Review: Portal Panache Integrated Amplifier


Category: Amplifiers

First, let me start by saying I’ve never written a review before and I find it to be quite a daunting task. It scares me to no end that someone might actually base their purchasing decision on what I write here but at the same time I feel compelled to put fingers to keyboard. Who am I to declare if an amplifier is a worthy contender or not for someone’s system though?

Am I an audiophile? Certainly not! Am I a man of much experience with vast amounts of high-end equipment? With a wife, two kids, and a mortgage – you’ve got to be kidding, right?!? Am I a music lover? You bet! I find nothing more pleasurable than sitting for a couple of hours in front of a pair of speakers with a favorite piece of vinyl spinning… I’ve had this passion for decades.

I listen to mostly rock exclusively on vinyl – not the modern stuff, but primarily 70’s and some very early 80’s material. My associated equipment is:

- Rega Planar 25 Turntable

- Dynavector 20xL Moving Coil Cartridge

- Dynavector P-75 Phono-stage in PE-Mode

- Von Schweikert VR-1 Monitors

I started a journey early last fall to replace my aging, but much loved, Musical Fidelity A300 Integrated amplifier. I always enjoyed the A300. I found it to be warm, very involving, with nice frequency extremes.

At the same time, the A300 wasn’t the most detailed amplifier I’d ever heard. I found the bass and mid-bass to get a bit muddy on more dynamic passages, especially if the volume was pushed and I also found that some instruments found in rock music, like crash cymbals, sounded a bit “off”. I wouldn’t call it sibilance, but cymbals sometimes had that “tearing paper” hiss to them that I found somewhat distracting.

After researching a fair amount, I sold the A300 and picked up a Creek 5350SE on Audiogon. The bass on the 5350SE had an incredible amount of definition and detail but lacked any real weight in my system. I ultimately found it to be an incredibly detailed and refined but an exceptionally boring amplifier for rock. It didn’t involve me in the music like the Musical Fidelity had. After living with the 5350SE for a while, off it went on Audiogon too.

Enter the Portal Panache. An integrated I had never heard of, but that was mentioned by a couple of responders to my tale of woe and plea for help on Audio Asylum and, here, on Audiogon. I started researching the Panache and lo and behold, Portal Audio resides not 20 minutes from where I live. All the reviews seemed to indicate that from a performance standpoint the Panache may be just what I’d been looking for.

Portal has a 60-day “in-home trial” policy, so I figured I had nothing to lose. I called Joe Abrams of Portal Audio up and made arrangements to purchase one of his demo units he had listed on Audiogon. I have to interject here that Joe is one of the finest people I’ve ever met in my short time with Audiophile gear. Willing to answer a whole host of mundane and novice questions I threw at him and even went so far as to meet me at a local coffee-shop so he could personally deliver the Panache to me – where he proceeded to buy me a cup of coffee and spent a good half-hour talking audio with me. My only contribution to the whole affair being parting with an embarrassingly small check for such a piece or equipment.

So, “get to how it sounds already!” I hear you cry…

The Portal Panache has, in my opinion, all the warmth of the A300 with all the definition and detail of the 5350SE; with the added necessary “oooomph” to bring out the excitement in more dynamic pieces of music.

The bass is well extended and has a great deal of slam yet I can distinctly pick out minute details that were clearly not there with the Musical Fidelity A300. Every pluck of Geddy Lee’s bass comes through as if he’s right there in the room with me – it’s not one big lump of one-note bass lines, I can hear every detail. The bass extension is deep too. My speakers are a limiting factor here although they are exceptional for a monitor with regard to bass. Kick drums are distinctly heard and “felt” in as much as the VR-1’s will allow.

The midrange is warm and detailed as well without being over-emphasized. One professional reviewer stated that the Panache had a tube-like midrange not unlike the Manley Stingray, and he’s correct. The midrange is where this amp really shines and where many solid-state amps I’ve heard waiver, including the 5350SE.

Treble is well extended but not the least bit harsh or edgy. Cymbals sound correct – they have that wonderful metallic shimmer to them that was missing with the A300 and it’s quite detailed. To be honest, this is the one area, however, that I felt that the 5350SE outshined the Panache. The 5350SE had a bit more detail and extension to the high-end than the Panache but not so much so that I’d call it a deciding factor or that I feel like I’m missing anything.

Soundstaging and imaging are not exactly a top priority for most rock recordings but the Musical Fidelity A300 had a real problem keeping a stable soundstage in more dynamic passages. The 5350SE and Panache both are stellar at setting up a wide and deep soundstage and maintaining it no matter how dynamic or congested the music gets. I hear this especially on certain works like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and it is quite an amazing experience.

So, everything’s wine and roses – right?

Well, yes – actually! For me that is, but the Panache is a bit of a quirky beast and not for everyone. Many people will find the spartan cosmetic design of the amplifier not to their liking. It’s basically a big black box with three knobs and a power switch on it – the only light is on the switch itself. It’s truly built like a tank though – weighing in at around 35 pounds and everything, while simple, looks, feels, and screams quality. I love it – it’s exactly what it needs to be and no more.

As Sam Tellig pointed out in Stereophile, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call the Panache an integrated amplifier. The pre-amp section is passive so it’s basically an amplifier with a volume pot, a balance control, and a 4-point selector switch on it. No remote, 4-inputs, one output, “whumps” when you power it up.

It appears the designer, Joe Abrams, wanted the guts of the amp to be much like the aesthetics of the amp – for it to be as “pure” and simple as possible. That means not including much of the circuitry found in many modern amplifier designs. Such “jewelry” as a remote control, soft-start circuitry, etc. are nowhere to be found.

My understanding is that when Joe had the amplifier engineered he wanted there to be as little as possible between the source and the speakers. All the less to impart sonic-signatures along the signal path would be the mantra of the design philosophy. By all accounts that philosophy has paid off in spades to my ears!

There are some oddities that the spartan design philosophy yields though. For example, due to the passive pre-amp design, if you have a recording device attached to the outputs that device has to be powered on while listening or you have to disconnect the device from the output of the Panache. Otherwise sound quality is severely diminished.

