It seems Roy Gandy, owner of Rega, didn’t get the memo. At Hifi Starters we’ve been reviewing systems up to £2,000, with no single component more than £1,000. Rega decided to give us a complete vinyl setup – the System One – for £999. That’s turntable, arm & cartridge, amplifier with phono stage, and speakers. Plus 3m of speaker cable; just add stands if you need them. It all comes in one box – handier than you might think – and takes away the stress of curating your own system. For the beginner wanting a minimum-fuss vinyl system it sounds ideal. 

On paper anyway, and Rega’s expertise shouldn’t be underestimated. But that’s a pretty keen price point, were compromises needed to hit it? A first listen at the 2023 Bristol Show was promising; I did a double-take in the Rega room when told what was playing. So a review sample was requested, and here we are. 

What you get

The turntable is Rega’s familiar entry-level P1 (£299 bought separately), complete with RB110 tonearm and Carbon moving magnet cartridge. It’s a manual deck with a line output that requires a phono stage to work (as here, that can be within the amplifier).

The Rega io amplifier (£420 bought separately) was developed specifically for this system although is also available separately. In essence it’s a stripped down Brio (io = half of Brio) with three RCA inputs (inc one phono), a 3.5mm headphone socket and a single set of speaker terminals. A small button changes the inputs, another acts as the power switch. All in a half-width case that looks a little sparse but whose build quality is good enough. Choose from black, black or black. Power is 30 wpc into 8Ω.

Speakers are the Kyte standmounts (£399 bought separately), fairly small (325x188x232mm HWD) two-way ported speakers. The drivers are Rega’s own design, and the cabinets are made from phenolic resin rather than the usual MDF found at this price level. No grills are supplied but the tweeter is protected by a spider across its face. A nominal 6Ω impedance and higher than average 89dB sensitivity means the Kytes should be fairly easy to drive. Ideal for the io amplifier.

Again, the only colour option is black, and the finish is workmanlike rather than luxurious. Rega says the money has been spent where it matters, on the engineering. I’m cool with that. The shape is also non-standard though, tapering to the back and tilted back slightly. Both of which combine to divide opinion. I was fine with the looks, quite a few online forum members aren’t (despite liking the Kyte’s sound). 

I was less keen on the detachable foot arrangement. It’s there to level the speaker should you need to but is fiddly, made from plastic and rather ungainly. Those using speaker stands can opt for the £50 Kyte Stand Adapter. I’d prefer a flat bottom to the speaker. 

Finally a 3m set of 56-strand speaker cable is provided; nothing fancy but perfectly appropriate here.

Setup and operation

Turntable setup is straightforward, aided by clear instructions. Essentially put the belt over the pulley, then place the platter in position. Push the counter weight onto the tonearm stub and attach the power supply. Remove the stylus guard, flick the switch under the left of the plinth and off you go. All very intuitive.

You do need to ensure the turntable is level, and to think about where you put it. Rega decks can be sensitive to positioning, get it wrong and you’ll get f-f-f-f-feedback. Although mine worked fine on a coffee table between the speakers, particularly when sat on Isoacoustics Mini Pucks. 

Change speed by moving the belt up/down the pulley (taking the platter off first). Anti-skating force (aka bias), which counteracts the centrifugal effect of the arm, is set at the factory. And the phono lead is captive to the P1, just ensure you use the first input on the amplifier. 

A note on tracking force. The Carbon cartridge is an OEM Audio Technica AT3600L model that intentionally works within a wide range of tracking forces. Rega’s own measurements show zero tracking errors in the 2.0 – 3.0 g range, and the tonearm is designed such that pushing the counterweight fully on gives a tracking force of 2.3g. I checked with stylus scales, it was accurate. 

I also listened at different weights though, Blu Tack on the headshell allowing me to go heavier. To these ears 2.9g tracking force gave a meatier sound and slightly better tracking, so I left it there for the review.

The amplifier is plug’n’play, and operating it is straightforward; cycle through the inputs, adjust volume. Functions that are replicated on the remote with its nice finger slot on the back – a neat touch.

The Kytes were used on my usual Atacama Nexxus stands, 40cm from the wall behind them. That’s closer to the wall than most speakers but was needed to ensure enough body to the sound. Further out and they sounded slightly undernourished, closer to the wall they sounded muddled and had a reduced soundstage. Your room will differ, experimentation is the order of the day. 

Companion kit

As a complete vinyl setup the System One didn’t need anything else. I did hook in a £220 WiiM Pro Plus streamer (with upgraded power supply – £60) to compare analogue and digital though. Using its internal DAC the WiiM proved an ideal companion. The speakers and amplifier were also substituted with price comparable alternatives to see how they compared. 

Listening

Often it’s the casual listening that gives clues to a system’s potential. After a weekend away I just wanted some music on for the evening. Cue (literally) Michel Petrucciani’s double LP Live in Montreux. Playing quietly at first until the music got its hooks into me, the volume soon rose to proper listening levels. Three sides later it was a tossup between the fourth side or cooking dinner. Calories won, just. True, Petrucciani’s piano playing is propulsive, and it’s a good recording. The System One’s sound did carry me along though.

