Say the name Rega and it’s the company’s long-running range of Planar record players that come to mind. These turntables have been a dominant force in the market for more decades than we care to remember and show no signs of relinquishing their grip. Yet, look past those all-conquering vinyl spinners and you’ll find that the British brand has been steadily making a range of amplifiers that’s almost as talented for almost as long.
The new Elicit MK5 under test 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 designs.
Build & features
Rega products tend to be pretty purist affairs that prioritise performance and solid engineering above all else. They rarely excel on the features front, but that seems to have changed with the Elicit MK5, since it now includes digital inputs alongside the usual analogue connections. This is something of a seismic shift for the company and a welcome one as many rivals have long walked down that path.
The digital-to-analogue module is a hybrid design that combines aspects from the company’s well-respected standalone DAC-R and its Apollo and Saturn CD players to produce what the company feels is an appropriate solution for this amplifier. This digital circuit is compatible with signals of up to 24-bit/192kHz PCM, and while that’ll be fine for the majority of users there will be some who are disappointed with the lack of DSD compatibility. Perhaps more limiting is that the inputs are restricted to just a coaxial and optical. We wish Rega had really pushed the boat out and included a USB connection and wireless connectivity in the form of Bluetooth. Then this amplifier really would be up there with the better-equipped alternatives at the price.
We can’t complain about much when it comes to the analogue domain, though. The Elicit MK5 has five line-level inputs, a moving magnet phono stage, a headphone output and a range of signal outputs for external power amps and recorders. That should be more than enough to cope with the kind of systems this amplifier is likely to end up in. There’s also the less common option that allows users to connect a standalone preamp to the Elicit’s power amplifier section. Be aware, though, that any signal that goes through this input bypasses the Rega’s volume control and preamp circuitry, so will need some means of controlling the signal level, if damage to your ear drums or speakers is to be avoided.
Power output 105 watts per channel
Line level inputs x5
Phono stage Moving magnet
Preamp output Yes
Headphone output Yes
Remote control Yes
Rega’s amplifiers have tended to be solidly constructed affairs and the Elicit MK5 is no different. The Elicit feels robust and businesslike, and all the controls from the push buttons for power and input selection to the slim volume control work well enough. Ideally, we’d like direct access to an input rather than having to toggle through the seven options, but it’s something we can live with. We like the amplifier’s new clean-cut casework, though this is still very much a functional looking unit rather than anything overly stylish. The Elicit runs fairly warm in use, so make sure it has enough ventilation around it to avoid overheating issues.
Take a look inside and you’ll find that the analogue circuitry borrows heavily from the step-up Aethos, using the same discrete FET based preamplifier design with the power amplifier being a further evolution of Rega’s tried and trusted layout. Great care has been taken to optimise performance with the use of high-grade components where required.
This is a revealing amplifier so don't skimp on the quality of the partnering equipment. You don't need to go to the high-end levels of our reference set-up (Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer and ATC SCM 50 speakers), but the source and speakers should at least be on a par with the Elicit when it comes to performance.
The Elicit Mk5’s sound can be summed up in just three words: taut, punchy and clear. This is a surprisingly forthright sounding amplifier that doesn’t hold back when asked to play Radiohead’s The National Anthem at high volume levels. It stays clean and controlled even when pushed hard, and thumps out the track with venom.
We’re particularly taken with this amplifier’s bass grip; the low-end is powerful, agile and pleasingly precise. This integrated is also adept at digging up lots of information and presenting it in an organised and musically cohesive way, which is not easy on a track that can come across as chaotic. The amp’s explicit midrange is highlighted by Thom Yorke’s vocals. They’re easy to follow, impressively clear yet nuanced too.
Such an upfront nature means that this isn’t the most relaxed-sounding amplifier around. But, there’s enough in the way of finesse to stop this being an issue, as a music switch to Beethoven’s beautiful Moonlight Sonata shows. Here, the Elicit sounds nicely delicate and surefooted. Dynamic shifts are rendered with fluidity and there’s a pleasing sense of space in the presentation. As is Rega’s way, the presentation is slightly forward and brightly lit, but mostly this just serves to highlight the detail and clarity on offer. You do need to partner the Elicit with care though, as a bright or aggressive source or pair of partnering speakers may take things too far.
The DAC module is a good one. It has a lively and punchy character that sits comfortably beside the analogue line stages. Detail levels and dynamic contrasts are strong by the standards of built-in circuits such as this. From a practical standpoint, it would have been nice to have some sort of indication of the incoming signal's resolution. We're not asking for a full blown display, some simple LEDs would be fine.
We’re pleased to report that the built-in phono stage continues the good work. It’s only compatible with moving magnet cartridges, but that’s likely to be fine in most of the systems the Elicit will 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 range of records, from Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run through to Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, and never does the Elicit deliver results that are anything less than enjoyable. This is a fine all-rounder that sounds at home with just about every genre of music.
The story is similarly positive for the 6.3mm headphone output. This is conveniently mounted on the front panel next to the power switch and when used with Grado’s classic RS1 headphones delivers an engaging and musical performance that has us listening for far longer than strictly required for the purpose of this review. Both the Rega and Grados share similar strengths, and so pull in the same direction as far as sonic presentation goes. The richer, more rounded and refined-sounding Focal Stellia don’t work as well, despite being excellent headphones in their own right, which just goes to show that careful system matching is a must if you want to get the most out of the Rega.
Just over 30 years on from the original, the Elicit integrated remains an excellent choice for those that prioritise sonic performance. While this latest iteration offers more features than previous generations, it still can’t be said to be particularly generous in this respect. But, what’s left is one of the best sounding integrated amplifiers available at this price, one that’s as comfortable with digital sources as it is with analogue. Recommended? You bet.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Features 4
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