Product: Rega RS1 - 2-way bookshelf loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Rega - UK
Approx. price: 700€
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - email@example.com - TNT Italy
Reviewed: October, 2015
One of the most frequently asked questions on our Readers' Corner appears to be related to speakers placement. More precisely, audiophiles seem to be concerned by the presence of the rear wall, and tend to prefer speakers that can be placed close to it (for higher WAF etc.).
Unfortunately the market doesn't offer many loudspeakers that can be installed close to rear walls. A few companies like Naim and Linn have always designed speakers that are rear wall-friendly but even Rega produce some nice models that can be placed close to the rear wall.
These small Rega RS1's are among these, indeed the manual states:
The RS1 has an unusually even bass response for a small loudspeaker. It allows them to be mounted directly onto the wall, or alternatively to be placed on shelves or stands.In other words the bass frequency response has been optimized in such a way that the presence of the rear wall has been inserted into the equation. These speakers can be placed equally well on a bookshelf or on stands.
The Rega RS1's are very small bookshelf loudspeakers (32 x 15 x 23.6 cm) using a two way system in a standard bass reflex enclosure. They use a 12.5 cm Rega RR125 woofer with paper cone and aluminium basket and a Rega HF20-ZZR (Zero Rear Reflection) dome tweeter. This driver uses a system that cancels the rear emission of the membrane, see this PDF document for tech details. The woofer is unusually placed above the tweeter. This helps lowering tweeter height when the speakers are installed on a high shelf (as it usually happens).
These drivers are the same used on much more expensive Rega RS speakers, such as the RS7.
Replacement drivers, in case of need, can be easily found for 66€ (woofer) and 38€ (tweeter). A pair of RS1's can be purchased for 700€ or so and is available in cherry finish, a classy piano black and the ubiquitous black ash.
The cabinet has a rear firing reflex port and is light and sturdy. Each speaker weigh in a mere 3.5 kgs. Sensitivity is claimed to be 90 dB, which is quite high for such a small loudspeaker (indeed the claim is rather optimistic). Rega don't declare the frequency response of these speakers.
I've always been a fan of a down-to-Earth and simple approach to HiFi. Rega products have always been designed with the simpler = better philosophy; certainly understatement is one of Rega's hallmarks.
Despite the diminutive size, low weight and simple looks these small monitors deliver a big sound: fast, communicative, musical. These speakers just let the music pass through, without adding much of their own. This is a rare ability, many budget loudspeakers try to add something more personal to the musical message, they might sound warm and soft or bright and lively. Not so the RS1's, it seems their simpler = better approach preserves the very essence of the music they reproduce. I'd say it's a back to basics kind of sound: speed, involvement, emotion, timing...they're all there at the same time and at the right place.
The tonal balance is genuinely on the neutral side: a very good bass range, which is tight, fast and powerful, supports a crystal clear mid-high range that sounds lively and free from harshness. The high range is well defined, harmonically rich and precise. It is clear that the tweeter is a high-quality component and not just one of those run of the mill components that are often found on budget loudspeakers. It doesn't smoothen instruments: brasses are not warm and voices aren't wooly. It is not that euphonic kind of sound that can be found on similarly priced competitors. They aim straight to the target and this behaviour reminds me of the old Naim Nait 1, the (chrome bumper) Naim NAP 250, the Rega Planar 3, the Linn Index and the Naim IBL loudspeakers of the good ol' days.
Summarizing, it is a very entertaining sound: no frills, 100% substance.
I've tested these speakers both in a classical freestanding placement (on 60 cm stands) and close to the rear wall. When placed close to the rear wall the tonal balance becomes darker, with a fuller mid-bass range and a more powerful bass range. Bass extension doesn't change, of course. I was expecting some harshness in the mid-high range - as it usually happens when the rear wall is close to the speakers - but the sound has remained clean, crisp and nicely detailed. Rega designers have certainly done their homework since these RS1's can stay as close to the rear wall as you wish without experiencing a significant impoverishment of their performance. Quite the contrary, as the sound becomes fuller and weightier.
The rhythm section, especially bass and drums, appears thicker and more underlined, while the mid-high range seems sparklier: voices, for example, are richer than in the classic freedstanding placement. Don't think the rear firing reflex port is a problem: few centimeters of distance are sufficient for it to work well. I haven't detected any resonancy or turbulence noise.
