Sugg. Retail: $1195 (CAN)
Distributor: Justice Audio,
9251 - 8 Yonge St. #218,
Richmond Hill, Ontario,
Canada, L4C 9T3
FAX (905) 780-0043
(Reprinted from the Winter 99 Audio Ideas Guide)
If audio companies were people Rega would be something of a character. We’ve all met folks like him. He’s a purist, a quasi-Spartan, leading a simple life uncluttered with the myriad of possessions and pursuits most of us assume personify success. The entire concept of trends is completely meaningless to him, concerns about what is popular almost nonexistent. Never flashy or ostentatious he does not do things to impress others, only himself. The few material things he owns are characterized by their high level of functionality, value and quality. In fact he’s had most of his stuff for as long as you can remember and he still uses all of it. In a world where compulsive, not to mention conspicuous, consumption, planned obselescence, and relentless upgrading are the perceived norm, he painstakingly selects a few essential things that work and holds on to them indefinitely. Oh yeah, and he loves to listen to music.
If this sounds like you chances are you already own some Rega gear, and have for some time. If audio has been a hobby for more than a decade chances are you’ve owned, or at least heard, one of their legendary Planar turntables, a simple, high value design which has remained essentially unchanged since its introduction more than twenty years ago. In an industry where it seems most companies release a new product every six or seven minutes, Rega bides its time, bringing out its first, and only, CD player, for instance (the wonderful, if you can actually find one in stock, Planet) more than a decade after the introduction of the format! The words “flavor of the month” are not spoken at Rega, and like the ice cream truck in February, the audio bandwagon just doesn’t bother coming ’round anymore. Rega, as the company proudly proclaims in a promotional “book”, does not buy any advertising, their philosophy being to let the products speak for themselves. A keen marketing trainee’s worst nightmare, Rega is a Spartan audiophile’s wet dream.
Rega’s new Mira integrated amplifier bucks none of these trends, providing exceptional sound, oustanding value, and, as they say right in the manual, “no superfluous gadgets.” Although things like tone controls, a headphone jack, and a balance control have been labeled superfluous, and are thus nowhere to be found on the Mira, this little 60W (90W into 4 Ohms) amp is remarkably versatile and extremely civilized. It may be minimalist, but this is not hairshirt Hi-Fi. Quite the opposite, the Mira is probably the most user friendly integrated amp I’ve ever come across.
Like the Planet the Mira’s innards are housed in an extremely solid and very thin cast aluminum chassis. Ribbed for our pleasure it seems, the box features deep corrugated grooves along its top and bottom, a design which not only lends the amp a distinctive look but no doubt aids in the dissipation of heat. On its uncluttered face are two rotary knobs (both of which can be operated by the svelte and simple remote) for volume and source selection and one power switch with corresponding LED.
Around back are RCA jacks for five line level sources (including the tape loop) and one phono input (MM or high output MC — more on this below). Examining the additional connections, however, belies the Mira’s versatility. Although not quite the audio Swiss Army Knife that is the Audiolab 8000s, the Mira does include both a pre amp out and a power amp in, allowing it to be used as a stand alone power amp or preamp. As with the 8000s this kind of versatility makes the Mira amenable to a variety of system upgrade scenarios, allowing it to be a key player in your system for at least the life-span of a digital format or two. Speaker terminals are fairly standard posts with plastic nuts. The spacing of these terminals, however, is less standard as they are more widely spaced than most I’ve come across. Combine this with the already limited height of the Mira, and the need to accommodate all the inputs and outputs, and you’ve got a pretty tight workspace back there. In short, using joined sets of banana plugs simply won’t work (the spacing of the terminals being too wide) and trying to get monster audiophile cables with big spades to fit back there will have you cursing a blue streak.
Once hooked up to my Newform Research R630 speakers (a hybrid ribbon design with a Scanspeak dynamic bass/midrange driver) and the Rega Planet CD player the distributor had so graciously supplied to accompany the Mira, the cursing ceased and the listening began. Listening to CDs through the Planet and Mira made for some excellent sounding music indeed. With the right front end the Newform ribbons are capable of very high resolution, not to mention extraordinary imaging and soundstating. In these respects the Mira certainly rose to the occasion, pushing huge, but well defined acoustic spaces and gobs of detail through the 30″ ribbons. Although it lacks the velvety smoothness associated with much more expensive integrateds (the YBA Integre comes to mind), the treble was never fatiguing or splashy. A testament to its resolving power the Mira made CD player comparisons much easier than I’m used to, revealing much more quickly the flaws of one and the strengths of another than my reference system did. This quality also helped me fully appreciate the many sonic merits of the Planet.
While perhaps outdone a little by its top end transparency the Mira’s bass and midrange capabilities also far exceed what one would expect at the price. Vocals were always convincing, if a little on the warm side and the bottom end was always tight and tuneful, lacking, however, some of the authority, attack and control of larger and more powerful amps. My only significant criticism of the Mira’s sound, in fact, is more of a caveat to potential buyers than anything else. Simply, the amp’s sonic character is what I would call laid-back, sacrificing a little in terms of dynamics and attack for smoothness and resolution. The Mira can most definitely rock when called upon (and did so authoritatively for hours on end during a couple of parties at my place this past fall) but it always sounds more luscious than lusty, more earnest than eager. Like the well bred European creature that it is the Mira does not need to shout to have you hanging off her every word. And hang you will. No matter how laid back its sound or the music, the Mira always made for very involving listening.
Listening to LPs was a very similar story, the sonic merits described above accentuated by a higher resolution source. The Mira’s phono stage, like the rest of it, is surprisingly good for the money, providing a very high level of performance with moving magnet cartridges. My Rega Planar 2 with a Shure V15 Type MR cartridge really sang, the Mira’s phono board exceeding the performance, I think, of the outboard Musical Fidelity XLP I reviewed previously. Owners of low output moving coil cartridges, however, will want to use an outboard phono stage or a step up transformer since the Mira’s gain is sufficient only for high output moving coils. My attempt to use an Audio Technica OC9, for example, was foiled by hopelessly low levels.
As far as day to day life with the Mira goes, there’s not much to say. The amp consistently sounds good, runs silent, and never, ever acts up. The controls, both on the amp and the remote, are simple and intuitive, and it runs so cool that I had no qualms about leaving the power on all the time. If you’re looking for eccentricity and drama in the operation of your audio equipment, look elsewhere.
Perhaps the most telling, and flattering, thing I can say about the Mira is that it’s been in my system for months on end, almost without interruption, regardless of how many other tempting things I’ve had the opportunity to listen to (including my own stuff). I’ve never once had the desire to swap it out, for the sake of sound or convenience. Yes, a balance control would be nice (although, after a few weeks I must admit that my balance-fiddling urges vanished), and some folks might long for a headphone jack, but I could very happily live with this amp in the long term. Pair the Mira with the Planet and you’ve got a sizzling front end for under $2500. Spend the same amount on well-matched speakers and you’ve got the makings of a $5000 system which is as sonically sophisticated as it is functionally simple.
If you’re tired of high maintenance audio relationships mired by “superfluous gadgets” and want to settle down with a component for the long haul, I’d highly recommend a date with Mira. If you’re her type it could lead to a long and happy marriage.