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December 2010 / January 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere!
PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Series Monoblock Amplifiers
If you have been hesitating about tube amplification, wait no longer.
Review By Anthony Nicosia
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Series Monoblock Amplifier  The PrimaLuna line of audio equipment was founded by Herman van den Dungen, a distributor from the Netherlands, where its origins date back to the year 2003. Paired together with Marcel Croese (of Goldmund fame) and Dominique Chenet (of Jadis fame) Herman Dungen brings high end musical reproduction to those of us on a much smaller scale budget than that found with the elite group of cost no object audiophiles. Great care is taken to assure PrimaLuna products offer an excellent value, deliver superior sound, provide top aftermarket service and are sold at minimal costs to the consumer. That is quite a tall order if you ask me. The philosophy of Mr. Dungen is to put together a team of top people from their respective fields while using lower cost manufacturing facilities located in China. Under the watchful eye of this European based company, with its Western design and marketing strategies, PrimaLuna products have gained worldwide recognition as can be attested to by reading the many positive reviews from various trade publications around the globe. In Italian PrimaLuna means "First Moon", with reference to family nicknames starting back with his Grandfather and now adopted as a logo for the company.

 

Technical Information
PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Series Monoblock AmplifiersThe following was taken from PrimaLuna's website and then condensed a bit. This unit incorporates the best electronic elements of the original ProLogue Six and Seven, plus selected features from the more advanced DiaLogue Series. A new Adaptive AutoBias circuitry, enabled by simply flipping a switch, allows user to re-calibrate the monoblocks for optimum operation of EL34s or KT88s. Every ProLogue Premium Series amplifier can be ordered with either set of power tubes installed. This circuit continuously monitors and adjusts each tube to run in its sweet spot. A BTI-circuit (Bad Tube Indicator) on the chassis' deck in front of each power tube is a small LED that lights up if the tube goes bad. This circuit works hand-in-hand with the new Adaptive Auto-Bias circuit. A PTP-circuit protects the power transformer in case of overheating while the OTP-circuit (Output Transformer Protection) circuit protects the output transformers in the event of a massive tube failure or user error. Internal parts include Solen capacitors and fast-recovery diodes. There are new output and power transformers that were designed after those in the more advanced DiaLogue Series. These heavy-duty, high-efficiency transformers offer better control over challenging speaker loads, as well as increased detail and musicality. Other features include point-to-point wiring, ceramic tube sockets, Nichicon capacitors, WBT-style core speaker terminals and gold-plated RCA jacks.

As you can see both the production and design concept of these amplifiers have been carefully thought out. The ProLogue Premiums take most of the guess work out of tube ownership with self-biasing circuitry, for both EL34 and KT88 power tubes, as well as the ability to pinpoint what particular individual tube or tubes have gone bad. This should certainly allow novices to feel comfortable enough to purchase these beautiful amplifiers and discover the great joy of having tubes in their audio chain. For experienced tube enthusiasts, with older tube equipment (and some newer ones as well), the self-biasing circuitry should be a delight. While it can be fun to bias tubes it certainly is more convenient not to have to deal with that. I got an immediate call from my wife, proclaiming their heft, after they were dropped off at my doorstep and she carried them inside by herself. These works of art weighted in at just over 46 pounds apiece, sans packing, and she most certainly wanted her effort to carry them into the living room noted. Luckily for me she is quite fit otherwise they might have sat on the porch unattended till my return later that evening.

After unpacking each amplifier and lifting them onto the top shelf of the audio rack it was quite apparent these were some serious pieces of iron. If you like to equate pounds with cost you will be quite pleased with these mono block amplifiers from PrimaLuna. Of course as we are all aware we are not just purchasing pieces of metal but rather chasing top quality sound reproduction. Each amplifier came with a factory supplied power cord, sturdy but nothing out of the ordinary, and a pair of white cotton gloves for handing both tubes and equipment. For this review after market power cords from Cardas were used as well as power conditioning from Audience. It is my assumption that most of us who purchase audio gear at this level will probably be using specialty power cords and power conditioning within their system. While sound quality using the stock cords was good my preference was to go with those from Cardas in an effort to bring out the best from these tube beauties. They came with attractive cages but my initial thinking was to remove them in order to enjoy the glow from all those tubes. The cages though were such that in a dark room they were barely noticeable as their bars were spaced quite far apart, a lovely idea indeed. During their stay with me they remained on, for practical consideration (in case someone bumped into them, to protect the tubes from breaking and the person from getting burned), and also based on the fact that they were quite attractive looking. What a welcomed surprise they were.

