Rega Elicit Integrated Amplifier (TAS 198)

Equipment report
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Integrated amplifiers
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Rega Elicit Intergrated Amplifier
Rega Elicit Integrated Amplifier (TAS 198)

When you think about it, “elicit” is a pretty nifty name for an audio component. After all, the verb not only rolls nicely off the tongue, it describes what we’d like our playback systems to do with music—draw out, extract, evoke, prompt, and so on. In turn, our systems should also elicit from us certain—we hope, high—degrees of emotional and intellectual response.

When considered in both of these contexts, Rega’s new Elicit integrated amplifier ($2995) is very cleverly named indeed. But then, unlike many specialty audio manufacturers, Rega never turned its attention away from traditional two-channel music systems, not even when tempted by those who claimed two-channel was dead—viva five-point-one!

Another thing I admire about Rega is that, again, bucking trends, all of the company’s gear—from turntables and arms to speakers and electronics—is built in the U.K. Moreover, borrowing from the food world’s “locavore” movement, Rega also aims to support local parts-suppliers by sourcing as much as possible from nearby makers. This is not only good for Rega’s local economy, but it also earns the company carbon credits (at least in spirit) for saving on all that transcontinental to-ing and fro-ing

While Rega has been making speakers and amplifiers for the past decade or so, the company remains best known for its line of consistently musical and affordable turntables, which, unsurprisingly, has rather overshadowed the brand’s other good products, such as the the RS5 speaker I wrote about in Issue 196.

According to Steve Daniels, head of Rega’s U.S. importer The Sound Organisation, the Elicit represents a new generation of Rega electronics, a “radical departure” from the past.

Just how radical any design can be is best left to engineering types—a group I most certainly don’t belong to—but to cite Rega’s product sheet the Elicit employs “the Rega Alpha-Encoder control system, comprising a digitally controlled analog switched-resistor-network volume control, with a Class A discrete low-noise FET line amplifier.” Techno-babble aside, the Wolfson-sourced volume control is a bit unusual in operation in that it functions as both a volume control and a source selector. You can select an input directly from the remote control or, with a front-panel button push, convert the volume control to a source selector. After a few seconds, the Elicit automatically returns to the more commonly used volume-control mode.

The amplifier is rated at 80Wpc. Not exactly macho, but not particularly wimpy either—call it someplace balanced between Robert Downey’s roles in Chaplin and Iron Man. Rega also uses Evox and ICEL film capacitors “in sonically critical signal path processors throughout,” while the bi-polar output devices are supplied by Sanken. Otherwise, the Rega engineers have done their work keeping signal paths short and using discrete circuitry. (For those who actually enjoy reading about this stuff, all this and more can be found at the Rega Web address listed in the accompanying spec box.)

The chassis is handsome in a clean modern way, with a gentle scoop at the top that mimics the line of the heat sinks at the bottom, and can be ordered in either black or silver satin. In a nod to multichannel users, a “direct” input allows easy integration in a 5.1-channel system; for LP playback the Elicit can be had with optional moving-magnet or moving-coil phono cards ($145 and $175).

A minor oddity is that the five-way speaker posts are laid out so the right channel terminals are on the left as you’re looking down on them from the front of the unit. Meaning that the right and left outputs are physically nearest to the opposite speaker channels, and you have to cross speaker wires for hook-up (or, as I did, simply reverse the vertical orientation of the L/R RCA inputs). Not a big deal, but initially confusing when I played an orchestral piece and wondered why the tympani player had moved his kettle drums and taken the cello section with him. But this is no deliberate perversion; the left and right binding posts are reversed from the usual orientation because that allowed them the shorter signal path. Once you’ve connected your system, you can forget about it.

