REGA ELEX MK4 integrated amplifier (with DAC)
+ Highly entertaining performance which encourages attentive listening; good amount of insight and detail; very capable onboard DAC and phono stage; solid build quality
– Not for those who demand wireless connection and network capabilities; no USB connection for the onboard DAC
A guide to the ratings
THE middle model in Rega’s range of integrated amplifiers, the Elex has had a recent refresh and is now in its fourth generation. It has been about eight years now since the preceding Elex-R model took to stage and the latest version is indeed officially called the “Elex MK4”, Rega having none of the reservations some British hi-fi brands (used to?) have about putting the so-called unlucky number “4” on its product, not needing to ponder how customers in some of its Far East markets would react.
Looks and build quality-wise, the Elex MK4 is not far removed from its predecessor, having that same heavy and solidly constructed chassis of steel top and bottom plates with aluminium sides. There is an updated fascia to match the rest of the current Rega electronics range where the perspex faceplate is a little larger, and the onboard LEDs to indicate which input has been selected are now arranged in a broad horizontal row which I rather preferred over the cramped vertical row bunched up beside the volume control of the previous model (I also had it on hand during the review period, for comparison).
As with Rega’s product development philosophy, the changes to the Elex MK4 are more evolutionary than revolutionary, it remaining a traditional class AB circuit amplifier. It has four line inputs (all RCA) and puts out 72 watts per channel into 8Ω and 90W into 6Ω. Sorry, no nominal power rating at 4Ω was quoted by Rega. In terms of outputs there is a record-out for the tape-recording loving dinosaur, and a pre-out if one intends to use a separate power amplifier or perhaps a subwoofer connected at line level.
The onboard phono stage remains an MM-only proposition, which is probably appropriate for this sector of the market, with focus on quality rather than in loading up the feature set, but during the listening tests I did plug in a low output moving coil cartridge via a step-up transformer to gauge its performance.
The biggest change with the new model is that Rega has included an onboard DAC which may be accessed via two digital inputs – one optical (Toslink) and one co-axial (RCA). Unfortunately, there is no USB input for a direct feed from a computer and no wireless connection option. It may be a dealbreaker for some but I suppose it is in keeping with the requirements of the folks that Rega sees as the type of customer the company’s products typically attract (and retain).
The DAC is apparently the same one found in the more expensive new Elicit MK5 and is based on that of Rega’s earlier standalone DAC-R’s circuit, with a chipset by Wolfson capable of a sample rate handling up to 24bit/192kHz. Rega claims it has worked to ensure that the analogue performance of the Elex 4 is not adversely affected in any way by the introduction of the onboard digital circuit.
Also new is the inclusion of a headphones jack (6.3 mm plug), which will be welcomed by those who indulge in such listening whether by choice or force of circumstances, avoiding the hassle of using a separate dedicated headphone amplifier. The signal for the headphones is taken from the output of the power amplifier section and its use mutes the sound from the speaker outputs.
I did not get to test the remote control of the Elex MK4 as it wasn’t provided with the review sample but I did have the older Elex-R remote on hand which could access some, but not all, of the newer model’s functions.
While it has been some time since I heard the lower range Brio and Io amps, I felt the sonic signature of the Elex MK4 to be a more mature and better honed version of those amps as far as I could remember. In comparison with the earlier Elex-R, which I did have on hand, the sound is pretty much similarly balanced overall but the new version is like one which has now a better cut physique, shedding a bit of the warmth the older model had but gaining in sonic insight and detail.
I would still call it tonally rich and organic, with a well lit and excellently fleshed out midrange. In comparison with my monoblock Odyssey Khartago amps fronted by a passive stepped-attenuator controller, its sonic centre of gravity is noticeably centred slightly lower toward the lower midrange. Detail, size and weight of the sonic picture is indeed good and considering the price of the Elex MK4 against the in-house amps, I wouldn’t feel any compulsion to complain even if it wasn’t as transparent or with the same sense of scale.
No, the newfound ability to resolve detail would not lead me to call the Elex MK4 “analytical”‘” – once acclimatised to the sound, it is anything but. The amplifier had that dynamic, energetic quality which tends to engage the heart, yet without disarming the brain, so much so that you get into enjoyment mode but will still notice and appreciate the fine nuances in the playing and singing abilities of the artistes while the big picture of the band or ensemble of musicians in a jazz or classical trio playing together in time never suffers.
