2022 starts with an audiophile system builder column that stretches my usual budget of $ 10,000 for a complete system. All of these components get their own reviews over the next few months, but the synergy is very strong with this one. I know the Rega Aethos is not exactly a budget integrated amplifier, but believe me when I tell you that it might be one of the best integrated amplifiers on the market right now for anyone in the $ 10,000 + system mount.
Rega had a very productive 2 years during the pandemic; the UK manufacturer has experienced serious supply chain problems with delays stretching on some models for months, but that has not stopped them from introducing some excellent new products.
Please note: Rega’s prices have been rising recently and we have been warning people about this for over a month. Supply chain issues and the rising cost of shipping have forced most brands to increase their prices.
The Rega io may have been released just before the pandemic put a stranglehold on the world, but I still consider it a “new” product and one of the best budget-integrated amplifiers available.
Those going into vinyl for the first time have some excellent new options with the Rega “System One” and brand new Fono Phono Preamplifiers ($ 445 on audio advice) which was launched only a few months ago.
After 24 years of reviewing high-end audio and video components, I find myself attracted to more affordable equipment out of both distress and because it sounds just as good at this point.
We have chosen to send all three of our children to private Jewish schools and with our oldest in college outside the state, our disposable income extends just as far as when it comes to purchasing new equipment.
I consider $ 10,000 to be a lot of money for a stereo system; what I know is a strange ceiling for someone who runs a high-end audio / video magazine.
However, let’s not hold a sorry party for high-end reviewers; we all get significant discounts on products if we want to buy them after review and this is something that consumers do not have access to.
Any publication that tells you something else is lying to you.
When it comes to use high-end or vintage – we pay the same price as everyone. No one offered to send me a vintage McIntosh system and I’m pretty sure I could not afford one at this point.
The other striking point is that affordable high-end audio has become really good over the last 5 years; ELAC, PSB, Magnepan, Bluesound, PAST, Pro-Ject, Wharfedale, Q Acoustics, Shia audio, Roteland Rega is just a small list of brands that offer some great products at prices that most people can afford.
Do not let anyone tell you anything else. You can build a fantastic sounding stereo system in 2022 for less than $ 10,000 and never have to worry about upgrading again.
So why am I going over $ 10,000 with this system?
Inflation has lifted this system by more than $ 1,000 in the span of one week with some price increases across the brands. Suck.
You can definitely keep the system under $ 10,000 with cheaper resources, but I will not go on the Aethos or Acoustic Energy AE320 combination.
The Aethos sounds completely transparent and warm at the same time; The low side is strong and well defined and it is not a shy sounding amplifier. You can definitely get great results from other speaker brands like Spendor, ProAcand Harbeth with it, but I wanted to keep the speakers below $ 2,000 and the AE320 delivers so much resolution and impact at that price point.
The top end of the AE320 is not polite (it’s not bright, but it has some personality) and the Rega Aethos pulls it back just enough without breaking its spirit.
The Aethos sounds just as effortless with the right pair of speakers; far above its power rating.
Aethos is derived from the Greek word meaning “character” used to describe the leading beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.
The $ 5,395 Rega Aethos certainly succeeds on many levels when we look at complying with the brands’ core beliefs; excellent engineering, sound quality and long-term value for money.
Rega had never played by the rules and Sir Gandy had never really shown a willingness to bend the knee; the the late Julian Vereker of Naim was very similar in that respect.
The Rega Aethos does not look very large in its marketing materials, but it is one very sturdy animal. The industrial design borders on minimalist and I rather like the low profile of the chassis and curved heatsinks. At 40 pounds, the Aethos will not break your back by lifting it, but it’s not something I would carry around in one hand.
The stereo amplifier is housed in a brand new, custom case and uses four 160 watt Sanken Darlington output transistors per channel; it delivers 156 watts per channel in 6 ohms. The Aethos is a dual mono design that uses a custom wound ring core transformer and regulated supply for the sensitive gain and driver stages. The preamplifier stage uses Class A discrete circuits throughout.