Powering up these amplifiers was relatively easy with the on/off switches located towards the front of the left side plates providing easy access to them. There was no need to reach around behind to the rear plate to turn these beauties on or to mare the ascetic beauty of their design with a switch on the front plate. The location of the switch was a good choice by PrimaLuna. On the opposite side plate, also located near the front, can be found another switch, this is for use when changing from EL34 to KT88 power tubes. Just flip it either up or down depending on the tube, again nothing more needs be done as it has that self-biasing circuit inside.

PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium Series Monoblock AmplifiersMost of this review was done listening through the EL34 tubes that Kevin Deal, the United States Distributor, sent with the amplifiers but later on some KT88 tubes were inserted (after 100 plus hours of break-in). Straight from the factory each tube was already installed needing only to remove the foam packing around them while making certain each one was still firmly in place after their long journey through the delivery system. Around back are one RCA input (no balanced input) and a ground with three connections for two, four or eight ohm loudspeaker connections. My Magnepans work on a 4 Ohm load and so that was used. As mentioned before there is an IEC connector for those who prefer using their own power chords allowing you to experiment as you would like. Beside four power tubes each unit came with four 12AU7's as well (again each pre-installed and safely packed with Styrofoam). All in all everything was quite simple and setup time was minimal. Being factory broken in for 72 hours with the EL34 tubes in place the system was happily up and running rather quickly.

The bottom cover comes with numerous ventilation slots allowing for proper air flow inside, a much welcome change from the standard solid plate used by others. Removing the underside cover and peering into the heart of the ProLogue Premiums it was nice to see how nice the entire layout was. Having just recently finished building my own desktop computer it was easy for me to appreciate the well organized and neat display of wiring. The self-biasing circuitry is kept on its own circuit board so as to keep noise out of the music's signal path, another very good idea. Premium parts, good design and layout, I liked it.

 

CD And Vinyl Selections
Sometimes new additions to my review system will immediately stand out, which can be good or bad. When something is designed to overemphasize a particular area of the musical spectrum (let us say the lower frequency range as an example) that is not necessarily a good thing. If you love an overabundance of bass response in all your music you would of course be happy but for those who want to hear the true nature of a performance this would be a negative experience. Then there are products that when first heard startle one with their realism which can be a good thing. The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium amplifiers affected me with the latter response. When Kevin Deal (Upscale Audio) the United States distributor first contacted me with an offer for a "World Premiere" review he told me he thought I was going to really like these amplifiers. As always, Kevin was correct. They are champions at creating music with an "organic" feel to it, of the type you would expect when listening through tube equipment of a highly effective nature. My pair of Monarchy Audio solid-state amplifiers are rated at one hundred twenty-watts when run in monoblock configuration through a four ohm load.

The ProLogue Premium amplifiers with their seventy-watt rating had enough get up and go to power my toughest loudspeakers the, four ohm, Magnepan Magneplanar MGIIIA's. While the Monarchy's had difficulty driving them the way I had hoped the PrimaLumas, with less rated power, made them sing with all their incredible glory. Part of the credit for this can be found with their use of dual output transformers, an expensive proposition. Unless you have a very power hungry set of loudspeakers, are in a large listening area and like listening at very high decibel levels you should be happy enough with their power output. Enough power for everyone no, for most everyone a resounding yes! For those who complain about tube noise, forget it, these amplifiers are extremely quiet. This can be appreciated by all especially when listening to music of a close intimate sounding nature which I find myself doing more often than not.

