PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction

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JLM

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Background:

Been into stereo/audio for 40+ years, all with solid state amps.  About 20 years ago became fascinated with the minimalist/purist approach and tried to warm up to the SET scene.  But being a “speaker guy” couldn’t find an affordable high efficiency speaker that didn’t lack bass and/or exhibited some form of colorations.  12 years ago settled on “the” speakers (Brine Acoustics M18-F200, Fostex F-200 full range driver, 90 dB/w/m, 8 ohms, 25 – 20,000 Hz with Bud Purvine’s EnABL driver treatments).  The EnABL’d Fostex F-200 has been called one of the greatest extended range drivers in the world and when paired to the transmission line cabinets have a deep/warm sound unlike other single driver speakers.

Had a 7 wpc tripath at the time the M18-F200 came home (sounded amazingly decent for being so small).  Up’d the ante to Channel Island Audio 40 wpc chip based mono-blocks with passive pre-amp, then stepped attenuators (still into the purist concept) that made very satisfying sound.  Then stepped up functionally (sound quality slightly better) to a Jaton Operetta RC200S pre-amp ($1500 MSRP, neutral sound, high content value, well built) and Channel Island Audio D-100 mono-blocks ($1600/pair MSRP, modified Hypex digital).

But the time spent with the little tube amps continued to haunt me with their smooth, palpable, and organic sound.  I had always held back from the “enlightened path” because of concerns over worries of the sound changing with tube aging, going nuts with tube rolling choices, and the tube associated inconveniences (can’t leave on, cost/hassle of replacement).  On the other hand with the basement man-cave located in the great white north, tube heat was welcomed.  So with relatively little research (for me) the trigger was pulled on this ($3,400 MSRP) amp. 

Product highlights:

•   A thoroughly modern, flexible, and high quality tube amp (rated 2014 Stereophile Class “A”) equipped with (6) 12AU7 (4 acting as a cascade voltage amplifier & 2 as phase splitters) and (4) output tubes
•   Soft start circuit, AC Offset Killer, Adaptive Auto-Bias, bad tube indicators, power transformer protection, output transformer protection, HT bypass, dedicated line level mono subwoofer output, and full function remote
•   4 & 8 ohm outputs, EL34/KT88 bias switch, ultralinear/triode option, many possible tube options, (5) pairs of inputs (phono pre-amp optional with reportedly a better one coming)
•   Various output tube options include EL34, 6550, KT88, and KT120
•   Hand assembled, point to point signal wiring, premium parts throughout, weighs a hefty 66 pounds and apparently well built

Note that the protection circuits are not in the signal path and that they can be most helpful to tube newbies.  The Adaptive Auto-Bias actually helps extend tube life, minimizes tube voicing throughout their lifetime, and works so well you can reportedly use a simultaneous mix of output tube types. 

Source is my current system weakness: a 2012 iMac, using iTunes connected via a cheap 35 feet optical cable to a Behringer DEQ2496 (that has a DAC section modded by Scott Endler).  The rest of the signal cabling is custom ordered, also from Endler.  Room is a Cardas “Golden Cuboid” (8 ft x 13 ft x 21 ft); set-up is also by Cardas (68 inch equilateral triangle, semi-near-field); concrete slab on grade, walls/ceiling envelope insulated wooden framing; insulated/sealed fiberglass exterior door; no metal ductwork; and dedicated audio circuits/grounding.

Music is mostly classical, swing/50’s/soft jazz genres, and a variety of old fart mellow stuff with occasional rock normally at “more mature” listening levels.

So (finally) how does it sound (after several weeks and hundreds of hours) in my system/room to these old ears?

•   No hum or tube rush, dead quiet
•   4 ohm vs. 8 ohm & EL34/KT88 bias (provide little difference), very slightly prefer triode to ultralinear (Auto Bias may be limiting the differences)
•   Highly resolving (detail and image specificity) of liquid satin, yet even older CD era and otherwise less refined recordings sound better (isn’t that ideal?)
•   Compared to the Jaton/CIA – denser sound/images, improved detail, rich musical presentation, more dynamic, looser bass makes up for some of the baffle step loss, cymbals exhibit splash, highs are less steely
•   Output tubes tried (all cryogenically treated, in order of preference): 6550, KT88, EL34, and finally way out in last place the KT120 (which was barely an improvement over the Jaton/CIA)

Conclusion: With the right tubes the PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp is definitely a keeper, but I’ll also hold on to the Jaton/CIA combination that is good enough for casual/far-field listening, as a back-up, and worth more to keep than sell.

