The first product in a new series targeted at the beginner, Paul Rigby reviews the Heed Elixir integrated amplifier
Ah come on. Now, really. Do you see it? Look at the images on the right here. Done that? Now, let me re-phrase that question again. If you own a Rega Brio-R…do you see it? Yes, that’s right, it’s a Rega Brio-R! Well, at first glance, that what is seems to be.
The Elixir is a compact five-input integrated amplifier with built-in MM phono stage and dedicated, built-in, headphone amplifier. From the front, the sides and the rear IT LOOKS LIKE A BRIO-R! Do you think I’ve made my point?
In terms of price, the Heed sits at the Brio-R’s original price point. The latter has now been reduced to around £550 but, up until now, this giant killer has dominated the £500-£1000 price point (and more in many cases) such has been the quality of the Rega.
The Elixir is about a centimetre taller than the Rega box but that’s about it, other measurements are the same. It lacks the Brio-R’s Record Out sockets but adds a Pre out instead and also scores by adding that headphone amp. Also, around the back, the layout is easier to use with improved socket organisation, sporting more space between the sockets which I found an issue with Rega.
And do you know what? Good for Heed. I’m glad. The Rega Brio-R is a cracking integrated amplifier that does the job well, is packed with features, sounds wonderful and is priced relatively cheaply. I know it, you know it and Heed certainly knows it.
When you’re in a fight, you do the unexpected. You hit the biggest bloke in the gang. If Heed, the cocky devils, believe that they can take the commanding Rega design and improve upon it then they will, for me, kill the Brio-R stone dead. This is a blatant and out-right assassination attempt by Heed. The Elixir is the assassin’s bullet, my friends. It’s all rather dramatic.
The Elixir is a Class A amp that utilises the capacitor coupling principle borrowed from the Heed Audio TransCap amplifiers. The power amplifier output of 50W per channel at 8 Ohms or 65W into 4 Ohms, can be had along with two pairs of 4mm speaker connectors. On the front, a couple of simple buttons cycle through the sources and also toggle between the amp and headphones while a large, rotating knob, handles the volume. Even the remote which is (you guessed it) exactly the same size as the Brio-R’s remote, is fully featured and looks like it will support a larger Elixir system as it sports CD-type transport controls.
The box is available in two colours: silver and the ember-like black.
Well, this is all rather exciting, isn’t it? I grabbed a Brio-R (how could I not?) and was about to turn to jazz but switched to a variant. Eydie Gorme and a slice of bossna nova on the album, Cuatro Vidas, with El Trio Los Panchos. Gorme sang a soft ballad, Vereda Tropical, with a trio of voices, Spanish guitars and conga drums.
My first impression of the Heed was just how open the soundstage was. There was so much air and space in and around the instruments and vocalists that the soundstage felt lightened and spacious. Gorme’s lead vocal was attractively husky on this album and the Heed allowed her to fully emote during her delivery. The extra nuance and subtlety that Gorme was able to project helped the song to become much more interesting in terms of feeling and passion.
More than that, the guitars offered a very precise, metallic twang during their work while the heap of secondary percussion which the mastering engineer, in his wisdom, had deigned to stuff onto the right channel, showed a surfeit of information. Aurally picking out the maracas, wooden block and conga drums and presenting them as seperate instruments can be tough but the Heed accomplished this task well.
Moving onto the recently released Joy Division album, Substance and the dynamic track, Leaders of Men. This song was brilliantly handled by the Heed because there was a lot of precise information that had to be assimilated and processed correctly. Firstly, the amp offered plenty of air and space with clarity to burn in the treble area. The delicate cymbal splashes offered shimmering clouds of sound while the rolling, ominous bass demanded a claustrophobic response. Meanwhile, the lead guitar attacked the entire soundstage with threatening intent and the lead vocalist poured his heart out in, what sounded like, a close-mic position. This gave the lead vocal a compressed, ‘in the red’ sound. The fact that all of these events occured at once and the Heed followed each sonic pathway perfectly is a real testament to the design of this little amplifier.
I then removed the external, reference Trichord Dino phono amp and plugged the reference Rega RP3 turntable directly into the built-in phono sockets of the Heed.
While the soundstage didn’t have the same air and space, the lead vocalist didn’t quite have the same sense of passion and the bass lacked a certain amount of threat, the overall sound quality of the phono amp was still pretty decent. Certainly, if you buy a Heed and your budget cannot stretch to an external phono amp (an ambition that you should always have – the Trichord Dino worked well with the Heed, incidentally), then the Heed model will provide plenty of good service. It’s a fine ‘freebie’.
The same could be said of the headphone stage. I utilised the Joy Division track again for this test and the bass remained predatory while the guitar, this time, swirled around the soundstage almost cutting off an escape route. The percussion was both strong and powerful but the fine, fragile treble via the cymbals was impressive. The lead vocal showed just how good the upper mids are on this amp with their expressive, sometimes desperate, rendition.
Lastly, I turned to Enjoy The Silence from Depeche Mode on CD via the Leema Essentials CD player. With this set up, I’ve rarely enjoyed myself so much. Such was the exuberance and sheer joy that the Heed showed in playing this melodic track. Lead singer, David Gahan, sang with renewed exhilaration and vitality while the percussion showed a very revealing aspect: it was not just a basic percussive slam. The latter showed itself to be layered, for the first time from an amp at this price point. Similarly, the guitars were full of excitement and vitality. In addition, this instrument easily expressed slight musical nuances such as string slippages, string tweaks and reverb. More than all of that, a reduction of the noise floor added to the overall clarity and transparency of the track.
Rarely have I heard an integrated amplifier, packed so full of features and available at such a reasonable price, sound so good. The sense of clarity was a joy to behold and gave each piece of music life and sparkle. The instrumental separation was aided by the air and space within the soundstage that offered the performers time while the latter also performed with a sense of relaxation and ease and that allowed the music to flow with a sense of style.
There is no doubt, the Heed Elixir is a brilliant amp and the best integrated, at this price point, that I’ve ever heard.
Buy it now, ask questions later.
Tel: 01242 511133
Good: clarity, transparency, phono and headphone stages, precision, detail
Bad: nothing at the price
Russ Andrews RP3 power unit
Trichord Dino Mk.3 phono amplifier
Leema Essentials CD player
Rega Brio-R integrated amplifier
Q Acoustics 3020 speakers