Neil Young's DVD -Audio CD Greendale [Reprise 48533-9] has been a favorite of mine since day one of listening to it. While each selection has its own special merit "Bandit" is one I find myself listening to quite often. Here the ProLogue Premiums gave me the feeling of being in very close proximity when listening to the sound of Neil Young's guitar and singing performances. The extreme sensitivity of this songs meaning was given a heightened sense of awareness as intricate details of the performance sprang forth clearly evident on the soundstage before me and ending with just the right amount of timing to the decay of those last few notes. Moving further into the album to "Sun Green" the sound of a person's voice bellowing through a megaphone added to the live effect Neil Young was attempting to recreate. It was here with a song designed to mimic a large scale protest march where the combination of PrimaLuna ProLogue Premiums and Magnepan loudspeakers lay out before me a rather large soundscape both in width as well as depth for my listening pleasure. This plus the proper pace and timing made for a song that was "fun" to listen to. Fun is after all a good part of the musical experience, without which music can waffle on the edge toward being boring. When listening with the ProLogue Premiums music was neither dull nor boring but rather alive and full of excitement. Stings album The Dream of the Blue Turtle [AM Records CD3750] on the fifth track is the song "Shadows In The Rain". This is a very quick paced song with full drum support offering a nice lower base foundation. No problems keeping up with everything here as the monoblock ProLogue Premiums kept everything sharp and quick.

Turning to something a bit different yet have the title song, "The Dream of the Blue Turtles". The fact that as a title song it lasts only one minute and fifteen seconds is unique in itself. Here the ProLogue Premiums, with their portrayal of both piano and at the end laughter, drew one closer inside the soundscape to give a desired small club effect such as what one can expect from great tube gear. Moving onto another singer from the 60/70's we have Joni Mitchells Blue album [Reprise 2038-2] with the song "California". Here the singer is seen as being dead center between both loudspeakers and not playing through any of the physical apparatuses (loudspeakers) on both sides of the room. Turning up the volume it was nice to feel the power and full range from her magnificent singing voice. While normally it is my habit to sing along with performers in this case I remained silent. For Joni Mitchell makes the difficult seem easy when in reality it is not. The ProLogue Premiums caught many of the smaller intricacies of her voice as well as its clarity and power. This album took me back to the 60/70's, being single, hanging out with friends, drinking, smoking (cigarettes/cigars), enjoying good songs with tubes and records, the good life? Well, maybe. Bringing back memories though it was now time to sidestep CDs and relive some of my lost youth by spinning the black discs, yes actual vinyl records.

So out comes my Oracle Delphi Mk I turntable with a recently broken-in Audio-Technica Prestige AT33 PTG Moving Coil cartridge and in steps my vinyl collection of music. Since there is also a vinyl copy of Joni Mitchells Blue (Reprise MS 2038) at my disposal that seemed like a good place to start having just left off with its CD counterpart. While not here to debate the merits of vinyl versus CD playback, it is worth noting that listening to music on my turntable did add a welcomed extra dimension to performances. Once again playing the song, "California" timbre from both guitar and vocals took on a more live quality about them. The entire performance felt a bit more up close and personal with a greater sense of involvement stepping up my enjoyment to another level. While never feeling the need to have vinyl records to enjoy the ProLogue Premiums, it did enhance my experience with these tube amplifiers. Hey, tubes and vinyl how can you go wrong? If you own a turntable great, if not this just might be your excuse to purchase even a basic one, if just to see what all the fuss is about with this combination of tubes/vinyl.

