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CD Player
Rega Research Limited

Price: 37.000,00 zł (it comes cheaper if bought together with Osiris amplifier – you can save 5.400 zł) [1 zł = 4 euro]

Manufacturer: Rega Research Limited

6 Coopers Way | Temple Farm Industrial Estate
Southend on Sea | ESSEX

WWW: Rega

Text: Marek Dyba
Pictures: Marcin Olszewski, Rega

When I think about Rega the first thing that comes to mind is turntable, tonearms after that, and finally maybe CD players and amplifiers. I bet most of you have similar associations with this company, although other descriptions that might also come to mind are: British, or budget devices. All that is no surprise considering that company started its activity with Planar turntables in the Seventies. Later company's portfolio was built up but two things remained unchanged over the years. First of all Rega was and still is proud of manufacturing its products in Great Britain, secondly, until recently at least, they made budget (I refer hereby to prices) devices with a very good value/quality ratio. At first when I heard rumors that Rega was about to release high-end devices I didn't treat those rumors seriously. So when finally Rega presented Osiris integrated amplifier and Isis CD player (in two versions – solid-state and valve) I was truly surprised. The obvious question was that: was the manufacturer of inexpensive, mid-class devices capable of making real hi-end system? Considering that this was rather a choice of company's management to do good quality things for regular customers (and not only for rich ones) and not lack of knowledge or experience I kept my hopes high. First reviews I saw were very enthusiastic but considering that they came from British magazines that often treat British products in a … special way, I was not quite convinced yet. But I was curious so information about planned review of Isis Valve was great news for me.

Rega guys knew that due to long tradition of inexpensive devices made by them customers wouldn't consider their products hi-end easily. They obviously decided that they needed more than a good sound to get customers attention. This is why already every single detail of the design tries to convince us that we are dealing with expensive (and thus very good) device. I guess it is a good strategy. I don't doubt that regular Rega's customer would rush to dealer's listening rooms to give these new devices a try, but I'm pretty sure that an idea behind these new products was mostly to attract new customers.

Player comes in a double box, but the inside one is in fact a solid wooden case. So be careful when lifting this box as in fact it weights around 30 kg – very impressive and surprising as for CD player. Even without boxes player weights 19kg – that doesn't happen ofter even among most expensive one-box devices of that kind. Even though this device is a different class from everything Rega did before it still resembles in some details less expensive products of this company – for example it is also a top loader (like all Rega players) although the black, acrylic lid surely looks much better than a “regular” one. There are also some more resemblances – Isis looks somehow alike Saturn or Apollo only much better. You don't need to be confused – this new Reference series looks like high-end devices, what I mean by resemblance is that you just have to take a single look at Isis or Osiris and you know it must be Rega.

Isis has a custom designed and CNC machined aluminum case work with high quality anodized finish. I have to handle quite a lot of different devices during tests so I know very well how often I cut my skin because of sharp edges. If you have similar experiences you will surely also appreciate all rounded edges of Isis. Front panel seems to be made of black acrylic and there is a red LED display underneath. It might not be as extraordinary as these used in Sim Audio devices, but it is very nice, and surely better than ones used by most competitors. There are as few push buttons as possible – just to operate basic functions: play, stop, skip forward and backward. The on/off switch seems to be placed in such a way that allows to test how observant a user is – it looks like I failed the test as I couldn't find it. I had to study a manual to learn how to switch Isis on – shame on me! I guess most users would find it without a problem. Have you checked the photos? And? You found it? Yes, it's this silver, vertical „strip” at the right side of the display (player's right). Yes, it is silver which means it stands out but I simply couldn't find. When I took a look at the back panel I couldn't help thinking that there was surely quite some battle in Rega when discussing how this player would be equipped. Or how modern or maybe rather how up-to-date should it be (this is a product released in 2010 when some companies already quit on CD players, and those that keep them alive added digital inputs, including USB, or prefer SACD players – anyway they do something to make their players more attractive by adding more features to them). How can I know about this „battle”? What we can find on the back panel are RCA and XLR outputs, digital outputs (S/PDIF and Toslink), and … USB input. If there were no latter it would be a regular CD player, but they added one digital input and it was USB – the most „trendy” one they could chose. Would it be much trouble to add some more functionality to the device but offering some more digital inputs? Probably not, and that is why I think there was a battle and some kind of compromise that ended it – half-measure if you ask me, but maybe it's just me – I just want it all. There is one more element worth mentioning – remote control. It is made of metal, heavy, impressive – kind of „touch of luxury” thing, although (here come one hell of malcontent in me) I would rather chose metal buttons to make it look even better.


Discs used for test:

  • Antonio Vivaldi ,La Stravaganza, Rachel Podger, Arte Dei Suonatori; CCS 19598.
  • Cassandra Wilson, New moon daughter, Blue Note; CDP 7243 8 37183 2 0.
  • Cassandra Wilson, Traveling Miles, Blue Note; 7243 8 54123 2 5.
  • Diana Krall, The look of love, VERVE; 549 846-2.
  • Dire Straits, Brothers in arms, Warner (Remasters); 9 47773-2.
  • Otis Taylor, Respect the dead, NBM0009.
  • Patricia Barber, Cafe blue, Blue Note / Premonition; 7243 5 21810 2 5.
  • Thelonius Monk, Thelonius Monk Trio, VICJ-41519.
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, Live at the Misty, TBM 2537.

