The Rega Apollo CD player Who says the CD is dead?

By Jeff Dorgay

Everything seems to come around. With all the excitement for streaming building at a feverish pace, some people still like the old-fashioned way of serving up digital; namely, spinning a silver (or maybe gold) disc.

World-renowned turntable manufacturer Rega was one of the last manufacturers to produce a CD player, but when they finally did put their engineering mettle to the task, their players were brilliant. And very analog sounding. Years later, nothing has changed, and their new $1,095 Apollo is by far the most sonically engaging players we’ve heard at anywhere near this price. CD player? Have we gone mad in this world of curated playlists? Read on.

Taking up a tiny footprint only about 8 inches wide, 3 inches tall and 12 inches deep, the Apollo is meant to be a perfect bookend to Rega’s remarkable Brio integrated amplifier, but it looks awfully nice on the Quadraspire rack with my Nagra Tube DAC. Patterned after the rest of the players in their lineup, the Apollo uses the same Starship Enterprise shaped lid for the transport. Rega’s Roy Gandy is a brilliant man with a wacky sense of humor, so one never knows if this is on purpose or random. Either way, this manual lid assures that it is not another mechanism that will fail ten years later – Rega is always the master of simple elegance.

Fit, finish, and functionality is always top of the class, and the Apollo feels much more expensive than its price suggests. As well as feeling rather heavy for its price. The front panel features a large display, flanked by a power button on the left and 4 buttons to control transport functions on the right. That’s it. Perfect.

Quite the comeback

Several audiophiles that have ditched the compact disc in favor of streaming or vinyl have been sneaking back, with surprising results. On my recent podcast with John Darko of Darko Audio, he admits “I recently picked up a couple thousand CD’s at a great price recently. I like to start my day with a CD over the morning coffee.” Fascinating, captain.

Much as I love a well-oiled record player that’s set up to perfection, or a mile long Qobuz playlist, there is something pure about putting a disc in, pressing play, and hearing a full album from start to finish. “As the artist intended,” I believe the expression goes. Without having to get up and flip the record over. Not bad. Following Mr. Darko’s lead, I substitute the morning coffee for a dreadful bit of wheatgrass, and a copy of Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon. With absolutely no worries about network issues. Sixty-eight minutes fly by.

The Apollo comes out of the box with a sound that is tonally neutral, free of digital artifacts, and full of life. To get immediate perspective, the Apollo is put in comparison with a stack of Nagra Classic gear (amp, preamp, and DAC) driving a pair of Focal Stella Utopia Ems, with a dCS Bartok along for the ride in input two. The Apollo makes an excellent debut, and when switching back and forth between the much pricier competitors, the lines are quickly drawn.

Where was sound this good 30 years ago?

Had digital sounded this good, this natural 30 years ago, who knows how things might have shaken out in the music business? In the early 90s, big bucks digital was just starting to engage, but nearly everything for a thousand dollars sounded like rubbish. Harsh, brittle, and lacking in tone. I know, I was there.

Leave it to Rega, a company that’s always been a little bit behind on the trendy curve, (but over the top on the engineering curve) to build a player that’s this good for this price. Centered around the latest Wolfson WM8742 DAC chips and their own analog stage, all carefully implemented in a compact case. According to Rega’s Terry Bates, the players designer, the analog output stage is entirely different. (Again, you’d expect nothing less from Rega) He refers to it as “A discrete implementation of an op amp with a nod to forgotten about 1960s amplifier circuitry with class A output.” In short, Bateman calls the Apollo “greater than the sum of its parts,” and we concur.

Tracking through an original digital pressing of Peter Gabriel’s Security, (the fourth album to many of you) the dynamic range of this player is stunning, offering considerable weight and drive. The Apollo keeps the pace with the densely packed, thunderous drumming on the opening track, offering compelling low-level resolution during the quiet beginning of “Lay Your Hands on Me.” This is a ton of fun listening to a disc, long since ripped to NAS, that was one of the first CDs I purchased back in the 80s, with its massive “full digital recording” sticker on the cover.

The far reaches of the audio spectrum are equally well represented. The deep, growling bass at the beginning of Charlie Sexton’s “Plain Bad Luck and Innocent Mistakes” puts the Focals to the task and rattles everything on the coffee table. Sorry, you can’t stream Under the Wishing Tree on Tidal or Qobuz, so there are times when a player comes in handy.

The transport option

Where many of today’s digital enthusiasts add a modestly priced vinyl deck to their system to dip their toes in the pool of spinning black discs, the Apollo is a perfect choice for those going the other way. With so many CDs popping up at yard sales and in used CD stores, there’s a lot available for next to nothing. And you don’t have to worry about backing it up either.

Thanks to an optical and coax digital output on the back panel, the Apollo can be used as a transport for those with higher quality DACs, powered speakers, or an all in one product like the Linn Selekt DSM, or the Simaudio MOON 390.

Used as a transport with all of these proved excellent, but returning to the Nagra TubeDAC proved to be the best combination. The Apollo as transport feels right at home plugged into this $20,000 DAC, and when playing 16/44 files, the sound from this combo often sounds more musical than what is streamed.

A perfect partner

Regardless of what you plug the Apollo into, the results are highly rewarding. In the context of a primary budget system, it holds its own and often betters the sound of turntables at the same price point. While our Rega P3/Exact combination still offers a bit more warmth and palpability through the midband, the Apollo corners the market on dynamics, and low bass punch. The two together make a formidable pair, offering the best of both worlds for a reasonable price – but that’s always been the Rega ethos.

Yet plugged into a six-figure system, the Apollo doesn’t disappoint in the least. Of course, it does not have the finesse you’d expect from a DAC or player that costs as much as a used Audi, but the basics are firmly in place, and that’s what makes the difference between digital being engaging or not.

Whether you use an Apollo as a full function disc player, or merely a transport, it will serve you well. In addition to giving it one of our Exceptional Value Awards, we’ve purchased the Apollo for our permanent collection, and it will be receiving a Product of the Year award over at The Audiophile Apartment. Can you feel the love?

The Rega Apollo CD player

$1,095 (US Distributor)