PrimaLuna ProLogue Two
PrimaLuna ProLogue Two
integrated tube amplifier
The PrimaLuna was delivered via courier service in the late
afternoon. Not that big the cardboard box was rather tall than
wide and its weight caught me by surprise (I am not that young
anymore). Moving it up and down on the staircase I was assumed
to carry wine crates – this was what the neighbors thought. Such
an assumption is not necessarily out of place for the small tube
beauty is like a good wine in a sense - the wine with sparkle, that
is worthwhile trying.
With the dimensions of an open-wide schoolbook and its faultless finish (multiple layers of hand-rubbed
deep blue enamel that looks like black at the first sight) the PrimaLuna is difficult to resist. I also liked
the note that had been e-mailed by the distributor: „She’s brand new. Give her some time for burningin“. Just like this – he had referred to her. The PrimaLuna is like a girl. You need to pamper her, you need
to fall in love with her and she will never let you down (it is not like that in reality but it’d be nice,
wouldn’t it?). Having been said so I gave her some considerable time to warm up.
Prologue
The ProLogue Two is quite logically the successor of the model One, the smallest representative of the
PrimaLuna family, which has been awarded on many occassions. The Dutch company concentrated on
functional simplicity, careful manufacturing and high quality electronic components – all of these is to be
found in PrimaLuna gear. The overall construction is simple but solid and elegant: steel chassis finished in
deep blue gloss would not be out of place on Bentley limo. The surface of the box is shared by tubes and
shielded power transformer that is responsible for the significant weight of the amplifier (17kg). There is
one 12AX7 dual triode per channel, that is tied in parallel to get higher current gain, 12AU7 as a driver
and four pentodes KT88 in the power part. Thanks to the Chinese assembly outsourcing we can enjoy
point-to-point hand-soldered wiring (neat job here) and electronic components bolted rather than glued
without any price-up. All tube sockets are ceramic ones, PP capacitors and Alps volume control speak also
of the quality. There is a PrimaLuna logo printed on the tubes – nice finishing touch indicating that you
cannot get more at the given price.
The volume control and input selection is possible through 2 knobs on the aluminium faceplate (silver
finish is optional). The inputs are 4xRCA with identical topology, in the rear you will also see 2x3 speaker
binding posts resembling reputable WBT terminals for connecting whatever wire termination you wish for.
They are not WBTs but the construction is the same so who cares. By combination of appropriate binding
posts you may connect loudspeakers with the impedances of 4 or 8 ohms. Actually, it requires some
experimentation with the selection of the correct binding posts. With some manufacturers the measured
impedance equals the nominal one whereas it is not true with others. There are many speakers (some
even in the highest high-end) that despite being declared as 8 ohm speakers measure as low as 2-3 ohms.
Therefore I recommend to rely upon what you hear.
Not even PrimaLuna designers could not ignore the fact, that even the best tubes have to be replaced
from time to time (more on this was written on opportunity of the review of hybrid Audio Research HD220
amplifier). However, they should be applaused for the effort to minimise maintenance and adjustment
needs necessarily connected with tube amplifiers.
Plug & Play
Everything is easy with the PrimaLuna ProLogue Two: you plug it to the electric circuit, connect the
loudspeakers and a signal source, switch it on (on the left side of the chassis) and 15 seconds later you
can listen to the music. The rest is arranged by ´Soft Start´ electronics that informs you with the green
LED on the faceplate of the readiness of the amplifier to play and by very convenient circuitry of Adaptive
AutoBias.
To have the bias right is necessary for the performance of any tube amplifier. It is the bias that input
music signal modulates and which varies the tube current so that changes in output high voltage copy
changes in input low voltage (this is how I understand it – if you know more, please excuse my ignorance).
