Back in the days before ‘smart’ products, before flat-panel televisions, before the internet even, we would have called this a brilliant budget system for audiophiles. Some might see it as rather old-fashioned, but for us, that's part of the charm.
Old-school it may be, but we've put together a trio of products that combine wonderfully to make beautiful music; and that, after all, is what all this is about. The whole point of investing in quality hi-fi is to enjoy your music to the full – and if you've got a stack of records that need playing and this kit falls within budget, you will be hard-pressed to top the entertaining sound you'll get from this system.
Total: £1207 / $1869
Turntable: Rega Planar 2
Let’s start with the turntable. The Planar 2 has been around in one form or another for 45 years or so, and it has evolved nicely over that time. It is fitted with Rega’s RB220 tonearm, which features ultra-low friction ball bearings, a stiffer bearing housing than on previous Planar 2 arms, and an automatic bias setting. All of which makes it virtually plug and play. That should please newcomers who want to enjoy vinyl with minimal fuss – but do be aware that, as implied above, the Planar 2 doesn’t have a built-in phono stage, so it needs to hook up to a stereo amplifier that has one; take a bow Rega io. Or you can always buy a separate phono stage if you’re adding the deck to your current system.
Pretty much all manufacturers have their own sound, and Rega’s decks have a reassuringly familiar sonic signature: balanced and authoritative with impressive scale and natural musicality.
It gets us toe-tapping to New Dorp, New York from SBTRKT’s Wonder Where We Land album the moment the first beat thumps into being. The Planar 2 delivers the bass line with punch, its low end earning its wings for handling the depth and texture of the guttural bass guitar in the album.
Any hi-fi kit that’s going to get the best of SBTRKT has to be fairly methodical in its handling of flittering tinny beats, slicing percussions and frenetic rhythms, and while the Rega has the necessary precision and rhythmic know-how to coordinate them accurately in the soundstage, its delivery is also entertainingly enthusiastic.
The ability to tie all the musical strands together and paint them on a precise and spacious canvas seems to come easy to the Planar 2. And, as mentioned above, the synergy gained when the turntable is combined with its stablemate amplifier is impressive.
Integrated amplifier: Rega io
The Best Buy Award-winning io borrows the power amplifier and phono stage from its Award-winning elder sibling, the Brio. And indeed Rega’s consistency with components and their implementation makes the Rega io instantly recognisable as a descendant of the Brio. Which means it has a remarkable sense of rhythm, punchy dynamics, and impressive agility and detail. All of which makes for a truly fun, entertaining listen.
It may not have the sonic sophistication of its big brother, but the io’s directness and buoyancy makes it a compelling amplifier.
It sports two line-level inputs (two fewer than the Brio) and that all-important (for this system) moving-magnet phono input, so you can hook up the Planar 2 turntable as well as a couple of other components such as a CD player or streamer, perhaps – if, that is, you have the urge to move out of the analogue realm and into the heady digital world of the 21st Century.
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 of this little powerhouse.
The compact, half-width aluminium chassis feels well built – the same goes for the satisfyingly simple remote control – and its low-key, minimalist design should suit some hi-fi traditionalists (what was that we were saying about ‘audiophile budget system’?).
Speakers: Triangle Borea BR03
The final component in this three-piece system comes, appropriately enough, from Triangle.
As with any pair of new speakers, it pays to get to know the Triangle Borea BR03 and their preference for placement. Triangle recommends a minimum of 2m between speakers and also between them and your listening position. It also suggests placing them at least 40cm away from a back wall and 50cm from a side wall. And, of course, on speaker stands.
And we have to agree. Even though they are front-ported, these Triangles don’t shine quite as much when placed up against a wall. They will certainly do
a job, but the overall balance and stereo imaging suffer. With room to breathe and a little toe-in to shore things up, the Borea BR03 are able to perform at their best.
The twin-pronged diffuser hovering just over the silk-dome tweeter is there to help reduce the directivity and improve the dispersion of higher frequencies. Beneath the mid/bass driver sits a pair of bass reflex ports. To some, the front of the speakers may look a tad unbalanced, with the ports a little cramped next to the mid/bass driver – but if that’s the case for you, there is always the option of covering them up with the magnetic speaker grilles.
The Borea BR03 deliver a huge sense of scale, much larger than rivals such as the formidable B&W 607s, for example. They can also boast impressive separation and precision.
There’s detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, the quantity of bass is perfectly acceptable. Some might lust after a more musclebound delivery, but it’s the detail and quality of bass that gives the Triangles an edge over many rivals at the money. There’s texture in spades.
The Boreas also demonstrate an excellent sense of timing – one of the many areas where they are in wonderful synergy with the Rega pairing here.
It’s not often we stumble across a pair of speakers at this price that sounds as sophisticated as the Triangle Borea BR03. For the money, they are savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. Perfect, in fact, for an audiophile budget stereo system.
The two Rega products are together partly, of course, for the synergy one gets (or at least really ought to get) from two pieces of equipment from the same stable; but the io is also here because it has a rather fine phono stage. And the Borea BR03 speakers reinforce all those excellent Rega strengths. To hear your records at their best, you won’t find a more fun-sounding system at this price. (Just don’t forget to budget for decent stands for those Triangles to sit on.)
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