Say the name Rega, and it’s the company’s long-standing selection of Planar turntables that comes to mind. These turntables have been a dominant force in the market for decades than we care to remember and show no sign of giving up. Still, look past the all-conquering vinyl spinners and you will find that the British brand has constantly made a range of amplifiers that are almost as talented for almost as long.
The new Elicit MK5 being tested is one step down from the award-winning Aethos (£ 3300 / $ 5395 / AU $ 6999) integrated and marks a surprising change of direction for the company’s amplifier design.
Build and features
Rega products tend to be quite purist issues that prioritize performance and solid construction above all else. They rarely excel on the function front, but that seems to have changed with the Elicit MK5, as it now includes digital inputs along with the usual analog connections. This is something of a seismic shift for the company and a welcome one as many rivals have long gone that route.
The digital-to-analog module is a hybrid design that combines aspects of the company’s well-respected stand-alone DAC-R and its Apollo and Saturn CD players to produce what the company feels is a suitable solution for this amplifier. This digital circuit is compatible with signals up to 24-bit / 192kHz PCM, and although it will be fine for most users, some will be disappointed with the lack of DSD compatibility. Perhaps more limiting is that the inputs are limited to only one coaxial and optical. We wish Rega had really pushed the boat out and included a USB connection and wireless connection in the form of Bluetooth. Then this amplifier would really be up there with the better equipped alternatives for the price.
However, we can not complain much when it comes to the analog domain. The Elicit MK5 has five line-level inputs, a movable magnetic phono stage, a headphone output and a series of signal outputs for external power amplifiers and recorders. It should be more than enough to handle the type of systems this amplifier is likely to end up in. It is also the less common option that allows users to connect a stand-alone preamplifier to Elicit’s power amplifier section. Note, however, that any signal passing through this input bypasses Rega’s volume control and preamplifier circuits, so some means will be needed to control the signal level if damage to the eardrums or speakers is to be avoided.
Rega Elicit MK5 technical specifications
Power output 105 watts per channel
Line level inputs x5
Phono scene Movable magnet
Preamp output Yes
Headphone output Yes
Remote control Yes
Rega’s amplifiers have tended to be solidly constructed cases, and the Elicit MK5 is no different. Elicit feels robust and businesslike, and all the controls from the power and input selection pushbuttons to the sleek volume control work well enough. Ideally, we will have direct access to an entrance instead of having to switch between the seven options, but that is something we can live with. We like the amplifier’s new tidy cabinet, although this is still a functional unit instead of something too stylish. Elicit is quite hot during use, so make sure it has enough ventilation around it to avoid problems with overheating.
Take a look inside and you will find that the analog circuits borrow heavily from step-up Aethos, using the same discrete FET-based preamplifier design with the power amplifier as a further development of Rega’s proven and reliable layout. Great emphasis has been placed on optimizing performance with the use of high quality components where necessary.
Elicit Mk5’s sound can be summed up in just three words: tight, punchy and clear. This is a surprisingly fair amp that does not hold back when you are asked to play Radioheads The national anthem at high volume levels. It stays clean and controlled even when pressed hard, and knocks out the pitch with poison.
We are particularly interested in the bass grip of this amplifier; low-end is powerful, agile and pleasantly precise. This integrator is also good at digging up a lot of information and presenting it in an organized and musically coherent way, which is not easy on a track that may appear chaotic. The amplifier’s explicit midrange is emphasized by Thom Yorke’s vocals. They are easy to follow, impressively clear, but also nuanced.
Such a pre-nature means that this is not the most relaxed amplifier available. But, it’s enough in the way of finesse to stop this being a problem, as a change of music to Beethoven’s beautiful moonlight sonata shows. Here, Elicit sounds nicely delicate and confident. Dynamic shifts are reproduced with flow and there is a pleasant feeling of space in the presentation. As is Rega’s way, the presentation is a bit forward and brightly lit, but for the most part this only serves to highlight the details and clarity offered. However, you need to work with Elicit with caution, as a light or aggressive source or a pair of partner speakers can take things too far.
We are pleased to report that the built-in phono scene continues the good work. It is only compatible with movable magnetic cassettes, but it is probably good in most systems Elicit is to be used in. The circuit is relatively quiet and retains the clarity and drive we like so much from the line inputs. We listen to a number of records, from Bruce Springsteens Born to run through to Kind of blue by Miles Davis, and never delivers Elicit results that are less than enjoyable. This is a nice all-rounder that sounds at home with just about every music genre.
The story is similarly positive for the 6.3 mm headphone output. This is conveniently mounted on the front panel next to the power switch, and when used with Grado’s classic RS1 headphones, it delivers an engaging and musical performance that makes us listen far beyond what is strictly necessary for the purpose of this review. Both Rega and Grados share similar strengths, and therefore pull in the same direction when it comes to sonic presentation. The richer, more rounded and refined Focal Stellia does not work as well, despite the fact that they are excellent headphones in themselves, which only shows that careful system adaptation is a must if you want to get the most out of Rega.
Just over 30 years after the original, Elicit Integrated is still an excellent choice for those who prioritize sound performance. Although this latest iteration offers more features than previous generations, it can still not be said to be particularly generous in this regard. But what remains is one of the best-sounding integrated amplifiers available at this price, one that is as comfortable with digital sources as it is with analog ones. Recommended? You can bet on that.
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