The problem is that even when we have values of the bias right it is not the victory: tubes wear out with
time, their parameters are changing with temperature etc. This all may result into different types of
distortion. The PrimaLuna‘s Adaptive AutoBias circuitry is continuously monitoring the input signal and
the inner temperature conditions to automatically adjust the bias. The adjustment happens within safe
and narrow margins and enables the tubes to operate with the lowest possible distortion (the
manufacturer says 0,25% at 1W and <1% at full output). The secondary effect is avoiding clipping due to
unexpected input signal peaks. The final benefit is in the possibility to use different type of tubes to
further enhance the performance of the amplifier – we did not try this during the review, however.
Before and after…
PrimaLuna ProLogue Two arrived just in time for pairing with other reviewed equipment – reliable Pioneer
PD-S904 TM and Vincent CD-S5 being the sources, Kudos Cardea C1, Mirage Omni Series 150 a Aurum
Cantus Melody M-102 in the place of loudspeakers and with the slightly more expensive competitors as
amplifiers: apart of tubed T.A.C. I used integrated Accuphase E-210A (not produced anymore) and hybrid
Copland CSA 29 (the model from Copland’s current catalogue). The cables were provided by Monster
Cable and Vincent.
Coincidentally I found the Japan edition CD of The Best of Sissel (the remarkable female voice of Sissel
Kyrkjebo as edited by Universal/Nichion, UCM-1001) in the mail box on the arrival of PrimaLuna so it was
naturally the first choice for music material. The amplifier had been warmed-up for 30 minutes and then I
switched to it from Accuphase E-210. I was immediately struck by the difference. The sound was not good
at all. The music lacked the rhythm and drive, it was confined in loudspeakers, soundstage was
compressed and vocal parts bordered with aggressivity. The sound reminded me of that of cheap Denon
(the cheapest model being the exception as it is so cheap that the performance/price ration is becoming
sensational with it). Of course, I was warned before that the PrimaLuna had been new and should have
been burnt-in well. So I did so and gave the ProLogue Two 50 hours to get into condition. After that, on
Sunday evening, it was paired with Kudos Cardea C1 again.
I was sitting in the armchair editing a document on my laptop while listening to the usual compilation CD
of well-recorded tracks which I already know by heart through multiple listening sessions. The change in
sound of PrimaLuna was apparent from the very beginning – now I was listening to music. Concentrating
on my work I suddenly found myself being attracted by the spanish guitarwork of John Williams. I looked
up, listening for a while and looking down to the glowing tubes. Then I stood up, moved my armchair to a
sweeter spot and let the music speak for another 20 minutes. And it was long after the John Williams´
track was over, being replaced by charismatic Joe Cocker´s You Can Leave Your Hat On. When you do not
pay enough attention to her, PrimaLuna perfectly knows how to get your attention, just like clever
woman does. I stayed up till late that night.
Putting back The Best of Sissel CD was the first thing I did. At that time I had not been decided yet if I
liked it or not, despite giving at least 20th rotation to it. I still had the initial sonic failure of PrimaLuna
with this particular music in memory when I hit the PLAY button. Well, now it was different. The
stridency and one-dimensionality had been gone being replaced by liquid textures with correct timing and
drive. The spatial information was detailed and natural with unforced mid and treble region that was
clean end extended at its upper range with no hint of aggresivity or grain, with slight emphasize towards
sweetness. Also the bass was powerful and deep (not that precise I was used to but excellent for the tube
design). Across the all frequencies the amplifier was balanced with a little emphasize on midbass giving
the sound fullness and saturation – the instruments of symphonic orchestra showed good separation and
proportionality, however. I would say that PrimaLuna fits into among the gear that rather synthetize than
analyze: it is not freak about the details, it is not ´technical´enough (do not forget the PrimaLuna is
woman) so it is more into emotions. However, not that emotional you would expect from a tube amplifier
– it is just too good for it. To be honest there was hardly any difference between solid state Accuphase E210A and PrimaLunou ProLogue Two. And Kudos Cardea C1 would not definitely mask anything. I assume
that it is because Accuphase is not ´technical´either and transforms sound a bit into comfortable and
pleasing refinement – this is the typical signature of Accuphase family. It is again up to the listener to
decide.