The Panache also is also more sensitive to ground-loop hum than the A300 and 5350SE were. Something I found out while spending an entire Saturday hunting down the rogue device in my home that was imparting a low-level buzz through the speakers that wasn’t present with prior amps. The lack of remote control is going to be a deal-breaker for some too. For me, though, these were all minor nuances that the sound this amplifier emits more than outweighs.

If you’re looking for a simple, detailed, musical, slightly warm integrated with fantastic extremes and rock solid soundstaging you can’t possibly go wrong with the Portal Panache at $1,795. If you’re lucky enough to snag a demo at $1,295 consider yourself a thief and I seriously doubt anyone will be taking advantage of Joe’s 60-day return policy - I know I’m not!

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Musical Fidelity A300
Creek 5350SE
slate1
Slate,

Lately I've been researching nice looking well made integrateds without going way over budget. I thoroughly enjoyed reading what you had to say about the Panache and it will be in the running when the time comes to decide.....Enjoy...Pat
Hey Slate - Take a deep breath and exhale...you did a fine job! I've got a Panache in house in my home system now for over a month and it has really surprised me. I am not by any means a fan of solid state, and even some of the best SS components have not swayed me. This one I find extraordinary simply for two qualities that I've always found lacking in SS: Midrange magic, and depth and airiness of the soundstage. Combining those qualities with the detail and and slam that only a SS amp could bring to the table and you have a winning combination. The closest SS midrange I've heard to these have been with the lower power class A SS amps (Pass Aleph and Bedini 25/25), but those amps lacked the low end slam and the hyper-detail of the Panache (both amps I mentioned, the Aleph more than the Bedini, tended to 'round off the edges' more akin to tubes than SS). I also don't feel the midrange is an equal to a great tube sytem, especially SET, but in fact it is a wonderful compromise imparting those SS qualities you'll not likely find in even the best tube designs. I definitely am hearing more detail than ever in many recordings on the Panache. From the better SS systems I've listened to extensively (Levinson & Krell among others), the midrange just didn't have that believable palpability that I hear with tubes, and now, to a great extent, with the Panache.

A correction to your review; I don't think Joe Abrams actually designed the amp. The rumors allude to the idea that the amp was designed by Nelson Pass for Joe with the caveat of annonymity. At least that is what I gleaned from various reviews. I've been using mine with Silverline SR17 monitors, TaraRSC Prime biwire cables, and varying between a Muse front end as well as running .WAV files from my hard drive through the Muse DAC. The combination of Panache and SR17's is quite wonderful making the SR17's disappear entirely and taking full advantage of their ability to produce some very low and articulate bass from such a small enclosure.

One other notable detail is that the amp comes with a very nice headphone section. Not the equal of my Berning, but very nice indeed...not your typical add-on to an integrated.

Good review Slate. Enjoy.

Marco
Hi Marco and Speedball - thanks for the responses!

Speedball - I think you'll find the Panache to be a great addition to your system.

Marco - I guess I should have better defined my distinction between "designed" and "engineered" in the review.

My understanding from Joe is that he designed the amp in the sense that he dictated what it was to include and not include and what the general design philosophy was to be. I guess, "less is more" would be the best way to describe it.

This was then turned over to a well known anonymous audio equipment engineer who then built the amp - which was then tweaked by Joe's ear to his liking. So – I guess what I meant by “designed” was that Joe was instrumental in dictating that the amp have as little as possible in the signal path. It was his "keep it simple" design philosophy from a cosmetic and electronic standpoint that the engineer built upon. At least that's my understanding!

As for the headphone section – thanks for pointing that out as it’s a vitally important element of the amp. Unfortunately I am not in possession of a better set of headphones – but hopefully will be purchasing some in the near future to take advantage of the headphone section of the amp. One interesting thing I am doing is inserting a miniplug-to-.25” headphone adapter in the headphone jack to avoid the power-on “thump” at startup. Not that it’s really anything to be concerned about…
I'm getting mine in tommorrow!
Ejlif - really! That's excellent - please post your thoughts once you've had a chance to spend some time with it. What is your associated gear?
I'm going to attempt to replace some Parasound JC-1s and a CJ preamp. Thats pretty tough competition, but I'm sick of the heat and the tubes, so if the Panache can come close I'll be pretty happy and money ahead too. I've got an Ayre D1-XE player and VS VR4Jr speakers
Great review, Slate1! Although I have not heard the amp at any length. I do agree with you wholeheartedly about Joe Abrams. He is a prince among audiophiles.
Ejlif - I took a listen to the Parasound (I'm sorry, but I didn't take note of the preamp) along with some Gallo Reference 3's and found that particular combination to be rather sterile and non-engaging. It's weird as it was so squeeky clean I find it difficult to put to words just why I didnt' click with it, but I know I didn't. It's like a person who is so good looking, in a very generic and overall way, that it is boring. Could have been the system synergy, and I only listened for about an hour so not really a fair amount of time to judge, but there's my knee-jerk reaction. It did have some of the cleanest bass I've heard in a while though. What is driving you to replace the JC-1's...is it just the convenience issues you mentioned? I'll be quite curious to hear what you think of the two amps compared.

Marco
Ejlif - that's some heavy competition. I'm really curious to hear your honest opinion of how the Panache holds up against the Parasound/CJ combo.

BTW - I'm jealous as hell of your VR-4Jr's! They are an amazing pair of speakers and something I hope to own in the hopefully not too distant future. Do you find that you have to place them several feet from the wall? That's something I've read concerning them and something that could be a potential issue in the room I'd like to place them in.
I'll be listening to the Panache soon and will report back on my thoughts against the more expensive competition.

The Jrs for me sit about 4ft to the front of the speaker from the wall. They are front ported so that it could be possible to put them closer to the wall. I've personally never heard any speakers sound good that are right near the wall though.

Marco- I'ts pretty much only a convenience thing with the Panache. I was interested in your liking the amp and being a real tube lover. I love tubes best also and if it wasn't for the fact that they're a hassel in the living room I would have them. I am also getting an Ayre K1x preamp so that I can hear the JC-1s run fully balanced which isn't possible with the CJ.
I don't understand a couple of comments.

