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Rega Saturn CD Player Review

The reason Doug Schroeder believes all readers should halt their purchases:

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The effect is not unlike the good old Dolby feature on tape players. I recall when

Dolby noise reduction was introduced to the masses. Wow! What a great way to get rid of the tape hiss! But, alas, there was a drawback, the truncation of the high end. Well, frankly everything sounded truncated! However, if one recorded in Dolby C, let’s say, and played back in Dolby B or without Dolby, there was improved sound along with noise diminishment.

On a far finer level, of course, Rega has done something similar. Please don’t jump to conclusions and think “truncated sound,” because there is nothing truncated-sounding about the Saturn. Rather, everything is extended wonderfully. One hears the low ring of the acoustic bass note, the subtle shimmering of the gentle tapping on the cymbal. What one realizes with dismay is that the majority of other CDP’s they’ve ever heard trying to process a disc has been truncated! All these years of digital sound and only now are audiophiles in this price range hearing what can be culled from a disc! It is almost impossible to overemphasize how much of an improvement in clarity, impact, and detail the Saturn brings to CD listening.

I found out just how much while listening to George Winston’s All the Seasons of George Winston, track 5 “Joy”, an arrangement of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Disturbingly, I heard a resonance that sounded like it was one of my speaker drivers rattling every time a certain note was struck. Upon examination, it was found to be the housing of one of my can lights vibrating in the dropped ceiling (you can imagine my relief that it was the ceiling)! I had built the room tightly and no other player had ever made anything rattle in my room. The purity and intensity of the note coming from the Rega was such that, like a wineglass shattering at a certain frequency, it made my light vibrate.

Once I had addressed that issue, I could focus again on my initial impression, which was that the Saturn deftly reproduced the piano solos. Winston uses the pedals to sustain notes frequently, which then blend into a soft background, much the way a light blanket of snow covers the ground. The sound was light, delicate, and as light as a snowflake. The delicacy was delicious.

The Saturn can rock with authority too. Usually that’s a comment said about speakers; I’m saying it about a CD player. The same detail and clarity that so enhances classical music and solos also provides a visceral impact in rock music. Formerly reproduced “thuds” in the low end become notes. Deep, resonant notes. One of the revelations of this player is to discover that a group has used a keyboard to accompany a bass line, but it’s never been heard because the resolution and finesse of previous players had never been up to reproducing it.

Case in point, the late seventies and early eighties band Toto (always thought the name was sad, but liked the sound) used keyboard in unison with bass. On their Toto: Super Hits album track #7, “Without Your Love”, one can hear easily the same note being struck by the pianist as the bass player, and on track #4 the bass plays solo. But, on track #1, “Hold the Line” the bass and keyboard again play in unison but the effect is so subtle that I had never heard it distinctly until the Saturn was in the system. This is but one of many peeks into the complexities of rock music revealed by this player.

Here’s an “out there” idea, maybe even radical – one that may rock your world. The Saturn calls for some reconsideration of other component purchases. Rega has made two outstanding sounding players in the Apollo at the $1,000 price point, and the Saturn at $2,400. These are comfortable numbers, and here’s why. To the economically oppressed and the neophytes a grand is hefty, but probably reachable. However, $2,400 is out of the question. Conversely, to the well-heeled and long time audio aficionado, a fine player will command a fine price and the Saturn is not outrageous.

Allow me now to suggest some heresy, something which other manufacturers may not love, but is the truth. These players are worth forfeiting a small part of funds which would otherwise be applied to amplification and speakers. I’m sure I’ll get lots of love letters over that statement, especially from the crowd that says the majority of bucks have to be spent on the speakers. These players exemplify the adage that one needs a good source to start off a good listening session. If one is putting together a system of around $4-5,000 it is advisable to consider the Apollo at the $1,000 price. I would go so far as to say, cut the speaker and amp costs by $250 each if needed and get the Apollo. I feel its sonic superiority will outweigh a sleight diminishment in the speaker and amp budget.

Even more so the Saturn; if one is considering a system of $8-10,000 or higher, it would be remiss to not consider the Saturn. (And I do mean “or higher” since this player will not embarrass itself in a system of any price). Again, if it took $500 from other components, say the amp and speakers, to get the Saturn, you would in almost every instance be better off sonically getting the Saturn. The sound improvement achieved by these CDP’s is greater than the equivalent dollar difference in a speaker or amp.

Until now, I never would have made that suggestion, but the results to my ears are undeniable. Hearing what I hear coming from the Saturn, if it had been available years ago and I was aware of its sound, I very likely would have pursued it over some of the speakers and amps I chased to achieve the sound I wanted. Simply put, the advancement in technology Rega has proffered is more important than any current technological differences, considering those pricing variables in speakers and amps, including digital amps.

