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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 2
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majeel laboratories

Pristine SA10 amplifier

as reviewed by Larry Cox, Dave Clark, and Victor Chavira

 

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LARRY COX'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
ATC SCM 20.

ELECTRONICS
Majeel Labs Pristine S-10 amplifier. E.A.R. 802 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Pioneer DV 525 dvd or CAL Audio Icon Mk.II CD players.

CABLES
Quattro Fil interconnects and speaker cables made from Belden 1219A wire.

ACCESSORIES
API Power Pack and ACPEAM line conditioners.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)Pristine is a name implying cleanliness, originality, beauty. How about a behemoth amplifier from Singapore? How about 100 watts of solid state class A sound? How about an amp that is built like a brick, er, house and looks pretty cool? My fiancé really liked the looks of this amp, with its swooshing sine wave on the front and its violet-colored power indicator light. She really liked the sound, too.

The Pristine SA10 weighs nearly 80 pounds and is sufficiently large that audiophiles thinking about placing it in a rack will have to do some measuring first. I’ve been sort of tire kicking amplifiers, looking for more power for my watt-sucking ATCs, but I wasn’t really thinking physically BIG. Nor did I consider the Pristine as a possible upgrade, since it is only 100 watts. However, hearing the Prisitne made me rethink my priorities. The Pristine is one of those solid state amps that conjures up impressions of tube sound. Having heard the 200-watt E.A.R. 549 mono tube amplifiers (at a mere $14,000) in my system, I can say unequivocally that the Pristine doesn’t sound precisely like a tube amplifier. However, if tube power implies a less edgy, fuller, and more liquid sound than most solid state amps, then the Pristine is tube-like. While I had the Pristine, I also borrowed the solid state Chord SPM1200B amp, which is 250 watts of thunder and lightning. Compared to the Chord, the Pristine again sounded a bit tube-like.

he Chord sounded vivid, but in a way I really liked, while the Pristine was more relaxed. The Pristine delivered throaty, chesty renditions of both males and females. My thirst for rock ‘n’ roll, like Led Zep, Van Halen, et al., is fairly low at this point in time, so I can’t say how they sounded with that kind of music. However, rock of another variety, like Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, and Live (the group), or female vocals like The Story (hardly rock, I know) or Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, was rendered with a slight softening of edge and tone, but this worked. No doubt Zep or Aerosmith would also have been sweetened a little. These days, I’m not expecting the edge or bite that goes with grinding guitars, so if that isn’t in the Pristine’s presentation, I’m not missing it. I think that the Pristine, an expensive product, will land happily in the hands of people who have the wherewithal (um, dough) to spring for it. I expect these people aren’t listening to Metallica, etc. They’ll be listening to jazz, more pop-ish sounding rock, or classical music. With these varieties, the Pristine will likely be a joy, delivering a clear delineation of instruments in complex passages, doing a very nice job representing orchestral crescendos, and so on.

To conclude about the tube-like characteristics of the Pristine, the top end was a little er, um... rolled off. There was detail, but I have heard and experienced more extended treble, for instance with the Chord. The Pristine was timbrally appropriate and realistic, just not as extended as some amps. The similarly-priced Chord was clearer and more precise, while not being etched. The Pristine was a bit more delicate, and had a sort of liquidity that I associate with a well-rendered midrange.

The Pristine imaged as well as anything non-tubed I’ve had in my system. Images were represented in a rock-solid three-dimensional soundstage. As liabilities go—and I found few—the bottom end was pleasant but a bit over-full and very slightly indistinct. The Pristine’s bottom end is distinctly a step up from my Musical Design amplifier, but was less deep than with the Chord, and slightly less focused. If your system leans in the direction of indistinct bass, or requires a bit more control than other speakers, the Pristine may not be indicated.