Since when do audiophiles not love music? Don't we all love music or am I missing something?

"As Sam Tellig pointed out in Stereophile, it’s a bit of a misnomer to call the Panache an integrated amplifier. The pre-amp section is passive so it’s basically an amplifier with a volume pot, a balance control....."

This seems interesting. A certain amount of gain is necessary for full output of any amplifier. Whether it is in a separate encloser, as a preamp, or is the first stage of the amp, in the amp cabinet itself, is irrevelant.

So one could also say, which is standard, that the amp has an active preamp stage incorporated in the amp.
This seems interesting. A certain amount of gain is necessary for full output of any amplifier. Whether it is in a separate encloser, as a preamp, or is the first stage of the amp, in the amp cabinet itself, is irrevelant.

The line output from a CD or DAC has more than enough gain already, at least that's how I understand it. A passive pre is just regulating that gain while putting a minimum amount of circuitry in the signal path. Someone correct me here if I'm wrong. If you hook up your average CD player or DAC straight into an amplifier you would be getting rather uncomfortably loud volumes with nothing in the path to regulate the signal.

On the other hand, an analog front end (turntable/cartridge) does not have nearly enough gain to do the same thing, and does require an active preamp stage to boost the signal.

The preamp stage in the Panache is passive as far as I know. It is only a line stage amp with no provision for phono. Further clarification can be had on the Portal Audio Website, or using one of the several links there to reviews of that amp.

Marco
Audiophiles love sound as well as music. Some love sound more than music and strive to assemble systems that excel at sonics even if this may come at the expense of what others consider good music reproduction.

There's nothing wrong with this, I hasten to point out. Some audiophiles are always touting how it's all about the music and so forth. Well, it is for them and for many of us. But not necessarily for everybody. And again, there's nothing wrong with that.
Audiophiles love sound as well as music. Some love sound more than music and strive to assemble systems that excel at sonics even if this may come at the expense of what others consider good music reproduction.

Judging by some posts in these forums and others, I'm sure you're right. My knee-jerk reaction, being a music-lover first (that is what drew me to 'sound' I suppose), is, if sound is your only interest "why bother?!" Or perhaps you could spend all your money on creating an amazing acoustic space instead...what do you need music for if you don't love it, you can just stand there and talk, or clap your hands, or fart.

It does remind me of folks who say they're into phography (my profession), but instead are just into the gear; the resolution and fall-off of lenses, and the latest and greatest film or CCD, the finest printing technologies....and then they go and use this technology to take photos of pretty flowers that are sharp and in focus and have the most accurate rendering of their "real" color that money can buy. Just like sound "real" is relative as to who is judging it, and in the case of color, what light is falling on it, from what angle, and which part of the spectrum you are interested in recording. Why bother using the tools if you don't have something to say with them, or something profound to experience? To me, and this is of course my jaded opinion, focusing on the gear as and end in itself is a waste of time. But I guess I can see your point, what makes it any better than focusing on the music. Whatever moves you and makes you happy. It's just hard to understand...and perhaps vice versa?!

Marco
Your photography analogy is excellent, Marco. My point, which you clearly get, would be that if someone gets off on that "most accurate rendering of their 'real' color, who are we to say that is not a worthwhile pursuit.
I think both make interesting points worth commenting on. I didn't know for sure there were some who were more interested in what was purchased than how the music sounded. I always thought it was just rhetoric. But it really is true?

I think we agree that if we were to sit in front of a sax, it is involving, emotional, and likeable. In otherwards, it is neutral/accurate and involving since it is live. I like that too. I think we agree on that.

But the problems I will describe below may make you think about the whole audio industry. The whole business of audio seems to be to sell product, not necessarily make bettter music, which we all like.

The next point:

"The line output from a CD or DAC has more than enough gain already, at least that's how I understand it. A passive pre is just regulating that gain while putting a minimum amount of circuitry in the signal path. Someone correct me here if I'm wrong. If you hook up your average CD player or DAC straight into an amplifier you would be getting rather uncomfortably loud volumes with nothing in the path to regulate the signal.....

The preamp stage in the Panache is passive as far as I know. It is only a line stage amp with no provision for phono. Further clarification can be had on the Portal Audio Website, or using one of the several links there to reviews of that amp."

I can understand the confusion. It seems that definitions are changing right before my eyes and confusing the public.

Actually, what you describe above is an amp with a gain stage that is normally in an outboarded preamp, but it is now installed in the amp itself to give the gain necessary to accept a CD signal. It is normally called an integrated amp, meaning the active preamp gainstage is incorporated in the amp.

It used to be that a typical system was described as a source, a preamp (phono stage plus a line stage), and then an amp. But the gainstage/linestage from the preamp is now installed in the amp to do away with extra power supply the outboarded preamp needed.

So the external preamp power supply, ICs etc are not needed in an integrated amp. But read on.

Now, for the first time I have seen, with this post, the public being told (by Sam Tellig?) that the 1st stage of an integrated amp (actually what used to be the active stage of a preamp) is actually part of the amp. What a change.

And not only that, the integrated amp is now called an amplifier, not integrated amp? And now the volume/selector are incorporated and is called a pasive preamp?

That is a real change in definitions.

So, amps are now incorporating increased gain (in order to accept the signal from a CD player) in order to eliminate the conventional active preamp, being called integrated amps. And now the definition of integrated amps is changing to be called a regular amp. The push will continue.

Unfortunately, integrated amps and "amps with increased gain" with passive volume controls have major sonic problems, which are never discussed.

For instance, did you know that these amps have feedback from the output to the input, even though some, if not many state there is no feedback?

This feedback, actually multiple feedback loops, is actually thru the power supply, and is frequency dependent, and is frequently only 20db down or so from the fundamental music, like tem times higher than typical tube distortion figures.

This problem has been known for over 50 years and occurs in nearly all amp designs! If you can get a copy of the 4th edition of the RCA Radiotron Designers Handbook, look it up.

The ramifications by changing the definition only seems to help those who sell this type of equipment. Unfortunately, the minuses of this topology aren't discussed.

