I’m such a hypocrite. Don’t worry—I’ll explain why in a bit. But to set that story up, I need to convey my initial reaction to seeing the shipping box for Rega’s new Elex Mk4 integrated amplifier ($1875 USD).
See that sticker on the top of the package? The one that reads “FRAGILE” in all capital letters, with a plea to handle the package with care? I chuckled when I saw it, but only because the shipping label affixed to the box identified its carrier as FedEx. I don’t know how things are where you are, but here in Alabama, FedEx drivers see that sort of sticker not as a cautionary suggestion but as a challenge. I’m honestly shocked anytime any package arrives via FedEx unmolested, but especially one marked as fragile.
Why does that make me a hypocrite? Hang on—we’ll get there. But first, let’s dig a little deeper into the packaging for the Elex Mk4. I don’t have a lot of first-hand experience with Rega Research, as the company is primarily known for its turntables, and I’m an admitted vinylphobe. But right off the bat, I’m seeing a few things that make me hopeful. The first, oddly enough, is the brown paper packing between the inner and outer boxes. It may seem silly, but that always signifies a personal touch you don’t expect from major electronics manufacturers. That big “Made in England” banner also warms my heart. I have nothing against electronics manufactured in China—or anywhere else for that matter. And I’m not English myself, although I am an unabashed anglophile. But I love seeing companies build their products at home whenever possible, no matter where that home may be.
Another good sign: the reliance on pricier (but oh-so-worth-it) expanded polyethylene instead of cheap, crumbly expanded polystyrene for the packing foam. For whatever reason, a handful of readers are particularly troubled by my decision to die on this hill, but this is one crusade I refuse to relinquish. The EPE foam not only protects the amp incredibly well during shipping, but it also bends instead of breaking and simply feels nicer to the touch. When you’re trying to create a first impression with your product, why not do it with nicer packaging materials? Sure, it costs more, but not that much more, and it elevates the perceived value of the product immensely.
Beneath and inside the folded cardboard insert that fills the space above the amp and between the padding endcaps, you’ll find a power cord and a delightfully unfettered remote control. While not giving direct access to the amplifier’s inputs, it puts volume and source selection right where the thumb naturally rests, which is nice.
You still haven’t let go of that whole hypocrisy thing I teased up front, have you? You’re wondering when I’m going to get to that, aren’t you? Well, here you go. Before I put the Elex Mk4’s accessories and literature aside so I could pull the amp out of the box, I decided to thumb through the manual just to see how Rega describes the setup and use of such a straightforward product. That always gives me a sense of who the company thinks a product is for—who it’s trying to target and what it thinks about its intended end-user.
Long story short, I’m impressed with all the ways in which Rega puts to rest old myths about stereo instructions, as the literature is straightforward and easy to read—appreciably informative without being overwhelming at one extreme or condescending at the other.
I want to focus on a page in the back of the manual. The specs for the Elex Mk4 are spelled out in detail—more detail than a lot of manufacturers provide. The power ratings, though, sent one of my eyebrows northward. Notice that there are power output specifications for 8-ohm and 6-ohm loads (a very healthy 72 and 90Wpc, respectively), but nothing for 4 ohms.
Then there’s this note underneath: “Continued high level use into loads of 6Ω or less may cause the case to exceed 40°C above ambient temperature and activate the thermal shut down.”
Much like my local FedEx drivers, whose callous disregard for package safety I’m constantly deriding, I read that note less as a caution and more as a challenge. My Paradigm Studio 100 v5 towers, after all, may be a nominal 8-ohm load, but they dip below 4 ohms in the lower frequencies. Can the Rega Elex 4 drive them to satisfying levels? You’d better believe I aim to find out. If that means pushing the amp into dangerous territory, well, to paraphrase the great Hunter S. Thompson, the only way to find the edge is to go over it. Stay tuned.
Before we get there, though, I need to get this integrated amp out of the box and installed, so let’s get to it. It just so happened that as I got it out of its plastic wrapping, I was looking at the back of the chassis, which was handy given that the I/O section is one of the main things differentiating the Mk4 from the Elex-R it replaces. This being Rega, there’s an emphasis on analog connectivity, and Input 1 is an MM phono input, as is only right. But new to this iteration of the amp is a built-in DAC with optical and coaxial digital inputs (both capable of accepting a PCM signal up to 24-bit/192kHz).
One thing you don’t get from just looking at images is how surprisingly hefty the Elex Mk4 is. It tips the scales at a healthy 11kg (24.25 pounds), which doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider that the Rotel A12MKII I reviewed a while back is noticeably bigger but weighs a lot less.
Scooching to the right, the Elex Mk4 has a nice set of speaker-level connections, which come with pegs that I removed before I remembered to snap this photo. I’ll be using banana plugs, so the pegs had to go. But they weren’t as hard to remove as some I’ve experienced lately.
Notice farther to the right, just below the IEC receptacle, the power ratings. Power consumption is 250W, which isn’t all that inefficient by class-AB standards. But it does point to the overheating warning in the literature. Again, we’ll see. Buckle up, because I plan to drive this thing like a rented mule. It’s interesting, though, that there’s no ventilation on the case—not even on the sides or bottom.
Spinning the Elex Mk4 around to take a gander at its face before carting it into my two-channel listening room for setup, I wished my photography chops were better. There’s no way I’m doing this amp justice. It’s a simple design, to be sure—and a bit rugged in its simplicity. But I love the feel of the pushbutton standby control and the wonderful, tactile feel of the volume control. You can also see here that Rega has added a headphone output, something that was missing from the Elex-R.
For whatever reason, I am more excited to dig into this review than I have been in a while. Maybe it’s simply because I’m not very familiar with Rega’s integrated amps, so I don’t know quite what to expect. But I don’t think that tells the whole story. The presentation of the amp—especially in its packaging and literature—all points toward a commitment to quality that ought to be a given at this price point, but isn’t always. I also like the honesty (or is it modesty?) I’m seeing in the specifications.
At any rate, we’re going to find out. Look for my full evaluation of the Rega Elex Mk4, coming soon.
. . . Dennis Burger