The Elicit is a very nimble performer. You’ll first hear this dynamic fleet-footedness, an overall quickness of response, in something like Jeff Buckley’s Live at Sin-é [Columbia CD], in which the late singer’s warm, funny vulnerability is easily conveyed within the club’s highly ambient atmosphere. The Elicit did a fine job of conjuring an image of a small, appreciative audience listening to one man making music with his electric guitar, which has that rich, ringing twang one gets with a Fender Telecaster/Twin Reverb setup. Tonally, the amplifier was quite neutral, but showed a slight lightness of being in the Fender’s lower octaves and in Buckley’s wide-ranging vocals, which weren’t quite as rich as what I’m used to hearing.

My review sample was delivered with the mc card installed, and I found it to be an impressively natural-sounding circuit. Vocals, from Town Van Zandt’s sweet Texas tenor on “Pancho & Lefty” (Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas [Fat Possum]) to the duet of M. Ward and Lucinda Williams—he, high and croaking, she, deep and rasping—on Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me,” from Ward’s Hold Time [Merge], were notably easy, airy, and communicative. Small-scale dynamics were likewise impressive on these LPs, and especially so on the Philips recording of Lutoslawski’s Cello Concerto, which begins with Heinrich Schiff’s scampering unaccompanied instrument before a dialog between horns pipes up. Again, the sweet yet raspy warmth of Schiff’s cello, and the naturally bright bite of the horns struck me as very unprocessed sounding. And on the new Esoteric release of Dvorák’s New World Symphony (the first Kertesz reading on Decca, reviewed in Issue 195) the Elicit was again impressive—of course, this is also a famously impressive recording. While it might not deliver the ultimate in large-scale dynamics as heard through a high quality dedicated phonostage, the Elicit conveyed an excellent sense of a full orchestra occupying a large space, with the attendant air, depth, and width, as well as this recording’s warm string and brass textures, forceful tympani accents, and Kertesz’s dynamic and compelling conducting. The amplifier’s 80 watts won’t last forever, though, and at one point my volume level pushed it over the edge, so do choose medium-to-higher sensitivity speakers to get the best results (by the way, Rega’s own RS5 makes a dandy mate).

But just because it has power limitations doesn’t mean the Elicit can’t rock. Turning to Bettye Lavette’s I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise [Anti-], her R&B throwdown of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” flooded the room with crunching electric guitars, a chest-thumping rhythm section, and Lavette’s intense, gravelly voice.

And finally, one of the hardest challenges of them all—the piano. On another Esoteric disc, the Curzon/Britten recording of Mozart Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 27, the Rega’s quick response paid off handsomely, with a beautifully lifelike recreation of the instrument with none of the overblown quality recorded pianos often have. This, along with the bonus of a well balanced and convincing recreation of the accompanying chamber orchestra, led to a thoroughly satisfying musical experience.

So there it is, the Rega Elicit, an integrated amp that, despite a few operational quirks and a touch of lightness (which also adds to its terrifically quick response), nicely lives up to its name. It does draw out the musical essence of a recording, and elicits deep satisfaction from those who are listening.

SPECS & PRICING

Rega Elicit Integrated Amplifier

Power output: 80Wpc into 8 ohms
Inputs: Five line-level (optional mm or mc phonocard), one “direct,” one “record”
Outputs: Preamp, record, record link, 5-way speaker
Dimensions: 17" x 3.25" x 12"
Weight: 17.5 lbs.
Price: $2995, add $145 for mm and $175 for mc phono boards

The Sound Organisation
159 Leslie Street
Dallas, Texas 75207

(972) 234-0182
www.soundorg.com
www.rega.co.uk

Associated Equipment

TW-Acustic Raven One turntable; Tri-Planar Ultimate VII arm; Transfiguration Orpheus moving-coil cartridge; Naim Audio SuperLine and Artemis PL-1 phonostages; Sim Audio Moon CD-1 CD player; Rega RS5 and Kharma Mini Exquisite loudspeakers; Tara Labs Zero interconnects, Omega speaker cables, The One power cords, and AD-10B Power Screen; Finite Elemente Spider equipment racks. 

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