Although streaming has become popular and is the dominant way to consume music, many people – after radio – swear by vinyl records. There are many reasons for this, such as the warm sound, album covers that border on art (and sometimes are art), and all the information you find on an album.
That’s why vinyl records are still sold in significant quantities every year and the range of turntables has never been greater.
But unlike the days when vinyl records (and cassettes) were the only music-carrying medium, it’s not so easy to find experts in the field. Who to ask, apart from us of course, and where to find good turntables that are easy to integrate into a system?
You don’t have to find a hi-fi shop with grey-haired staff to find out – in fact, it can be as easy as this.
UK-based Rega, who I dare say are best known for their well-performing turntables, say they’ve seen the need to make it easier to get started with your vinyl collection.
So instead of you first having to find a turntable that’s good, and then an amplifier and a good pair of speakers, they’ve put together a package with everything in one box. So turntable, amp and speakers. Speaker cables are even included.
We’ve tested two of the components in this system before. The Rega Sysem One, as it’s called, consists of the Planar 1 turntable, which is one of the best buys in the budget class. It’s all-manual like most in this class and comes with an MM pickup pre-assembled.
The second component is the Rega IO, a tiny but highly potent integrated amplifier with turntable input, just for MM pickups. It has two analogue inputs and a headphone output, but no digital inputs or streaming. The amp comes with a small remote control and delivers 30 watts of power per channel, which is plenty for the included speakers.
Rega Kyte they’re called, and we haven’t tested them before. The small speakers are only 32 cm high and easily fit on the bookshelf or on the sideboard in the living room. Kyte comes only in graphite black moulded phenolic plastic, which is light, rigid and dead. They may not win any beauty contests, but I think they look far better in person than in pictures.
Unpacking the system, you’ll find power cables, a power supply for the turntable and 2 x 3 metre decent speaker cables in the box.
It may seem a bit tricky to find the plus and minus at the speaker cables, but if you follow the dotted line from the plus to the plus terminals on the amplifier and speakers, you’ll avoid reversing the phase of the signal.
The system is very simple to put together. There are some good illustrations included in the package, and scanning the QR code on the box opens a short video on the mobile phone showing how to set up the system.
In short, you unpack the system in the order the signal goes. First the turntable, with the pickup already fitted, so all you need to do is remove the tape and cardboard protecting the turntable, attach the counterweight to the arm and connect the power and cables to the amplifier.
A dust cover is included, which is easily fitted to the hinges at the back, and the next part is the amplifier. Pull the speaker cables to where you intend to place the speakers, remove the insulation, twist the copper wires between your fingers and feed them through the holes under the screws to the cable terminals.
Insert the batteries into the small remote control and unpack the speakers.
A T-shaped bracket is included, which screws into the back of the speaker and lifts it up slightly at the rear edge. Screw it tight with a star screwdriver, and screw the speaker cables into the terminals at the back. Double-check that the dotted line on the cables screws into the red terminal on the speakers.
Finally, plug the power supply to the turntable and the power cable to the amplifier into the wall. Now you can get out the vinyl records.
Warm and wonderful sound
It’s possible to save money by putting the system together yourself. A simple turntable, the cheapest amplifier you can find – with turntable input – and a few small speakers will cost even less.
The downside is that you can’t be sure that everything fits together well enough to get the sound quality you really want.
You don’t have to worry about that here, because the Rega plays so catchy that even I was surprised. Even though I knew how good the turntable is and that the small amplifier gives much more bang for the buck than the weight class indicates, I wasn’t prepared for this.
The small Kyte speakers fit like a glove with the amp, and the combination is clearly successful. My expectations were quickly dashed, for when Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz blasted “The Girl from Ipanema” out of the little speakers, smiles immediately appeared.
The soundstage was convincingly big, amazingly there was plenty of depth in the bass, and the little amp had full control of the dynamics, including the bass, even though I was playing loud.
There’s no real deep bass here, but the drums and bass guitar on Dire Straits’ Private Investigations were reproduced with more than enough fullness and weight for the system to create a solid foundation in the bass.
The sound itself is warm and rich without being woolly. Piano notes sound warm but focused, and the soundstage is open and well balanced. There are never any spiky notes, or emphasis for that matter, and the only thing I missed was a little more depth in the upper midrange and treble.
But you can’t have everything in this world.
Mark Knopfler’s distinctive guitar tone sounded exactly as I’d hoped, and Gary Peacock’s bass sounded much cooler and deeper than I’ve heard it from many other speakers of this size.
The Rega System One lacks both digital inputs and streaming, but if that doesn’t matter, there’s not much to criticise the system for. It’s hard to see how you’d find better sound from vinyl records in this price range.
The system may be modest in appearance – the amplifier is almost impossibly small and the speakers are moulded in plastic – but that does absolutely nothing to dampen the sound quality, which is pleasingly convincing.