Pleyel 250 amplifier
as reviewed by Victor Chavira, Roger McNichols, and Larry Cox
I love listening to this amp. I dont care for the namedespite its historical associationsor the cosmetics, but I love to listen to it. Still, if the name inspired the designer, so be it, I can live with it.
My Classe CA 100, and other 100-watt amplifiers that I've dropped into my system, have at times seemed under-powered for my ATC SCM 20s. The Pleyel 250, at fifty watts per channel, seemed like it would be extremely under-powered. Much to my surprise, in most respects the amp seemed more robust than my Classe. The ATCs came alive, even at low volume. The Classe does not really goose the speakers into life until the volume is turned up to just short of concert level.
The Pleyel, on the other hand, was unbowed by the speakers mere 83dB sensitivity. Bass may not have gone deeper than with the Classe, but it was louder and had greater definition of timbre, making Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club vibrate with excitement. Percussion clearly conveyed a sense of a live hand striking an animal skin, with the room acoustic conveyed along with the direct sound. The percussion acted like a fuse, to let the pyrotechnics of the music come to life. With the CD version of The Saint soundtrack, the Pleyel dug deeper into the bass region, conveying a greater sense of impact. The bass didn't just dig deeper, but brought with it the ambient cues of the drums or percussion instruments. With the ambient cues came more precise presentation of images, and these images seemed to be more firmly anchored and specific. The bottom end presentation also allowed instruments to be placed in a rectangularly-shaped hall, unlike the more triangular hall presented by the Classe. In this respect, the Birdland was more like a tube amplifier.
These positive aspects of the Pleyel were matched by its midrange clarity and openness. Vocals were robust and full, with an appropriate measure of vibrato from male vocals and a crystalline clarity to female vocals. The top end was reasonably, although not exceptionally extended. In fairness, the ATCs are a bit rolled off on top, so the Pleyel's top end wasn't really tested in my system. Your system may test it more, but there just isn't that much of the music at that frequency extreme.
While I truly enjoyed the Pleyel, and found it to be certainly a step up from the Classe, the amplifier just did not produce enough watts for my speakers. Having had two-hundred-watt amplifiers in my system, I know what the ATCs are capable of, and the Pleyel 250 didn't quite offer that sense of excitement and unlimited possibility. It didn't have the ability to deliver the micro- and macrodynamics that larger amplifiers do. While this same criticism applies to the CA 100, it is easier for me to accept this at half the price.
I wouldn't have noticed the limited dynamics if the Birdland didn't do so many other things so well. The dynamic shortcomings were the equivalent of a minor mistake two-thirds of the way through a brilliant performance. The flaw was all the more noticeable because of the near-angelic presentation of everything else. I expect that in casual listening, most listeners will not pick up on this. My system, because it is so inefficient, exacerbated it.
like to underscore one last point. The Birdland Pleyel 250 is a retirement piece. If you
want to know that your amp can, like the amps in Spinal Tap, play at 11, and not just 10,
this one isn't going to be to your taste. If you want to hear a life-like presentation of
music, it is something to consider. Like the Audio Research Classic 30s and 60s, the low
wattage of the Birdland may seem insufficient, but the truth is in the replay. Speakers
with more than 88dB sensitivity should sing.
The name "Birdland" conjures up some powerful musical imagesjazz clubs, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Weather Report. Does the Pleyel 250 live up to its name?
The Pleyel 250 is a novel concept in amplification from a new company, Birdland Audio. For circuit design and technical details, see the other reviews in this issue or contact Birdland Audio. This small, light amp is rated at 50 watts into 8 ohms and 70 watts into 4 ohms. Upon first listening, I had the realization that I wasnt in tubeland anymore. Bebo Rides Again is a splendid disc by legendary Cuban pianist, composer, and band leader Bebo Valdez. The music on this disc never fails to send me reaching for the closest instrument to jam along. The Pleyel 250 gave a very different perspective on this music than what I am accustomed to with my Anthem Amp1. For example, the sound was not as dimensional. If the Anthem makes music sound 3D, the Pleyel makes it sound 2.75D. Also absent was a richness and woodiness to Paquito de Riveras clarinet. The notes sounded more reedy and decayed more quickly. By the same token, strikes on the bongo sounded crisper and more percussive as played by the Pleyel.
Another excellent disc in my collection is Cuba, The Charanga by The Rotterdam Conservatory Charanga Orchestra, on Nimbus Records. This disc genuinely impressed me when I first heard it. What on earth were conservatory students from Rotterdam doing playing traditional danzones from Cuba, and playing them like nobodys business? Well, Im here to say, if you are any kind of fan of Latin music, you must get this disc. Here, displayed in all its splendor, is the musical vine from which so many musical styles grew.
For those of you unfamiliar with charanga, the instrumentation is flute, piano, violins, double bass, and Cuban percussion. The first section of every composition is a formal courtly dance, followed by a more improvisational chachacha or mambo. I believe charanga to be a perfect blend of western and Afro-Cuban elements. The Pleyel did an excellent job of retrieving musical details from this naturally recorded disc. Transients were crisp and clean. I did, however, notice an added sharpness to the flute and violins.
