Review: Rega Elys Cartridge

Category: Analog

Okay, so I’m a cartridge-swapper. I admit it. For me, the grass is always greener on the other side. Somewhere out there is the perfect cartridge for me. The Rega Elys was the latest in my quest to find nirvana at less than $300.

In the past three years, I’ve been through—let’s see, ten? fifteen? more??—cartridges in the sub-$300 price category. What I’ve learned thus far factored heavily into my opinion of the Elys.

What attracted me to the Elys was that it is purpose-built for Rega tonearms. Being that I own a P2, I wondered if this would be as good as it gets. After all, Rega’s tolerances and build quality are exemplary in both tables and cartridges. Who better to make cartridges for their own tables than Rega?

As I understand it, the recommended cartridge for my table is the Super Bias. At $175, it’s supposedly identical to the Elys internally, but the three-point mounting system adds $50 to the price, bringing it to $225. (The other cartridges in Rega’s lineup include the entry-level Bias, the Super Elys and the Exact.)

Rega’s philosophy of maximizing performance by spending the majority of R&D and manufacturing dollars on product, not packaging, is immediately evident upon unpacking the Elys. It’s a purposeful-looking thing, conveyed in a simple but strong plastic case. The cartridge is not screwed to the case, but rather, wedged into a small block of foam. The kit contains three screws, two nuts, and virtually worthless instructions.

The instructions state that the Elys should be mounted by a Rega dealer only, using their proprietary torque wrench. There’s a diagram showing where the leads go, and that’s it. Buy it by mail like I did (my nearest dealer is about 70 miles away) and you’re on your own, jack.

Luckily, mounting this cartridge is a piece of cake. With the stylus guard in place, attach the cartridge to the headshell with the center Allen bolt first. (Use a washer; it scratched my tonearm.) Then, remove the stylus guard to access the remaining two standard-mount holes. Again using the supplied Allen bolts, secure the cartridge and install the headshell leads. Grab your protractor, and do a little side-to-side alignment. You’re done! I did mine in less than 30 minutes, which constitutes record-setting time. The lack of a provision for VTA adjustment on my RB250 wasn’t a problem with a Rega cartridge, so next came tracking force.

As before, the instructions were completely worthless. So I downloaded the manual for the Super Bias from Rega’s outstanding website, and in that manual they suggested 1.75 grams. My advice: don’t believe it. Like all cartridges, the “optimal” force is usually too light. Using my Hi-Fi News & Record Review test record, I confirmed mistracking up until 2.0 grams. That’s where I left it.

While I understand Rega’s position with regard to having the cartridge installed by a trained dealer, it’s silly in this digital day and age to think that everyone will trek for miles to their dealer to have their cartridge installed. Maybe there are some sonic benefits to having the bolt torque properly set. I’d imagine that unequal pressure might cause the body to flex and upset the innards somehow. But in my experience, the Procan body is robust as all get out.

Breaking in the Rega was maybe the most painful ten or so hours in my analog life. Out of the box, the Rega was brittle-sounding and dull. Luckily, it warmed up fast—really fast. Within 15 hours, it was painting a very detailed musical picture with deep soundstaging and profound balance. Rega does not publish specs, but this cartridge seems to have excellent response across the range.

On No Doubt’s “Rock Steady,” the pulsating reggae-inspired beats shook the room while never disrupting Gwen Stefani’s vocals. Switching gears, I reached for “An Evening With Windham Hill Live,” and the acoustic guitars and piano were stunningly real. Windham Hill’s close-miked recordings can tend to be rather in-your-face with some more aggressive cartridges, but the Rega Elys allowed me to listen without feeling that each note was being launched at me.

I went through about 50 hours’ worth of material, from David Johansen’s regrettably forgotten “Live It Up!” to Classic Records’ reissues of Living Stereo golden age classical performances. All in all, this was a nice cartridge and surprisingly good tracker on challenging material.

However, if the Rega Elys has an Achilles heel, it’s the stylus. For $225, I had expected something more refined. The thing is huge! Under my stylus microscope, it was about the size and shape of styli on much lower-priced cartridges from Goldring and Grado that I’ve used. This would not be a problem if not for cartridges like the Audio-Technica 440ML, a moving magnet which offers an equally convincing musical performance at half the price of the Elys, plus a MicroLine stylus that really digs in to extract maximum detail from the grooves. Speaking of styli, the Elys’ is not user-replaceable. As far as I can tell, there’s no re-tip offered, either, When it wears, you can toss the whole cartridge.

The real test came when I rescued a copy of Paul Williams’ “A Little On The Windy Side” from a used-record bin for $1. It was fairly clean-looking, maybe VG condition. I pre-cleaned it on my Allsop Orbitrac, then machine-cleaned it using my Record Doctor II with Disc Doctor brushes and Tourmat fluid. On the Rega, it was unlistenable, having obviously been played with a worn stylus or an improperly-setup arm many times. The left-channel groove was severely worn, and there was significant noise on the right. I quickly threw in the towel.