Comparisons
It was not easy to get an equal competitor for PrimaLuna. First, you can hardly find any amplifier in this
category with the electric components of such quality. Second, the Chinese origin moves the ProLogue
Two downstream into a different price category. Third, it does not suffer from typical tube amplifier
artifacts which makes the tube-to-tube comparison difficult. In the end the challenger had been found in
the slightly more expensive category.
T.A.C. V60 (Tube Amp Company) is the result of joint venture between German designers and Chinese
manufacturers and it looks gorgeous. The designers of T.A.C. know how to make tube fetishist happy:
glass, aluminum, glossy black and glowing logo to underline the warmth of tubes. The concept of the
T.A.C. is not far away from PrimaLuna including the automatic bias adjustment. The tubes to be found
here are from Electro Harmonix and the price tag is almost 50% higher as is the output power (2x60W).
So here we are, with the comparable fighters in the Asian ring (Vincent CD-S5 as the source component,
dtto cabling and Aurum Cantus Melody M-102 speakers), both with the same hours of training (T.A.C. a
few less) and warm-up.
Though the sonic differences were apparent immediately they were not huge and it took some time
before we were able to define them. PrimaLuna goes easily deeper, deeper than any comparable tube
amplifier. Such a bass fundament is not common even with solid-state designs. The bass is penetrating,
with body and weight and makes the music rock. It is slightly smeared and ill-defined, however. The
T.A.C. is lighter in nature, in fact you lack the bass a tiny bit, but its lows are better defined and
controlled. The mids and highs are comparable with both amplifiers, I liked voices better with T.A.C. for
their definition and articulation whereas PrimaLuna excelled with the acoustic guitar and plucked strings
(I missed the fingers with the T.A.C. - it paid bigger attention to the strings). The major difference
between the two contenders was in transients and correlated spatial information. The T.A.C. was better
in conveying transient edges including the decay (space reverberation, audience and ambient clues and
spicy details like breathing of the musicians were part of it). Prima Luna had the tendency to round the
sharp transient edge (the sharp attack of a string was softened) and it extended the basic tone a moment
longer than the T.A.C. cutting off some of the ambience clues. As a result PrimaLuna showed less ´air´
and a tad less information, but also exhibit quiter and darker background and better bass fundament.
It was not possible to choose between the two. If I would be forced to, I would look for another amplifier
that would be a combination of the two. The problem is that such an amplifier would cost more than
PrimaLuna and T.A.C. alltogether. This is the high-end reality and both machines are high-end definitely.
In such a case it is perhaps wiser to buy both amplifiers and use one or another depending on the mood or
source material. You can also try and have a baby from them…
Epilogue…
Prima Luna ProLogue Two is a very good amplifier that elegantly overcomes issues tied with tube
equipment and does not leave any significant imprint on the sound. For the lack of signature I am not
confident with recommending it to the typical tube sound lovers (at least in this price category). They
may be dissapointed as the PrimaLuna is just too much honest – it does not distort and resembles rather
an excellent solid-state amplifier playing on the slightly sweeter (rather than warmer) side eliminating
risk of listening fatigue. Though I wouldn´t say it is a diamond among the less expensive tube gear, I am
sure it is a sapphire at least (considering the deep blue finish). The output of 2x40W is sufficient,
workmanship excellent and the sonics outstanding. With the respect to its market price I see no reason
why not to buy it…
A note from the distributor: (Marek Kohut, Kohut Audio): The tubes used in the amplifier are of Chinese
origin. For example KT88 is a ressurected version of KT88 from Genalex, reputable for their reliability.
With the use of high-quality tubes like the Russian ElectroHarmonix 12AU7 and 12AX7 it is assumed that
the sound would improve further. We encourage listeners to evaluate such an option for themselves…
© 2009 Reviewed by MJ for Audiodrom (www.audiodrom.cz)
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