The Pleyels way with leading transients made me think about listening to more guitar music. John McLaughlins Time Remembered is a moving tribute to the brilliant melodism of Bill Evans music, as arranged for five classical guitars and bass guitar. This stark and poignantrecording was well served by the Pleyels crisp sonic signature.
To change the mood a bit, I cued up something lighter. The Sound of Summer Running is a fine ensemble performance from bassist Marc Johnson, with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell on guitars and Joey Barron on drums. The music is based on a familiar set of American chord progressions, from oldies to blues, honky-tonk to surf. If you are a fan of guitar music, you will be amused by how these musicians play out their whimsical, melancholy, and heartfelt variations. The Pleyel 250 was once again in its element here, reproducing sharp attacks on drums and clean lines on guitars. The sound of brushes on a snare drum was remarkably coherent.
On the other hand, the Birdlands sonic attributes were sometimes at odds with the music. This could be heard with Cachao, Master Sessions, Volume 2, a recording that is alive with ebb and flow, particularly when the string section plays long vibrato notes. This characteristic was lessened to some degree with the Pleyel 250, in contrast to the Amp1. Several times during my listening sessions, the Pleyel was driven to clipping while producing only a moderate level of volume. However, this may be due to the notoriously insensitive Maggies rather than a flaw of the Pleyel. The Pleyel and the Maggies are probably not an optimum pairing, due to the speakers tendency to sound lean. I believe the Birdland would be a better complement to a richer-sounding speaker.
my Amp1 yielded a softer presentation. The soundstage didnt go back as far as with
the Pleyel. Similarly, top-to-bottom coherence was not as refined. However, the midrange
snapped back to life. In closing, I found the Pleyel 250 from Birdland Audio to be a solid
performer, one that had me thinking about new ways to appreciate my music collection. I
enjoyed my time with it, but Im going back to tubeland.
Traveling to different "lands"... feeling exhilaration... yes, thats exactly what I experienced right in the middle of my living room. How, you ask? For the past few weeks Ive been traveling back and forth from Jeff Row-land (Design Group) to Bird-land (Audio)! I connected the new Birdland Audio Pleyel 250 amplifier to my Rowland Concentra Pre out jacks and wondered where I might go, musically speaking.
The Pleyel 250 is an attractive looking, black brushed aluminum, solid state, two channel, 50 watt power amplifier. This amazing amp operates in Class A until its patent-pending, ultralinear, open-loop output kicks in. Its frequency response is not the familiar 20 to 20kHz, try 10Hz to 400kHz! Of course, frequencies this high are not supposed to be audible, but.... hmm?
I certainly wasnt expecting this amp to wow me. I value bass resolution and weight, a warm, smooth midrange, and clear high frequencies. I listen carefully for good imaging, transparency, and dynamic range. This is what we all (or at least most of us) are looking for, but too often we are disappointed when the quality of sound doesnt live up to the marketing hype. This time, however, I was pleasantly surprised. I really enjoy my reference system, so being surprised is good.
The Pleyel 250 transported me into an exhilarating listening experience like a Lear jet lifting off into the clouds! This amplifier reproduced Pavarottis version of Donizettis "Elixir of Love" so beautifully that I fought off tears. The orchestra and the singing poured out of my Sonus Fabers like warm flowing butterscotch. The sound was warm and detailed, and the epitome of musical. I heard no edginess or electronic harshness. If there is a magical place where audio equipment reproduces "perfect sound," the Pleyel 250 brought me there. Nearly all of my priorities were being met as I continued to listen.
Richard Strauss Also Sprach Zarathustra (Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony) startled my soul with clear, clean trumpets, powerful timpani and trombones. Hour after hour, through classical, blues, country/western, then rock, the amp gave me smooth, clean, musical experiences. The top end was truly extended, with a pleasant airiness that was magical. Although the Pleyel was designed to reproduce extremely high frequencies, I found that its tonal balance in the midrange and bass sounded just right. I heard warm and accurate midrange, and felt that bass had sufficient weightnot as much as I wanted, but enough.
This amp was so good that Im reluctant to make any comments that are less than superlative. When I compared the Pleyel to the amplification from the Rowland Concentra, I did notice the difference between the Pleyels fifty watts and the Rowlands hundred, as I should have. I also noticed that the Pleyels soundstage was not as wide or deep, but please dont be put off by this. I wish I had other 50-watt amps to compare it to, but I doubt I would have found this gem lacking in most listening categories.
To be frank,
it was hard for me to find serious areas of weakness. Maybe oneId say that the
amp ran out of power on a few rare occasions. If you are looking for a medium-powered
amplifier, and want the best musical reproduction, you must audition the Pleyel. Even if
you are not looking for an amplifier, go audition it anyway, just for audio edification.
Has it been too long since you were on the threshold of anything exhilarating? Sprout
wings and soar to Birdland Audio. Youll be glad you did.
Birdland Audio Pleyel 250