|Portal Audio Panache Integrated Amplifier|
|Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers|
|Written by Thomas Garcia|
|Tuesday, 01 October 2002|
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My listening session began with Chicago jazz pianist/singer Patricia Barber, whose musical ideology somewhat parallels the design criteria of Portal Audio. Both are minimalist in the way they approaching their respective art. First cut was Track 8 from Café Blue (Premonition Records), a remake of the classic “Ode To Billy Joe.” The Panache captured the rich harmonic structure, weight and attack of Michael Arnopol’s bass line while rendering Barbers vocals with a plush yet translucent quality. Free from grain or harshness, the Panache did a good job keeping any sibilance in Barber's voice in check during the vocal crescendo on Track 9, “To Rich For My Blood”.
Next up was Billy Idol’s former partner, guitarist extraordinare Steve Stevens, with his title song from the DVD Audio release Flamenco.A.Go.Go. This track, like most of the album, infuses a mesmerizing mixture of acoustic guitars and digital technology to create ambient sounds and textures that heighten and broaden both the aural and emotional impact of the varied performances. The Panache was able to decipher all the cues and nuances of this complex cut, painting a focused sound stage, while providing a soul-stirring presentation of this sonic potpourri. Transients were razor sharp, though bass control became less defined and somewhat compromised at higher volume while listening through the Revel Studios.
Emmylou Harris’ excellent live album Spyboy (Eminent Records) really brought to light the strengths of the Panache when used as a headphone amplifier. It was easy to follow the weave of the individual instruments and voices in the second track, “Where Will I Be.” Track 6, “Deeper Well,” demonstrated the Panache’s ability to simultaneously deliver the driving rhythm section of Brady Blade Jr. and Darryl Johnson, the growl of Buddy Miller’s guitar, and still not lose Harris’ sometimes delicate vocal delivery in the mix. The soundstage was layered, placing Harris solidly front and center, with supporting band members fanned out behind her. On the dramatic final cut, “The Maker,” the snap, detail, power and punch of Blades’ forceful percussion was entrancing, and completely convincing through the Panache. High-frequency extension was clean and effortless, displaying the sharp attack and shimmer of the cymbals.
Al Di Meola’s exciting CD Kiss My Axe (Tomato) also revealed the Panache’s ability to provide exquisite detail, as well as power and dynamics. Sitting back and enjoying the detail of “The Embrace,” followed immediately by the dynamic title cut was an exciting roller coaster ride that I felt compelled to repeat numerous times. The contrast of Di Meola’s melodious guitar and the crystal-clear percussion showed the Panache's ability to perform gracefully and at the same time articulate deep internal detail.
The lack of a remote control will be an issue for some users, including this reviewer. This poses an inconvenience, as I often find myself controlling the volume, making changes for different songs during a listening session. In addition, the Panache may be well suited for a small-scale ensemble, but the limited number of inputs and outputs will eliminate it from consideration as the centerpiece of a complex audio system. If you listen at reference levels, some thought should be given to possibly matching the Panache with a loudspeaker that is relatively easy to drive at low frequencies.
While the current trend in consumer electronics is to include every option and feature possible, Portal Audio has chosen a different route. They have embraced the “less is more” approach and succeeded in providing a viable solution for individuals whose needs lean towards simplicity and quality rather then complexity. Headphone users will appreciate the dynamic ability and intoxicating musicality of the headphone section. For those who seek the minimalist approach, this design offers a short electronic path between the music and the listener. For Portal Audio’s potential core audience, those entering into high-end audio or who want to assemble a simple, well-designed system to a second room or office, the Panache could provide just the right solution.