I forgot to mention one marketing trick Rega used – you want to make your products special, name them after … gods. Gods must be magnificent, great and so on, right? Player is Isis and amplifier is her brother/husband Osiris. Isis is the goddess of motherhood, magic and fertility – she must be good than, no doubt about it – you simply have no choice but to love her and respect her.

I guess I'm not the only one who think about Rega mostly as a manufacturer of turntables and tonearms and this brings me to simple association – Rega equals analogue sound. No wonder that from the very beginning of this test I had an impression that Rega's engineers wanted this player to sound like their best turntables, only better. I started nice'n'easy with Cassandra Wilson, Diana Krall and Patricia Barber. Female vocals usually tell me a lot about tested equipment. Irresistible way of presentation only confirmed my “assumption” of an analogue sound (in fact I planned to listen only one record of Cassandra Wilson but once started I couldn't help myself and listened to more and more fantastic female voices). Cassandra's voice finally had its natural, wonderful depth which I rarely heard during tests of different devices. Such jazz recordings were very rich in details when presented by Isis Valve – these were shown with precision but not in a pushy way. Patricia Barber's pieces included lots of small percussion instruments and these were also presented in very lively, resonant ways. What was also important was that sounds of all of them were really well differentiated even though they were just background instruments. Holography of the presentation was also impressive – soundstage was wide and went really deep – width wasn't limited to the space between speakers if only particular recording allowed it. Following layers, even deeply into the soundstage, were shown in detailed and stable way, phantom images were precise, and there was a lot of air around instruments. All that together made presentation very palpable, “tube-like” - it was enough to close my eyes, use a small bit of a good will, and I could enjoy music as if I were participating in live concert.

To change the mood completely I played one of the “dark” recordings of Otis Taylor - Respect the dead. Most pieces from this album felt really, really depressing, dark thanks to hypnotic rhythm created by bass guitar. On top of that there was a lot of aggressive guitar and banjo playing plus harsh voice of Otis Taylor – all that created dense, muggy atmosphere that was ready to suck the listener in and chew him up. That was true only because used system was able to recreate and pass on what was on CD. I wasn't sure if Rega Isis Valve was up to the task but it did it really nicely. I wasn't sure because I was afraid that smoothness, liquidity of Rega's sound would not really suit this kind of music, but it did. Rega did indeed present every kind of music in a very special, smooth, grainless, rich way with a slightly warm tonal balance but it only complemented even the sound of banjo or harmonica making them sound very convincing. WARNING: don't listen to these most depressing recordings of Otis Taylor too often, especially if you have a good system.

Just to get rid of the first signs of depression after listening to Otis Taylor I started to listen to couple of CDs with guitar (much more joyful) blues, both electric and acoustic.

When listening to my favorite instrument used by great masters like Eric Clapton, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy or Steve Ray Vaughan I suddenly realized one obvious association for Rega Isis Valve – British lord (or at least a common image of one as I had no pleasure of knowing any of them personally ).

The British CD player presents itself with demure elegance – demure meaning here no extravagance, but a really classy style that you couldn't in fact point your finger at but you knew it was there. Same goes for the sound – elegant, self-controlled, polite, bit reserved (but only up to the point when it needs to stop being polite), carrying for details and with proper articulation. Long story short – Isis Valve seems to come from a noble family with proper education and politeness, very versatile, easily adopting itself to any situation it encounters, and aware that it should be an example to the other “lower people” (devices). Doesn't it sound like a description of a lord? I'm not saying I'm always right but for me it sounds more or less correct. OK, anyway – whether it was nice and slow blues from Clapton, more aggressive Lee Hooker, or totally “wild” Vaughan, Rega always presented the music in most accurate way. Should be nice and easy – no problemo, fast, aggressive, wild – sure, whatever, but each time it was presented in a very orderly way. This order didn't mean any lacks in dynamics – performance in terms of both micro and macro dynamics was more than satisfactory. Rega Isis was fully capable of delivering any and every sudden, dynamic change in sound volume – the great forte but also piano – never loosing any details. I know few players capable of even more dynamic presentation, like Gryphon Scorpio for example – but Rega's clear advantage was this incredibly orderly way of presentation, fantastic differentiation of sounds so they never blended together. There is always some compromise in every audio device and the final user needs to chose which one suits him best. Comparing Isis Valve to other players costing around 30 kPLN that I had a chance to listen to recently I must say that it (and maybe also Metronome CD One Tube) offers most flat bandwidth response. Most competitors have some distinguishing feature - Gryphon's Scorpio's was dynamics, Ayon's CD5's - richest midrange, ARC's CD5's - wonderful treble. Each of these players offers outstanding quality and above mentioned distinguishing features don't make them less good. Each of them sounds great but slightly different which makes the more suitable/attractive for particular groups of customers (same goes for other, not mentioned here, devices). It is Rega's and Metronome's distinguishing feature – the most flat, equal response throughout the whole bandwidth. Which one of the players a potential buyer would chose depends mostly on his preferences. Rega is a safe choice – every music will sound at least very good (I didn't try hip-hop nor trash-metal). I think that people who prefer one of these genres would rather chose some other player with dynamics and powerful bass as its distinguishing features.

