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REGA SATURN Audio Streaming CD Player

SOME may beg to differ but in my opinion, the Rega Apollo is one of the best bets for a mid-end digital source, despite some quirks in its operating system. If you’re putting together a budget-to-mid-end hi-fi system, and if you value musicality, rhythm and resolution, I won’t hesitate to recommend the Apollo as your source, my only caveat being its top-loading feature.

The more ambitious and well-heeled audiophile and music-lover may, however, want something that significantly outperforms the Apollo in terms of frequency headroom at both ends of the spectrum and superior accuracy in detail retrieval. For them, Rega serves up the Saturn CD player.

The Saturn looks almost like the Apollo, only there’s an extension on the underside to accommodate the heftier power supply, which also increases the weight of the player considerably. The housing is built from extruded aluminium, with a solid aluminium front panel.

Exclusive features for the Saturn include two (as opposed to a single one on the Apollo) parallel-connected Wolfson WM8740 dual differential 24-bit DACs, a master clock driven by a high-stability/low-jitter crystal oscillator module, a 60VA toroidal transformer with separate windings for audio/digital/display circuits, Nichicon Fine Gold capacitors and post-DAC Class A analogue amp/filter, among other things.

The operating system optimises itself for each CD loaded into the transport compartment, so like with the Apollo, it takes about eight seconds before a loaded CD is ready to play. The ultra high memory capacity of the OS ensures whatever error correction level applied will not affect the audio streaming sound quality. The transport mechanism possesses the latest signal processing techniques and servo for superior data retrieval.

The Saturn will, apart from Red Book CDs, also play MP3 discs, and comes with a cool remote (the same as the Apollo’s). Both optical and digital outputs are provided, a concession to users who may want to explore this upgrade path later, although Rega itself does not offer a standalone DAC at this time.

So far, so good ... the Saturn looks to be quite superbly put together, and inarguably a heftier and more substantial piece of work than its sibling ... it is also more than twice the price.

The Saturn was reviewed over two sessions, during which I had different CD players to form comparisons – an Ayre CX-7e initially and an updated Bluenote Stibbert later. I also had the Apollo running earlier on in the sessions.

Amplification included a Krell KAV-400xi integrated and Audio Research LS15/Krell FPB200 pre/power combination (also Mesa Baron power amp), while loudspeakers used included Epos ES12.2, Audio Physics Tempo V and JM Lab/Focal 816V. Cables were Siltech New York and Stereovox Firebird, interconnects were customised Clearaudio Quint and JPS Labs Superconductor Q (the single-ended variant was used to hook the Saturn to whichever amp was in the system).

There’s no doubt the Saturn presents some significant steps up from its less expensive sibling. To start with, it delved much deeper into the recording, consummately confident in its retrieval and presentation of ambient detail and spatial nuances. There was superior resolution in instrumental and vocal timbre, and the projection and focus were impeccable and concise, with an impressive stage to top these.

Highly involving and intimate, the Saturn didn’t miss a step when it came to dynamics and timing ... it had considerably more authority, especially in the lower frequencies, than the Apollo ... if you think that’s unfair comparison, well, I’m just giving Apollo owners an inkling of what is possible if you’re thinking of an upgrade down the road.

The Saturn’s bass possessed more heft than I’ve heard from most CD players around or under the price, and this was cohesively matched to an engagingly vivid midrange and smoothly crisp highs. It certainly wasn’t laidback, nor was it as in-your-face as some well-known Brit offerings, choosing instead to present the recordings on the worth of the studio mix.

The combination of the Saturn’s attributes resulted in a very tactile and enticing presentation, working very well with a variety of material, both acoustic and electronic, and suited equally to rock, jazz or classical works ... there was just the right amount of slam for rock and fusion recordings, with enough finesse to handle elaborate orchestral works with aplomb.
Focus, man, focus

Critics continue to brush aside the CD format, decrying its inability to deliver higher resolution than the Red Book standard. Yes, we all know CD hasn’t turned out to be the perfect digital medium we were promised 25 years ago, but if you possess hundreds or thousands of these discs, I’m thinking you might still want to squeeze the last ounce of performance from them.

Which is where machines like the Rega Saturn play a role. CD may not be ideal but the Saturn doesn’t draw your attention to this; instead, it focussed on communicating that intangible quality of musicality to your senses. This has to be one of the finest CD players you can get for the price.


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