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Rega io review

What Hi-Fi? Awards 2020 winner. Signature Rega sound in a highly accessible package Tested at £379 / $595 / AU$849

5 Star Rating
Rega io review
(Image: © Rega)

Our Verdict

Simple, but no less successful for that; this is yet another superb-sounding Rega amp

For

  • Detailed, rhythmic, fun sound
  • MM phono stage
  • Good headphone output

Against

  • No digital connectivity

While Rega used to make a high-end DAC called ‘io’, the naming of its latest amplifier is almost certainly a nod to the familial link with its big brother, the excellent Rega Brio. It’s not far off half its price or half its performance – and so, quite reasonably, it has half its name.

The 30W-per-channel, entry-level io can be purchased individually, or as part of Rega’s System One all-in-one proposition with the Planar 1 turntable and Kyte speakers (£999). It borrows the power amplifier and phono stage from its Award-winning elder sibling and that goes a long way to explain the pleasing sonic resemblance between the two.

Sound

Rega io sound

(Image credit: Rega)

The discrepancies between Rega's two half-width boxes in terms of physical size and decorative refinement is more or less mirrored in their sonic differences.

Rega io tech specs

(Image credit: Rega)

Power 30W per channel

Inputs RCA x2, MM phono

Outputs 3.5mm headphone jack

Dimensions (hwd) 6.8 x 18 x 29cm

Weight 2.9kg

The Brio (£599, $995) is a bigger-sounding component with a more polished presentation; it injects more space between strands of music and conveys them with notably greater detail and dynamic precision. It does what it should to justify its extra spend over the io, keeping it relevant in Rega’s line-up between the io and Elex-R.

But Rega’s consistency with components and their implementation makes the io instantly recognisable as a descendant of the Brio. In fact, we could repeat the very same words we used in our Brio review, including ‘incredible sense of rhythm, punchy dynamics; agility, detail and fun’.

Play Drake’s Money In The Grave ft. Rick Ross, and the io’s nature comes to the fore, its natural sense of momentum driving the dominant bassline forward. The deliveries of the two rappers have the transparency, richness and clarity that demands they are taken note of, while the amplifier’s innate musicality captures the rhythmic chimes that hold it all together.

The similarly priced Marantz PM6006 UK Edition offers more space around the vocals and an overall maturity to the rendition, but its smoother, more laid-back approach comes at the cost of not quite being able to capture the track’s energy.

Rega io sound

(Image credit: Rega)

Similarly, with Aparat’s violin-led 44, the Marantz (and the Brio) add a welcome dose of refinement and extra space and openness over the io. But while the io is a cruder listen, it still seizes the strings’ abrasive texture and captures the foreboding emotion, while tracking their dynamic movement too. It may not have the sonic sophistication of its rival and big brother, but its directness and buoyancy make for a truly compelling listen.

The io should be paired with like-minded speakers, such as the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 or Bowers & Wilkins 606. Note too that Rega has done well to keep quality and character consistent through the headphone output.

Ultimately, with the arrival of the io, Rega’s unmistakable and unquestionably entertaining signature amplifier sound is now more accessible than ever. And, as we cast our minds back to when we first learned of the Rega io’s existence, that is all we could have hoped for.

Build and features

Rega io build

(Image credit: Rega)

To pack such a performance into this price point, Rega has, as with all its amplifiers, stuck with analogue-only connections here. Despite the digital friendliness of the Marantz, analogue-only is common at this end of the market. The io sports two line-level inputs (two fewer than the Brio) and an MM phono input, so you can hook up a turntable as well as a couple of components such as a CD player and streamer. 

A 3.5mm headphone jack completes the io’s fairly modest connectivity list. It sits on the front panel alongside a volume dial and a small plastic button that cycles through the inputs. The io’s plastic front panel gives it a pretty unremarkable aesthetic. Rega certainly isn’t trying to hide the fact that most of its efforts have gone into the performance.

The compact, half-width aluminium chassis feels well built – the same goes for the satisfyingly simple remote control – and its low-key design should suit some hi-fi traditionalists.

Verdict

What will most win fans over to the Rega io, though, is its class-leading performance. While it may not be the versatile, all-inclusive Marantz PM6006 UK Edition, those who are happy with a simple, no-fuss, purely analogue amplifier and who prioritise entertainment should arguably consider the io their number one choice.

