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ROBERT H. LEVI'S SYSTEM

LOUDSPEAKERS
Marten Bird Loudspeakers, Marten Duke 2 Loudspeakers, and REL Stadium III subwoofer

ELECTRONICS
E.A.R. 324 phono preamplifier, [2] E.A.R. 890 amplifiers (run as monos), E.A.R. 534 Stereo Amplifier, E.A.R. 912 Professional Preamplifier, E.A.R. 834L Tube Line Stage, E.A.R. HP4 Headphone Amplifier, Grado Battery Headphone Amplifier, and KingRex Headphone Amplifier.

SOURCES
Analog: E.A.R. Disk Master Turntable with two Helius Omega Tonearms. Digital: E.A.R. Acute III CD player, E.A.R. Acute 1 CD Player, ModWright Sony 9100ES SACD/CD/DVD Player with Signature Truth Modifications, Mod/Bybee Filters and Revelation Cryo Silver Umbilical. ModWright Sony 999ES CD/SACD/DVD Player with signature Truth Mod and Tube Power Supply, and Alesis Masterlink 24/96 Recorder/Playback Deck. Cartridges: Koetsu Rosewood Signature Phono Cartridge, London Reference Phono Cartridge, and Grado Statement1 Phono Cartridge. LD: Pioneer DVL 919 CD/LD/DVD Player. Tuners: Magnum Dynalab MD-108 Reference Tuner, Marantz 10B FM Tuner, Day Sequerra Reference FM1 Tuner, McIntosh MR71 FM Tuner, Dynaco AF6 FM Tuner, and Marantz ST17 FM Tuner. Headphones: Stax 7t Electrostatic headphones, Grado RS1 headphones, Grado PS 1000 and PS 500 Headphones, Ultrasone Edition 8 Headphones,and Koss ESP950 Electrostatic Headphones.

CABLES
Kubala-Sosna Elation Interconnects, Speaker Cables, and Power Cords. Kubala-Sosna Emotion and Expression Interconnects and power cords, Jorma Design Origo Interconnects and Speaker Cables. Harmonic Technology Magic 2 Interconnects, Magic 1and2 Power Cords, Fantasy Power Cords, Kimber D-60 Digital Interconnects, Kimber Select 3038 Silver and Silver/Copper Interconnects, CRL Silver Interconnects and Custom WyWires Interconnects.

ACCESSORIES
Monster Reference 350 Mark II v2 Power Conditioner, World Power Wing Revised Power Conditioner, Tice Power Block, Tice Clock, and Audio Prism Quiet Line IIs. Anniversary Edition Cable Cooker 2.5, Winds Stylus Pressure Gage, Bedini Ultra Clarifier, VPI Record Cleaning Machine 16.5. Audio Magic's Quantum Physics Noise Disrupters, Marigo Mystery Feet, Townshend Seismic Sinks, Furutech Demag, RSC Sound Panels and 16 inch Bass Trap, and Shunyata Cable Lifters.

 

Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
july/august 2013

 

 

primaluna

ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier

as reviewed by Robert H. Levi

 

primaluna premium preamplifer

PrimaLuna, which means "first moon" in Italian, reveals through its latest offerings very high taste levels, extraordinary musicality, and intensely refined realism which surprised and amazed this reviewer. Without even an interconnect in my system priced at less than either ProLogue Premium piece, I truly had no idea that anyone could produce gear at this superb level of performance, plus elegant fit and finish, at these low price points. PrimaLuna has just given me quite an education!

The reference system for analyzing the Prologues includes as follows:

1. Sources are the EAR Acute 2 Tube CD Player and the ModWright Sony 999 CD/SACD/DVD Player with outboard power supply, all on Marigo Mystery Feet; restored Dynaco FM3 Tube Tuner and McIntosh MR-71 restored FM Tuner. 

2. The ProLogue Preamp is connected to the sources with Kubala-Sosna Emotion Interconnects or Kimber Select 1036 Interconnects.

3. The Preamplifier is connected to the Amplifier by Kubala-Sosna Elation Interconnects and to the Marten Form Subwoofer, MSRP $4500, by Kimber 1036 Interconnects. The preamp is on Stein Music Super Naturals Wood Feet. 

4. The ProLogue Stereo Amplifier is connected to the Marten Duke 2 Speakers by Kubala-Sosna Elation Speaker Cables and placed on Marigo Mystery Feet.