It has been a long time since playing Keith Jarrett's The Koln Concert [WB ECM-2-1064] recording. Here it was nice to close my eyes and experience the magic of this piano concert which had been recorded live at the opera in Koln, Germany January 24, 1975. While it is hard to replicate the sound of a full sized piano in any listening area the ProLogue Premiums did bring the illusion of it being in my room to a satisfying level of enjoyment for me. Detailing was good enough that one could hear fingers striking piano keys with felt covered hammers pushing against steel wire strings making incredible music. As each key resounded distinctly individual they still managed to all come together flowing swiftly and freely one into the other and a great joy to hear. The sound of Keith Jarrett occasionally vocalizing his unique personal involvement with this piece by making sounds of joy of rapture added to the excitement of the music. Another vinyl treasure from my collection is the album Rough Mix [ATCO 90097-1] composed by Pete Townsend and Ronnie Lane with special guest appearance by Eric Clapton. With the title song "Rough Mix", played back at an elevated volume PRAT (pace/rhythm/timing) are all captured nicely as both speed and weight gave it a greater "live" feel to the event. Slowing things down nicely was the song "Annie" where one is treated to Eric Clapton (6 string Acoustic), Graham Lyle (12 string Acoustic), Benny Gallagher (Accordion), Charlie Hart (Violin) and David Marquee (String Bass). Here the soundscape is crystal clear both left to right and front to back with individuals layered distinctly and located properly within it. It was nice being able to see deep into the soundscape as performances were revealed being well defined and carefully laid out.

If you have yet to hear Crescent Crawl [Audioquest AQ-LP 1012] with Bruce Katz please give it a listen. Bruce Katz, pianist/organist, composer, uses a progressive style of hybrid jazz-blues pieces that must be heard to be appreciated. On "Crescent Crawl" he really lets things loose, much to the delight of all. If you are looking for that small night club effect the ProLogue Premiums will not disappoint as they are a marvel to hear with this album. Its effect was less of looking through a window at the performers and more of taking a step through it and getting closer to the actual soundstage. The piano provided an expansive soundscape with drums coming on strong and the tenor sax of Bob Malach sounding close to true of timbre. This is definitely an album to enjoy especially when coupled with the magical PrimaLuna ProLogue Premiums.

 

In Steps The KT88 Tubes
Buying the ProLogue Premiums one may select either EL34 or KT88 power tubes. While my review sample came with the EL34 tubes installed my request to have a set of factory KT88 tubes sent along was also fulfilled. The KT88 tubes were left on for one hundred plus hours running time, before a serious evaluation was made. Kevin Deal explained to me that replacing the EL34 with KT88 would provide more "snap" to the music and I must agree this is what happened. While the factory still claims seventy-watts with either tube type it certainly seemed to be outputting more power to my loudspeakers. With the Magnepans the extra weight that was added to the sound of musical instruments was welcomed and preferred, however those with more efficient loudspeakers might just opt for the sweeter sounding EL34's. This choice will of course be system dependent and a matter of listener preference. Either way the ProLogue Premiums are worth having. Carlos Santana's CD Supernatural [Arista 07822 19080-2] track seven, "Maria Maria" is often used by me to check bass response. Here the ProLogue Premiums did a very nice job with sub bass and especially mid bass presentation. When raising the volume a desired lower bass visceral effect was achieved. Not to be lost in this performance was the sweet clear distinct sound of notes emanating from the guitar of Carlos Santana. Moving onto something a bit more difficult was the opening track from the CD Mozart: Requiem in D Minor, K.626-unfinished [BMG 82876 58705 2] where trying to reach realistic sound levels can even tax amplifiers rated with a lot more power than these monoblocks from PrimaLuna. Still even when moving my preamplifier controls way past the twelve o'clock setting, inching towards full output, the ProLogue Premiums sounding excellent. Never did they break-up or distort but rather just ran out of steam. All in all they reproduced the string, percussion and horn section with accurate representation. Their ability to give off a nice layering effect with the choir and intimate feel of the solo performance from Christine Schafer (Soprano) was refreshing. Before ending this review some dance music from Prince on his 3-CD set Lotusflow3r, Mplsound, Elixor (NPG Records) felt in order. From the CD Mplsoundtwo songs in particular got me and my wife out of our seats to shake it, "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me" and "Dance 4 Me". Can you boogie with the ProLogue Premiums? Oh yes! These versatile amplifiers can playback all types of music and do so with great energy. If you think tube amplifiers are for those loving long hair music only you should keep on open mind as they just might make you rethink that concept.

