PrimaLuna Prologue Seven monos
It's rather fortuitous that one's jaw being on the floor doesn't preclude typing, seems a good place to start.
For the past 25 years, I have had PS Audio 250 Delta mono amplifiers. And I have loved them for their qualities as an immense, neutral, power supply. "Want power? How much?"
A recent move to a smaller necessitated a system rethink, from big (Carver Amazings, Maplenoll) to small (Nola Boxers, Thorens 2030). But I assumed the PS Audios would be constant, until fate intervened in the form of the Grid media storage unit, from CB2 (the hip side of Crate and Barrel). It fit the room's decor perfectly, and voila ....
Except the trusty PS Audios didn't fit.
While out and about, getting floor protection discs to keep the speaker spikes from messing up the floors, there in the dealer was a set of PrimaLuna Prologue Sevens. Because the dealer wasn't a dealer any longer, the price would have been right, provided we liked the sound. Another thing working for the PrimaLunas was my interest in fiddling with tube amplifiers, and the frank fact that they fit inside the media center.
So we gave a listen through modern-day Quad speakers, and while detail, image precision and the ability to see into a recording wasn't there, that lifelike quality was, along with a LOT more speed than I remember from tube amplifiers. My last experience, eons ago, was with a set of the famous Quicksilver Monos. There was a golden, lovely glow, but too much other stuff wasn't going on. The PS Audios were an easy choice.
In the here and now, my speculation was that the deficiencies that we heard from the PrimaLunas would mate well with my NOLA Boxers, and all would be well. So off we went.
I set up the system sort of, just to make sure that everything worked before putting everything in its final place. So I just hooked up an MP3 player via Radio Shack RCA adapter, running through my beloved First Sound Reference passive.
And I couldn't stop listening. The Zubin Mehta "Turandot" showed off Pavarotti in all of his glory, with orchestral texture and detail that were, in a word, absolutely beautiful. Never, EVER has MP3 been so enjoyable sounding.
Upon firing up the Primare CD21, everything improved by an order of magnitude, making the PrimaLunas easy to characterize: magic.
The tube sins of omission aren't there. Bass is tight and tuneful, treble is extended and soundstaging is spectacular, with depth, width and precision (the great attribute of the NOLAs). But with all of those qualities, there is a life, a liveliness to the music that gives it pace and drive.
This isn't a neutral amplifier, and its greatest strength is in the midrange. But it isn't not neutral in the classic tubed, sepia-toned haze. Recordings don't sound dramatically different than they did through the PS Audios, just more lifelike and luminous. This isn't a neutral artifact. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I love it.
Female voice is dazzling in a way that only tubes can do, but the soundstaging is the most surprising thing. Even though it is all illusory, the depth and precision to the imaging seems almost enhanced. It works with the strengths of the NOLAs to create a symmetrical, balanced presentation. This isn't the hyper-precise imaging that many are fond of. It's more the precise locating of instruments and performers, while retaining the sense that it is a unit.
They can also rock the hell out. Matt Pike's gritty howl (High On Fire) is as raw and urgent as it should be, and Bjork's little sonic universes are filled with little blinking, burbling things, arrayed beautifully in their own artificial way. There aren't the tube sins of only liking classical and jazz music. Pinebender's "Bag of Weights" from the impeccably recorded "Things Are About to Get Weird," is as amazing as I have ever heard it. The simple, overdriven guitar motif that opens this track rings and chimes. You can almost hear that poor amplifier buzzing, so true and immediate is the sound.
And yet, they don't make everything sound the same. Bad recordings suck, and beautifully recorded ones shine. I'm blown away, frankly, and am done for another 25 years. Because the PrimaLunas play music. And this ultimately what we want from a piece of audio equipment, right?
P.S. They don't run all that warm, either. After about two hours of being on, they aren't little space heaters like a lot of tube amplifiers. They're warm, rather than hot.
Analog: Thorens TD2030
Digital: Primare CD21
Amplifiers: PrimaLune Prologue Seven Monos
Preamplifier: First Sound Reference Passive
Speakers: NOLA Boxers on Dynaudio Stand 3 stands
Cabling: Van den Hul The First for interconnects, 12-gauge solid-core copper wire (2 pieces in twisted pairs for each cable) for speakers.