Take care.
Steve
Sorry for the delay in getting back online at Audiogon - been out of town for a couple of days.

All I meant is that I don't consider myself an "audiophile" because I have neither the equipment nor the experience to consider myself one. I don't have an obsession with the equipment itself - I have an obsession with the music the equipment produces. Like everything else in the review it's just my opinion.

As for the passive line stage. Marco (jax2) hit it on the head as I understand it. The Creek 5350SE also sports a passive line stage and I can say that both of these integrateds have a level of detail to their sound that I can only attribute to the passive design.
One more thing - there is a difference, both from an engineering and sonic standpoint, between a passive and active line stage in an integrated amp - it's not a marketing trick.

Most pre-amp sections in integrateds add about 6db of gain to the incoming signal before routing the signal through the volume pot to further adjust gain. That's an active pre-amp section.

The Panache and the 5350SE don't apply that additional gain before routing the signal through the volume pot - that's a passive line stage. Interestingly, the 5350SE offers an optional 6db gain card that can be added by the user to convert the passive line-stage to an active pre-amp.

Both the 5350SE and the Panache have provided more than enough gain for my system when listening to either CD or Phono via my Dynavector Phono-stage.
Marco, Re your photography analogy, if I tell you I can take a fairly expressive photo in B&W using an "old" Minolta with a 50mm lense how many Nikons and Nikon lenses can I own before my facination about what I can do with them mechanically, overwhelmes my interest in being creative?

Interestingly, I often find that using a system with restrictions sharpens my interest in the subject. But then, I can hardly remember much of the time to advance the film til I press down on the shutter button. I love that auto advance feature. Can't stand autofocus, and I always use a reflective meter when I can make an "educated guess". Some how I feel that all of that applies to my audio system and appreciation of recorded music. Go figure. :-)
I understand, I also want the music, not what equipment I use. Of course some don't like live music, so be careful.

First off, I wanted to give my credentials. I have an electronics engineering degree, about 45 years in tubes, and decades, off and on, with audio design. Trust me Slate, you are being suckered with marketing hype. And definitions seem to be changing, as I mentioned in my earlier post.

I don't know where you heard or were taught that stuff but it is virtually all wrong, wrong, wrong.

>>"As for the passive line stage. Marco (jax2) hit it on the head as I understand it. The Creek 5350SE also sports a passive line stage and I can say that both of these integrateds have a level of detail to their sound that I can only attribute to the passive design."<

That is because the preamp gainstage is matched with the amp, and you have to purchase both together. But I heard enough of them at "The Show" and CES that I wasn't necessarily impressed with them. They sounded just as varied as the separates. And there were hundreds of manufacturers there.

AS mentoned in my earlier post, the preamp gain stage was merely moved into the amp. One can always tell by the input sensitivity of the amp, can't get around it, no way around it.

It is clever marketing, but, in my opinion, confuses the reader like yourself. Plus the problems of feedback through multiple loops thru the power supply, which no one ever mentions (See RCA Radiotron Designers Handbook if you think I am lying. It has been known for over 50 years!) So they either don't know the problems, or they are trying to hide the problems.

The integrated designs are certainly not optimum. One can get better sound from better designs than integrateds.
I suppose if I used a 2 foot by 2 foot, I could physically include a great preamp gainstage with an amp, although the design would be quite different that what is out there now, and call it integrated. But I have't seen anyone do that yet.

Your next post reveals more of the marketing hype some have fed you.

>>"One more thing - there is a difference, both from an engineering and sonic standpoint, between a passive and active line stage in an integrated amp - it's not a marketing trick."<

The engineering standpoint is easy, cheaper, less expensive etc.. The feedback problems are never addressed though.

The sonic standpoint is not established by any means. The integrateds certainly didn't reveal themselves as spectacular at the CES and THE SHOW last year.

It sounded like if you wanted a particular sound, you went with an integrated. If you were a music lover, and liked live music, then separates did the job.

Another point. The 1st active stage of an integrated amp is almost never optimally designed, so an external stage can easily be made superior to an integrateds 1st stage.

The hype that some claim the active preamp stage added to the amp is NOW part of the amp itself, and the volume control is "separated" and is now called a passive preamp.
Clever trick, trying to change definitions. Total marketing crap and hype though.

So the public is fooled into thinking the product is something simpler, when it isn't. Just re-aranged.
Clever trick.

Remember, Slate, the feedback loops increase with the number of stages, almost exponentially. So 3 stages have many more loops than two stages and 4 stages really produces alot of loops of feedback. And the feedback loops are phase shifted, so lots of sonic interactions with the music.

>>"Most pre-amp sections in integrateds add about 6db of gain to the incoming signal before routing the signal through the volume pot to further adjust gain. That's an active pre-amp section."<

So you are getting rid of two preamp gain stages down to one? Not quite true though as any typical preamp has the active stage AFTER the volume control, not before. So you still have a active preamp stage in the amp. Don't be fooled Slate.

And haveing two stages, one before and one after sounds even more complicated, not simpler.

Sounds like they are trying to fool the public into thinking they are losing a stage when they are not. So much for marketing hype and trying to get your money.

>>"The Panache and the 5350SE don't apply that additional gain before routing the signal through the volume pot - that's a passive line stage. Interestingly, the 5350SE offers an optional 6db gain card that can be added by the user to convert the passive line-stage to an active pre-amp."

Nope, Nope. Again marketing hype and definition changes. Talked about above in this post.

They already applied the preamp gainstage after the volume control just like ANY typical preamp. The 6db of gain on the card just adds even more gain, and another stage, adding complexity.

Changing definitions isn't too ethical in my book, or the publics. People don't like being lied to.

Don't be fooled Slate.

Take care.
Steve

PS. Get any old book, say 4th edition of the RCA Radiotron Designers Handbook, and you can read the truth.
Okay – this is getting a bit tedious….

I won’t even pretend to have the experience you’ve got with regard to electronics nor do I wish to get into a back and forth exchange regarding semantics.