SCORES

  • Sound 5
  • Features 4
  • Build 4

MORE:

Best stereo amplifiers 2020

Read our Rega Brio review

Read our Rega Elex-R review

Read our Marantz PM6006 UK Edition review

  • manicm
    So does this appeal to the lifestyle crowd? With no digital inputs? Or cramped dorm rooms big enough to have a turntable???

    Rega makes great hifi, but even my Arcam Solo Mini from 2008 was more versatile than this.

    This sycophantic review does no favour to WHF’s credibility, or Rega‘s reputation for great sounding but increasingly anachronistic budget amplification products.
    Reply
  • manicm
    Up your game Rega, the io looks cute, but then so did Ladas.
    Reply
  • Gray
    manicm said:
    Up your game Rega, the io looks cute, but then so did Ladas.
    No need to up their game, 5 WHF stars does the selling.
    (Not saying that's how it should be, but that's how it is).
    Reply
  • manicm
    Gray said:
    No need to up their game, 5 WHF stars does the selling.
    (Not saying that's how it should be, but that's how it is).

    It’s just I don’t get who this amp is for?
    Reply
  • losalnos
    My big question is how does the new IO combo at £999 compare with buying a brio combo separately? It doesn't seem like a great deal; very expensive speakers. If I went in to a Hi-Fi shop, a Planar 1 & Brio would come to £850. I'm pretty much positive I could get a pair of bookshelves with an RRP of between £200-£250 bundled in for a total of £1000, and that price range is so packed with speakers, I'd get a wealth of choice of stylings and tonal voicing to suit my room/preference. And, obviously, an amp that will probably last me longer and do justice were I to upgrade speakers or TT later on.

    Yeah, I'd love to see someone do a comparison between, say, the io bundle and a Brio+Planar 1+Dali Spektor or Q Acoustics or something like that.
    Reply
  • manicm
    losalnos said:
    My big question is how does the new IO combo at £999 compare with buying a brio combo separately? It doesn't seem like a great deal; very expensive speakers. If I went in to a Hi-Fi shop, a Planar 1 & Brio would come to £850. I'm pretty much positive I could get a pair of bookshelves with an RRP of between £200-£250 bundled in for a total of £1000, and that price range is so packed with speakers, I'd get a wealth of choice of stylings and tonal voicing to suit my room/preference. And, obviously, an amp that will probably last me longer and do justice were I to upgrade speakers or TT later on.

    Yeah, I'd love to see someone do a comparison between, say, the io bundle and a Brio+Planar 1+Dali Spektor or Q Acoustics or something like that.

    I think the Brio deserves speakers 350quid+, something like the Q Acoustics 3030i at the very least, but ideally something like the B&W 606/607.
    Reply
  • 20to20K
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    Rega’s io amplifier has all the hallmarks of its Award-winning Brio sibling, but for around half the price.

    Rega io : Read more
    I received my IO 4 weeks ago and use it while spending most working days in a medium sized study. I appreciate the build quality, simplicity and that it really does sound great with an old pair of B&Ws. I’m more interested in convenience and future component upgrades. Thus it’s hooked up to a DAC and music server, all controlled from my iPhone. Bizarrely, my children were stunned by the ‘made in england’ label.
    Reply
  • losalnos
    manicm said:
    I think the Brio deserves speakers 350quid+, something like the Q Acoustics 3030i at the very least, but ideally something like the B&W 606/607.

    Oh yeah, I totally take your point and I'd absolutely agree: to do it justice you'd need better speaker, but my query is would even a hindered Brio system hold its own against the IO bundled system? Because even if you're not getting to hear the best of the Brio at first, in the short term if it does sound as good as the IO, you've not lost anything. Long term, if you've bought the Brio, when it comes to upgrading, the core of your system, is already in place. So as you say, you could spend £350-£400 on new speakers (and, as I say, have a choice of aesthetics and sound to suit your taste) and your Brio system would be given a new lease of life.

    To upgrade the IO bundled system, it sounds like you'd have to spend £600 on the Brio or similar (Audiolab 6000A?) at minimum, and then there's a decent chance the bundled speakers need upgraded too to make the best of the new amp. Am I making sense or waffling?

    Basically, what I'm saying is despite not getting the best out the Brio, I'd be interested to hear a comparison because the price discrepancy between the IO bundle and one you can put together yourself with a Brio doesn't seem very much, and long-term surely the smart money would be on buying a better amp?
    Reply