Features

Saturday Deluxe / 6 January 2018

Welcome to the first ‘Saturday Deluxe’ of the new year!

There was an interesting response to my piece on INXSKick 30 reissue, earlier this week. I said that I wasn’t sure how good the Dolby Atmos mix sounded on non-Atmos systems, having not been overly impressed when I played in on my set-up. There was a suggestion from a few of you that unless you have a fairly recent home theatre amplifier you could run into problems. Older systems might struggle with the ‘downmix’ from Atmos to standard 5.1 for example.

My amp (for surround sound only) is a Yamaha RX-V640RDS model which I’ve had for a quite a while, so maybe it’s time for an upgrade! The difficulty with any surround system is getting the balance between the best and optimum surround experience (in this case, full-on Dolby Atmos) and a practical environment where family members aren’t going to be tripping over cables and have an obstacle course of speakers to navigate around in the front room!

There are soundbars which attempt to simplify the approach, but they are enormously expensive for what is ultimately a compromise solution. A period of research and consideration is due, I think and I will also wait and see how much Dolby Atmos ‘catches on’ in terms of music and box sets. Let’s face it, most of the time record companies don’t really see the value of 5.1 mixes and/or don’t think there is the demand for them. Recent examples of this is Warners not including the already available 5.1 mix of Fleetwood Mac‘s Rumours on the 2013 super deluxe and Paul McCartney not bothering to include the surround mixes of Band on the Run and Venus and Mars – previously available on DTS CDs – on his reissues. With those kind of mixed signals, excuse me if I don’t start investing thousands and fitting speakers in my ceiling…


Rega’s Brio amp impresses

Talking of kit, Rega Research were recently kind enough to send SDE one of their Brio amplifiers for a long term test.

I was already a satisfied Rega customer, having owned a Planar 3 turntable for many years, but until last month this was coupled to a fairly average amplifier and I had been looking to upgrade, but had done nothing about it.

Funnily enough, it was entirely a chance encounter with Rega’s Paul Darwin at the Tears For Fears Royal Albert Hall gig last year (I happened to be sitting next to him) that led to this loan. We got chatting and I introduced myself and it turns out that he was an SDE reader! A long story short, I have ditched my old amp and replaced with a Brio. I think it had just won both ‘Product of the Year’ and ‘Best Stereo Amplifier of the Year’ at the 2017 What Hi-Fi awards, so I had high expectations.

I have to say, I’m mightily impressed. First off, it looks great. I like the small footprint and the simplicity. It has an on-off switch, a button that toggles you through your various components (turntable, CD player etc.) and a headphone socket.  Also, my old amp required a separate phono pre-amp for the turntable. The Brio has that built in, so that was a ‘box’ and cables that could be removed adding to the simplicity and clean lines of my set-up.

But it’s the sound – obviously –  that’s most important and the improvement was immediate and much more pronounced than I’d really expected. The bottom end sounded immense. Everything seemed so much clearer and warmer. There was a richness and depth to the music that was remarkable – I couldn’t really believe how different it sounded and how good the improvement was. I’m still enjoying listening to favourite albums with this new set-up and will give you all an update later in the year. My ‘core’ kit of Brio, Rega Planar 3 and OPPO 105 is really delivering and just need to look at my Wharfedale floorstanding speakers which are in need of an upgrade.

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39 responses to Saturday Deluxe / 6 January 2018

  1. Paul says:

    I have a true 7.1.4 Atmos setup with 11 speakers, 4 of which are Dolby Atmos height speakers. Can’t wait to hear this!

  2. Paul and I have similar taste in “kit” (as you Brits say). I’ve got a Rega P3/24, Oppo BDP-93, Paradigm monitors and an Onkyo AV receiver. I’ve considered a new amp but does that Rega Brio accommodate 5.1? I don’t currently have surround setup (very unaccommodating apartment living room) but plan on doing so in my next place. Would love a better, newer amp but expect a need for compromise with the receiver (though I don’t need a tuner) or integrated amp.

  3. Greg says:

    Paul, a belated happy new year. SDE is still my favorite website, and it gets better every day. Great job. My advice is to start hanging at audio shows and meet your fellow countrymen at Bowers and Wilkins. I’ve have my 802s for more years than I can count and they are still beautiful sounding and accurate. Tell them you will review their 800D3s for Super Deluxe Edition, but settle for anything they give you. You will not be disappointed.

  4. Nick81 says:

    If the INXS album does not sound good, then maybe it was mixed in Dobly??
    What Hi-Fi reviews are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Which ever manufacturer has/had the biggest advertising budget for the magazine usually comes/came out with the most awards. There was also a time when the editor (forget his name) also edited a Sony magazine, and guess which manufacturer did well in the awards?
    I run an AV processor with a 7-channel power amp from Audiolab, which What Hi-Fi were not impressed with. Yet the combo sounds great compared to an AV receiver, especially with music
    TL:DR – Buy with your ears, not from reviews.

