PRIMALUNA ProLogue Two

MJ11.05.2009

Integrated amplifiers

Prima Luna ProLogue Two is a very good amplifier that elegantly overcomes issues tied with tube equipment and does not leave any significant imprint on the sound. For the lack of 'tubed' signature I am not confident with recommending it to the typical tube sound lovers (at least in this price category). They may be dissapointed as the PrimaLuna is just too much honest – it does not distort and resembles rather an excellent solid-state amplifier playing on the slightly sweeter (rather than warmer) side eliminating risk of listening fatigue.

Function and form

87%
Ease of use
46%
Sound
84%
Appearance

The overall construction is simple but solid and elegant: steel chassis finished in deep blue gloss would not be out of place on Bentley limo. The surface of the box is shared by tubes and shielded power transformer that is responsible for the significant weight of the amplifier (17kg). There is one 12AX7 dual triode per channel, that is tied in parallel to get higher current gain, 12AU7 as a driver and four pentodes KT88 in the power part. Thanks to the Chinese assembly outsourcing we can enjoy point-to-point hand-soldered wiring (neat job here) and electronic components bolted rather than glued without any price-up. All tube sockets are ceramic ones, PP capacitors and Alps volume control speak also of the quality. There is a PrimaLuna logo printed on the tubes – nice finishing touch indicating that you cannot get more at the given price.

The volume control and input selection is possible through 2 knobs on the aluminium faceplate (silver finish is optional). The inputs are 4xRCA with identical topology, in the rear you will also see 2x3 speaker binding posts resembling reputable WBT terminals for connecting whatever wire termination you wish for. They are not WBTs but the construction is the same so who cares. By combination of appropriate binding posts you may connect loudspeakers with the impedances of 4 or 8 ohms. Actually, it requires some experimentation with the selection of the correct binding posts. With some manufacturers the measured impedance equals the nominal one whereas it is not true with others. There are many speakers (some even in the highest high-end) that despite being declared as 8 ohm speakers measure as low as 2-3 ohms. Therefore I recommend to rely upon what you hear.

A note from the distributor: (Marek Kohut, Kohut Audio): The tubes used in the amplifier are of Chinese origin. For example KT88 is a ressurected version of KT88 from Genalex, reputable for their reliability. With the use of high-quality tubes like the Russian ElectroHarmonix 12AU7 and 12AX7 it is assumed that the sound would improve further. We encourage listeners to evaluate such an option for themselves.

Bass management

Weight
72
Slam
44
Articulation
42

Máte-li úplně novou PrimaLunu, je velmi důležité ji rozehrát. Nechejte ji prostě hrát pár desítek hodin a nevšímejte si jí. Rozdíl před a po byl totiž značný. Ostrost a plochá prkennost nerozehraného stroje zmizely, nahrazeny plynulými a hladkými hudebními figurami, které měly slušný timing a drajv, byly prokreslené co do vnitřního detailu i prostorové informace, s přirozeně a nenásilně podaným středovým pásmem, které na svém horním konci zůstávalo znělé. Basy až do sklepa (ne úplně přesné, ale na elektronkový zesilovač nevídané), výšky čisté, bez zrnění, se sladším nádechem. Celé frekvenční spektrum pro moje uši v rovnováze, s mírným důrazem na spodní třetinu, takže je zvuk nasycený a plný, nicméně instrumenty symfonického orchestru jsou dostatečně separované a v dobré vzájemné proporci.

Clarity & delicacy

Detail
43
Air
40
Transparency
47

When listening to The Best of Sissel CD I was surprised by liquid textures with correct timing and drive. The spatial information was detailed and natural with unforced mid and treble region that was clean end extended at its upper range with no hint of aggresivity or grain, with slight emphasize towards sweetness. Also the bass was powerful and deep (not that precise I was used to but excellent for the tube design). Across the all frequencies the amplifier was balanced with a little emphasize on midbass giving the sound fullness and saturation – the instruments of symphonic orchestra showed good separation and proportionality, however. I would say that PrimaLuna fits into among the gear that rather synthetize than analyze: it is not freak about the details, it is not ´technical´enough (do not forget the PrimaLuna is woman) so it is more into emotions. However, not that emotional you would expect from a tube amplifier – it is just too good for it. To be honest there was hardly any difference between solid state Accuphase E-210A and PrimaLunou ProLogue Two. And Kudos Cardea C1 would not definitely mask anything. I assume that it is because Accuphase is not ´technical´either and transforms sound a bit into comfortable and pleasing refinement.