In short, the Pristine is a very nice product. At its suggested price of around $5000, it is not inexpensive. It is, however, something to look into. The build and look of the amp are appropriate for its price, as is the sound. Alas, the imbroglio created by my having the Pristine, the Chord, and the E.A.R. 549s (at a LOT more money) is that I’m starting back at square one. Oh, I still love my ATCs. Seeing what a wonderful amplifier like the Pristine could do with them was a treat. I don’t think the Pristine sounds like a tube amplifier, although it does sound wonderful. However, hearing the difference between tubes and wonderful solid state, I think I want tubes. You may want something Pristine. Both are wonderful, it is just a matter of taste. Larry Cox

 

 

 

DAVE CLARK'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Reimer Tetons.

ELECTRONICS
Clayton Audio M70 monoblock amplifiers. E.A.R. 834P phono stage. Blue Circle BC3 preamp w/Amperex BB tubes, and BCG3.1 power supply.
Taddeo Digital Antidote Two and the HRS unit.

SOURCES
EAD T1000 transport and 1000 Series II DAC with Audient Technologies’ Tactic and Audit, Nordost Moonglo digital cable. Linn Axiss turntable with K9 cartridge and Basik Plus arm.

CABLES
Nordost Blue Heaven and SPM interconnects, and SPM or Hovland Nine Line bi-wired speaker cables. Sahuaro, Blue Circle, Custom House, and Clayton Audio AC cables.

ACCESSORIES
Homebrewed ac conditioner for sources and the Coherent Systems Electraclear EAU-1 parallel conditioner. Dedicated 15 amp ac circuit for sources and 20 amp ac circuit for amplifiers. Mondo racks, BDR cones and board, DH cones, Vibrapods, various hard woods, etc. And a bottle of Rancho Sisquoc Merlot.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)The Pristine amplifier’s looks are very deceiving. Not only is this is a very beautiful amplifier to look at, but its quality of fit and finish is in a class by itself. To be perfectly honest, however, it is very ho-hum to listen to. While it did nothing really wrong, it did very little to excite the spirit. This is a harsh, perhaps, but then the Pristine is an expensive amplifier. The music it produces is more heavy than light, more ponderous than lively, noticeably slower than swift, and more rounded than defined. While it is not dark or recessed, the music is just not "there" in the room. I felt that I was more of an observer than a participant when listening to music. A bad thing? Yes, if you want music brought to life. A good thing? Yes, if your speakers are lean, bass shy, or bright, or if you find yourself leaning more to the more dull side of life.

Bass was deep and very ample, but not well controlled or defined. It was loose and lacked slam when compared to the less powerful Clayton M70s and Naked Truth Audio Callas. Using a barrage of bass-driven track from Laswell to Massive Attack to whatever would rock the house, showed the Prisitine to not be in the same "bass" class as either of these two amps. As such these discs and others of their ilk lost much in terms of visceral slam and punch. Music was turgid and slower—forget PRAT, how about fat? What should rock, instead rolled around the room. What's the deal? Are not powerful more watts the better? Maybe, but in this case definitely not in terms of bass control and definition. No doubt an issue of design, but the Prisitne is not going to win any bass-wars with other amps in its price class. I would mate this with less "full-range" speakers where its looser and fuller sound would mitigate the leaness and limited bass output of smaller speakers. Say horns. Hey it does come from Asia, so perhaps that is the right match? Smaller rooms with limited bandwidth speakers!

The more neutral Clayton and NTA amps were way more involving, bringing a considerably greater degree of life to the music. The Pristine comes across as darker and way too rich for my blood. Like I said, the Pristine may work with a leaner system, or one that needs help in the lowest frequencies (can you say "Plump?"), but our system does not fit the bill, and the Pristine pushed the sonic needle in the wrong direction.

Though it sounded smooth and grain free, the problem continues further up, where it had an overly warm and rich midrange. All an issue of the plump bottom end? Perhaps. But I think the amp as a whole has been voiced to offer a different take on what music should sound like—no doubt an issue of the speaker used or at least those it is intended to work with. But hey, who doesn't do just that with any product they design? After all we all hear differently and each of us may value this over that—so what works for me may not work for you. Oh well back to the review...