Of course, you may have found an integrated amp, pre/power combo or speakers that you’re drooling over. You may think they are the ticket to ultimate sound. I am telling you that you are wrong. Unless you spend inordinate amounts of money on amp and speaker, the Saturn will gain you especially more satisfying results for your dollar.

And now to sooth those souls I have offended. To readers contemplating speaker and amp purchases, I have never heard a CDP which will tease out of fine components such glorious performance! If you chose to not compromise your amp and speaker selections, you will be well rewarded. Like a mighty locomotive, the processing power and finesse of the Saturn will pull your whole system along sonically, taking it higher than you thought it could go. Then the madness will set in; you’ll be thinking because of the Saturn, “I wonder what those other speakers or amp I love would sound like with this player?”

Allow me to comment about soundstage. I have owned several planars over the years, and love their wide soundstage. Currently, I use Chapman Audio System T-77’s, which are dynamic speakers. Understandably there was a loss of some of the sheer size of soundstage moving from planar to dynamic speakers. The Saturn has returned much of that soundstage.

The instruments do not sound larger; they sound appropriately sized, but the venue is more spacious. The subtle effects and nuances of the room the piece is recorded in have expanded nicely. There are some who sense that their speakers are not sufficiently filling their room. One possible reason for this is that the source may not be giving the speakers the full digital information of the venue. Before jettisoning the speakers, listen to the Saturn. I have not tried the Saturn with planars, however I cannot imagine owners of them being anything but thrilled with the advancement in clarity, extension, and smoothness – and of course, soundstage.

It is fitting that a player with such number-crunching power and yet analogue-like sound is being proffered by a company world-renowned for its turntables. My guess is that Rega knows there is a real possibility the sales of its turntables will be affected by the arrival of the Saturn. I do not wish that for the company, but it seems all too clear on the horizon. This may be no news to them. They will likely be happy to see sales increases in players versus turntables, especially as the audiophile community begins to recognize just what the Saturn can do.

One thing is for sure, those who went digital years ago have been hearing the “Tsk Tsk Tsk” of the vinyl enthusiasts reprimanding them for abandoning their turntables. I was one of those people who just couldn’t stand living in a digital age and having to put up with “snap, crackle, pop” in music. Despite the limitations of digital playback, I preferred to avoid the requisite analogue noise. The Saturn fairly shouts, “No more compromise!” There will always be those who must have vinyl, but now with the Saturn the sans vinyl crowd don’t have to feel, or sound, one bit (or is it byte) less elite.

* Addendum:

Kindly allow me to cry in my beer for a moment. I was all ready to scoop the world, as I had obtained one of the first Saturns in the U.S. and had worked to write up my review. However, there were operational issues with the Saturn. Yes, it was acting up; occasionally (approx. 1 in 30) when issuing commands by remote, the unit would malfunction, including such things as displaying “Skipping” for two seconds and beginning to fast forward when the track forward button was depressed. The operational issues were intermittent and neigh unto impossible to isolate.

Once the review was finished I held it, awaiting the arrival of a second unit. I felt that it would not be honest to the audio community (nor my reputation as a reviewer, of course!) to release a review without mention of the issues. Conversely, I would not be fair, as a reviewer of Rega equipment, to publish a review in which a faulty unit might not be representative of most Saturns.

In the mean time, others published and I missed my “first in the U.S. review.” So, be it. Let’s all say, “Awwww, Poor Doug,” together. Thank you, I feel much better!

Seriously, I’m glad I waited; after having received the second unit (Dave Holmes at Audio Emporium in Milwaukee swapped them out readily, and was quite instrumental in helping to isolate the potential problem) the evidence is beginning to amass that the technical issue is not with the player but likely with my remote lighting system causing RF interference. I have taken the Saturn into a different system without RF lighting and found that indeed the remote control works flawlessly. Coupled with the fact that of the 150 or so units sold to date there have been no other operational deficiencies, I conclude the Saturn is “defect free.” Those who are having operational difficulties with a remotely controlled component in an environment utilizing remote lighting may want to explore the possibility of RF interference and its effects on the component.

However, the delay had a positive effect, allowing my review agents time to infiltrate the Rega facility and obtain a “spy photo” of the back of the Saturn!

In the end my delay in publishing was due myself! I think I’ll go cry in my beer, listen to some music and try to wipe the smile off my face as I enjoy this stellar performer!

One Response to Rega Saturn CD Player Review

  1. C J Priestley says:

    I have the Rega Saturn R and the Rega Excell R driving Yamaha NS1000 m speakers.
    Whilst this is a secondary system to my Musical Fidelity KW set up, it is a not too far away.

    Great sound, detail, dynamics, especially with Jazz.

    Bargain stuff , well done Rega.

    Regards CJP

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