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Product: Rega Io - integrated amplifier
Manufacturer: Rega - UK
Test sample supplied by: Green Sounds - Italy
Approx. price (February 2023): 550€
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: February, 2023
Rega is a well known British HiFi brand, with its roots in analogue replay, but has evolved to design any HiFi component you can think of. Indeed, the Rega catalogue covers every HiFi category, except DACs and streamers. They make several integrated amplifiers, and the first step into their offering is this small Io under test. Rega has taken the Brio-R, decreased its output power (from 50 to 30 watts per channel), halved the number of inputs and the price...and released the Io (indeed, even the name is half the Brio name).
The Rega Io is a small (29 x 6 x 18 cm) integrated amplifier, which is, more or less, like its bigger brother Brio: the power section is exactly the same and makes use of Sanken transistors in Class AB configuration, the phono input is the same, just the linear power supply is smaller, hence the reduced power output. The cabinet is a sleek mix of plastic and aluminium, and it is surprising how Rega can still make everything at home, at a relatively low cost, without outsourcing production like many other companies do.
While the Rega Io was at home, two other integrated amps were available: the Argon SA1 (see review), a Class D amp which costs more or less the same and has the same output power, and the less expensive Aiyima T9, a tubes/Class D hybrid amp. Hence, I've had the chance to compare the Io with two somehow more modern competitors. Besides other loudspeakers, I've tested these amps with two entry-level floorstanders I reviewed some weeks ago, the Indiana Line Nota 550X and the impressive Argon Audio Alto 55 mk2. Speakers like these might be the ideal ancillaries for these entry-level amps.
If there is a thing that I like about Rega products is their faithfulness to a certain family feeling. Each and every Rega component, be it a turntable, a speaker, a CD player or an amplifier, has a distinctive note, something that is easily recognizable. Of course, this Io is very, very close to its bigger brother Brio-R, since they share more or less the same architecture. Hence, the Io delivers a stunning performance in terms of PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing). Be it electric bass, drums, organ pedals or double-bass, this small amp succeeds in making them pulse all together, with perfect timing. Small, low-powered amps generally find it difficult to blend the lowest bass notes with the rest of the audio range: normally lower notes arrive late, destroying the correct music tempo. Not so the Io, which sound coherent in time, fast, punchy, articulated and powerful. The bass range is the first thing you notice, since you don't expect such a level of performance from a small 30-watter like this.
Moreover, and this is even more surprising, the correct reproduction of music pace is preserved also by the rest of the audio spectrum. Hence, percussions, strings and horns all sound together with a sense or realism that is stunning. You can also perceive the metal of the strings, the leather of the drums, the vibration of a pipe in a very natural way, with precise attacks and delays.
Overall, the tonal balance is typically Rega: mostly neutral, a bit open, but never hyper-detailed nor dry. This Io reminds me of the Rega RS1 bookshelf loudspeakers I reviewed years ago. The high range is precise, though not stingy or fatiguing. Voices are clear, just a bit light in the mid-bass region. Everything flows effortlessly, even if you don't get the usual transparency and definition in the mid-high range that is generally delivered by the latest Class-D designs, such as the Argon SA10 (review upcoming soon).
Despite the modest power output, the overall dynamic performance is extremely convincing, as well: it is punchy without sounding in your face, and it possesses that grade of liveliness that makes every kind of music entertaining to listen to.
Moreover, this tiny amp can also create a realistic 3D stage, wide and even deep if the recording allows. Different horizontal planes can be easily detected but, if you ask me to be picky, voices are a bit too far from the horizontal line that connects the speakers, even when they should sound up front. Not exactly a fault, I'd say it's just a peculiar way to create a deep stage. Perhaps that slight trace of lack of presence in the mid-bass region of voices is the reason for such a behaviour.
Summarizing, the Io can sound entertaining like few other competitors in its class, it is never obtrusive, since it lets the music flow with ease and free of colouration. It is also quite forgiving with bad recordings, which is a must in this price tag. All these virtues can be found in the good MM phono input, as well.
I've not much to say, the amp is nicely built and finished,and thanks to the complete remote (that can control other Rega components) is even easy to use. Being very narrow, all the connectors are too close to each other, and this makes connections tricky if you use bulky wires or RCAs, and if you have thick fingers. Moreover, the Io lacks any kind of digital connectivity, unlike many of its competitors: no Bluetooth, no USB, no built-in DAC. The apparently modest output power is more than adequate to get high listening levels with mid-sensitivity loudspeakers. If your room is very large and your speakers have low sensitivity, you might need to evaluate its bigger brother, the Brio-R. Being very small and a Class AB design, The Io runs pretty hot. Nothing dangerous, but noticeable.
Soundwise, if you're a fan of warm, relaxed and euphonic sound, steer way from this amp. It finds its right place in a full-Rega set-up or in a system that needs a boost of liveliness.
An entry-level integrated amp was clearly missing in the Rega catalogue. The designers played it safe, took the popular Brio-R and cut it in half: half power, half inputs and half price. The result is impressive, and the difference with its brother, in terms of performance, is quite small. It is an amp very fun to listen to, pacey, lively, punchy and never, never fatiguing. Yes, perhaps its competitors offer more inputs, tone controls plus a digital section, but if you use just a turntable and two line sources, the Io should score high on your wish list. Once you listen to it, you'll understand that all those extra bells and whistles aren't really necessary. This amp is a pure music maker.
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© Copyright 2023 Lucio Cadeddu - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com
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