Professional reviews:

http://www.primaluna-usa.com/reviews/dlprem_int_stereophile_2013.pdf

http://www.primaluna-usa.com/reviews/TASdiaprem_int.pdf

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue67/primaluna_dialogue.htm

brooklyn

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Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #1 on: 10 Aug 2014, 04:39 pm »
Hi JLM, that was an excellent read and report on the Prima Luna Integrated amp, they sure do make a great product. A couple of years ago I decided that I wanted to get a tube preamp again after many years of mostly solid state to recapture the type of system I had in my youth.

I agree with your minimalist approach believing less, is more…. so I used a Musical Fidelity Integrated amp for a little while but I wasn’t getting the type of sound that I was looking for with the speaker system I had at the time. I invited the discerning ear into my man cave for a listen to that system, (my wife) she told me that I had better sounding systems in the past, I knew that she was right so I got rid of everything but my turntable and started from scratch.

I bought the Prima Luna Prologue 3 preamp first and then bought the other item’s around it. I new that I would be getting a pair of the Magnepan MMG’s and thought, I needed some power to drive them. A pair of Bel Canto REF 500M mono amps became available so I went with them, they drive the MMG’s with no sweat.

I now have tight and controlled bass just the way I like it with a great midrange and extended but smooth top end which I believe is the credit of the Prima Luna, for me it’s a wonderful combo. I haven’t tried any tube rolling and don’t believe I want to get into that but when a new set of tubes are needed, I will probably go with something a little more upscale, what ever that is.

I’m glad your having fun with your new system, thats what this hobby is all about.
Happy listening my friend.

Brooklyn
« Last Edit: 11 Aug 2014, 04:07 am by brooklyn »

ltr317

Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #2 on: 10 Aug 2014, 07:54 pm »
Hi JLM,

Sounds like you're a happy camper with the PL.  Fyi, I am reviewing the new PL Dialogue Premium HP power amp which literally came off the boat last month.  The amp is in the burning-in stage currently. 

Cheers,
Paul

FullRangeMan

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Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #3 on: 10 Aug 2014, 08:02 pm »
Wow

JLM

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Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #4 on: 13 Aug 2014, 10:00 am »
Thanks for the replies.

Hadn't heard of the KT150's working in this amp, but for now not interested in trying them.

Paul, look forward to your review.  Even in triode, the roughly 20 wpc is enough in my setup and for my taste, so am glad not gone for the bigger boy.

Bona

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Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #5 on: 5 Jul 2016, 06:44 am »
Thanks for the review. I'm looking at the Primaluna to drive my system for everyday tv, movies and music. Is the 5-10k hours of usage claimed by the manufacturer realistic in your experience? Is I it reasonable for everyday usage? Thanks.

JLM

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Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #6 on: 5 Jul 2016, 10:07 am »
Follow up:

Swapped out the modded Behringer for a couple of different DACs and now run a DSPeaker.  Added Late Ceiling Splash ambience tweeters (search Audio Kinesis/Duke LeJeune here at Audio Circle) which improved high frequency response and allowed spreading the speakers farther apart to increase soundstage size. 

And sold the PrimaLuna.  Being lazy and forgetful decided the solid state Channel Island Audio D-100 mono-blocks were easier to live with.  Didn't need both amps and the PrimaLuna was worth more on the market.  Upon further evaluation decided that the D-100's were good plenty good enough.  Had read that the auto-bias circuits had stunted voicing of the amp compared to previous versions and the differences tube rolling and various settings afford.  So I can't answer your question about tube life. 

timind

Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #7 on: 5 Jul 2016, 04:10 pm »
A while back I bought a nearly new Primaluna Prolugue Four power amp as a means to get the tube sound. This was after a few attempts at low (16 watts) power tubes. Maybe, as JLM alludes to, it was the auto bias feature that robbed the amp of any "tube magic." The output tubes I was using were the upgraded Svetlana EL34s, I also swapped in some Sylvania 12AU7WAs. To my ear, the Primaluna sounded like solid state without any bass grip.

I used the amp to drive mainly a pair of Meadowlark Audio Kestrel speakers. It simply didn't meet my expectations. When I swapped my Cairn 4808A solid state  amp back in the magic returned.

The Primaluna was easy to sell though.

Klavierman

Re: PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium Integrated Amp - an introduction
« Reply #8 on: 19 Aug 2016, 02:33 am »
I love my PrimaLuna HP. Before, I had a Pass Labs INT-150--very clean but sterile. Now, with the PL, recordings sound more like real music.