Well, I’m glad I didn’t throw the LP away because a few days later I mounted my reference Denon DL-160 for comparison purposes before writing this review. This time, when I popped on the album, it played like it was VG+. The left channel groove noise? Gone. Instead, just a few pops and ticks. The Denon’s awesome stylus obviously dig in far deeper than the Elys did, and the results were magical.

This brought up an interesting question: To what degree does the stylus make a difference in this price range? Well, for rabid used-record buyers, it would seem to make a night-and-day difference. Just to be sure, I went back and played a few records that seemed unusually noisy on the Elys. I had originally assumed that it was because of the Ely’s unusually-high output that pops and ticks and surface noise seemed exaggerated. I’m sure that’s partly true, but the Denon DL-160 tracked the same records with much more aplomb, and much less noise.

I’ll concede that the Denon is not the most musically truthful cartridge out there. Where the Elys is warm and natural, the Denon is Don Rickels on Mountain Dew. Where the Elys is grainy, the Denon is clear as glacially-cold Russian vodka. But, where the stylus is concerned, the difference between the Elys and the Denon is like the difference between Ginsu and J.A. Henckels.

It must be said that the next-step-up Super Elys includes a more convincing stylus, but at a much higher price that puts it up against the Benz Micro Silver/Gold, Dynavector 10x4 and Clearaudio Aurum Beta. It must also be said that, in my opinion, the Rega Elys and the Audio-Technica 400ML are neck-and neck sound-wise. And of course, if you’re a speed and detail freak like me, then the Elys is certain to be a let down compared to some of my previous favorite moving coils like the Benz Micro MC20E2 and my current favorite, the aforementioned DL-160.

So why buy an Elys? Well, for starters, ease of installation. I’m 27 with good eyesight and steady hands, but someday it won’t be as easy for me to swap cartridges on a lark. In that case, I’ll want an easy mounting experience, along with quality sound and a stylus that will last awhile. The Elys has all that. It also has the quality of easy listenability, which is nice for those who listen hours on end or through cans.

But $225 buys a lot of cartridge these days, and so the Elys is out and the Denon is back in. Someday, I’d like to try the Super Elys or Exact. But that will have to wait until I’ve tried the Benz Ace, the Shure V15VxMR and the Ortofon Kontrapunkt A. Until then, buy the Elys if you have a predominately near mint record collection and you want secure mounting, detailed yet relaxed performance, and tight tolerances beyond any other moving cartridges in the Elys’ price range.

Associated gear
Rega P2 turntable
Denon DL-160 moving coil cartridge
Rotel RC-980 preamplifier with MM/MC phono stage
Rotel RA-970 amplifier
Rotel RQ-970BX phono stage
Sony SCD-CE775 SACD player
Phillips AM/FM tuner
Realistic laserdisc player
RCA DVD player
Apex Digital 27” TV
ProAc Tablette 2000 loudspeakers
Paradigm speaker stands
AudioQuest CV-6 biwire speaker cables
Various Audioquest/VampireWire/Kimber/Monster interconnects
Monster Power HTS 2500 Power Center
Record Doctor II record cleaning machine/Disc Doctor record brushes
StudioTech HF series racks
Audioquest MC cartridge demagnetizer

Similar products
Denon DL-110; Denon DL-160; Grado Green; Audio-Technica 440ML; Goldring Elan; Benz Micro MC20E2; Dynavector 10x4
Excellent review!! Very well written and informative!! "Don Rickels on Mountain Dew"??? "clear as glacially-cold Russian vodka"???? Simply excellent!!

A most enjoyable read.

Many thanks.

BTW: I think you're going to have to bite the bullet and shell out a few more bucks for a better performing cartridge, particularly for your used LPs. You might consider the Clear Audio Virtuoso MkII. I found it a major step beyond the AT440, the only cartridge that I am familar with among those you listed above.

Thank you for that great review. And also, thank you for checking out all these different cartridges.
The mc20eII is one of my favorites as well. The thing I find it to do really well is it carries it's strengths to less capable turntables.
I actually enjoy reviews on this site. It is valueable to have them, evan if for only a little info or just someones opinion. That was an extremely informative one.
Just wanted you to know I appreciate your efforts. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
I have used the Elys on a Planar 3 and really didn't care for a certain thiness in the midrange, kind of like Callista Flockhart to the Orson Wells sound that I prefer. Using the recommended Rega three-hole mounting technique sited the cartridge a long way off from where my Dennisen Soundtractor and Merrill guage indicated it should be. Once the third mounting bolt was removed and the cartridge was reoriented the sound was much better, but.....there quite a few other cartridges that honor the music better than this one.
Many thanks for a splendid review of the Rega Cartridge. I have as well a Rega Planar 3 with the RB 300 arm that is tweaked out. Currently using a low out put Classic Signet MC cartridge. Now I have a reference for when the Signet needs replacing. Use two turntables the Rega gets the so called garage sale or used LP's while the Oracle with the Dynavector Ruby gets the new audiophile or mint used LP's.