5. All components are powered by Kubala-Sosna Elation or Emotion Power Cords.

6. The Dukes were connected from the 4 ohm taps and are about an 89dB efficient two way design, MSRP $8500.

The preamp is run with its stock PrimaLuna branded tubes, which are of amazing quality and responsible in part for its outstanding performance. The stereo amp retains its PrimaLuna branded small signal tubes and is evaluated with the fantastic new KT120 Tung-sol Tetrodes replacing its very good PrimaLuna branded EL34s. I liked the EL34s, but went nuts over the 120s and refused to return to the lower powered tubes. I began critical listening almost immediately right out of the box as the gear was superb ice cold! Most critical evaluation was done after 50 hours, as recommended by Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio. The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier offer a really cool looking light show in a darkened room, as the metal work is highly polished and smoothly finished.

primaluna premium amplifer

With the 120s, output was about 45 watts per channel, with useful output to 60 or maybe 70 watts in terms of musical reserve. I frankly could not identify when the ProLogue Premium Amp would clip, as its clipping characteristics were so very subtle and smooth. No wonder nearly every top amplifier designer in the world is designing around the hot new KT120. According to Kevin Deal, every PrimaLuna Amplifier ever built may use the robust 120, with zero modifications. This is terrific news for current PrimaLuna owners, and a strong positive endorsement for the ampís superior and advanced automatic biasing technique. 

The Premium Preamp is also available with an internal MM phono Stage for only $199, and a new MM/MC stage coming soon. I did not have phono on board the test preamp. The Premium has four inputs for high level sources on RCA connectors, a home theater input, and two pairs of outputs on RCAs. Controls for all adjustments / sources are on a nicely machined remote.

A well-written manual informs and illustrates all functions. The dual mono designed preamp is transformer-coupled and tube-rectified. It has killer definition, low distortion, and dramatic drive as a result. Its MSRP is a diminutive $2195.

The Premium Stereo Amplifier has high quality output connectors with 4 and 8 ohm taps. I tried both and settled on the 4 ohm with the KT120 tubes on board and the 8 ohm with the EL34 tubes; so try both with your speakers. As this is a tube design, the power does not double into 4 ohms.

It has a power switch and a high bias switch for rolling tubes. Inputs are on RCA connectors. The amp has massive transformers and chokes in its dual mono design. It is one of the most robustly and elegantly designed tube power amps I have ever auditioned at any price. This gear is built for the very long haul and will not become obsolete; failure is unlikely. Its MSRP is a small $2195, with a tiny $100 surcharge for a quartet of KT120s to replace the provided EL34s.

The Sound of Music

I now began to roll out my top reference SACDs and CDs. I have never heard my highly resolved near field reference system sound more open and realistic. The sense of space, air, and depth was startling. The walls of the room disappeared. Images of vocal soloists, violins, guitars, whatever, became clear and palpable. Drums had power and focus. Organ music had authority and bloom. With the KT120s, I did not hear the more classic tube sound I had expected from some other PrimaLuna reviews. What I heard was benchmark solidity, musical neutrality, a touch of sweetness, and a magnificent you-are-there reality that I hear so often with state-of-the-art amplification in my big reference system, and other cost-no-object setups.

In addition to extraordinary imaging and depth, there is a lack of phase distortion and audio distortion of any kind. This enhances images, adds clarity to everything, and focus to solo vocals. Once you hear this effect, you have trouble living without it. I do not know whether the preamp, or amp, or both together bring this wonderful result. Both pieces are cut from the same cloth and share in the same musical taste and class. My thought is you need both to achieve this extraordinarily superb organic sound, though individually, they are a sure-fire recommendation. Either unit stands quite securely on its own. 

Big or small, large orchestra or simple solo viola, the performance seemed quite authentic. Highs had a snap and bloom. Mids were focused and dramatic. The bass was deep and tight. You could feel the recorded venue surround you. There was no lumpiness or unevenness to the presentation. The layering of instruments in big jazz recordings was outstanding. The blue dot Columbia/Sony CD of Kind of Blue was alive and nuanced. Coltrane played with power and authority. He was seven feet away from me, and I could hear him breathe.

As I listened to my tube tuners, I was most aware of added depth to classical music broadcasts. This increased sense of space was accompanied by excellent definition and palpability. I heard a more organic presentation than usual in this system. I cannot say that it is 100% neutral, but it made tuner listening a delight. Live voices of the announcers seemed right on target, so I really think I am hearing more right than wrong, overall. Crispy CDs still were crispy, but right sounding CD/LP/live sources that were broadcast were mighty fine! My usual reference system, which costs double the PrimaLunas, is leaner overall, though no more detailed. I wish I had heard the PrimaLuna Premiums first; I would have bought them.

PrimaLuna branded tubes turned out to be one of the stars of the show. These made-in-China tubes, especially for PrimaLuna, are killer: detailed, harmonically right, and organic as can be. It has been a long while since I played with Chinese tubes. With supervision from PrimaLuna, these tubes are as good as anything I have heard from Russia, and on a par with many NOS types. They sound similar to a Type 3 Mullard, with Bugle Boy speed and snap. They are also quiet as a mouse and not microphonic at all. They are both inexpensive and plentiful. Try them next time you need small signal tubes or EL34s. Impressive!

