S T E R E O • M U LT I C H A N N E L A U D I O • M U S I C
No Audition Required
Neil Gader
spend a lot of time cheerleading for
integrated amplifiers. I like their spacesaving footprint. I like eliminating the
interconnect and with it the ancillary
circuitry required for preamp and amp to
shake hands electrically. In recent months
I’ve partied with some of the best—
MBL, Plinius, Chapter, and conradjohnson, all splendid ambassadors of the
breed. Indeed, I was feeling pretty smug.
And then the MBL 121 Compact Radialstrahler loudspeaker took up residence
in my listening room. Its lust for power
was unnerving; at 82dB sensitivity it was
even more voracious than my own 83dBsensitive ATCs. Clearly it was a remarkable speaker, but I felt that I wasn’t taking
its full measure. The last thing I needed to
do was to inadvertently put it on a wattage
diet. This glutton needed a bigger trough.
It needed the power and reserves only a
dedicated power amplifier can provide.
Enter the Plinius SB-301, a good
old Class AB solid-state stereo power
amplifier bristling with 310Wpc. Because
of its heavy Class A bias, it’s been wisely
outfitted with enough heatsinking to cool
a reactor—so don’t count on it to earn
any Energy Star compliance medals. The
beefy grab handles testify to its eightyplus pounds—enough to blow the zipper
I spend a lot of
time cheerleading
for integrateds, but
sometimes only a
dedicated power
amp will do
on Jack LaLanne’s jumpsuit. However, for
those expecting the re-styled curvilinear
treatment of Plinius’ new integrated amps
and its multichannel Odeon, forget it.
The old-school look of the brawny Kiwi
reflects electrical DNA that stretches
back to the Class A SA-102. In fact,
the SB-301 essentially mimics the 102’s
circuit topology and raises the ante with a
more robust output stage with double the
output devices, a larger power supply, and
larger twin toroidal transformers.
I’ll cut to the chase. The SB-301 is
the best amplifier I’ve reviewed to date.
Hugely powerful yet lithe and graceful,
it’s like Godzilla in Capezios. It launches
dynamics that you thought your speakers
weren’t capable of. Time and again, it put
some of the world’s most demanding
models through their paces—like the
aforementioned MBL 121, my own
ATC SCM20-2, and, in a brief listening
session, the Wilson Duette. In the case of
the Wilson (which Paul Seydor reviewed
in Issue 176), I listened to Leonard
Bernstein conducting Carmen [DG], and
the Wilsons seemed to enlarge and bloom
like the time-elapsed images of a vase of
roses. The Duettes, already formidable
in the dynamics department, sent forth
The Absolute Sound December 2007 101
Plinius SB-301 Power
a rush of uncompressed energy the likes
of which I’ve never heard in a compact
speaker. In every instance, the Plinius
managed to fill the Duettes with more
energy and drive and to bring out dynamic
shadings and pitch references that other
amps struggled to retrieve.
For the record, the SB-301 is neutrally
balanced, conveying just a hint of
ripeness in the midrange and an element
of warmth in the lower mids and upper
bass. I prefer the darker, richer energy
in the mids for the way it makes voices
sound as if they are originating from the
diaphragm, rather than the throat. Also
purged in this design is the whitish rise
in the treble that I noted in earlier Plinius
models. The result is a treble that is nearly
romantic, yet not so roundly euphonic
that one would be reminded of a retrobrand of tube sound. Its performance
will be as luminous and unconstricted
as your tweeter and cabling allow; if
you don’t hear a cushion of air beneath
harmonics, something is awry. Low-end
resolution and control are models of
solid-state excellence—a breathtaking
example being the chocolaty bottom
octave of Peter Wispelwey’s cello during
Kol Nidre [Channel Classics].
But it’s when the Plinius turns its
102 December 2007 The Absolute Sound
attention to the subtleties of sound
reproduction that it truly shows its
greatness. To begin with, backgrounds are
eerily quiet and raven-black. This allows
the Plinius a palette of tonal colors that is
as vivid as anything I’ve heard. It simply
heightens performance and timbral details
like few others, making any instrument at
any volume instantly identifiable. Imaging
is articulate and uncluttered (no surprise
since the Plinius’ larger power supply/
dual transformer combo means superior
channel separation). Like past Plinius
amps the SB-301 also has the timing down.
On the macro-level it drives the music
forward, locks onto rhythm sections,
and propels hip-hop pulses. On a microlevel it has the ability to align, focus, and
sustain the fundamentals and harmonics
of a solo grand piano [The Lark, Kissin,
RCA]. The SB-301 articulates dynamic
gradations and transient information
with astounding delicacy. Whether I was
listening to an a cappella line of Laurel
Massé [Feather and Bone] or the firecracker
mandolin virtuosity of Chris Thile of
Nickel Creek [This Side, Sugar Hill] or
Edgar Meyer digging deep into his
acoustic bass [Appalachian Journey, Sony],
I became keenly aware of the “touch” of
the performer always modulating volume
& Pricing
Power output: 310Wpc into 8 ohms,
continuous, both channels driven, fullbandwidth
Frequency Response: 20Hz–20kHz ±0.2dB
-3dB at 70kHz
Inputs: Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: 8.75" x 19.75" x 18"
Weight: 83 lbs.
(800) 457-2577, Ext. 22
and attack. Weaknesses? Soundstage
depth and layering might be improved,
but not by much. As for its competition,
my listening room door is always open.
When I awarded the SB-301 a Golden
Ear Award, I wrote that the Plinius
elevates a system until it’s more than
you ever thought it could be. I stand by
this statement without reservation. I’ve
never said this before so let me be clear:
The Plinius SB-301 is an amplifier I can
recommend sight unseen—no audition
required. TAS
Download PDF