Rega Research DAC-R

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: USB, 2x Coax S/PDIF, 2x Toslink
Output: Coax S/PDIF, Toslink, analog RCA pair
Dimensions: 215mm W x 320mm D x 80mm H
Weight: 4.0 Kg
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers

A Rega Story
Back in the early '90s, I was on the hunt for a new CD player. I was intrigued by the Rega Planet for the same reason everyone else was; Rega built turntables and they waited years before entering the CD market with a player they felt sounded analog. Since CDs never really scratched my musical itch very well, this was music to my ears.

I went my local dealer, back when there was such a thing, to audition the Rega. It was just the two of us in the store, me and Lee, so we had time to chat. Lee showed me a picture on the wall, an aerial photograph of nothing but a big chuck of green, which he informed me was his land and it was for sale. "That's my "f*ck you money", he exclaimed tapping on the photo with enough verve to put his finger through it and the sheetrock behind. [footnote 1].

When we finally got around to listening, a well manicured middle-aged man in khaki's and Italian loafers, yea I notice such things, came in to the shop immediately interrupting our conversation with, "I heard from Dr. X of Bernardsville you were the man to speaker to about home theater. I need two: one for the basement and one for the family room. I want to start with the family room since it's going to be the smaller job. I have $40,000 to spend."

Lee answered, "I can build you a great home theater for less than $40,000." To which Mr. khaki's with Italian loafers said, "I have $40,000 to spend." I thought, now that's f*ck you money. Dick.

I bought the floor demo of the Rega Planet 2000. While it did not sound analog, it didn't sound like bad digital, either. It had a nice, warm, fairly meaty sound, analog-like in some respects if you feel that analog sounds nice, warm, and meaty. It certainly was pleasant to listen to music through unlike many other disc spinners I had owned [footnote 2].

photo credit: Rega Research

The Rega DAC-R
Here's Rega:

"With the PC now widely accepted as a credible medium for storing and streaming music,the use of high quality lossless files such as WAV, FLAC and ALAC offer performance through the DAC-R equal to, and in some cases better than, Red Book CD. Great care has been taken to remove noise generated by the PC and other input sources. (During development this was identified as a major drawback with many DAC’s on the market today)."
Funny how we went from CD players that sounded analog to DAC's that better the sound of CD players. Of course I agree with this assessment.

The DAC-R can handle PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz through all of its inputs. The DAC's employed are a pair of parallel-connected Wolfson WM8742’s and all data is buffered before hitting those chips. There's no oversampling employed but Rega does offer a number of user-selectable filter options, six in total, three for sample rates up to 48kHz (Linear phase half-band, Minimum phase half-band, Minimum phase apodising) and three for 88k.2Hz on up (Linear phase soft-knee, Minimum phase brickwall, Linear phase apodising).

The asynchronous USB receiver is from XMOS and Rega has gone to some lengths to isolate any USB-born noise from diddling with your data. There's the aforementioned buffer, separate power supplies for analog, digital, and even one for the control micro controller. A toroidal transformer sits in the analog output stage along with audio grade electrolytic and film capacitors caps. The DAC-R's slightly scalloped top chassis is aluminum and steel with a glass font panel and the whole package feels reassuringly solid.

All of the in's and out's reside around back along with the IEC receptacle for the included power cord. The glassy front panel houses three buttons, on/off, filter, and input as well as a number of associated red LEDs. There's also a red LED that reads "Input Locked" indicating that "...the digital input signal is valid and the PLL in the receiver is locked." Rega also includes a small, black plastic remote whose only working function is input selection. It's a shame you cannot switch those filters via the remote (the upgraded Rega Solaris remote offers this capability).

I connected to the DAC-R to my MacBook Pro running Roon with a length of AudioQuest Diamond USB cable with an AQ JitterBug on the computer-end and the UpTone Audio REGEN on the DAC-end. The DAC-R's RCA's were connected to the Ayre AX-5 integrated amp driving the DeVore Fidelity gibbon X. Further system and room details can be found by clicking the "Associated Equipment" link at the bottom of this page.

Rega's DAC-R
If I told you that Rega's DAC-R sounds nice, warm, and fairly meaty would you be surprised? Well it does. The DAC-R also offers a very nice sense of resolution, unraveling music in a relaxed, yet musically convincing manner. It is not analog-sounding er se, since it gets a bit digital sounding when pushed, especially in the upper midrange especially on not-so-well recorded music. Old PJ Harvey sounds a bit more jagged than I'd like.