When looking in a manual for on/off switch I read one interesting recommendation from the manufacturer – whenever possible use XLR outputs. What's interesting is that they suggest using those outputs even if amplifier is not a balanced design nor even does it have XLR input. In such case the best way to connect them is to use XLR cable with XLR/RCA adapter at amp's end. Amp I used during this test - Ayon Crossfire II – offered both inputs (RCA and XLR) so it was only a question of having two identical cables with different termination. Rega's Polish distributor offered his help and delivered two pairs of Neotech interconnects. He gave me for testing cables from a new line called Formosa – they were made of UP-OCC copper – interestingly with rectangular conductors. Anyway in the past Neotech used to terminate exactly same cables for RCA and balanced ICs – the only difference were the plugs. I don't know if they still do it but these cables were my best chance to check if XLR connection would be really better. To compare the influence of the different connection I used La Stravaganza – a wonderful piece by Vivaldi with mostly bowed instrument used. Using source selector I was able to change quickly between RCA and XLR connection and after some time I realized that there were some subtle differences that favored balanced connection – bit longer reverberations, kind of better presented rooms acoustics, bit more „wood” audible in bow instruments sound. But my test wasn't perfect as I in fact connected two balanced devices. Would I hear these subtle differences with single ended amplifier? I have no idea – you need to try that yourself if you decide to buy Isis for use with some single-ended amp. In this particular case it was worth to use balanced cables to gain those subtle advantages.


Regardless of how and why Rega came to decision to make high-end devices, whether it was about conquering new segment of the market or leveling things up with some competitors, the final effect – CD player Isis Valve is an outstanding outcome. I guess it will take some time to convince those who will find hard to accept high-end by Rega but if they won't try themselves … well it will be their loss.


It is safe to say that Rega Isis Valve offers what its brand and name promises. Obvious pros are smooth, coherent, liquid sound with beautiful timbre. Not even for a second was I ready to discuss timbre, midrange or bass as separate parts of frequency range, as music presented by Isis was extremely coherent. Spacing effects were great, and by that I means as good as from best tube devices – soundstage was big, stable and precise. But that wasn't all. This player was capable of delivering incredibly realistic room's ambiance. Micro-dynamics was another great strength of Isis – it would perform equally well at very low volume levels delivering more details that you even knew were there in your very well known recording. It didn't have much trouble with delivering very good performance in terms of macro-dynamics and presenting even big dynamics variations, although to be perfectly honest in this particular aspect you might find better performers (but they will usually fall behind in some other aspects). As always I encourage you to give this player a try – in my opinion every audiophile who's looking for a player at this price range can't afford not to check Rega Isis Valve.


As I mentioned before Isis Valve is, like all Rega CD players, a top-loader but with much nicer, smoothly lifting, black acrylic cover. Rega's engineers claim that it is more of a uncompromising enhanced evolution rather than totally new concept, although it is the first valve player in Rega's history. Front panel contains four push-buttons for basic operations (start, stop, skip forward and skip backwards), plus on/off button (not so easy to find). There is also red display and a logo with red back-light. The top cover sports the lid you need to lift to place z CD under it plus four launch pads. Wow! Wait a second – these only look like launch pads but in fact these are upper parts of tubes working in analogue stage – I guess this solution helps to keep them cool (or at least cooler than they would be closed inside player's enclosure). Analogue stage uses two military specification triple mica 5814A (ECC82/12AU7) triodes being driven by the Wolfson WM8741 ultra high performance digital to analogue converter. Manufacturer doesn't share with us the information about which exactly CD mechanism he used, we only know that a dedicated software for this particular player was created (much better one of course). The Isis will analyze each disc on an individual basis. During the initializing period (rather like the engine management system on a modern car which optimizes the engine settings to temperature, fuel quality etc.) the Isis will adjust itself to each disc in order to give optimal trouble free reading. For this reason Rega will often play discs with marks or scratches that other players cannot read – I wasn't able to check that as I didn't have such discs. Case is made of custom solid anodized aluminum.

Technical data (according to manufacturer)
Frequency response: 30 Hz – 20 kHz +/-0,5 dB
Power consumption: 46 W
RCA outputs: 2,4 V source impedance 600 Ω
XLR outputs: 2,4 V source impedance 600 Ω
S/PDIF output: 0,5 V source impedance 75 Ω
Toslink compatible output
USB input: 16 /44,1/48 kHz
THD+noise: < 0,06%

Rega Research Limited
6 Coopers Way
Temple Farm Industrial Estate
Southend on Sea

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