Many customers in our store are often surprised to see tube amplifiers on demo. The PrimaLuna range of tube amplifiers may look retro but the sound they produce is anything but old school. Sure, you get the old world glow and a beautifully liquid midrange that makes you feel the singer is in your living room. But unlike many vintage tube designs, modern tube amplifiers like PrimaLuna have that punch and satisfying pace of modern solid stage amplifiers as well.
Most of our initial experiences with cheap tube amplifiers were anything but positive. Sure most tube amplifiers, even the cheaper ones have a very lush midrange. In an entry level system, a tube component can mask some of the harshness in the sound, so it is less fatiguing to listen to for prolonged periods. The problem is that the system sounds slower too, losing the speed and transients as well. And for some of us, losing the dynamics robs the music of involvement.
Herman van den Dungen, the founder of PrimaLuna is a real tube aficionado. But he is aware of many problems in tube design and sought to address them in his designs. And we agree with him on the importance of these features. So all the PrimaLuna amplifiers, even the affordable entry level ProLogue Classic range come with:
- toroidal power transformers for low hum and quiet performance - a challenge with old tube designs
- Panel Mounted Ceramic Tube Sockets and rear terminals/sockets
- point to point wiring - they are easier to repair and more reliable than small copper traces on printed circuit boards, which can be problematic when tube sockets are mounted on the same circuit boards
- Premium parts like output transformers designed by Marcel Crouse in the US, ALPS volume control units from Japan
- Protection Circuits for power and output transformers
- Adaptive AutoBias which continually monitor the characteristics of each tube and adjusts them to run them optimally
- SmartWatts design which don't stress the tubes and allows tubes to last longer and be more reliable - up to 40% less stress than many manufacturers
Check out this video from Kevin Deal aka the Tube Guru (he doesn’t like to be called that) who dissects the ProLogue Premium amplifier and compares it to a similarly priced tube amplifier and give you a brief history on tube amplifiers.
What Do Tubes Sound Like
All the innovation in the world would count for nothing if the finished product doesn't sound good. Thankfully, Herman delivered on this front too.
Stereophile, Absolute Sound and other notable magazines continue to heap praise on the entire range of PrimaLuna amplifiers. Perhaps these reviewers summed up the amplifiers best:
"I sat stunned in my chair. I couldn’t move. There was more force and life from that amplifier/speaker combo than from my wife during an argument.”*
“I could easily live with [the DiaLogue Premium] and spend all my extra dough on digital downloads that I store in the Cloud. Unlike much of the bullshit reviewed and recommended in Stereophile and elsewhere, this amplifier is down to earth."
But here’s the deal. It’s one thing to read a review about how the unit sounds but a completely different thing to hear it for yourself.
And that’s why we have set up different listening areas in our store. Don’t you hate it when you go to a store and they have the product in stock - but it is just set up as a static display? You might as well be holding a brochure for all the good a static display gets you.
We usually try to set the demo systems to replicate what most of us have at home. There is no denying the importance of a well designed room with the right acoustic treatment to handle the right amount of absorption and dispersion.
But some of us don’t always have the luxury of having a dedicated man-cave so it can be frustrating when you hear how good a system sounds in a fully treated showroom and not come close to it when you bring the product home.
When you are ready to take the next step in optimising your room, you can count on us too. We carry the Vicoustic range of room treatment components and if you can supply the layout of the room and the material used in building the room, we can work with Vicoustic to create a proper 3D rendering and modelling of the acoustic properties of your room, along with all the panels you would need.
And Now Back To Our Regular Programming
This last week, we have been experimenting with tubes on the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP Integrated Amplifier. The name is a mouthful, granted but the sound it produces will keep you spellbound.
The HP Integrated came supplied with the highly regarded EL34 tubes which deliver a beautiful midrange. With the EL34 tubes, the HP produces up to 70W per channel - which is a lot of power from a tube amplifier. Listen to the live performance of Helene Fischer’s rendition of Ave Maria with the B&W CM10 S2. You will be moved to tears.
But if the EL34 doesn’t rock your boat, you can just as easily swap them out for KT88 tubes which can push out 73W per channel. You trade a little of the EL34 warmth for much punchier dynamics.
Some of the wise guys out there are probably asking - what if you want both warmth and punch? It’s a good question. We asked pretty much the same thing. And the answer - the KT120s. With the KT120s, the HP now delivers 84W per channel so there is no lack of punch in driving harder speakers and still give you a lush midrange of the EL34s.
Eventually, we will get PrimaLuna KT150 tubes in the store too and we will be able to just as easily swap to them to see how they stack against the other tubes.
What makes the PrimaLuna unique in its ability to handle all these different types of tubes is the AutoBias circuitry. With traditional tube designs, you have to be handy with a multi meter and a tiny screwdriver. Every couple of months, you would really want to take those items out of storage and start measuring the output voltages to make sure they are set optimally using a screwdriver. The AutoBias on all PrimaLunas does that automatically all the time - whatever the tube you use.
So you won’t be bogged down by maintaining the tube amplifier and have more time to spare to listen to your music. Not a bad thing in my books.
But don't just take our word for it. Come on down for a listen. Let your ears be the judge.
* Don’t tell my wife I quoted that.
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