Where the DAC-R shines is on well-recorded music of any resolution. It seems to particularly like acoustic music and something like Joanna Newsom's latest, Divers, comes across as warmly lovely. I've certainly heard more pluck from her harp from other DACs and the technicolor realness of the recently departed totalbac is absent which is to be expected since I've not met another DAC that matches the totalbac in that respect so you'd need to spend roughly 10 times the Rega's cost to get it. Getting closer to a fair comparison, my reference Auralic Vega sounds at once more resolute and fleshier. The even more similarly priced Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC also feels more fleshy while delivering a greater sense of detail and resolution than the darker, smoother Rega.

I certainly preferred the apodizing filter (Filter 3) for CD-quality recordings as it seemed to flesh things out a bit more than the others. For higher resolutions, like on Miles Davis' punchy 24/96 version ofA Tribute to Jack Johnson (the boxer), I preferred Filter 1 (Linear phase soft-knee) which seemed to give everything a bit more bite and life. Again, with well recorded music like this Miles, the Rega allows you to relax into the music and just listen. Nice.

I have also heard deeper sound windows to listen into, the Rega feeling ever so slightly condensed in comparison to both the Vega and Mytek. We're talking about that sense of air around instruments and the ability to deliver the space of the recording in a natural manner. I felt the DAC-R pulled up a bit short of natural.

Pulling my head out of comparative reviewer mode, the DAC-R is easy to listen to and easy to like. There's a nice amount of timbral richness, giving voice to the richness of variety found in our music. The Rega is not a micro-detail lover, and some listeners may very well welcome what some perceive to be an unnatural digital edge on more edgy DACs. You can even say the Rega leans more toward the analog-like than the digital in this regard. I would.

The House Sound
If nice, warm, and fairly meaty grabs your sonic attention coupled with the ability to tweak the Rega DAC's sound to suite your taste with those filter options, PCM music lovers may find the DAC-R's overall smooth and rounded (analog?) sound to invite extended listening sessions.

Footnote 1. Lee ended up selling his land and as far I know, said f* you to the hi-fi business.
Footnote 2. My CD player search continued nearly culminating with the Audio Aero Capitole until a few friends told me to try an original Sony Playstation as CD player. Since you could easily pick one up back then on eBay for $15 or so, I picked one up, sold the Audio Aero Capitole, and enjoyed my spinning discs more than ever. (Rega notes: "...there is a tentative sonic link between the Planet/2000 Apollo and the Original Sony PlayStation so there could be some sonic similarities in the basic sound as they both used Sony CD mechanisms and CD 'spinner' code and firmware both developed by Sony CPCE.")

Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Rega review: Auralic Vega, Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC

pdxdon's picture

Rega is a great company in terms of affordable quality. Who hasn't owned one of their turntables?
Jack Johnson is one of my favorite Miles albums and overall one of my tops. The creativity, the interplay, and the drive are fabulous, especially at serious volume levels.

derneck's picture

You'll see "best enjoyed with EL84 valves" or something similar imprinted on the circuit board. And that tells you all you need to know as far as the matching amplification.

Honestly I thought you'd like it more than that. I have very fond memories of my unit (the original model, early S/N). Although, I doubt it would impress me as much today as it did back then.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I haven't. I have the SAC Thailand Minute Integrated Amp that cost a couple hundred $ back in the day and it sounds lovely.

E (extra) L (lovely)-84

derneck's picture

In fact I use one daily (Luxman SQ-N10). I also have a much more expensive Class A amplifier from the same manufacturer and even though it's "superior" in many respects, the little one is still used most of the time :)

Michael Lavorgna's picture our living room system with a pair of Altec Valencias ;-)
GarkM's picture

The Rega Planet was the first cd player I owned that I could listen to CDs on for extended periods, and I still use it. I also acquired the Ah! Tjoeb '99, Don Allen modified Marantz cdc 745 and two modified Sony PlayStations: SCPH-1001 and SCPH-5501.

Big +1 for EL-84 amps. I've got a DIYTube ST-35 and a Don Allen EL84SE Cakepan and they both sound extra lovely.