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Electrocompaniet PI-2 Prelude Integrated Amplifier Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Article Index
Electrocompaniet PI-2 Prelude Integrated Amplifier Review
Listening Session


When auditioning several components each month, I tend to be impatient with break-in but have also learned not to be hasty when forming an opinion about the sound of any component. The PI-2 made it easier, though, with a beguiling sound out of the box that got even better over time. Like most loudspeakers, the PI-2 is designed to be at its best after some initial burn-in. Electrocompaniet recommends at least 72 hours of burn time for optimal performance. Some audiophiles advocate always leaving components powered on, and if you're to believe Electrocompaniet's assertion that, “If the PI-2 has been switched off, allow two hours of warm-up for optimal sonic performance,” you may want to do the same to save 120 minutes before serious listening. Once warmed up, the Electrocompaniet sound reminds me of Marantz, with an extremely smooth mid-range, rich bass and an overall warmth and lusciousness that lets the music engage your senses like the best Swiss chocolate.

The PI-2 isn't the absolute word on crystal neutrality, but certainly paints the top end with a fine brush in fine-edged detail. Based on experience with Bryston's B-100 integrated amplifier, the similar-priced ($3,895) B-100 offers more definition and flat neutrality that cuts to the very bone of recordings. The Canada-made Bryston would never be confused for tube sound; the Electrocompaniet is much closer. In that respect the PI-2 can round and soften the edges of bratty recordings yet still leave the tattoos.  My best description of the PI-2 is “dry warmth,” much like the dry heat of the American Southwest, where residents gladly tell you, “100 degrees isn't so bad because there's no humidity.”

Out of the box, the PI-2 is a generally quiet operator; although, if I put my ear about 4 inches from the  top, I could hear hum but never to the detriment of my overall enjoyment. When I swapped the stock power cord for RS Audio's Kevlar Starchord Power Cable, the hum decreased dramatically. (More on RS Audio in an upcoming review.) My lone complaint is that sometimes the PI-2 doesn't have as much power as I'd like. Its volume output is displayed via LED, ranging from 0 to 127 (not that I played at that volume or even approached it). I still felt like a lead-foot for often pushing the volume into the upper 50s to “hear” the PI-2 and music, but the amp was also driving some fairly demanding speakers with sensitivities in the 85 to 87dB range. Electrocompaniet's own Prelude loudspeaker – the PS1 – is rated at 89 dB, which sounds like a better pairing to me and a speaker I would love to hear.

I went back to my recent reference CD, Jade Warrior's Now, for a re-appraisal with the Electrocompaniet. The album never fails to deliver; nor did the P-2. As many times as I've listened to the ethereal “Journey,” I always come away with something new. Glyn Havard's clean vocals, Dave Sturt's bopping bass lines and Jon Field's multi-instrumental wizardry make this a wondrous track and one where I'll hang my audiophile hat. The PI-2 brought the track to life, making it glow like steady embers without any loss of nuance or instrument sustain/decay.

Jazz keyboardist and bandleader Sun Ra was a musical visionary whose works preceded and presaged the late-60's explorations of fellow jazzers John Coltrane and Miles Davis as well as the psychedelic-era of rock and roll. Even Ra's earlier albums are replete with exotic, boundary-stretching tunes that incorporate jazz, avant-garde, world music, strange rhythms and just plain “out-there” playing. The Futuristic Sounds Of Sun Ra was released originally in 1961 and still sounds mystifying and challenging today. Ra was a self-professed interplanetary traveler and always three steps (or parsecs) ahead of the pack. Who else would present the primitive tribalism of “Tapestry From An Asteroid”    and counter it with the late-night jazz balladry of “Jet Flight”? I think Ra would approve of his music played through the PI-2, where the balance and detail shine in elegant sonic light.

PI1 and PI2 Together
Over to vinyl...

I was very impressed with the PI-2's handling of vinyl. The Pro-Ject RPM 5.1 turntable and Parasound Zphono phono-stage are both overachievers in my book and became even better under the Electrocompaniet's tutelage.  “Gone Hollywood,” from Supertramp's Breakfast In America, sounded immediate and as lively as I've heard. The intro swirl of piano chords builds in volume before yielding to a punchy drum and guitar counter-riff.  Huge soundstage very nicely presented along with Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies' vocals. I've always touted Supertramp's Crime Of The Century as a great record and recording; I'm adding Breakfast to that list.

More than any other album or song, Kansas' Leftoverture turned me from a music “listener” into a music lover and wannabe musician. I can still remember spinning this record at best friend Steve Forte's house in 1976, as we grabbed his older brother Jim's copy of the then-new release, and playing it again and again and again. Kerry Livgren's  songs and Steve Walsh's vocals floored me, and I can't listen to “The Wall” to this day without getting a bit choked up remembering that magical time in my life. Hearing Side 2 closer, “Magnum Opus,” remains a transcendent moment. The PI-2 brought out the “vinyl” of my vinyl recording, and all the subtleties within. It made me wish Electrocompaniet made a Prelude turntable and phono-stage for further listening.

I figured it was time to connect my old Sansui T-60 tuner and see if the PI-2 could make it sing, too. Tuner enthusiasts will recognize the T-60 as a very modest unit, at the low end of a lineup of truly terrific Sansui tuners built back in the 1970s. The tuner is a reliable channel grabber but I rarely listen to it because it needs lots of juice to sound good; so, I was delighted when the PI-2 let my local public radio station (103.3 KUMD) bloom forth without requiring Who-like wattage. With the PI-2, I'd keep the T-60 in the audio rack all the time.

Final Thoughts

As a sucker, in general, for Scandinavian design, I fell for the PI-2's looks right away and sound soon after. This is a sweet-sounding amp that's made my short-list of favorites in its price range and beyond.  If clean, unspotted treble, neutral midrange and warmly dry bass be your cup of musical wine, the Electrocompaniet PI-2 be your vintage. Skål!

System Setup

Electrocompaniet PI-2 integrated amplifier
Electrocompaniet PC-1 CD player
Pro-Ject Audio RPM 5.1 turntable with Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 MC cartridge
Parasound Zphono phono preamplifier
Davone RITHM loudspeakers
Tyler Acoustics D4M loudspeakers
RS Audio Cables Kevlar Starchord Power Cable (6 ft)
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Interconnects (1 meter)
RS Audio Cables Illume Silver Loudspeaker Cables (8 ft)
Sansui T-60 AM/FM stereo tuner
Valhalla Technology VT Amplifier Feet 25
Valhalla Technology VT Spike Feet Deluxe

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