Here’s the thing I don’t understand – if the volume pot is a passive means of adjusting gain and the “integrated” amplifier has nothing between the incoming signal and amplifier section other than the volume pot HOW can this not be different from there being an additional gain stage prior to routing the signal to the amplifier section?

In other words:

Passive Integrated amp:

CD -> Volume Pot -> Amp Section -> Speakers

Active Integrated amp:

CD -> Line Stage -> Volume Pot -> Amp Section -> Speakers

How can eliminating the line stage section be a bad thing???

It seems all your arguments are in regards to Integrated Amplifiers in general, which you obviously are not a fan of, as compared to separates. I understand your arguments with regards to that all though I guess my other equipment isn’t resolving enough to hear the differences you describe.
Tedious indeed! My qualifications are very modest in comparison as well: I
am in posession of two ears and a wee brain. They may be defective, but the
Portal sounds great to me! I have had seperates for most of twenty years
now, mostly tube gear. My system of choice is currently 300B SET + horns.
Got friends too with great very expensive systems of all shapes and sizes,
some of whom are also proud owners of two ears and brains (some larger
than others). That's it. We all like music, of course. I could live with the
Panache for a long time the way it is set up at my home. That, in the opinion
formulated by my wee brain, is saying a whole lot. I can't really explain it in
terms of the pre-amp/amp/power supply interface, as distinct from
separates. Nor can I wax rhetorical on the merits of active vs. passive
preamplification, or proprietary designs vs. the crapshoot of separates,
synergy, etc. Nor can I point you to sine waves and various graphs and
curves that will support my preferences. It just sounds damn good to me,
and I really don't like many SS amps I hear (all of which, by the way, have
been separates).

Newbee, I bet you could take an expressive photograph with a Holga, with
your Minolta, or a Nikon or Hasselblad. I bet you know that well too! Hang
on to that Minolta...it's already an antique! A fine camera at that. It ain't the
meat, it's the motion!

Marco
Dear Slate,

>>"Here’s the thing I don’t understand – if the volume pot is a passive means of adjusting gain and the “integrated” amplifier has nothing between the incoming signal and amplifier section other than the volume pot HOW can this not be different from there being an additional gain stage prior to routing the signal to the amplifier section?">

Virtually all preamps (99.x%) has the CD player fed thru a selector switch and then the volume control, then thru the gainstage. Putting another stage before the volume control is just another stage added, in addition to the preamp gainstage already designed in the integrated.

The definition of an integrated is the combining of an amp and active preamp.

>>"CD -> Volume Pot -> Amp Section -> Speakers">

Should be labeled CD -> volume pot -> preamp gainstage -> amp -> speakers. This is what is actually occurring.

Active Integrated amp:

CD -> Line Stage -> Volume Pot -> Amp Section -> Speakers

How can eliminating the line stage section be a bad thing???>

The stage before the volume control is simply yet another stage. Sure, eliminating this stage is advantageous. The more stages, the more feedback loops thru the common power supply. But the preamp stage is already included after the volume control, as any typical active preamp does.

Typical seprates system, non-integrated system.

CD player -> external preamp consisting of a volume control and then preamp gainstage -> amplifier -> speakers

By the way, any external preamp or internal preamp, should be designed to accomodate a volume control ahead of it. That is just standard procedure, just like other companies.

Don't get me wrong Slate. The budget is, of course, most important and one can only spend so much. An integrated is fine for good systems as the price is reduced by the elimination of certain portions of the audio system. With the vast number of manufacturer's out there, many integrateds will outperform separates, and at less cost. I also heard some separates that didn't sound that good at CES. But don't expect the integrated that virtually all are producing to be the pinnacle of audio.

My main concern, Slate, is that

1) There are obvious disadvantages inherent to their designs, I have yet to see a design that addressed this problem in any satisfactory manner. And, from what I have seen and heard, the problems certainly aren't addressed. And the problems have been known for over 50 years.

2) The advertising/marketing I have seen lately where definitions that are changed. I wonder how many other audio people are confused?

Putting down audiophiles, in general, is ridiculous. The vast majority are true music lovers.

Hope this clears things up Slate.

Take care.
Steve
Steve, I couldn't follow that.

I think the question at hand is not integrated vs. separates but an active preamp section vs. a passive preamp section in an integrated. It certainly seems logical that eliminating the additional gain stage of the active pre would be advantageous. Many peoples' experiences, however, have been that the extra gain of an active preamp section seems to provide some musically valuable benefits, such as greater "drive" and better dynamics. Now, this tends to happen with separates, where there can very well be an electical mismatch between the output of a passive pre and the input of a power amplifier. With the Panache, this is almost certainly not the case. But because people may have had the experience of being disappointed with a passive pre in the past, they may be skeptical of it even in an integrated design.

By the way, it is possible to be active and have no gain, which is the way it is with the Placette active line stage.

But the question occurs to me why anyone would design an integrated with preamp gain. I assume many do, so maybe there is an argument for it.
Steve - I understand what you're saying, I just don't see how it applies to what I had to say about the Panache. I only as to how it applies to separates -vs- integrateds.

Which is fine, I guess - but I'm not sure this was the place to bring it up and attempt to flesh it out.

I still think the Panache is unique in its design and sound and I'll stand by that.

"Putting down audiophiles, in general, is ridiculous. The vast majority are true music lovers."

Ahhhhhh - I think I've located the root of the issue that sparked you to respond....

I wasn't "putting down" audiophiles, Steve - if anything I was elevating them to a level which I have not attained... sorry if I unintentionally offended your delicate nature.
"...but an active preamp section vs. a passive preamp section in an integrated."

There is no passive stage in an integrated just like there is no passive stage in an active preamp (active preamps are never mentioned with the volume control called a passive section.) Definitions are being changed with respect to integrateds.

One can't use one description to describe an external active preamp and a different description to describe an integrated when they both contain the same stages. That is where the confusion lies. The stage before the volume control is simply yet another stage.

"Many peoples' experiences, however, have been that the extra gain of an active preamp section seems to provide some musically valuable benefits, such as greater "drive" and better dynamics."