These loudspeakers are not magnifying glasses, nor analytical monitors: quite the contrary, as their sound might appear rather essential. Actually they tend to concentrate their performance on the fundamentals. Hence, it is very easy to follow the bass and the accompanying melodic lines, without being distracted by too many details.
Despite their diminutive size these speakers can sound “big” and dynamic, even when dealing with complex tracks. Their best “weapons” are the sense of rhythm and the speed of response of the drivers. Dynamic jumps are nicely underlined and this adds realism to the performance of the loudspeaker.
They can even generate quite high sound pressure levels, despite the small size of the woofers and cabinets. The tiny 12 cm woofers dance in and out with pride, until they reach their natural limits.
The dynamic performance apparently improves with the speakers placed close to the rear wall but this is certainly a kind of a psychoacoustic effect generated by the stronger output in the mid-bass range. For example, the kick drum is apparently faster but it is just fuller.
Try to resist to the temptation to overdrive these small speakers: they tend to invite the listener to turn up the volume but there are limits that shouldn't be exceeded. Play some track which is rich in bass frequencies and the woofers will clearly show all their limits. Within these, the perfomance remains crisp, agile and with PRaT in spades.
For a good dynamic performance a reasonable number of watts is necessary though: claimed sensitivity is 90 dB but I condider this datum rather optimistic. In my opinion they are closer to 87-88 dB/w/m.
The virtual stage changes dramatically when the speakers are placed close to the rear wall. The depth of the image collapses, and everything becomes rather 2-dimensional. The stage is wide with instruments and singers firmly in place, spread along the rear wall. If one can survive without experiencing that elusive third dimension (i.e. depth of the image) these RS1's are absolutely up to the task.
Instead, when placed in a standard freestanding location these speakers create a wide and deep soundstage, even reasonably high, despite the fact the tweeter is placed below the woofer.
The focus of the image is very good, thanks to the rigidity of the cabinet and the quality of the drivers.
I've tested these speakers with different amplifiers, both vacuum tubes (for example the Ming Da MC34 ASE, review due soon) and transistors. My opinion is that the RS1's prefer solid state amplifiers, which should be fast and punchy. Even Class D amplifiers performed quite well with the Rega's. If Class D isn't your regular cup of tea, consider Rega, Naim, Musical Fidelity, Rotel...
As for amplifier power output, the manual claims even a 500 watt per channel model can be used ...provided you do not use all the power that is available. This, of course, is true for any loudspeaker!
As for cables, Rega recommend not to use special cables and suggest to keep wiring as simple as possible, for example using Rega SC42 or Quattro cables (which are simple electrical wires). The Quattro model is for biwiring so using these with the RS1's is possible only if you connect together the two pairs.
Feel free to experiment with spikes or soft rubber feet to couple/decouple the speaker from the stands. If you use spikes, don't forget these speakers are very light and hence prone to...take off. If placed on a shelf close to the rear wall I'd prefer using soft rubber feet instead of spikes.
Manufacturing & finish.
Piano black finish aside, these RS1's have a rather basic finish for the price. Faithful to the motto “less is more” the binding posts are rather basic too but they get the job done quite nicely.
Such a sincere performance is very hard to criticize as these speakers do nothing clearly wrong: some listener might prefer a warmer and softer sound, some other a more coloured performance. I believe they are just right in their own way. Yes, for 700€ you can't expect “perfection” and, for sure, their sound is not even nearly close to the Trenner & Friedl ART, similarly sized monitors that costs several times the price of the RS1's!
When compared with the similarly priced Jean Marie Reynaud Folia (review due soon) which are speakers designed to stay close to the rear wall as well, the differences are mainly a matter of character: globally more refined and fuller the Folia, more communicative and entertaining the RS1's.
I've really enjoyed the time I spent with these Rega RS1's: they are sincere performers that go straight to the heart of music. After having written down my listening notes I forgot my role as reviewer and started playing record after record, just enjoying the music. This doesn't happen frequently when testing budget-class components. These speakers are not perfect but they have the rare ability to communicate with the listener.
If you need a pair of speakers that can _even_ be placed close to the rear wall and that can bring you very close to the heart of music, these Rega RS1's might be just right for you.
Thanks to Green Sounds, the Italian distributor for Rega, for having sent us these speakers for review.
Copyright © 2015 Lucio Cadeddu - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com