The latest generation of Rega electronics, the ones that inhabit half width cases, have proved to be among the most entertaining examples of affordable audio equipment that I’ve encountered in ages. So much so that I have been using the Brio-R integrated amp in my living room system for some time. I’ve heard more revealing and refined amps and have a few to draw on should the urge develop but when it comes to enjoying music for its own sake this compact, and usefully remote controllable unit, takes a lot of beating. When the matching Apollo-R CD player came along things got even better, it has very similar virtues of excellent communication with remarkable timing that give the silver disc a dose of humanity which many more detailed systems can’t resolve. Having discovered as much with my regular reviewing speakers I started casting around for alternatives and got lucky with Guru QM10twos. These stylish standmounts share a lot of the Rega’s best characteristics and they are a good visual match too, so long as you have the black ones of course.
The QM10twos have greater power handling than their predecessors but retain the musicality and charm that made them so hard to put down, I’ve used them with Naim and other brands of electronics but not Rega so it was intriguing to see whether the pairing would work. There’s still an element of unpredictability with speaker/amp pairing, you never know how well they will gel until you hear them. It’s not merely a matter of sensitivity relative to output power, if it were there’d be hardly any fun to be had with the stuff. It’s a question of character blending and in this case both elements are very strong on that elusive quality musicality, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that this will be the case when they are combined. Fortunately the actual result exceeded my expectations in this and many other respects.
The full Apollo-R, Brio-R and QM10two set up proved to be so engaging that very little got done for several hours after it was warmed up. The ability to get the musical message across seemed to be amplified to an uncanny extent and it wasn’t long before I stopped listening to the sound and was swept away by the work. That’s the musical work not the reviewing work, something that’s always a bit difficult when you let the music get in the way! However being a consummate professional (well sometimes) I knuckled down and played some critical material in an effort to find out what makes this system tick so well. There are a number of factors, for one the sound is projected into the room with considerable ease, and the speakers have no difficulty disappearing into the soundscape, this means that when you close your eyes they can’t be pinpointed because the music takes over. Gillian Welch’s voice is placed solidly in the room and her heartworn lyrics get under your skin, even those that make no sense. I mean what are “staggers and jags”? I looked it up, apparently it’s a result of alcohol abuse, delirium tremens in technical terms. What a great language!
There is a raw honesty about this system. Although it’s not about precision and detail it does cut through the barrier between the artist and the listener. The barrier produced by the recording, mastering and pressing process that marks the difference between live and reproduced sound. This system gets to the heart of the matter in a way that more expensive combinations often fail to do. It helps that the Gurus produce more extended bass than you expect for such a neat speaker, and that the Rega pairing delivers that bass in such a timely and coherent manner. This gives a palpability to full bandwidth recordings such as Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, a piece that demands wide dynamic range and genuine power to sound convincing, qualities that this system seems to be able to offer up despite the relatively low power of the amp and the scale of the speaker. It manages this because of its communication skills, the dramatic content of the composition is delivered so effectively that you don’t need massive levels nor room shaking bass to appreciate the drama.
The ancillaries in this system are probably worth mentioning because such things clearly play an important part. The Gurus were sat on dedicated Atacama stands with outriggers for the speaker’s foam feet and the speaker cabling was Auditorium 23, the latter is a notably open sounding cable that is designed for valve amplifiers but does a good job with the Brio-R. This amp may not have valve tone but it shares the fleet footedness of glass power, adding a bit more low end grip than is usually found in that camp. This means it can Boogie With Stu (from Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti) or Me’Shell Ndegeocello whose track The Way has a monstrous bass line which this system delivered in taut, chewy and rather delicious fashion. Tonally the presentation is earthy rather than colourful, the Regas don’t really do lush what they do is show the tactile, dynamic and vital aspects of the sound.
One thing that surprised me is how good this combo is with orchestral pieces, image depth is remarkable for an essentially wall mount speaker and it conjures up the scale of a really big ‘band’ with remarkable facility. A key factor is that it’s a fluent rather than analytical system which means that large works are easier to understand for those of us with limited experience of the genre.
Before I sat down to the keyboard I couldn’t resist hooking up the Rega RP6 turntable that has proved so enjoyable with other systems. With an Exact MM cartridge straight into the Brio-R’s phono stage it whipped up ZZ Top’s righteous groove with consummate ease, Billy Gibbons’ Telecaster sizzles with energy, his tone is the sweetest thing to come out of Texas. To be frank I had to put down the pen and pick up the air guitar, it’s not a habit I encourage but sometimes it can’t be helped. Luckily Stevie Wonder’s Superstition is keyboard based so I was able to regain some semblance of poise, or at least I could have had the rhythm proved less infectious. Suffice to say that vinyl in the hands of a player like the RP6 still has the edge when it comes to sheer thrill power but both sources proved pretty addictive through this combination of components. I would challenge anyone to put together a more enjoyable and cohesive system for this price, and it looks cool too.
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