    • Daran says:

      To be fair Rega never pay for advertising. That comes from the mouth of Rega boss Mr Gandy I don’t recall ever seeing a Rega advert. I think you have to cross reference reviews – once you get a piece of gear winning lots of awards and 5 star reviews you can take it that it’s bona fide great. It’s easy to let paranoia creep in about bungs etc. Rega has won tons of awards around the world’s hi-fi press for the Brio amps.

  5. Mike the Fish says:

    Have some comments been deleted from this post?

  6. Robert S says:

    How is it when I go to concerts I am usually seated next to loud drunks who either talk through the whole show or dance out of time slamming into me? Never sat next to a high end audio manufacturer who offered to lend me a beautiful amplifier. You must be living right Paul!

  7. colm47 says:

    Hello Paul

    Do you know anything about The Velvet Underground vinyl box set coming in February?
    Specifically, if it is only available through Universal Music website?
    It says it’s exclusive to Universal so I’m not sure if other sellers will have it.

  8. Daniel Lalla says:

    We have all these amazing high res formats, well pressed heavyweight vinyl but people listen to MP3 through (usually cheap) headphones or the 1/2” speaker on their phone or a cheap Bluetooth speaker or often on a TV. People don’t appreciate good sound as they used to (except some headphone fanatics out their) so I’m glad to hear some talk about equipment. People should get the full ‘Super Deluxe’ experience !

  9. baward says:

    For me, it’s 80’s all the way. Or it will be once I upgrade (or should that be downgrade?!) to a vintage Hi-Fi setup from somewhere like https://www.hifihangar.co.uk

    I love the concept of Atmos, in that you don’t think of left/right/front/rear and so on, but instead where in the 3D space you want to place a sound. I don’t imagine I’ll ever get a system, however.

  10. Clark von Trotha says:

    For speakers try Wilson Audio, perhaps Sophia series or Dali Rubicon series 6.

  11. John Kent says:

    I recently upgraded to an Oppo 205 as my source for music and video (an amazing piece of kit). My amp is now probably the weak link in my system (it’s a 20+ years old Linn Classik with a poorly CD player) and the Rega Brio has become the main contender. I just need to raise the funds. Fortunately my Quad 11L speakers, despite being about 15 years old, are still sounding amazing.

  12. Robert Morgenstern says:

    Hello Paul, i am surprised. I have an Yamaha RX-V 1500 which is a little bit older and an Yamaha BD-A 1040. I am totally impressed with this surround mix. I use although the Yamaha specific prescence soundfield so the center is way better splitted. And i have although only a downmix of the bitstream. So maybe try to let the Blu-ray Player make the downmix and not the Amp. Cheers Robert

  13. Michael says:

    Paul, you may want to sample FOCAL speakers too, which are made in France. I recently upgraded my seven speakers to FOCAL Chorus tower, center and large bookshelf speakers (which are positioned on speaker stands towards the back of the living room). I ran the speaker cables under area rugs so they are for the most part hidden. My 2 subwoofers (wired as separate right & left channel) are Velodyme 18+ down & front emanating. I also invested in an OPPO universal player, and have fallen in love with it. I understand that Dolby Atmos is a new program, but my Marantz amp/receiver, which can decode up to 11.2 surround, does not have this feature, and is too new to be replaced simply for Dolby Atmos. I did find that turning two of the bookshelf speakers on their backs to bounce sound off the ceiling, created a noticeably more panoramic and life-like sound with good front-back-center balance. Since I haven’t sampled Dolby Atmos, I can only assume this might be a good sound approximation based on the descriptions I have read on-line.

    • Phil says:

      I can certainly recommend Focal speakers. I’m lucky enough to have a Rega 10 and run that through a Naim amplifier into Focal floor standing speakers. Sounds bloody awesome!!

      • SimonP says:

        I love the Focal sound. I pulled the trigger on some floorstanders a while back on a whim, then got home and realised I didn’t have as much room as I thought I had. I then had to ring the shop back and cancel the order!

  14. Steve B says:

    If anyone wants to check out an Atmos concert, Mumford and Sons live from South Africa has one. Unfortunately the cinematography is terrible and it’s like watching a Bourne movie (one of Greengrass-directed ones) BUT the performances are great and the audio is excellent.

  15. Guido says:

    I think it’s all about the mix concerning Dolby Atmos, like it is with the various 5.1 formats.
    Until now there are only 2 Atmos Music Blu-rays out there. I wasn’t impressed with Kick but REMs Automatic for the people is fantastic and beats the Elliot Scheiner Mix on DVD-A!

  16. James says:

    I doubt very much Dolby Atmos will ever be a serious music format for albums. It’s not really meant to be.

    It’s intent and purpose is designed for movies on the new 4K HD format and large home theatre set-ups.

    Where there may be a happy marriage would be in live concert films. ‘Before the Dawn’ for example and those helicopter blades.