Anyone have experience with the Audio Technica OC-9 MC Cartridge?
Ah the joys of audio;and once more a lesson in believing your own ears and not somebody elses - who should of course do likewise! I agree with everything written here except the conclusion; where I take the reverse tack for similar reasons that Ekobesky has returned to his favourite DL 160 whilst I hunt round for a used Elys 2!

Although I cannot confirm the equivelence of the Elys 1 to the Signet/AT 440ML. Interestingly I've seen reviews where that Cartridge's strengths echo those of the DL-160 rather than the Elys!

I got an Elys 1 with a Linn BASIC LVX arm which I planned to replace the Profile unit on my venerable Systemdek. When dismounting the Profile I discovered this big 22mm hole...the perfect fit for a REGA arm! Re-sell the LVX and buy a 300 - LVX didn't fit anyway! Mounted my old Grado "Brown"(Green body, Gold stylus). Disappointment: this is a "Class B" arm??!! Swizz!!

Then I noticed the 3rd hole in the Elys(which I'd hung on to!) with bolts. I also discovered what a doddle cartrige mounting is with that 3rd hole and a protractor. Bingo! Now I can renew my subscription! Everything opened out, and while not more lively certainly dug deeper into the grooves and I noticed a particular synergy with Drums and Bass, not to mention all Orchestral Woodwind instruments. This was matched with a most satisfying attack on Piano works. My system swung in other words, and Music which had done nothing to me previously took on a more positive perspective.

Then the stylus lost it's edge quite suddenly and it was back to normal. but the 1 had been replaced by the 2 and the price had jumped considerably. Then a used 2 with low hours turned on UK ebay and I got it for 1/3 full price! But it wasn't broken in..50 hours later...YESSSS! As the one but MUCH greater inner detail(better stylus?)But both cartridges lacked good lateral Stereo Imaging(depth good though, but I've tubes in the loop so...) and placement was imprecise on many records: classical in particular. Stylus went again(18 months).

Found a DL-160 that some poor guy was getting rid of cos the stylus was gunged up. I cleaned it with some effort, mounted it with equal effort-MISS that 3rd hole routine - and WOW! Pretty damn spectacular! Even more so after replacing my old Mission 770S's with Magneplanar MG 1.4's I picked up for $400 on Craigslist.

But after a while I began to find it fatiguing to listen to as I did with digital. I began - and still do - to yearn for the Ely 2's beguiling rendition of all types of music. Mind you, now I've tube buffered my phono preamp output and rolled a pair of Electro-Harmonix 12ax7EH tubes into the paired mono MIC amps I'm using for the purpose, the harshness has diminished somewhat! Sometimes experimentation and the recommendations of others don't always pan out. But what to do? I got the Elys 2 from a guy that got a deal on an Exact he couldn't pass it goes...

Current(subject to change!)Set-up:
DUNLOP SYSTEMDEK IIX w/Acrylic SOTA SUPERMAT&REFLEX CLAMP, above Nonfelt base mat. HEED ORBIT PS(45rpm at the flick of a switch: WUNDERBAR!)
REGA RB300: Cardas rewired & Pete Riggle counterweight, REGA
vta nut with armnut ABOVE board.
Denon DL-160, Elys 2
ART DJ Pre II phono preamp; 2# ART STUDIO TUBE MP (mono)Mic preamps w/ TRS-RCA cable(pkg works with Digital and between pre-pwr too!).
B&K CS115 LINE PREAMP: running Passive mode for Acoustic/Active mode for Electric music.
B&K ST-140(blk&gold:105w) PWR AMP
Magneplanar MG 1.4 speakers.
Knukonceptz "KRYSTAL" interconnects & "KASA" 12awg silver on copper speaker wire.

PS if anyone has an ELYS 2 low hours...!!!
For what it's worth, I had similar tracking issues on what appeared to be mint vinyl with an Elys 2. I have not yet tried the album with a different cart, but I think the Elys just occasionally runs into trouble. When it's tracking it does sound brilliant, but at expense of lots of surface noise and the odd incompatible pressing.
Some extra groove noise is not unusual with standard sytlus shapes. I've even used exotic shapes that played with more noise than I expected. I agree with the poster that said the denon 160 is too much like cd's, but I find that to be true with most high output MC cartridges. I have used the Exact and the Elys briefly before trading to the Exact. Of all the MM cartridges I've used on Rega tables (and I've used alot) Regas own and the Roskan Corus black (and I suspect DNM Mica or Reca too since they have the same threaded flat surface Pocan body) bond with the arm better than anything else and give the most satisfying musical performance. After experimenting with the bolt (2 Versus 3, and Baerawald Vs. Regas Stevenson type alignment schemes) the 3rd bolt does just what tubiwan says. My take is if you use a Rega cart, use the 3rd bolt. Grados are a bit too warm on Rega and can have hum issues, Audio technicas and Denons are a little too lightweight and cd like, IMO the Rega and Roskan cartridges are just right in RB arms.