ProLogue Premium Preamplifier

Specifications

Freq. Response: 4Hz-85kHz +/- 3dB
Gain: 12dB
THD: Less than 1% at full power
S/N Ratio: 109dB unweighted
Input Sensitivity: 200mV
Input Impedance: 100k Ohms
Output Impedance: 2800 Ohms
Power Consumption: 46 watts
Dimensions: 14.5" x 8" x 15.5" (WxHxD)
Weight: 37.5lbs
Inputs: 4 pair RCA, 1 pair HT bypass
Outputs: 2 pair RCA
Tape Output: 1 pair RCA
Tube Compliment: 4 - 12AU7, 2 - 5AR4

ProLogue Premium Stereo Amplifier

Specifications

Output: 35 watts x 2 with EL34, 36 watts x 2 with KT88
Freq. Response: 20Hz-85kHz +/- 0.5dB
THD: Less than 1% at full power
S/N Ratio: 89dB
Input Sensitivity: 775mV
Power Consumption: 210 watts
Dimensions: 14.5" x 8" x 15.5" (WxHxD)
Weight: 46.3lbs
Inputs: 1 pair RCA
Outputs: 4 and 8 Ohm speaker taps
Tube Compliment: 4 - 12AU7, 4 - EL34 (KT88 and KT120 tubes optional)

I have added the specifications as I think some of the reasons for the extraordinary musical purity and lack of distortion would be reflected here. Firstly, note the extended frequency response in both pieces with output to 85kHz. Also, the preamp has just 12dBs of gain; less gain means lower distortion as a result of not needing unnecessary output power. Note the low distortion present in both pieces as well. The amp comes to full power with only 3/4ths of a volt, very smart and conservative for this ultra linear design, and guaranteeing the need for less output from a preamp or directly wired source. Also, the signal-to-noise ratio of the preamp is outstanding, and very near state-of-the-art. These specifications reflect quite admirably what I heard in reality. Additionally, the amp and preamp run significantly cooler than I expected, much cooler than my references. This has to be a good thing sonically, with less energy going to heat and increased durability. 

Also consider that here is great high value gear which will only improve as the owner may acquire better ancillaries and speakers over time. I utilized some of the best and most expensive gear to test the ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier. I found pure joy and musical pleasure in the listening.

Quibbles

At $10,000 the pair, I might find something to criticize. At $4500 for both pieces, including KT120 tubes, nothing at all!

Conclusion

The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier are absolutely brilliant, breakthrough designs with a level of musical realism only imagined at this price point even a few years ago. With the flexibility and performance of separates now at the price of a good integrated, the ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier will take you close to the recorded event, satisfy the most jaded audiophile on a budget, and give you the flexibility to connect a larger system in the future. At half the cost of my speakers, and less than the cost of one meter of my top reference interconnect for both pieces, how can you go wrong?

Do not look at this fully featured, remote controlled, powerful gear as merely a terrific budget choice. If you love fine music in your home, the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier are fantastic performers at even double and triple their price! If you can power your speakers with up to 60-70 watts per channel and you do not require balanced operation, then the choice is really easy. The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier are most highly and personally recommended. Robert H. Levi

Most Reference Disks Utilized for Evaluation

Sweet Ballads, Standard Collection Vol. 4 Sweet Jazz Trio Spice of Life CD SV-0019

Margareta Bengston Where the Midnight Sun Never Sets Spice of Life CD MB-0001

Miles Davis Kind of Blue BlueSpec Sony Music Japan CD SPIC-20001

Dialoghi Yarlung Records CD 78876

Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 Organ Telarc CD-80051

Frederick Fennell Cleveland Winds Telarc Hybrid SACD-60639

Sophisticated Ladies Peter Appleyard Ratspack Records CD MCDF-1270

The First Seven Years Yarlung Records CD 96821 Sampler

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman Impulse A40 SACD UCGU-9002

Nojima Plays Liszt Reference Recordings HDCD RR-25

Beethoven Symphony No. 7 Antal Dorati LSO Mercury Living Presence CD 4629582

Ravel Daphnis et Chloe, Suite No. 2 Paul Paray Detroit Symphony Orchestra Mercury CD 4343062

PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Preamplifier and Stereo Amplifier
Retail: $2195 each, $100 for KT120 tube Upgrade, $199 for internal MM Phono Stage option. MM/MC Phono Stage option in the works 

Upscale Audio in Upland, CA
909. 931. 9686

www.upscaleaudio.com

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