Onto further listening with a 1962 version of Strauss’ ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a surprisingly fresh and vibrant recording for its age. The sustained opening double low C set the scene, making way for the familiar rasping brass that burst from the speakers with commendable vigour. The orchestral forces were spread out in front of me in a big soundstage, depth in particular well-portrayed for a modest system. 

The ‘space odyssey’ section gave way to something more recognisable as a tone poem, sweeping strings a feature. In sustained peaks the treble lost a little control at times, bringing a sheen to the sound. Not too surprising, the Carbon is after all a £30 cartridge. Overall the scale of the sound and its vitality had me hooked though, just as with Petrucciani. 

The same mastering of the recording is on Qobuz; on it went via the WiiM Pro Plus. With an upgraded power supply the WiiM comes out at the same price as the turntable. Sonically it trumped the P1 though. The streamer had better clarity and stronger but still well-controlled bass (the low C was considerably more prominent). It was altogether a more immediate sound. Analogue enthusiasts might point to a slightly more artificial, etched, quality to the digital version; the stereotypical analogue digital divide. I get the point. This format-agnostic listener preferred the WiiM on this occasion though.

Onto another big sounding record, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Red Rain’ from 1986’s So. Anthemic it may be but the music had no right to sound so big. There was ample detail within the soundstage too, and a propulsive feel, a real thrust, to the track. The LP stayed on, ‘Don’t Give Up’ – the duo with Kate Bush – coming up soon. Her haunting vocals, the drifting synths, it all combined to evaporate the near forty years since I first heard it. Through the System One it sounded clear and fresh, evoking emotions old and new. Hifi took a back seat, as it should.

Switching to something simpler – Cande Y Paulo’s eponymous first album – the acoustic bass on the opening ‘Treaty’ grounds the whole track. The album is well recorded, but through the Rega system bass was rather one-note in nature, somewhat indistinct. It dominated the sound, making it difficult to take in the rest of the track. Double bass can be a difficult instrument to reproduce. The io amp and Kyte speakers had no problem with the digital version on Tidal though. Through the WiiM streamer, bass was more controlled, allowing the rest of the performance to shine through. Might that imply bass is the Achilles’ Heel of the P1 / System One?

No, that’s too simplistic a conclusion. As shown by Hans Theessink’s Slow Train, whose title track also has an underpinning bass line. Long story short, this time I preferred the analogue version. The digital version was a smidge more controlled low down. The analogue version’s bass was extended and nicely rounded out though. And elsewhere the track sounded more natural. The digital version was slightly chiselled, more a facsimile of the performance than musicians in a room. 

The differences weren’t night and day, both digital and analogue versions were good to listen to. It turns out any preferences I had were driven by the specific recording, not the replay technology.

Comparisons

How do the System One components stack up against the competition? With no alternative available the P1 turntable was spared a beauty contest. Not the io amplifier and Kyte speakers though; step forward a Marantz PM6006 (£379) amplifier and Elac B6.2 speakers (£279) to strut their stuff with Rega partners. 

Amplifier first, and it has to be said the Marantz came out on top. The tonality of the amplifiers was similar but the PM6006 had greater clarity, a more detailed sound. ‘May The Lord’ from Hans Theessink’s Slow Train sounded fresher through the Marantz, the intimacy of the recording (that was done without any reverb) a step up. I was leaning in to hear more of the minutiae. Further tracks from the album reinforced the impression. 

As did Bruno Walter’s Mahler 1, recorded with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1962. Not only was the Marantz more immediate, it also had stronger dynamics. Important for those repeated swings in the first movement, when hushed strings go to full blown orchestra for example. In isolation the Rega sounded great, producing a stirring sound. In comparison it was slightly muted, less engaging than the Marantz. We’re not talking country miles here, we are talking noticeable. 

Time to try the Rega Kyte speakers against the B6.2. Not quite a like for like comparison; the Elac is larger than the Rega but costs around a third less. The Elac consistently puts in a solid performance for an entry-level speaker though. 

As it did here, sounding similar in most aspects to the Rega Kyte, particularly, again, on overall tonality. The Elac sounded a little more open and organised though, with bass slightly more controlled. The soundstage was also bigger. Essentially the B6.2 built on the Rega’s sound, tidying things up slightly and sounding fresher. Context is important here, the differences were small (less than between the amplifiers). They were also audible.

Conclusions

So, you can better individual components of the System One whilst keeping things below £1,000. Frankly I’d have been surprised if that hadn’t been true, there’s some good kit out there. 

It kind of misses the point though. As a reviewer I can dip into the Hifi Starters library – the equipment I have lying around – in the hope that something will work in a given situation. You the consumer have to work harder. Testing a dealer’s patience with multiple demonstrations. Or taking a chance buying online, fingers crossed you can return it if necessary (post-purchase rationalisation your friend if you can’t). 

All for gains that may be marginal. Because the System One not only works, it works really well for the money. Sure it knows its limits – small speakers etc. But it works within them to produce an overall sound that doesn’t have any real nasties (not always a given). A sound whose propulsive nature and ability to project a large and realistic soundstage are notable at this price level. A sound that had me forgetting Hifi and focusing on music. 

If you want a fuss-free vinyl system, one that’s easy to set up and is unobtrusive in use yet sounds good, then the System One could be just what you’re looking for.