Plinius Hautonga Integrated Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Monday, 24 March 2014

Plinius is a 30-year-old high performance audio company based in New Zealand. They enjoy a stellar reputation, and fiercely loyal fan base, thanks to achievements in industrial design, build, and ergonomics. More importantly, they have long been known for making superb-sounding, reference quality playback gear, including source components and amplification. Plinius has distributors in over forty countries, yet each unit is still hand built in their factory in Christchurch, the second most populous urban area in New Zealand.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with the Plinius Tiki network file player, and was very much taken with its design, execution, and excellent sound. This overwhelmingly positive experience peaked my interest in the rest of the company’s products. Frank Gazzo, Plinius’s hard working North American representative, suggested their Hautonga integrated amplifier, which sells for $5750.

The Hautonga is built like a tank, and the workmanship is among the very best I have encountered. All connectors are of extremely high quality, with WBT and Neutrik used throughout. Internal wiring is Audioquest for the output stage and Audience for the input stage.  There is a ground switch, two sets of speaker binding posts, an XLR input labeled CD, and four RCA inputs. There is also an onboard phono stage (However, since I do not have a turntable, I was not able to evaluate this feature), as well as a Pre Out, Line Out, and Home Theater Bypass. Plinius has certainly taken the approach of producing a complete solution for variety of set ups. The name of the game is flexibility.

The casework is gorgeous and the review sample arrived in a stunning silver finish; black is also available. The Hautonga is supplied with an impressive full function billy club sized remote that could double as a weapon. There is no losing this remote between the couch cushions. Power output is specified at 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms by the way, and 280 watts into 4 ohms. The amp seemed to have gobs of power to spare, as it never seemed to break a sweat the entire time it was in the system.

Plinius Hautonga

Set Up & Listening

The Hautonga was plug and play all the way; much like the Tiki I enjoyed using so much. I used the amp with two different speakers, the KEF R700 and the Harbeth compact 7 ES3. Speaker cables were Transparent "The Wave" and sources were the Musical Fidelity V90 DAC, the CLONES Audio Sheva DAC, as well as the Marantz SA-14S1 SACD Player/DAC. I also used the excellent new Denon DA-300USB DAC, which is currently in for review. I used a Transparent power cord, with no other special tweaks.

The Hautonga and KEF match-up was tremendous partnership from the get go. Together, the R700 and the Plinius produced a big sound, with a tall and wide soundstage. The Plinius controlled the KEF’s woofers with tremendous precision. Orchestral music was panoramic and approached lifelike scale (within the confines of the listening room, of course).

 


The Hautonga did not emphasize any particular part of the musical frequency spectrum, though the folks at Plinius seemed to have designed it with a naturally balanced sound, and with a certain elegance to the midrange and treble. That, a very clean and open midrange, may be the key to the Hautonga’s sound. Another performance aspect I found very impressive was stereo imaging and focus. The amp had an almost monoblock-like presentation in this regard, with excellent channel separation.

For a few weeks I cued up a lot of classic '60s rock. Joe Cocker’s self-titled second album was served up wonderfully through the Hautonga. Cocker’s distinctive renditions of what were, in 1969, rather new songs, raised the hair on the back of my neck with the passion in his voice, and the driving force of his sympathetic backing band. His take on George Harrison’s “Something” and Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” are worth the price of admission. The Plinius let me hear how well the CD was mastered and how tasteful the original production was.

Plinius Hautonga black

The brand new Mark Lanegan two-CD collection, Has God Seen My Shadow? An Anthology 1989 to 2011, is an excellent overview of the Seattle native’s solo output. It is very well mastered and the Plinius shone a gorgeous light on Lanegan’s voice, especially with the Harbeths. The combo unraveled the dark and mysterious compositions, from the early, acoustic work through the heavier, electronica flavored newer recordings. Hearing Lanegan’s songs through such a high quality set up was a real treat.

One catalog reissue series I very much was looking forward to was the remastering of the great U.K. '90s band, Del Amitri. Their first three albums were given double-disc deluxe treatment and I was not disappointed. Tracks from Waking Hours, Change Everything, and Twisted sounded punchy, vibrant, and downright textured through the Hautonga. Lead singer’s Justin Currie’s sublime voice was rendered velvety smooth, and the band’s pop rock framework has simply never sounded better.

The Plinius was also thrilling on recent recordings. Arcade Fire’s 2010 release, The Suburbs, sounded big and wide, with the band’s cinematic soundscapes really coming through. This is a very dense and interesting recording, and the Hautonga unraveled all of mix's the distinct parts very easily. It was the best I have heard this album sound. Another album with which I have become enamored is Sing To The Moon, the 2013 debut by British songstress Laura Mvula. Her voice is pure smoke and honey, and the Hautonga framed it front and center, with the restrained and tasteful backing tracks perfectly locked in. The title track and “Green Garden” unfold like a sonic tapestry.



I did a casual comparison with my reference McIntosh MA6600 ($6000) integrated amp. Both the Plinius and McIntosh have similar features, and the same power output. The Plinius was a bit more pure and delicate on top. Both exhibited clean and transparent midranges, and bass performance was very close, with the McIntosh seeming to be more fleshed out at the bottom, but the Plinius had more control and articulation. Very, very close indeed, with the nod in finesse going to the Hautonga.

In use, the Hautonga was dead quiet. No mechanical or electronic artifacts ever crept into the music. It was absolute pleasure to interface with the amp daily, and listening sessions were never cut short due to listener fatigue or any other inconvenience. The Plinius design team obviously gets the fact that an amplifier like this is a decent investment, and it should be a pleasure to use, day in day out. And it was.

At the end of the review period, I found myself most impressed by the Hautonga’s transient speed, dynamics, and soundstage width. The amp was lightning quick without ever sounding lightweight, and its super wide soundstaging was what I usually hear from very good mono blocks. It did not hurt that, in silver, the Hautonga was beautiful to look at, and had a smartly laid out back panel, which makes an audiophile’s life easier.

Plinius Hautonga Silver

Conclusion

The Plinius Hautonga is a truly excellent integrated amplifier. It is a very good investment at $5750, as it more than likely will be put to use for years of pleasurable listening sessions. It covers all bases feature wise, with a Phono input, and enough line inputs for virtually any set up.

The Hautonga connects the musical dots, which is why it won me over. Look for more Plinius reviews this year, as I am curious to see how some of their other components stack up. The fact that it can drive just about any speaker, is easy to integrate into a system, and looks great, are nice bonuses. An audition is very much recommended.



Specifications


Plinius Hautonga: $5750

Power output:  200 wpc
Dimensions: 17.75" x 4.75" x 15.75"
Weight: 30 lbs.

Plinius USA (U.S. Distributor)
3439 NE Sandy Boulevard #128
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 662 8210
pliniusaudio.nzld.com
pliniususa@gmail.com



Review System 1


CD Transport: Marantz SA-14S1 SACD player
Server: Squeezebox Touch
DAC/Server:  SIM Neo 308D
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Channel Islands Audio PLC-1 MkII
Amplifier: Audio Research  VS 55 CLONES Audio 25I
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Darwin Ascension (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz CD5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity A90, CLONES Audio Sheva DAC, Denon DA-300USB
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, KEF R700
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS






 






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