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The Amplifier Chronicles, Continued

Well, here we are almost 10 days without an in house amplifier. [Sigh]. This is killing me. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have other things to do or anything ….

But it’s like a sore tooth that I can’t seem to help fiddling with.

What to do, what to do …

What I want is an amplifier that has the treble extension of the Joule-Electra, coupled with real bass control and presence. Apparently, this is freakin’ impossible. So, I want at least some of that.

I spent a couple of hours over at Command Performance A/V today. I’ve been trying to find out if a Luxman solid-state solution might be what I’m looking for or if something else might be on offer. Jeff very helpfully walked me through a couple of setups. Let’s walk through each in turn.

  1. Manley: Jumbo Shrimp pre-amplifier with Snapper monoblocks.
  2. Luxman #1: L-505u (class A/B) integrated.
  3. Luxman #2: L-590aII (class A) integrated.
  4. Plinius Tautoro + SA-Reference amplifier.

The Manley combo was probably the most disadvantaged here as it was first; the Plinius combo was a somewhat desperate afterthought. All playback was done through Audience Au24e cabling, using a Legato-fed Alpha and a modded Luxman DU-80 (see references). I used Joseph Audio’s brilliant Pulsar speakers for the entire shootout.

Treble: the Snapper monoblocks do have very nice treble and extension — better than the Luxman #2, but maybe not as good as the Luxman #1. Comparing Luxman #1 and the Manley was hard, even though they followed immediately upon each other — honestly, I could go either way.

Midrange: I preferred the Manley with the mids, but it was a chocolate vs. vanilla discussion — Luxman #1 was probably the most neutral of the three (and honestly, it was most disappointing in the midrange) with the Luxman #2 being the most interesting (warm, fuzzy, smooth, forgiving) but not quite right. For me, at least, the Manley came out on top, but by no means by presenting a creamy, bloated, or “tubey” sound.

Bass: Luxman #1 was clearly best here, with Luxman #2 following and the Manley bringing up the rear. Luxman #2, as compared to Luxman #1, was clearly presenting a congested bass, which was interesting as I’d been enjoying that quite a bit at home for the past week. It was only here, in comparison, that the bass felt thick. Jeff thought felt that calling it “bloat” might be too strong, and suggested rather that the sound was typical of a Luxman Class A amp. The Manley — at least as paired with the Shrimp & Pulsar — just didn’t present the deep bass with the same level of authority that the integrated’s did. It was “fine”, but simply not remarkable.

Which left me with a rather tough nut to crack. I have no amp! And if was going to pull the trigger on some Manley gear, this is the week to do it — before the price of the Snappers almost doubles. But … perhaps it was the Jumbo Shrimp holding everything back? I dunno. I was underwhelmed — and sadly, given that this is the week for demos, I was unable to borrow the Snappers to try them out with the Merlins.

What to do, what to do.

As I mentioned earlier, out of desperation, I asked Jeff if we could try out the Plinius gear. Using the existing wiring and sources, I played through some demo tracks again … and got some startling results.

The Plinius SA-Reference, like the Luxman L-590aII (#2, above, remember) can operate in Class A. And at 300wpc, the thing is a giant aluminum space-heating tank. It weighs 125lbs, has a couple dozen sharp-edged heat sinks coming out the sides, and generally is considered by Greenpeace to be an ongoing threat to radical climate change (the thing draws 2000 watts continuously when in Class A mode). But …

It spanked both Luxmans and, quite frankly, the Manley as well.

Easily the match for Luxman #1 in bass and treble extension, the Plinius pair crushed the Luxman with respect to clarity. The treble was clean, high, sparkling, grainless, and extended. The bass was subterranean and effortless. And, in Class A mode, was much closer in the midrange to the Manley than to Luxman #2. And with the Plinius pair, I also got a higher degree of spatiality, a deeper and wider soundstage with better specificity of placement. The resolution was also significantly higher — good recordings sounded good. Great recordings sounded great where the Luxman “smoothness” had helped to hide quite a bit that the Plinius now revealed. And finally, the Plinius combo was the most refined of all three. With these speakers.

Of course, the Plinius combo retails for $25k, so it’s hardly fair as a comparison, now is it? No. Not at all. The Luxman L-505u is less than $4k. The Luxman L-590aII is $9500. The Manley Snapper + Jumbo Shrimp is around $7k (for this week only, they’ll be much closer to $10k next). So, shitty comparison, no? The Plinius, by sheer dint of how much I’m going to need to spend, really ought to sound best, no?

Well, yes, and perhaps it’s reassuring that it does.

For me, I actually already own an SA-250mk4 amp. Rather similar to the SA-Reference, but not as refined. So, as I left the showroom, I asked to borrow Jeff’s Tautoro linestage. I figured I could try it out and see if there was a hope of recreating some of that sound at home.

More later ….

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About Scot Hull (975 Articles)
Founder, Editor and Publisher at Part-Time Audiophile and The Occasional Magazine.