The Aethos comes with 7 single-end inputs; including one direct input and a single record input (there are two sets of record outputs).
What amazes the mind is that Rega did not include an internal phono amplifier on the Aethos for $ 5,395, as they felt it would jeopardize the overall design and look under the hood – there really is no plenty of room for one that would fit the level of the power amplifier section.
Rega makes two separate phono stages designed to be used with the Aethos, but it adds quite a bit of money to the final total; they are both excellent products, but something to be wary of.
Acoustic Energy AE320
We covered Acoustic Energy in several articles and even a podcast in 2021 and there is a lot to like about their speakers. They AE1 Active Loudspeaker was my favorite speaker last year; the sound quality for less than $ 1,500 is insanely good.
The brand new Acoustic Energy AE320 is a truly striking floor-standing speaker that continues to fly under the radar here in N. America. I suspect our review in 2022 will be one of the few you will be able to read from local publications. I really hope that situation changes.
The Acoustic Energy AE320 definitely benefits from more power, even with their generous 90 dB sensitivity rating. 100 watts is a good place to start if your room serves as a living room or hollow.
At the head of the 300 Series, the new AE320 is a true, 3-way slim floor-standing speaker with compact dimensions and suitable for medium to large rooms. The AE320 uses three latest generation 130 mm drives, one midsize and two bass units. The 40-inch high cabinets weigh almost 58 pounds and feel very well made.
The base of the cabinet is preloaded with an inert mass material that adds cushioning and reduces cabinet color. The mass load together with 8 mm floor nails help stability and provide a solid foundation for the drive units to work without resonances of the cabinet interacting with the floor surface.
The result of this latest drive technology and casing design is a sleek, powerful floor-standing speaker for the discerning listener when refined sound quality coupled with elegant aesthetics are paramount.
$ 2,000 USD for these speakers is a disaster if you unpack it and let it burn for a week.
Rega Saturn MK3 CD Player
I must confess I have a soft spot for Rega CD players. The original Rega Planet was one of the first audio components I ever reviewed more than 20 years ago and it still lives and breathes in a system owned by my brother. Rega was deliberately late to the digital party; did you really think the people who invented the top-selling high-end tone arm in history would just release any CD player?
The Planet avoided the traditional tray or sleigh for a folding cover and built-in CD well and it was incredibly reliable goddamnit.
It also sounded very different from the rest of the CD players that were available and that’s why I kept it for so long. The “heatsink” industrial design was certainly strange, but nothing else in the world that came after Planet was so distinctive.
So what about the Saturn MK3?
Why should you care about this $ 2,000+ USD (N. US prices not confirmed but it will be in this ballpark) CD player / DAC?
If the price is above $ 2,500 I would have to suggest something else like the Rega Apollo for 50% less.
The Saturn MK3 has 5 digital inputs (USB, 2 optical, 2 coaxial S / PDIF) and 3 digital outputs (S / PDIF and optical). Both the CD player and DAC have their own independent digital outputs.
The internal DAC is designed for both the CD player and for a network player that uses Saturn’s analog output – you need to add your own streamer.
Turntable and Phono stage
Rega manufactures 8 different turntables, but my choice for this more expensive system takes a leap to the Planar 6 that comes with the brand new Neo PSU power supply and speed controller.
You can certainly use one of Rega’s patterns, but I’m going off the discussion with this one.
Hana El. It just works.
The new Rega Aria MKIII Phono Stage is an MM / MC unit that sounds fantastic with the Aethos and Hana EL. The Denon DL-103 also works well.
Complete stereo system
- Rega Saturn MK3 – ~ $ 2000 (TBA)
Total: $ 13,430 (depending on the final price of the Saturn MK3 CD player)
Reviews are coming.
Related reading: See all Audio System Builder stereo system recommendations from $ 1,000 and up.