Tonal accuracy

Timbre
43
Dynamics
39
Temporal resolution
38

Everything is easy with the PrimaLuna ProLogue Two: you plug it to the electric circuit, connect the loudspeakers and a signal source, switch it on (on the left side of the chassis) and 15 seconds later you can listen to the music. The rest is arranged by ´Soft Start´ electronics that informs you with the green LED on the faceplate of the readiness of the amplifier to play and by very convenient circuitry of Adaptive AutoBias.

To have the bias right is necessary for the performance of any tube amplifier. It is the bias that input music signal modulates and which varies the tube current so that changes in output high voltage copy changes in input low voltage (this is how I understand it – if you know more, please excuse my ignorance). The problem is that even when we have values of the bias right it is not the victory: tubes wear out with time, their parameters are changing with temperature etc. This all may result into different types of distortion. The PrimaLuna‘s Adaptive AutoBias circuitry is continuously monitoring the input signal and the inner temperature conditions to automatically adjust the bias. The adjustment happens within safe and narrow margins and enables the tubes to operate with the lowest possible distortion (the manufacturer says 0,25% at 1W and <1% at full output). The secondary effect is avoiding clipping due to unexpected input signal peaks. The final benefit is in the possibility to use different type of tubes to further enhance the performance of the amplifier – we did not try this during the review, however.

Spatial resolution

Holography
70
Soundstage width
70
Soundstage depth
70

It was not easy to get an equal competitor for PrimaLuna. T.A.C. V60 (Tube Amp Company) is the result of joint venture between German designers and Chinese manufacturers and it looks gorgeous. The designers of T.A.C. know how to make tube fetishist happy: glass, aluminum, glossy black and glowing logo to underline the warmth of tubes. The concept of the T.A.C. is not far away from PrimaLuna including the automatic bias adjustment. The tubes to be found here are from Electro Harmonix and the price tag is almost 50% higher as is the output power (2x60W).

So here we are, with the comparable fighters in the Asian ring (Vincent CD-S5 as the source component, dtto cabling and Aurum Cantus Melody M-102 speakers), both with the same hours of training (T.A.C. a few less) and warm-up.

Though the sonic differences were apparent immediately they were not huge and it took some time before we were able to define them. PrimaLuna goes easily deeper, deeper than any comparable tube amplifier. Such a bass fundament is not common even with solid-state designs. The bass is penetrating, with body and weight and makes the music rock. It is slightly smeared and ill-defined, however. The T.A.C. is lighter in nature, in fact you lack the bass a tiny bit, but its lows are better defined and controlled. The mids and highs are comparable with both amplifiers, I liked voices better with T.A.C. for their definition and articulation whereas PrimaLuna excelled with the acoustic guitar and plucked strings (I missed the fingers with the T.A.C. - it paid bigger attention to the strings). The major difference between the two contenders was in transients and correlated spatial information. The T.A.C. was better in conveying transient edges including the decay (space reverberation, audience and ambient clues and spicy details like breathing of the musicians were part of it). Prima Luna had the tendency to round the sharp transient edge (the sharp attack of a string was softened) and it extended the basic tone a moment longer than the T.A.C. cutting off some of the ambience clues. As a result PrimaLuna showed less ´air´ and a tad less information, but also exhibit quiter and darker background and better bass fundament.

It was not possible to choose between the two. If I would be forced to, I would look for another amplifier that would be a combination of the two. The problem is that such an amplifier would cost more than PrimaLuna and T.A.C. alltogether. This is the high-end reality and both machines are high-end definitely. In such a case it is perhaps wiser to buy both amplifiers and use one or another depending on the mood or source material. You can also try and have a baby from them.

Price as reviewed:43 000,- Kč

Recommended resellers

Kohut Audio, Košice, tel. +421 905 642 156

Navrátil Audio, Havířov, tel. +420 737 821 360

Associated components

  • Sources: Pioneer PD-S904 TM, Vincent CD-S5
  • Amplifiers: Copland CSA 29, Accuphase E-210, T.A.C. V60
  • Interconnects and speaker cables: Vincent, Monster Cable Interlink 300
  • Loudspeakers: Kudos Cardea C1, Mirage Omni Series 150, Aurum Cantus Melody M-102

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