Voices are easily intelligible and the separation of instruments and singers is good, but not as noticeable as with some of the better resolving amps in the market – these need necessarily be more expensive ones like the Odysseys, but a good ICEPower Class D amp like the XTZ Edge A2-300 from memory of some of the recordings I played would do very well or better, even if balanced quite differently in sonic signature (and dependent on the preamplifier in use).
The Elex MK4’s bass was firm and tuneful and had that sense of ease of propulsion, and on appropriate material it presented music you could easily dance to if the mood strikes (if not compromised by any weaknesses on this aspect by other components of the system). It can keep the pulsating beat with EDM tracks and still produce the nuances and fade out of a slowly plucked or bowed double bass. Kick drums had good power and impact.
Treble was smooth and refined, if a little less extended and airy than what I am used to. I played a few alto sax as well as James Galway classical flute pieces by Rodrigo (yes, and later Annie’s Song too) and even the more attacking pieces stayed on the right side of stridency which can be elicited with the particular recording I had. On rock tracks where the tambourines, cymbals and hi-hats drive the song, the treble performance of the Elex MK4 didn’t give any cause for concern, resolving the differences and with good sense of attack without at any time getting splashy.
The onboard DAC certainly sounded similar to the amp’s overall character (which is obvious, since one can’t separately evaluate the digital section free of the amp). In comparison with the direct line feed from my Micromega Stage Three CD player and listening to the same tracks via the onboard DAC, one certainly notices the little differences – the onboard DAC was less airy and resolving but at the same time slightly more organic in presentation and more relaxing overall. I have favoured the Micromega’s presentation over some more expensive external DACs but here I was unsure which I preferred depending on the type of track in play. I’ll just say in spite of the differences, the Rega always engaged and allowed my LP-playback oriented ears to relax and enjoy the music.
Speaking of LP playback, the phono stage is really good for the price. It’s a Rega product after all and held its own well in comparison with the external phono stages I had on hand, having less speed and attack, and being noticeably less resolving and more muted up top in comparison with the MoFi StudioPhono. But it was still highly enjoyable by all means and unless you are planning to get some really capable cartridges, more than adequate for your Ortofon OM20- or Rega Elys- level choices.
THE LAST WORD
The refreshed Rega Elex MK4 has the ability to elicit a satisfied grin from the listener when called upon to entertain with any genre of music (s)he cares to put on after a draining day at the office, or when (s)he deliberately sets everything aside to listen attentively to take in more insight from a treasured album or two. Capable of a high degree of musical communication, it is a fine choice for the heart of a mid-priced system.
The price may have gone up since the previous model (what hasn’t?) but Rega has, in my view, kept the value proposition strong with the Elex MK4’s improved sound quality and the inclusion of its rather enjoyable onboard DAC. Like its predecessor, it earns an enthusiastic recommendation for itself and should be on the audition list if you are looking for an integrated amplifier in this price range.
Sources: Linn LP12-Ittok-K18ii, Garrard 401-Rega RB1000-Benz Micro ACE L (with step up transformer) and Roksan Xerxes-RB251-Denon DL110 for vinyl, QLS QA550 Digital SD Card WAV File reader, Micromega Stage 3 CD player (also used as transport), Sony HAP-Z1ES HDD player / Amplification: ADL GT40 preamplifier and Euphonic Research ATT-600 passive controller into Euphonic Research Amp80 and Odyssey Khartago monoblock amplifiers, Pioneer A400X integrated amp, Mobile Fidelity StudioPhono and Parasound JC3 phono stages / Speakers: Triangle Ikoto, ELAC B5U2, Apogee Centaurus Minor, Spatial M3 Turbo S / Headphones: Audio Technica ATH-AD700X / Assorted cables including Wireworld Oasis, Tara Labs Prism and Gotham interconnects, Symo LSX5, Cardas Hexlink 5, Supra Classic 4.0 speaker cables, various DIYy wires
Price : £1,200
Malaysian price: RM6,899
Distributor: Asia Sound Equipment (+603 7955 2091) / Find your distributor.