- Written by Rick Schmidt
- Published on 14 December 2009
I started with the PrimaLuna in my two channel system, driving my Daedalus 2.1 speakers. Daedalus reports that these speakers are very efficient (96 db) so I wasn't worried in the least about driving them. I did almost all my listening in Ultralinear mode. When I switched to Triode mode it was pretty much as the manual predicted: a little compressed. A little less powerful is how I would describe it but even though the mode could be switched with just a button press, there is an accompanying drop in volume in triode mode so to do an A-B requires a volume adjustment as well. For me, the difference in sounds was subtle enough that I didn't feel I could parse it out well after having to stop to think about whether the volume level was the same. I am certain though that with my speakers, the Ultralinear mode exerted better control and extension on both ends.
Even in Ultralinear there wasn't as much extension on the high and low ends as there is with my high-powered SimAudio W-6 amps but it was darn close. Not really something I would quibble over. It occurs to me that measuring high end extension with one's ears depends a lot on one's ears and the age thereof, but mine are pretty good still. If they aren't, I don't want to hear about it. But let us reflect on the low end for a second, the difference in bass performance between this 38 W/Ch amp and my 425 W monoblocks was not worth quibbling over? To be sure my Sims exert absolute control and I noticed the difference, especially with electronica with its artificially produced bass tones. But at no point was I wishing that I had more bass. Rather, I was consistently impressed with how much there was, and soon enough I forgot that I was reviewing audio equipment and I enjoyed the listening. And anyway, a 425 watt power amp should be able to deliver more bass than a 38 watt amplifier. Secondly, just about every tube amplifier out there has the tendency to roll off the bass a bit. And, sometimes, they roll off a little at the top. That's tubes. Take it or leave it. There are millions of consumers out there who take it and love it.
The main reason it was so easy to ingnore the difference in bass output was that the midrange - voices, horns, guitars - all sounded a little more sweet, warm and present than what I am used to. Midrange magic to be sure. All those tube lovers have a point. They call it midrange "bloom". It's what makes tube lovers love tubes. That, and the even-ordered harmonic nature of tube distortion vs. odd-ordered for solid state. Even-ordered harmonics are pleasant. Like a barbershop quartet singing in perfect harmony. Odd-ordered harmonics are irritating. Sort of like one member of the quartet needs more singing lessons.
I did most of my CD listening with the PrimaLuna using my Naim CDS-2, but I also took the opportunity to try out the Emotiva ERC-1. The PrimaLuna smoothed out the differences between these CD players but it didn't eliminate them. In true tube fashion, both players sounded sweet and inviting. With my SimAudio system I could hear the Naim as clearly more warm but not able to distinguish the details quite as well as the Emotiva, especially when the music got busy. Through the PrimaLuna, both players were about equal in the warmth departmen. The extra details of the Emotiva were still there, but I had to listen a little harder to hear them. This was certainly due in part to the fact that I had to use the unbalanced outputs of the Emotiva with the PrimaLuna as compared to the balanced connections in my Sim 5.3. But why listen to CD's at all when you can listen to vinyl?
The DiaLogue Two's built in phono stage proved to be a perfectly competent performer with no obvious colorations. Probably not as extended as my external phono stage, the PS Audio GCPH. When I switched back to the GCPH connected through one of the DiaLogue's aux inputs I could hear more detail and crispness which pulled instruments into their own spaces. Still, I would say the optional phono stage is a great way to go if you need to save space or dollars. An external phono stage is always there as an upgrade path.
I should also note that since my Dynavector DX20 cartridge is a (high output) moving coil (MC) which delivers 2.5mV, while a typical MM (Moving Magnet) cartridge yields 5mV. So, the loudness was lacking just a little. I could play records at my normal listening level, but if I was tempted to crank it up, I found out that I was already near the output limit.
In Use in my Home Theater
Most vinyl releases these days come with a coupon for an MP3 download of the record. Some come with a CD inserted, then there is the reissue of 16 Horse Power's 2000 record Secret South. This one comes with a DVD-A 5.1 mix of the record. DVD-Audio? Huh? The idea with the MP3's or CD's is that you could play it on your portable player or in your car. I'm trying to imagine the vinyl fan who would prefer to listen to the digital version (in any format) when they could be listening to the vinyl. Well, one scenario is that of the audiophile reviewer, I played the DVD-A in stereo mode through my Arcam AV8 and the DiaLogue Teo. It was good, probably better than a CD, depending on the player though, and certainly no equal to the vinyl record.
Speaking of odd vinyl, the new record by The Ravonettes, In and Out of Control has the 'Compact Disc' CD audio logo on the record label. Huh (again)? I hope they are telling me that the record is also available on Compact Disc (I knew that) and not that the record has been limited to CD quality. It wouldn't be the first.
While I couldn't get over the fact that I had this DVD-Audio disc that I didn't know what to do with I did also try the DiaLogue Two with some music DVD's. I used samples from Bjork's career, a DVD of an early Sugarcubes concert tour (Live Zabor) and a DVD of videos that came with the recent special multi-disc vinyl release, Voltaic. Before listening, I tried unsuccessfully to eliminate a slight 60 Hz hum that popped up when I replaced my old Outlaw 770 with the PrimaLuna. No matter, it was very faint and not noticeable when the music started. Instead what I noticed was that the PrimaLuna leaves my old Outlaw amp somewhere back in the stone age. There's just no comparison. The PrimaLuna was rich, engaging, deep, and liquid. The 770 is utilitarian by comparison. All this and here I was worried about the tube amp driving my horribly inefficient Aperion Intimus 5B's. Ample volume was not a problem. Listening to/watching the video for 'The Dull Flame of Desire' performed with Antony of Antony and the Johnsons, I was mesmerized. Jaw dropped, eyes wide.
Odds and Ends
I did have trouble with the remote at one point. I was getting no response at all, and naturally I suspected the batteries being worn out or not connecting well. I put in new batteries, made sure they were pushed well into place (the insides of the remote look pretty clean, organized and tight, and even the original batteries didn't look like they were out of place). Put it back together and still no-go. I gave it a little slap with my palm and that did the trick. So, yes it probably was the batteries needing to be seated, but they needed a little extra help getting there.
The only other caveat I could add is that this amp runs pretty warm, I wasn't keen to use it on hot summer days. But I am used to solid state amplifiers that run cool. Tube amp lovers out there are probably lauging at my observation that the amp runs "warm". Funny thing about those glowing cathode filaments. They get hot.