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Each hifi machine includes some compromise and owners need to choose theirs wisely. Comparing the Isis Valve to others around 30.000zł [ca. $8.000 – Ed] which I had a recent chance to hear, I feel that it and maybe the Metronome CD One Tube offer the flattest bandwidth. Most competitors have a particular distinguishing feature like dynamics for Gryphon's Scorpio, the most saturated midrange for Ayon's CD5, superb treble for ARC's CD5. Each of these offers outstanding quality and their areas of distinction don’t make them less brilliant in others. Each is very competent but slightly different to make it suitable/attractive for particular customers. The Rega's and Metronome's distinguishing feature to me is the flattest most linear response across the audible range. The rest is personal preference. Rega is a safe choice as all music will sound at least very good. I didn't try hip-hop or trash metal and wager a bet that people into these genres would prefer a machine with max dynamics and powerful bass as its signature trait.

When studying the manual for the on/off switch I came across an interesting recommendation from the manufacturer. Use the XLR outs whenever possible. They suggest doing so even if your amplifier is neither a balanced design nor sports even convenience XLRs to require XLR/RCA adaptors. The Ayon Crossfire II used during this review offers both RCA and XLR inputs to come down to having two otherwise identical cables with different terminations. Rega’s Polish distributor offered me two pairs of Neotech interconnects from their new Formosa line using UP-OCC copper in rectangular conductors.

In the past Neotech used to terminate the same cable with either RCA and XLR plugs. I don't know whether they still do it but these wires were my best chance to check if the XLR connection was really better. To compare the influence of the different connections I used Vivaldi’s La Stravaganza with mostly bowed instruments. Using the source selector I was able to change quickly between connection formats and after some time realized that there were some subtle differences that favored balanced mode with somewhat longer reverberations, better recorded acoustics and a tad more audible wood in the bowed instruments. My test arguably was weighted as I in fact connected two balanced devices. Would I hear these subtle differences with a single-ended amplifier? You’ll need to try for yourself if you decide to buy Isis for use with some single-ended amp. In my case it was worth using balanced cables to gain those subtle advantages.

Summary: Regardless of how and why Rega decided to get into high-end devices—whether it was about conquering a new segment of the market or challenging the competition—the Isis Valve is an outstanding outcome. It might take some time to convince those who will find it hard to accept any high-end Rega but it’ll be their loss if they won't try.

It’s safe to say that Rega’s Isis Valve offers what its brand and name promise. Obvious strengths are the smooth coherent liquid sound and beautiful timbres. Not even for one second was I prepared to discuss timbre, midrange or bass as separate entities as the music presented was too coherent. Spatial effects were great, on par with the best tube devices and cast on a soundstage that was grand, stable and well sorted. But that wasn't all. This player was capable of delivering incredibly realistic recorded ambiance. Microdynamics were another forté. This player performed equally well at very low volumes where it delivered more detail that I knew to be present in very familiar recordings. It didn't have any trouble delivering very good macro-dynamic performance and large voltage swings although to be perfectly honest in this area you might find superior performers elsewhere (but they will usually fall behind in some other aspect). I encourage you to give this player a try. Any audiophile shopping for a machine in this price range can't afford not to check out the Rega Isis Valve.

Description: Like all Rega decks the Isis is a top loader albeit with a rather fancier black acrylic cover. Rega's engineers claim that it is more of an uncompromising evolution rather than totally new concept although this is the first valved player in the company's history. The front panel sports four push buttons for the basic commands of start, stop, skip forward and skip backwards plus the—not so easily identified—power mains. There is also a red display and red backlit logo. The top cover adds the lid you need to lift up to place your CD under it; and four launch pads. Wait. Those only look like launch pads but are in fact the tops of the tubes in the output stage. I guess this chimney venting keeps them cooler than being fully encased inside. These tubes are two military spec triple mica 5814A (ECC82/12AU7) triodes driven by two ECC82 (6DJ8/6922) and Wolfson’s WM8741 ultra high-performance digital to analogue converter. Rega keeps stumm about their favored drive mechanism and we only know that they wrote dedicated software for it. The Isis analyses each disc on an individual basis. During the initialization period (rather like the engine management system of a modern car which optimizes the engine settings to temperature, fuel quality etc.) the Isis adjusts itself to each disc to guarantee optimal error-free reading. For this reason Rega will often play discs with marks or scratches that other players refuse. As I don’t stock such abused discs, I couldn’t confirm this. The Isis case work is solid anodized aluminum.
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Technical data (according to manufacturer)
Frequency response: 30 Hz – 20 kHz +/-0,5 dB
Power consumption: 46 W
RCA outputs: 2.4V source impedance 600Ω
XLR outputs: 2.4V source impedance 600Ω
S/PDIF output: 0.5V source impedance 75Ω
Toslink compatible output
USB input: 16 /44.1/48kHz
THD+noise: < 0,06%

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