Almost like vintage tube gear, the Pristine had that "burnished" quality that made our recordings sound more alike than different. This is not an amplifier to resolve the finer details on your discs, nor will it allow you to hear deep into the soundfield. The highs do sound rolled-off a bit and with the overall fullness the Pristine is more of an amp to have on in the background or to fill the room with overly rich and romantic classics from years gone by, then to listen to with a critical ear. I could never see myself using this amp as a reference. Just not enough to get my juices flowing.

Okay, I know this sounds like a pan, but in defense of the Pristine, it will never offend the listener. This is one of those amps that you can listen to forever and never nary a trace of fatigue. And the music still can be well served, but one has to consider the speakers and ancillary components. Use brighter and leaner speakers with cabling of similar traits, plus a source that is more analytical than musical, and things might really start to gel. Is the Pristine musically satisfying? In the right system, I would have to say yes. Is it worth the asking price? Most certainly in terms of build quality, but in terms of sound, well it is not the amp for us. Dave Clark

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6.

ELECTRONICS
Sonic Frontiers Anthem 1 amplifier and SCE Harmonic Recovery System.

SOURCE
Audio Electronics CD1 player.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro Fil or Blue Heaven interconnects and  speaker cable.

 

 three.jpg (8484 bytes)Listening to the Pristine amplifier was the equivalent of an audio blind date. I knew nothing of its origins, design characteristics, mode of operation, or inner workings. I can tell you this, however: the solid state Pristine costs $5000 and weighs about one hundred pounds. It is built like a bank vault, but its mass is offset by some feminine touches. A rolling wave arches over the oval power button on the front of the thick brushed aluminum faceplate, gently scalloped heatsinks run the length of each side, and finally, the amp rests upon four softly rounded cones.

The Pristine has three pairs of WBT binding posts, but since it was delivered with no instructions, I could only guess their function. One pair on each side is positive, the other two are negative (or is it the other way around?). In any case, I simply bolted in my single run of bi-wire Blue Heavens and powered up. A bright green LED changes to azure about one minute after the oval power button is pressed, indicating that the amp is ready to play music. In my Parasound review in this issue I state that dynamics and momentum greatly improve whenever I connect my Magnepans to a high current device. That occurred here. The Maggies took to the Pristine like thoroughbreds to a wide open field.

My first impression was that the Pristine produced a rich, articulate sound. I inserted disc after disc of pop and rock into my CD player and the Pristine responded with copious amounts of refined power. Nevertheless, I felt that the amp had much more to offer than drama and slam. It had a seductive quality that beckoned me to look beyond its polished metal surface. For example, while listening to The Best of Miles Davis and Gil Evans, I was not only impressed with the Pristine’s smooth delivery of power, but found myself drawn into the music. The amp’s ability to render details and space without sounding overly up front was remarkable. I’ve heard several expensive amplifiers that were unbearably revealing, making the listening experience enjoyable with only a limited number of recordings.

The Pristine is no such product. The Pristine had a way with shapes and spaces reminiscent of my tubed Anthem. Images were nearly three dimensional. I say "nearly" because when I momentarily returned to the Anthem for comparison, musical shapes and spaces ripened to their fullest, but with nowhere near the refinement and resolution of the Pristine. One day my father-a big Beatles fan and the main reason for my love of music and sound-came to visit. We chatted for a while, then listened to the recently-released Beatles 1 CD all the way through. We could easily tell the difference between the hollow body Hofner bass McCartney used in the early years and the solid body Rickenbacker he favored later.

The jingly timber of electric twelve-string guitars was rendered as never before. Drums were lively and present, whether they were rapped hard to keep the beat or gently tapped, as in the song Something. My father agreed that listening to the Beatles with the Pristine was a richly rewarding experience. In summary, I found the Pristine to be a very satisfying and enjoyable amplifier. It produced generous amounts of power for the most demanding material without ever sounding harsh or confused. In the fiercely competitive world of high-stakes amplifiers, the Pristine will be one to watch. Victor Chavira

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Pristine SA10 amplifier
Retail $4995

Majeel Laboratories
TEL: 65. 6878. 0491
web address: www.majeel.com
e-mail address: sales@majeel.com

 

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