2022 rolls on with an Audiophile System Builder column that stretches my usual budget of $10,000 for a complete system. All of these components are getting their own reviews over the next few months, but the synergy is really strong with this one. I know that 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 bracket.
Rega has had a really productive 2 years during the pandemic; the British manufacturer has faced some serious supply chain issues with delays stretching for months on some models but that didn’t stop them for introducing some excellent new products.
Note: Rega’s prices have recently increased and we warned people about this for over a month. Supply chain issues and the skyrocketing cost of shipping have forced most brands to raise their prices.
The Rega io may have been released just before the pandemic put a strangle hold on the world, but I still consider it a “new” product and one of the best budget integrated amplifiers available.
Those getting into vinyl for the first time have some excellent new options with the Rega “System One” and brand new Fono Phono Preamplifiers ($445 at Audio Advice) that were introduced only a few months ago.
After 24 years of reviewing high-end audio and video components, I find myself gravitating to more affordable equipment out of both necessity and because it just sounds so good at this point.
We’ve chosen to send all three of our children to private Jewish schools and with our eldest in college out-of-state, our disposable income only stretches so far when it comes to new equipment purchases.
I consider $10,000 to be a lot of money for a stereo system; which I know is a strange ceiling for someone who runs a high-end audio/video magazine.
Let’s not have a pity party though for high-end reviewers; we all get significant discounts on products if we wish to purchase them post-review and that’s something that consumers don’t have access to.
Any publication that tells you something different is lying to you.
When it comes to used high-end or vintage — we pay the same price as everyone else. Nobody has offered to send me a vintage McIntosh system and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t afford one at this point.
The other salient point is that affordable high-end audio has become really good over the past 5 years; ELAC, PSB, Magnepan, Bluesound, NAD, Pro-Ject, Wharfedale, Q Acoustics, Schiit Audio, Rotel, and Rega are just a small list of brands offering some great products at prices most people can afford.
Don’t let anyone tell you anything different. You can build a fantastic sounding stereo system in 2022 for under $10,000 and never have to worry about upgrading ever again.
So why am I going over $10,000 with this system?
Inflation has lifted this system by over $1,000 in the span of one week with some price increases across the brands. Sucks.
You can certainly keep the system under $10,000 with cheaper sources but I would not skimp on the Aethos or Acoustic Energy AE320 combination.
The Aethos is both utterly transparent and warm sounding at the same time; The low end is strong and well defined and this is not a shy sounding amplifier. You can certainly get great results from other speaker brands like Spendor, ProAc, and Harbeth with it but I wanted to keep the loudspeakers below $2,000 and the AE320 deliver 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 just sounds so effortless with the right pair of speakers; well beyond its power rating.
Aethos is derived from the Greek word meaning “character” that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.
The $5,395 Rega Aethos definitely succeeds on a lot levels if we are taking about its adherence to the brands’ core beliefs; excellent engineering, sound quality, and long-term value for the money.
Rega has never played by the rules and Sir Gandy has never really demonstrated a willingness to bend the knee; the late-Julian Vereker of Naim was very similar in that regard.
The Rega Aethos doesn’t look very large in its marketing materials but it’s one very sturdy beast. The industrial design borders on minimalist and I rather like the low profile of the chassis and curved heatsinks. At 40 pounds, the Aethos won’t break your back lifting it but it’s not something I would carry around in one hand.
The stereo amplifier is housed in a brand new, custom designed case and employs four 160 watt Sanken Darlington output transistors per channel; this delivers 156 watts per channel into 6 ohms. The Aethos is a dual mono design using a custom wound toroidal transformer and regulated supplies for the sensitive amplification and driver stages. The pre-amplifier stage uses class-A discrete circuitry throughout.
The Aethos comes with 7 single-ended inputs; including one direct input and a single record input (there are two sets of record outputs).
What boggles the mind is that Rega did not include an internal phono preamp on the Aethos for $5,395 because they felt it would have compromised the overall design and taking a look under the hood — there really isn’t a lot of room for one that would match the level of the power amp section.
Rega makes two separate phono stages that are designed to be used with the Aethos but that adds quite a bit of money to the final total; they are both excellent products but something to be mindful of.
Acoustic Energy AE320
We covered Acoustic Energy in multiple articles and even a podcast in 2021 and there is a lot to like about their loudspeakers. Their AE1 Active Loudspeaker was my favorite loudspeaker last year; the sound quality for under $1,500 is insanely good.
The brand new Acoustic Energy AE320 is a really striking floor standing loudspeaker that continues to fly under the radar here in N. America. I suspect that our review in 2022 will be one of the few that you get to read from domestic publications. I really hope that situation changes.
The Acoustic Energy AE320 definitely benefit from more power even with their generous 90 dB sensitivity rating. 100 watts is a good place to start with these if your room serves as a living room or den.
Heading up the 300 Series, the new AE320 is a true, 3-way slim-line floor-standing loudspeaker with compact dimensions and suitable for medium to large sized rooms. The AE320 uses three latest generation 130mm drivers, one mid-range and two bass only units. The 40-inch tall cabinets weigh almost 58 pounds and feel very well made.
The base of the cabinet is pre-loaded with an inert mass material which adds damping and reduces cabinet colouration. The mass loading coupled with 8mm floor spikes help stability and provide a solid foundation for the drive units to operate without resonances from the cabinet interacting with the floor surface.
The result of this latest drive unit technology and enclosure design is a slim-line, powerful floor-standing loudspeaker for the discerning listener when refined audio quality coupled with elegant aesthetics are paramount.
$2,000 USD for these loudspeakers is bupkas when you unpack them and let them burn in for a week.
Rega Saturn MK3 CD Player
I must confess to having a soft spot for Rega CD players. The original Rega Planet was one of the first audio components that I ever reviewed more than 20 years ago and it still lives and breathes in a system owned by my brother. Rega was late to the digital party on purpose; did you really think the people who invented the best-selling high-end tonearm in history would release just any CD player?
The Planet eschewed the traditional tray or sled for a flip-up cover and recessed CD well and it proved to be incredibly reliable goddamnit.
It also sounded very different from the rest of the CD players available which was why I kept it around for so long. The “heatsink” industrial design was definitely weird but nothing else in the world that has come post-Planet has been as distinctive.
So what about the Saturn MK3?
Why should you care about this $2,000+ USD (N. American pricing has not been 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 the Saturn’s analog output — you need to add your own streamer.
Turntable & Phono Stage
Rega manufactures 8 different turntables but my choice for this pricier system takes a jump to the Planar 6 which comes with the brand new Neo PSU Power Supply and Speed Controller.
You can certainly use one of Rega’s cartridges but I’m going off the reservation with this one.
Hana EL. It just works.
The new Rega Aria MKIII Phono Stage is a MM/MC unit that sounds fantastic with the Aethos and Hana EL. The Denon DL-103 works well too.
Complete Stereo System
- Rega Aethos – $5395 at Audio Advice
- Rega Saturn MK3 – ~$2000 (TBA)
- Acoustic Energy AE320 – $1990 at Essence
- Rega Planar 6 – $1875 at Audio Advice
- Rega Aria MKIII – $1695 at Audio Advice
Total: $13,430 (depending on the final price of the Saturn MK3 CD Player)
Related reading: View all Audio System Builder articles for stereo system recommendations from $1,000 and up.