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Electrocompaniet PI-2 Prelude Integrated Amplifier Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 December 2009
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Electrocompaniet PI-2 Prelude Integrated Amplifier Review
Listening Session
ImageThe southwest of Norway is a region best known for its rugged coastal scenery. Consult any travel guide of the region and you'll be lavished with descriptions of towering fjords and images of landscapes almost indescribably beautiful. It's unlikely you'll read anything about transient intermodulation distortion (TIM), why it's bad for audio and how one company operating in the little village of Tau, Norway, has been on a mission for more than 35 years to make sure you don't have to hear about TIM, in the most literal sense. That company is Electrocompaniet, an early leader in research and developing solid-state gear that addressed the problems of distortion unique to that design, when previously the audio world was ruled by tubes.

Electrocompaniet managing director and CEO Mikal Dreggevik relates, “Electrocompaniet introduced their first amplifier more than 30 years ago. That design was based upon a new approach to transistorized amplifier design – developed by Dr. Matti Otala and Jan Lohstroh. The result of their innovative design work was incorporated into the first Electrocompaniet design: the legendary 25-Watt amplifier (The 2 Channel Audio Power Amplifier). After that, Electrocompaniet wanted to create more powerful amplifiers with the same transparent, neutral sound found in their first amplifier. This led to new and innovative ways of using feedback in the circuitry. Since then Electrocompaniet have experienced few design limitations. After years of research and testing this have led to our current Dual Mono Class A balanced design. This design uses a different approach to the output stage, which you will not find in any other amplifiers out there. A new technique called Floating Transformer Technique (FTT) has further improved the design. That leaves us with a series of products that fulfill the primary objective of any Hi-Fi component: the faithful reproduction of music.”

PI-2 in SilverThe aforementioned 2 Channel Audio Power Amplifier created quite a stir in the audio community, particularly when, in 1976, the publication Audio Critic proclaimed, “This is the world's best sounding amplifier.” To own that amp and most others that have followed since required a sizable investment – Electrocompaniet has never let price stand in the way of execution. But now the company has introduced an entry-level line of components called Prelude, which includes the PI-2 Integrated Amplifier and companion PC-1 CD player. Both give consumers a taste of Electrocompaniet's Classic Line components at much reduced prices, although at its suggested price of $3,135, for most folks the PI-2 is at the high end of entry level.


Before I get into the PI-2's features, it's worth noting that each Electrocompaniet component undergoes a three-step inspection, by real people, prior to being shipped to customers. My review model included a card initialed by two different folks; one tested the PI-2 for electronic performance and listening, another gave it a final inspection and personally packed it. Such accountability goes a long way to ensure the product arrives trouble-free, as mine did.

The PI-2 is offered in two finishes - black and silver – and its design is the epitome of Scandinavian aesthetic. A minimalist front panel features just five control buttons and blue LED display. It's spartan and clean as a Norway spring breeze. The PI-2 doesn't offer tone controls – an option I personally like – so one sound must necessarily fit all. Under the vented hood lies a large linear power supply and 400VA toroidal transformer. Its rated power output is 100 watts x 2 at 8 Ohms, 150 watts x 2 at 4 Ohms and 220 watts x2 at 2 Ohms. The PI-2 is a fully balanced stereo integrated amplifier that Electrocompaniet built using modern surface mount technology (circuit components are mounted directly to the surface of circuit boards) to cut manufacturing costs yet maintain the product's audio integrity. In a country such as Norway, with a ridiculously high standard of living and taxes to match, it's not easy to keep the production in-country and make products affordable - or even available - to outsiders.

I'm not sure what other cost-saving measures went into the PI-2, but the remote control must be one of them. It's an underwhelming plastic shell with zero pizazz or design connection to the Prelude components. If the sticker bearing the Electrocompaniet name was removed, the remote would be lost in a sea of generic, black plastic remotes. I've taken other companies to task for producing gear whose controls just don't match. The PI-2 should have a remote of solid metal with likewise solid rectangular lines. It gets the job done, and that's my highest and only praise.

The PI-2 sports two fully balanced (XLR) inputs and two single-ended (RCA) inputs. Electrocompaniet supplied a pair of XLR cables to utilize the balanced connections. The amp is designed to perform best with XLRs, which have several advantages over RCAs. Unlike RCA connectors, which essentially “slide” over their respective inputs and outputs, balanced XLR connectors feature signal pins and a locking mechanism for robust connection. We often think of cables simply as signal conveyors, carrying signals from an output source (such as a CD player) to the input of an amplifier. However, as that signal travels, RF/EMI noise from outside sources is added to the signal because the speaker wire acts also as an antenna.

In unbalanced cables, which rely on a single conductor and some type of shield to provide the signal return, a combination of the source signal and the noise go into the amp. That noise may or may not introduce significant distortion, depending on several factors. Balanced cables employ two wires and two conductors, which respectively carry the main signal and its inverse. As such, any interference is balanced between the cable's signal wires, so no voltage change occurs that could introduce distortion into the audio chain. Any noise is canceled. Pretty cool.


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