 

A Recap
Factory equipped with EL34 power tubes the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premiums were able to provide music with a more than adequate lower end weight to it, while inserting KT88 tubes pulled out just a bit more "snap" from the music. If you like to hear small ensembles, jazz, blues, country western, vocals, large scale orchestra music and even rock & roll these amplifiers will be a joy to own. While it would be easy to say that for their modest price of only $4399 a pair these monoblock amplifiers were a bargain, truth be told they would remain so if even priced higher. During their stay with me I for some reason keep thinking them listing for one thousand dollars more than they were and still considered them a worthwhile investment. It was not until looking back at my notes to realize their actual list price that it struck me what a tremendous job the people at PrimaLuna have done. It certainly is amazing to think what we can get these days, from a set of tube monoblock power amplifiers, for the price of the ProLogue Premiums. Add this to the luxury of having an Adaptive AutoBias circuitry (adjusting for either EL34 or KT88 tubes while continually monitoring and re-biasing them), Solen capacitors (made in France), fast-recovery diodes, the BTI-circuit (BTI stands for "Bad Tube Indicator" which points to a given tube gone bad), point-to-point wiring and much more, makes these amplifiers an outright must listen for tube lovers the world over. If you have been hesitating about getting into the world of tube amplification wait no longer as the ProLogue Premiums take the fuss out of owning tube gear allowing even novices to enjoy their magical qualities. These are great amplifiers at very competitive pricing. Highly recommended!

 

The Listening Environment
The review room is eighteen feet eight inches long by thirteen feet wide with loudspeakers and equipment kept on the short wall. The cathedral ceiling starts at eight feet and sloping upwards reaching a height of thirteen feet in the middle spanning across the short length of the room. The hardwood floor has a nine by six foot oriental rug lying down the long ways facing toward the system placed dead center in between, yet not under, the listener and the review equipment The room has no doors but there are two openings. One opening is in front of the right loudspeaker giving access to the hallway while the other is behind the listening position which opens into a formal dining area. The room is treated with three floor standing acoustical panels whose placement varies depending on which loudspeakers are used and their position within the room. All the audio equipment is located in a Cherry Synergy Twin S30 Salamander audio rack, except for power conditioners located on the hardwood floor, which is placed about a foot away from and in the middle of the short wall opposite the listening position.

 

Review Equipment
Placette Passive Preamplifier (the three input version)
Magnepan Magneplanar MGIIIA loudspeakers
Legacy Focus 20/20 Loudspeakers
OPPO Digital BDP-83 Special Edition Universal player
Oracle Delphi MK 1 Turntable, Grace 707 tonearm/custom interconnects
Audio-Technica Prestige AT33PTG Moving Coil Cartridge
Audience aR2p-T0 power conditioner
PS Audio UPC 200 Power Conditioner
PS Audio Power Port Receptacle
Two Blue Circle Audio Mk III Power Line Conditioners
Loudspeaker Cables: Cardas Golden Presence (2 pairs running bi-wired)
Interconnects: Cardas Musician's Reference (2 pairs)
Power Cords: Cardas Cross,

 

Specifications
Type: Vacuum tube monoblock amplifier
Output: 70 watts with EL34 or KT88
Tube Compliment: four 12AU7 and four EL34 (KT88 tubes optional)
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 85kHz (+/- 0.5dB)
THD: Less than 1% at full power
S/N Ratio: 101dB
Input Sensitivity: 911mV
Input Impedance: 100k Ohms
Power Consumption: 210 watts
Dimensions: 14.5"x 8" x 15.5" (WxHxD) 
Weight: 46.3 lbs. each 
Inputs: One RCA
Outputs: 2, 4 and 8 Ohm speaker taps 
Available in Silver or Black
Warranty: two-year parts and labor limited warranty, six months for tubes
Price: $4399 pair

 

Company Information
Durob Audio BV
P.O. Box 109
5250 AC Vlijmen
The Netherlands

E-mail: primaluna@primaluna.nl
Website: www.primaluna.nl

 

United States Distributor
Upscale Audio
2504 Spring Terrace
Upland, CA. 91784

Voice: (909) 931-9686
Fax: (909) 985-6968
E-mail: jared@upscaleaudio.com
Website: www.upscaleaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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