I think you are refering to a separate volume control outside the integrated. (the active gainstage is still in the integrated.) The problem arises in the capacitances of the ICs between the volume control and the gainstage. That is why either one of two things should happen. One, the external volume control should have the gainstage in the same chassis, or two, the volume control should be incorporated into the integrated. This rids of the capacitance problems of the non needed ICs.

>>"With the Panache, this is almost certainly not the case.">

Yes, you are right. That is not and never has been my concern. It is better to include the volume control in the same case as the integrated.
My concern is with the changing definitions that Sam and others seem to be using. The Panache could very well be a nice component.

>>"By the way, it is possible to be active and have no gain, which is the way it is with the Placette active line stage.">

What you are describing is a buffer stage, which has a high input Z. But you still need a certain amount of gain to drive the outputs. So the amp (not trying to pick on Portal, it could be any integrated brand) has just added yet another stage, with no signal gain. (and another loop of feedback)
So what you have is a two stage preamp, a buffer followed by the gainstage. An external preamp could also have this, especially if it is solid state design.

>>"But the question occurs to me why anyone would design an integrated with preamp gain. I assume many do, so maybe there is an argument for it.">

Because an amplifier needs a certain amount of signal gain in order to drive the output stage to full power. Whether it is an external preamp and amplifier, or internal preamp inside the amp (called an integrated), it is needed. Without it, you don't get full power.

Looks like some want to change the definitions and call the internal preamp just an amplifier stage because it is housed in the integrated chassis. Just hype,in my opinoin, and misleading.

My main point is the changing of definitions, confusing the public. All audio systems contain a linepreamp gainstage somewhere, either external or internal. But if we can change the wording, then all of a sudden we can "eliminate the preamp" which sounds good, but we still incorporate those stages of gain. Seems very deceptive to me.
Why, because one isn't really eliminating any gainstages, although the public gets that idea. Afterall, you did.

Hope this helps.
Steve

Steve,
May I ask, what is sasaudio? Is it just your
e-mail moniker, or do you have an audio company?
Just curious.

Slate1 (and others),
Thanks for in-depth descriptions of the Panache. I'll definitely have to put in on my list for future audition.
Regards,
Howard
Steve, I'm having the hardest time following your posts re the differences between an active pre-amp, a passive pre-amp and their inclusion into the same case as an amp.

At the risk of over simplification, my view is that a passive "pre-amp" consists of an imput selector switch and an attenuator. There is no gain stage whatsoever. In this example the term pre-amp is really not descriptive as there is no actual amplification of a signal, only attenuation.

The next "non" pre-amp is a passive stage as I just discribed with a buffer. There is still no gain stage.

Lastly there is an active line stage where in the signal is actually amplified. The signal from the source is controlled by an attenuator which comes after the source selector switch and before the amplification stage. Other than a phono pre-amp stage, I'm not aware of any other gain stages in a pre-amp that occur before the attenuator.

I think any three of these conditions incorporated into one case with an amplifier can be, and usually is called an integrated.

I'm aware of no confusion and perhaps that is my problem.

What am I missing?
Dear Howard,

It is a company. What got me interested is the comments and claims made.

Take care.
Steve
Do you have a web site, Steve? Do you sell audio
products?
Thanks,
Howard
Newbee--well said. Steve is waving his arms excitedly but not making any sense, at least not to me.
Virtually all active external preamps have the source connected to the selector switch, then to the attenuator, then to the active gainstage, and then output to the amp.

Now, take the selector switch, attentuator, and gainstage and install it in an amplifier. Now we have an integrated amp, the preamp is incorporated with the amp on the same chassis.

So now, some don't want the active gainstage of the incorporated preamp to be called a preamp stage? Interesting. And now they call the volume control a passive preamp/stage? Interesting marketing technique/hype.

>>"Other than a phono pre-amp stage, I'm not aware of any other gain stages in a pre-amp that occur before the attenuator.">

Like you refer too, there is a phono section that uses a "head amp", sometimes called a "pre-preamp".

Like you stated, preamp active stages are virtually always after the volume control. If there is a source/cathode follower between the volume control and active gainstage in an external preamp, both are part of the preamp. When installed in an integrated, both active stages are still part of the preamp.

Look, it has already confused you into thinking you got away from a preamp gainstage. But you haven't.

Wonder how many others have been taken in by this marketing technique.

Steve
Okay - I swear this is my last post (he says for the 20th time...)

I've read your posts over and over Steve and here's my final conclusion and, granted, I seem to have had the order of some things wrong...

Like you said (I'll even quote...) "Virtually all active external preamps have the source connected to the selector switch, then to the attenuator, then to the active gainstage, and then output to the amp."

"Now, take the selector switch, attentuator, and gainstage and install it in an amplifier. Now we have an integrated amp, the preamp is incorporated with the amp on the same chassis"

Right, got it - this is 99% of the integrateds out there. MY understanding, and everything I can find research wise fleshes this out, is that the Portal and Creek 5350SE take a selector switch, attentuator, and install it in the amplifier - NO GAINSTAGE in the pre-amp SECTION of the integrated amp - and that's it.

So these are DIFFERENT in that they eliminate the gainstage in the pre-amp section of the integrated amp.

I presume there are some separate pre-amps out there too that are passive in design as well, so that there would be a selector switch and attentuator in the preamp that would connect to the amp. I dare not go down that road of debate though and am officially done.

My final word - the Panache beats anything I've ever heard, but, hey - I'm no audiophile....
>>>>>>>>>---Still in the running--->>>>>>>>---:^)
Again it is quite basic Drubin.

I will lead you through it step by step.

OK, you have a CD source. We start out with a Basic amp and it needs an external active gainstage preamp to drive it. All Basic amps do. If it doesn't need a gainstage preamp, then it is already an integrated amp. Clear so far.

Now you dissasemble the active preamp and install it, the
selector switch, volume control, and active stage(s), especially the gainstage, in the Basic amplifier. Afterall the Basic amp needs the gain from that stage. Is it clear so far?

Now you have converted the Basic amp to an integrated amp. The volume control is before the preamp gainstage added. The total gain is now enough for a CD player to drive the newly made integrated amp.

But wait, some are saying the newly installed active preamp gainstage, after the vol control, is now only a simple amp stage. They renamed it.

