The PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium has more than one clever trick up its sleeve. Flip the rocker switch on the right side of its chassis and this erstwhile EL34 amplifier can now accept power tubes from the KT88/KT120 family of pentodes. Flip a switch on the rear panel and this stereo amplifier is now strapped for use as a higher-powered monoblock, after which you have a choice of buying one more DiaLogue Premium or discarding one of your loudspeakers. (You know which route I’d go.) Sit back and ignore both of those switches and the DiaLogue Premium still offers: an LED-based Bad Tube Indicator system for the output tubes; a Power Transformer Protection circuit; an Output Transformer Protection circuit; and an AC Offset Killer circuit intended to eliminate hum and promote more silent spaces between the notes.
- The Guitar Trio by Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLauchlin plays Manhã de Carnaval, which shows the differences between the three guitars and the style of playing from each musician. Notes are clear and warm, the amps clearly separating the strings from the body of the instrument. I would love a bit more dynamics, but that’s where the KT120s come in. When guitar is played so well I feel the need to try solo piano. The French Alexandre Tharaud plays works by Erik Satie (Avant Dernières Pensées) starting with Gnossienne No.1 followed by Petite Ouverture A Danser, tracks that offer both soft notes as well as more dynamically demanding ones. This is no problem for the PrimaLuna because it has so much power on tap. Naturalness is again a strong point of the amplifier, revealing just how majestic a grand piano can be when the combination of source, amplification, loudspeakers and room acoustics allow. Moving on to some classical work I cannot surpass Janine Jansen’s playing of The Four Seasons by Vivaldi on a very fine recording from 2004. The violin takes the lead for each part, with backup from the other instruments spread well beyond the outer flanks of the loudspeakers. This forms a stage that’s big enough to be real, yet at the same time the performance is intimate and close to the listener. Not in your face I hasten to add, but you are definitely not sitting in the back row. The bass is strong enough, the organ’s always there, the light tones of the harpsichord never get lost and the cello’s ‘whooshing’ all the time.
I have tubes
- This seems like a good time to switch over to the a DiaLogue fitted with eight KT120 tubes. After a half hour warm up I continue to play the Janine Jansen CD. The beautiful midrange of the EL34 turns into a less expressive one but a lot more has changed as well. The whole presentation is far more powerful, bass is not louder but it is stronger than before, with more grip. The stereo image is wider, reaching not only beyond the cabinet sides but out to the adjacent walls. Solo violin moves forward, the orchestra backwards. The presentation is livelier and the small loss of the extreme beauty of the EL34 midrange is soon forgotten. This is my favourite tube nowadays for power delivery. Although violin might be a bit more aggressive, a bit rougher, the sum of the parts comes closer to a live performance. Playing the Isabelle Boulay CD Merci Serge Reggiani the guitar is very powerful, while the voice of Isabelle comes to life. The extra power of the tube, stretching over the whole frequency range, adds to the way the already lifelike DiaLogue behaves. The PrimaLuna is not a typical tube amp, the PrimaLuna is simply a very good amplifier period. I have had other tube based amps at home that really shouted “I have tubes” and solid state amps that tried to sound that way, the PrimaLuna is a neutral device in between these extremes. Delivering what has been sent by the source, as steady as solid state, with tube dynamics and expression.
- When both amps are warmed up it is obvious that the character of the sound did not change, nor did the soundstage, it is more the impact and realism that increases with the extra power. The PMC speakers, always eager for power, are happy to turn my living room into a club. This added drama was also welcome when I used my stereo system for home cinema, to play the soundtracks of movies or TV series. The extra punch in the lower registers added to the special effects rumbling through the room. Nevertheless, the extra power does not ruin the subtlety of the DiaLogues. Songbird from Eva Cassidy and Farewell Farewell by Mary Black stay intimate, clear and detailed as should be. This is why I used two amps in monoblock operation for most of this review. Often with lesser amplifiers extra power takes away the tiny sounds that makes music engaging, not so with the PrimaLuna. They sound small when required and deliver force if you push them. I have no idea about the limits since I simply never reached them.
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