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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