And, since we can rename the preamp gainstage a simple amp stage, well, then we can also rename the selector switch/volume control a passive preamp. How clever.
Real slick marketing. Do you grasp this so far?

Yet, the circuitry, looking at the integrated schematic, is the same as if we had separates. So why rename?

Ok, we just split the active preamp in two. The preamp gainstage is now just a simple amp stage. The selector/volume control is now a passive preamp.

How convenient to then claim only a passive preamp is used, and is very simple. Remember, the preamp gainstage had to be installed to make the Basic amp an integrated amp. So the amp is not as simple as even a Basic amp.

The preamp gainstage, after the vol control, was just relabeled so the volume control could be called a passive, and seem simpler. Slick marketing.
Do you still understand?

Now I hope you are honest and want to learn and improve on the integrated amp.

Here is one basic problem for you to work on. Hope you don't want to hide the problem but will try to solve it.

Integrated amps have feedback loops. (How many call their amps "no global feedback" amps when they aren't? Not by a long shot.)

With each new stage, all the other stages of the amp feed back to it, and visa versa, through the power supply (see RCA Radiotron Designers Handbook, 1940's, so over 50 years known).

So if we have two stages and add a 3rd stage, the first two feedback to the third and visa versa. The first stage also loops to the second and visa versa.

If we add a 4th stage, then we have three feedback loops to the 4th stage, and visa versa back to the 3. Remember, we still have the feedback loops when we added the 3rd stage, and the first two stages. This also includes output and interstage transformers connected, signal wise to the B+.

Wow, that is alot of feedback loops, which are frequency dependent, and each has a different and large phase shift.

If you are truly interested in music, start identifying problems and solving them, instead of just insulting people.
We need to build and help audiophiles with knowledge so they will be informed, not get scammed.

Take care.
Steve
Steve,
Do you have a web site? What products does SAS audio sell?
Thanks again,
Howard
http://www.sasaudiolabs.com
Found it, Steve.
>If it doesn't need a gainstage preamp, then it is already an integrated amp. Clear so far.

This is where I'm confused, Steve. Let's say my CD player has attenuation and I run it directly into my basic amplifier. Where's the gainstage preamp? Your reasoning seems to say that the under this scenario, my basic amplifier has become an integrated.

A light bulb did go off for me a few posts back. If the premap gain stage typically is placed after the attenuation, then you have this:

Preamp = attenuation + gainstage
Amp = gainstage + gainstage (two at least, right?)

Now, an integrated could be the combination of the two above, i.e.,:

=>attenuation + gainstage + gainstage + gainstage

If I describe my intgegrated as having a "passive pre", then I probably have:

=>attenuation + gainstage + gainstage

So what I am really describing is an amplifier with fewer gainstages, a la the Pass Aleph series and some others. But to call the integrated's pre "passive" is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose, because how can you really say that the gainstage is part of the preamp and not simply the first of the gainstages in the power amp. Is this what you are saying?
I will try to answer each comment in order.

>>"This is where I'm confused, Steve. Let's say my CD player has attenuation and I run it directly into my basic amplifier.">

Then your amp is not a Basic amp, but an integrated amp with the extra gainstage already incorporated into it. If it was a Basic amp, then you wouldn't be running a CD player directly into it and getting full power output.

>>"Where's the gainstage preamp? Your reasoning seems to say that the under this scenario, my basic amplifier has become an integrated.">

See above. If you can directly connect a CD player into an amplifier, it has that extra gainstage built into it. The amp is Not a Basic amplifier.

>>"A light bulb did go off for me a few posts back. If the premap gain stage typically is placed after the attenuation, then you have this:

Preamp = attenuation + gainstage">
Correct.

>>"Amp = gainstage + gainstage (two at least, right?)">

Nope. Not unless you use something like a 300b or some larger tube types (very low gain type of tubes). Then two stages may be in order. An external preamp has gain, so a good Basic amp only needs one gainstage.

>>"Now, an integrated could be the combination of the two above, i.e.,:

=>attenuation + gainstage + gainstage + gainstage">

An integrated only needs two gainstages (unless a 300b or some larger tube types). The Basic amp, with its one gainstage and the preamp gainstage installed.

>>"If I describe my intgegrated as having a "passive pre", then I probably have:

=>attenuation + gainstage + gainstage">

Nope. Remember, only two gainstages are needed. The first gainstage was taken from the external preamp, when it was installed in the Basic amp, which only had one gainstage to begin with.

>>"But to call the integrated's pre "passive" is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose,">

Yes. But remember, Drubin, this is what you have been taught. Some out there will try to teach anything to get an advantage in selling product.

One still has the same Total number of gainstages, whether basic amp and active preamp or integrated amp.
One simply moved the preamp gainstage from outside the Basic amp to inside the Basic amp (now called an integrated amp).

>>"because how can you really say that the gainstage is part of the preamp and not simply the first of the gainstages in the power amp. Is this what you are saying?">

Because the gainstage that was added to make the Basic amp an integrated amp performs the same function as the gainstage in the active preamp. The gainstage was simply moved from one chassis to another.

Following your line of reasoning, you can simply change definitions by location while the function of the gainstage remains the same?
By changing definitions, the door opens where definitions can be changed at will. If everyone changes definitions whenever they want, all chaos breaks loose. There needs to be some standards, or no one will understand what is being sold. And some will take advantage by deception, as many know. Bound for Sound has published several articles concerning shills, the press, and manipulators. Interesting reads and very informative.

Integrated amp means a putting together/combining of Basic amplifier and active gainstage preamplifier. It has some nice features, and some sound pretty good. In fact, I don't doubt the Panache is pretty darn good.

Take care.
Steve
I give up, but not before I making one more comment:

I have driven variable output CD players into a host of power amplfiers from Pass, ARC, CJ, and others. No one would ever describe any of these as an "integrated" amplifier because they had no preamp functionality, but each has at least two gain stages in them, as I understand it. If you are arguing that these are not "basic amplfiers", well, fine, then I don't know what you would call them. But no one would call them "integrated amps".
I know Drubin. Things have gotten so confused because of all the crap/hype that has been bantied about over the years. I could tell you some real duzies.