  17. Richard Rootes says:

    I love Rega products, but their customer service back in 2003 was severely lacking. When I got in touch asking for a 120VAC 60Hz motor for my UK spec Planar 3, they point blank refused (I was emigrating to Canada), rudely insinuating that I was unqualified to perform such a transplant

    Things have obviously moved on since then, as they introduced low voltage motor conversion kits not long after – but at the time, it meant I had to sell my beloved turntable and find a replacement here in Vancouver….

  18. Clifton Montgomery says:

    Paul, I know you Europe based, but I was able to get a modest refurbished Onkyo 5.1.2 Atmos/DTS-X receiver for a little over 200 USD, and although it’s nowhere near top of the line it is actually quite impressive. Atmos is very subtle in how it can suck you in. It doesn’t hit you over the head like regular old discreet surround sound did. But once you’ve heard good Atmos mixes, be they movies or music, it’s obvious the benefits.

  19. chrrr says:

    I also own an older Yamaha 5.1 receiver. Currently I have four Atmos music Blu-Rays to listen to:
    INXS – Kick
    R.E.M. – Automatic
    Kraftwerk – 3D Katalog
    Booka Shade – Galvany Street

    INXS sounds harsh and like big stereo, R.E.M. is ok if underwhelming but Kraftwerk and Booka Shade are extraordinarily good surround mixes, even in regular 5.1.
    I am not sure whether Fritz Hilpert (who did both latter mixes) has created additional 5.1 mixes and that’s why the experience is so much better, I just happen to prefer his mixing style or whether there is an issue with how my receiver does the fold-down from Atmos->7.1->5.1

  20. SimonP says:

    The wiring doesn’t bother me, I have a cinema room and the speaker cables are all stuffed behind the CD shelves. :-D

    I have an RP3, too and have recently had it serviced and upgraded at great cost, mostly because of a new phono stage with a USB output. I think the new belt was about £22 on its own! I don’t hear it at its best, though, as it is connected to the AV orientated system, rather than a dedicated hifi set-up.

  21. elliott buckingham says:

    my av unit is sonys what hifi award winner and the atmos mix still sounds pretty poor compared to misplaced 5.1 mix.

  22. Peter Yarrow says:

    Love Rega and have an RP6 turntable and Elex-R amp. Two of my favourite ever purchases

  23. Ian says:

    Eric – my thoughts exactly re. the line about a speaker upgrade!!!

  24. Auntie Sabrina says:

    What about radio then? Roberts Stream 93i being my choice. Not much of a looker but it’s a good ‘un, rather like myself…

  25. Daran says:

    I understand why people like A/V amps and multi channel, but I can never accept the compromise that they just don’t sound anywhere near as good as 2 channel amps when playing cd’s or vinyl . That is universally understood in the hi-fi world. So two separate systems is a must if you want the best of both worlds, so you are right to have both Paul. As for Rega, totally agreed they just make music sound great. I don’t know what the magic dust they sprinkle is, but pound for pound it is unbelievable. I can totally recommend a full integrated Rega amp and speaker setup including their cables (speaker and interconnects), with whatever source you like. I am running similar to you Paul, with Rega Brio R, and Oppo 105. It has stopped dead in its tracks years of ‘upgraditis’ that afflicts hi-fi buffs! And not too expensive either. Although I may get the new Brio soon or the Elex R. Wish I could get them for free too ;) Add in their awesome turntables, all British made in Southend – bravo Rega!

    • Mike the Fish says:

      There is often an option to pre-out of the a/v amp so the stereo amp and speakers can be used as normal then the a/v fed through an aux channel, thus able to use the same speakers for the front pair.

      • Daran says:

        Yes, but correct me if I’m wrong Mike the technical standards for DVDA and SACD don’t allow for output through digital of any kind, so I would need to run dedicated cables out the analogue outputs for those formats to the stereo amp and keep toggling the Oppo output between digital and LPCM when I play those types of discs? Otherwise I would be unable to play them. Sounds like a hassle to me :) I am happy to have the Oppo down mix 5.1 to 2.0. Sometimes the results are very interesting….

        • Mike the Fish says:

          Hi Daran. DVD-A and SACD can be piped out digitally via HDMI these days depending on the player and receiver. It’s the AV amp/receiver that has the pre-amp out so it doesn’t matter how you send the signal (so long as can be decoded or is sent analogue) as once it gets to the pre-amp it’s in analogue form at that point. No switching required.

  26. Eric says:

    I wonder how long the ‘long term test’ is (until the next model comes out, then you may as well keep it?). Was your last sentence meant for any future concert goer inparticular? lol
    I guess it’s good to be the king. :)

  27. Chris Squires says:

    Rega are marvellous, I have used nothing but* for the last decade. Not one single problem, even when my old Rega Osiris had a small on / off button issue after 6 years they took it in, repaired it and upgraded it to the latest specs for free. I would heartily recommend them as a brand to anyone.

    *Except PMC Wafer2 speakers as I wanted wall-mount so had to ditch my old Rega RS7 speakers.

    I haven’t plunged down the 5.1 route for the very reason you say. I spend far too much on music wiithout spending even more on 5.1, although I am sure it sounds great for those that have leapt in.

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