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Testing Ground

Rega Ear: a headphones amplifier with fantastic sound quality!

By Harry Chancellor |

While some manufacturers construct their headphones amplifiers from suitable integrated circuits, the Rega Ear is built entirely from discrete components and is driven by a powerful Brio-R amplifier. In its large design, the Ear possesses both a soundness and an uncommonly great output ability.

Although we have already had the opportunity to present a thorough testing of the English Rega brand to you DAC , and have elsewhere undertaken a review of their CD player with DAC (which was rewarded with a Qobuzism) Saturn-R , until now, no amplifier from the manufacturer has come into our hands.

This sad gap in our repertoire will now be remedied, since this article will be devoted entirely to the Ear headphones amplifier. The Ear is a device designed in a classic style, offering only one analogue input, which allows the source to connect to the amplifier and also to pass through a conventional power amplifier. The only action determined by the conventional amplifier on the device comes in the form of volume control.

The Rega Ear has been highly esteemed, thus far. This begs the question, then, as to whether this new device will enjoy the same prestige granted by our audiophiles to Rega?s DAC brand, and, in particular, whether it will reach the levels of praise bestowed upon our beloved Saturn CD-R with DAC? Carry on to the next paragraphs of this test, in which we review and listen to the device, to find out!


Presentation

The manufacturers at Rega have never resorted to flashy designs to turn the heads of audiophiles, and, despite the fact that you should never judge a book by its cover, the presentation of the Ear headphones amplifier remains stark in its simplicity.


The façade, realised in resin, is covered by a transparent Plexiglas plate, and in the lower left part of the device the initials of the brand are lit up in red when the unit is turned on.

Two silver buttons are located to the left of the logo; the first is used for turning the device on, the second is for activating the mute. But, beware, this button does not mute your headphones, but instead terminates the Cinch link returning the source to the main stereo amplifier, thus isolating your amplifier from the source as listened to through headphones. Next along the row of buttons on the device we find the non-motorized volume knob, and then the standard headphone jack of 6.35 mm.


Production

The casing of the Ear Rega consists of a natural aluminium profile, painted black in the version shown, providing a protective space in which the circuit can take place.

The front face and the back face of the device enclose the casing by being joined by two long threaded rods, which are passed from end to end. The entire electronics of the Rega Ear amplifier occur on a single printed circuit board; a simply crucial space.


The power supply and the switch are located on the left side of the circuit board. The power supply unit is not a normal supply unit, it is instead a transformer mounted in a wall box. Rega wishes to specify, at this point, that you should not use this circuit board with another headphones amplifier.

The transformer delivers a single AC voltage of about 25V, and this current, after having been passed through a fuse resistor of 2.2 ? (F1), is straightened out by a bridge of moulded diodes. After this, the voltage obtained is smoothed out by two capacitors (470 uF / 50 V), which is amply sufficient with regard to the strength of currents involved.

An adjustable LM317 regulator that produces a low amount of noise is housed and mounted on the surface (U1). This regulator powers the electronic amplification of a stabilized voltage of about 22,4V, which will in turn permit the precise and risk-free fixing of the drifting polarizations of the transistors.

This controller is equipped with a device that rises progressively in voltage, meaning that it avoids creating unpleasant noise disturbance in the headphone transducers (which is, of course, not particularly good for them) when putting the amplifier to work.

We are, therefore, in the presence of a linear power supply that hard-core audiophiles are bound to love: we at Qobuz certainly had no complaints! The amplifier is made from entirely discrete components. Amongst these we find the BC850 and BC860 low noise transistors, used for the gaining stages, while the power transistors are the complementary models MJD122 and MJD127, manufactured by ON Semiconductor (formerly known as Motorola), which are class biased and of large dimensions. Each of them can bear, subject to appropriate cooling, a current of 8A and a power of 20W. The regulation of the still current is assured by a Piher brand potentiometer.


Note that the volume knob is provided by the Alps model, a leading manufacturer in the field. The connecting capacitors located on the signal path are coated in a plastic layer, as suitable for their purpose. The power supply for this amplifier is not symmetrical. On looking, one finds capacitors designed to block the voltage at the middle point, serving as a reference for the signals.

The Rega does not operate in half-measures. Two Nichicon Fine Gold electrochemical capacitors of 1000 ?F/35V, both of superior quality, are charged with blocking voltage on each channel. They will not fade when the device is subjected to serious use, even under headphones of 25 ? impedance. In addition, a plastic coated capacitor of 3.3 uF is connected, in parallel, to each of these two pairs of electrolytic capacitors in order to improve the performance of all the higher frequencies.

The connection to the jack for the headphones is done through an anti-oscillation cell, consisting of a low value resistor and an inductor which is powered by tracing the printed circuit board.

Listening

Rega provide a comfortable (but not excessive) amount of power for their Ear headphones amplifier. It is clearly expected, with a gain of 28 dB (over 25x the amplifier gain necessary to power the speakers; which is, we say again, more than ample for a headphones amplifier), that the power should arrive quickly. We would perhaps prefer to have the presence of an attenuator. This is because, with our orthodynamic headphones operating at 32 ?, the sound level was already more than sufficient with the potentiometer turned to a quarter of its full potential.

In any case, the Rega Ear amplifier offers headphones sufficient power and high impedance without problem, which is no mean feat. But, when used alongside headphones offering good efficiency, the potentiometer volume control on the Ear may prove very difficult to use.

Given its power, the Rega Ear amplifier offers a really solid reproduction of the per Vespri di Maria Vergine the Assunzione , recorded by the Vivaldi Concerto Italiano and led by Rinaldo Alessandrini. Despite the fact that the Ear loses some of the finesse of the recording, there is an undeniable consistency present that will delight fans of this work.

When listening to In the Hall of the Mountain King and Dance of the Mountain King?s Daughter , taken from Grieg?s Peer Gynt , as interpreted by Jeffrey Tate conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Rega Ear reverberates like a cannon. For the Rega?s punchy sound, we thank its power reserves and excellent dynamic capabilities, which convey these restless scenes very effectively.

The bass hits hard in the song Chaleur Humaine , taken from the album Warmth by Christine and the Queens. In fact, the sound reproduction here can feel dense, even at times a little oppressive, as the singer?s vocal take is left largely intelligible.

In the song entitled The Sun Is Gonna Rise Again , taken from the album Where I Belong by Chris Cab, the Rega Ear amplifier continues to offer a booming, cavernous sound. The strong bass here provides a satisfying brightness when set alongside the singer's voice and the background instrumental accompaniment.

In conclusion, the Rega Ear headphones amplifier did not offer the precision that so pleased us in the DAC and DAC Saturn-R devices manufactured by the same brand. What we do find, instead, is a device capable of dynamic sound reproduction. It is solid, dense, and offers a more than comfortable amount of power given its class.

Specifications
User's Manual
Rega Site
Site gt audio (importer)
Contact

Our thanks to Sound-Video.com and Audio Presence Council for the loan of Rega Ear.

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