And the internet and the instant so called gurus have just made it worse. I could tell you some stories that you just wouldn't believe could happen.
---------------------------
The only thing I can figure out is that none have a selector switch or volume control attached. Read my next comment but you better be sitting down.

"but each has at least two gain stages in them"

And you know what is really weird? I bet most could have had a Basic amp by using only one gainstage. Just as bad is all the extra feedback loops in the designs with two gainstages. And we haven't even counted the nongain stages and the feedback loops they add.

I wonder if they suggest an active preamp besides? How about that for throwing away fidelity Drubin.

The audio industry is in such disarray, I don't know if it will ever get cleaned up.

Take care and let's end this string. Call me if you ever want to find out more.
Steve

Instead of just showing discontent with the way this or "any" product is marketed and ending this string, I would still be glad to hear from any past to present or soon to be owners of the Panache.
Good idea Speedball.

But before leaving, I looked up ARC, CJ, and Pass, as Drubin has listed. ARC's site is down.

Both CJ and Pass do not mention (from what I read on their website) saving a gainstage by eliminating the external gainstage preamp. This supports my position as the gainstage is added to the amp.

Why they don't call it an integrated is unknown. In my opinion it should be. In any case, that does not excuse others from marketing hype.
Steve,

Since you are so interested in these things...why not start your own thread about just that?

You could also contact Joe Abrams himself......he would probably be more than happy to speak with you.

.............Pat
Steve- It occurs to me that you have an agenda in your relentless harping on
this particular detail. If you go to the Portal Website you would see that Portal does, in
fact, refer to the Panache as an "Integrated Amplifier". In fact, that
title is emblazened across its black face plate.

Marco

Is trying to teach and keep the standards consistent an agenda?
Is using varifyable facts a form of agenda, or is it teaching and helping the audio community?

I would think you and some others posting here would welcome learning about the recognized standards instead of fighting them tooth and toenail. Sounds like you have a vested interest or agenda. Do you?
Also makes me wonder if you are receiving ANY form of compensation by anyone, any kind what so ever guys?

I brought only the facts to the table. Here is another one.

Bound for Sound, in issue 163, "Components of Merit" #5, "Power Amplifiers and Integrateds" Knows that there are differences. But you guys have fought it all the way.

I mean, if you don't understand, why are you fighting the information tooth and toenail?

>>" In fact, that title is emblazened across its black face plate." (refering to integrated)

No kidding. Are you trying to change the subject? It is about unfounded claims made in the review, and the quoted comment from Sam.

Want to see a good review? See the review by Scotty of the VAC. It is excellent without bringing up weird comments or changing definitions.
sas > Then your amp is not a Basic amp, but an integrated amp with the extra gainstage already incorporated into it. If it was a Basic amp, then you wouldn't be running a CD player directly into it and getting full power output.

1. How many standalone amps by whatever name cannot be driven by a line level source such as a CD player with sufficient output voltage and adequately matched impedance? What are some examples of amps which do and do not contain this extra gainstage, which actually makes these amps integrateds (or not)?

2. Integrateds which are advertised as having passive preamps usually indicate the passive preamp is a cost savings measure. This is true for Portal and for Jolida, for example. Why, if these integrateds (or amps) actually have an extra gainstage don't the manufacturers take the advantageous route of advertising the integrateds (or amps) as having active preamps?
I would think you and some others posting here would welcome learning about the recognized standards instead of fighting them tooth and toenail. Sounds like you have a vested interest or agenda. Do you?

No vested interest or agenda that I'm aware of. It's one of three very different amps I currently listen to and I'm quite impressed with it. I've never been as taken with an SS amp, so it came as quite a surprise to me. I still prefer both tube amps I own, but I enjoy the Panache for a unique combination of qualities it offers.

As far as my interest in "learning about recognized standards" my response, which I recognize as being quite personal, is this: Initially I was making a simple statement based upon what I understood, and wanted to make it clear I was no expert, which is why I left it open to correction. To the ends you have taken to debating this particular detail, I have about as much interest in this subject as I would about the learning about similar standards regarding the manufacture and marketing of a hammer. I'd rather just heft the hammer, pound a few nails with it if I could, compare it to other hammers, and see how it suits me. Whatever debatable "marketing hype" the hammer manufacturer uses or doesn't use to sell their tools goes is soon forgotten once the hammer is in hand...it's part of the game everybody plays trying to get others to buy stuff they don't need anyway. Each of us is inundated with it every day on so many levels. IMO you have a snowball's chance in hell of changing that. You will note I never took issue with any of your rhetoric about passive vs. active vs. moderately interested gain stages. I initially pointed it out because you seemed to be asking a question or to be confused about it, when in fact, you now seem to have all the answers you need so I'm not really sure why you initially were confused. In the end I don't care if they used a wad of Play-Dough™ in the output stage to make it sound good. If it works for me and my purposes I don't really spend much time questioning why, I simply enjoy it while I'm still breathing.

Marco
See above. And look around.

2>>"Why, if these integrateds (or amps) actually have an extra gainstage don't the manufacturers take the advantageous route of advertising the integrateds (or amps) as having active preamps?">

Everybody knows what integrated means, except it seems you.
And just looking at the sensitivity shows what is inside.

See above posts about weaknesses of integrateds. And that is just one problem. Look at CJ. They tell what gainstages are in their amps. But notice how they do it. They make it clear so all can understand, not play word games. Very intelligent of them.

Take care.
Steve
Steve,

Since you seem to have a bit of knowledge in this field why not spread some of it around helping others instead of running this one issue into the ground? There are lots of people everyday looking for answers or a little help here at Audiogon. You just seem to be putting an extrordinary amount of effort into analyzing just a small part of the "big picture".

I bet 99% of all people who find this thread will not read through to the end or can not understand the detailed electronic talk that is being said.

The only reason I am/was interested in this thread is because I have been considering an integrated. For the "money" an integrated seems like a decent way to get the power without all the xtras of a reciever and still cheaper than seperates.

And for your information I know you as well as anyone else around here.