to become unbearable. Record after record I put on, I didn't notice much, if any, increased surface noise. That's not to say when you put on a crappy piece of vinyl you won't hear excess surface niose, because you will. I did. I played a Frank Sinatra album on the Reprise label that has loads of surface noise and it came through just as it did with my Elys.

One of the great things I noticed about the Super Elys, was it's abilty to make those less than perfect Rock and Roll albums sound better. It's because of the amount detail the Super Elys provides. Again, the Super Elys isn't going to magically add bass to Jethro Tull's, Aqualung but the additional detail sure makes it a much more enjoyable listen.

The Conclusion

I've been throwing crappy album after crappy album at this cart for the best part of a couple or three weeks now and I'm just amazed at how much better it sounds than the Elys. The more hours I get on it, the better it sounds. The soundstage keeps widening and getting deeper with every album I spin. The sound is nice and open with plenty of space between the performers on my virtual stage.

I've read comments about the Rega carts being "brittle" or "harsh" and even "dry". I don't find that to be the case at all. The highs are very smooth with lots of detail. When it comes to being harsh, that has more to do with the recording (or the performer) than this cartridge. Peter Gabriels voice can still peel paint. As for dry sounding, well it's not the warmest cart I've ever listened to, but it's far from being dry.

With a $400 price tag, this isn't the cheapest cartridge on the market, but it's well worth every penny. The Super Elys settles into that mid-price cartridge range along with the Dynavector, Grado and Goldring and many others. If you are in the market for a serious upgrade in the sound of your analog rig, pay a visit to your local Rega dealer and audition the Super Elys. You will be glad you did. If you don't have a local Rega dealer, try Music Direct or The Needle Doctor, they both carry Rega carts and are good people to boot.

Just one final word. If you are in market for a new cartridge, save your money. Wait until you can afford one of the mid-priced carts like the Super Elys. There is an astonishing difference in the sound, no BS. The extra $175 (or so) dollars is well spent on this upgrade and I seriously recommend it for anybody who really loves their vinyl.

Well, I'm off to spend some extended quality time with my analog rig and to re-discover my record collection :-)

Main System Used

  • Turntable – Systemdek 2x2, Rega RB 250, Expressimo Mods, Rega Elys

  • CD Player – Arcam Alpha 8se, HDCD

  • Pre-Amp – Lazarus Cascade (tubed and hot-rodded)

  • Tri-Amped with Spectro Acoustics gear
    - Tweeter Amp – 200sr, 100 wpc @ 8ohm, (heavily modded)
    - Mid Range Amp – 202, 100 wpc @ 8ohm, (heavily modded)
    - Woofer Amp – 500r, 250 wpc @ 8 ohm, (heavily modded)

  • Active Crossover – Sony 4300 (discrete)

  • Speakers, My Design
    - Tweeter - 30" Carver Ribbons,
    - Mid-Bass - Focal 5K4211,
    - Woofer - Shiva.

  • Interconnects and Cables,
    - DIY, silver plated copper with teflon insulation,
    - TNT Bullet Spikes

© Copyright 2002 Scott Faller - http://www.tnt-audio.com

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