The Norwegian audio company Electrocompaniet, with which you are probably familiar, has been around for about 40 years, and has a special place in my personal HiFi history. As many of you know for many years I listened to what we now call the QUAD 57 Electrostatic Speakers. I tried amps from QUAD, Marantz, McIntosh, Dynaco, Bedeni, and Electrocompaniet. Without a doubt the original Electrocompaniet Class A, 25 watts, 2-channel amplifier was the best amp for the QUADs. This little wonder, designed by Dr. Matti Otala, could really make them sing while never arcing them. Electrocompaniet emphasizes that all its amplifiers are still based on the principles laid down in the works of Drs. Otala and Jan Lohstroh. For this reason, Electrocompaniet products have always had my greatest respect.
The PI 2D is the new addition to Electrocompaniet’s Prelude Line, which also includes the PI-1 50-watt amplifier, the PI-2 100-watt amplifier and the PBD-1 multi-player.
The PI 2D is the largest integrated amplifier in Electrocompaniet’s Prelude series, though admittedly a pricy integrated amplifier, albeit with a built-in DAC. The 24kHz/192-bit DAC has five digital inputs: two Coax, two Toslink and one USB. Connections for analogue sources include one balanced XLR input and four single ended RCA inputs. It was Electrocompaniet’s goal for this product to produce a sound cut from the same piece of cloth as their classic amplifiers. All the functions can be controlled by the remote control on the front panel, which has a clearly visible large display.
I mainly used the PI 2D in my upstairs digital/video system. I hooked up the Marantz BD7004 and the Direct TV Galaxy DVR to Coax 1 and 2. I came out of the Mac Mini into the USB input. The Electrocompaniet PI 2D drove a pair of Teresonic Magus A55 speakers. The setup was simple and easy. The front panel and remote worked well. One other thing I really like is that it is easy to get the desired volume because it moves in very small increments. I do wish there was a remote for just the PI 2D so that there wouldn’t be so many little buttons on the remote.
The PI 2D is slightly warmer than most transistor amps I have heard in this price range. I would not say it sounds tube-like in the way soft, overly warm sounding transistor amps are often described; I would never want a tube amp that sounds slow, soft, and overly warm. Instead, I would describe the sound of the PI D2 as detailed but listenable; dynamic but still relaxed; and most of all while it doesn’t sound “transistory,” it is quick with good micro-dynamics.
Digital music sounded very nice with this amp/DAC. Nicely alive, with good tone, and revealing of the colors of music. I found Wasserman’s album Duets sounded very true to itself. Not the same startling aliveness I have downstairs with the Wavac EC-300B amp and the Soundsmith SG-220 Strain Gauge cartridge system, yet, it was still true to the music. Likewise, Wasserman’s bass was not nearly as alive and real sounding as it does in the reference system, but it was still tonally very good, better than some tube and transistor amps that cost more.
When used for movies, I was blown away with its powerful, very articulate, and agile bass that still had pretty good decay for a transistor amp. The bass and mid-bass were powerful without obscuring or making male voices sound too warm, just nicely fleshed out. When listening to music I found the bass well controlled but not overly tight. This worked wonderfully well with the Teresonic and the Audience “The One” bookshelf speakers. If your speakers add their own warmth this may not result in the tightest of bass, but if you own such speakers deep bass is probably not the highest on your priority list in music reproduction anyway.
The PI D2’s midrange and top end were well integrated with no emphasis of the upper octaves. Details were easy to hear but never sounded etched or strained. The amp and DAC produced very good detail without sounding analytical, etched, or strained. Voices sounded beautiful, nicely fleshed out and with good space. Truth is, this amp/DAC handled space as well as an any digital/solid state combo I have had at the house.
In fact, soundstaging was an area where the PI D2 excelled. Neither the width nor the depth of the soundstage was anything less than realistic. It played music with realistic scale and size. Imaging and focus were good with exceptional air and space for a transistor/digital system.
The amp had good punch and great pace. Macro-dynamics were good and micro-dynamics were so quick and yet so natural.
Let’s start by comparing it to the 47 Labs Model 4733 Midnight Blue Amplifier-Preamplifier-USB DAC. This flea-powered integrated could easily drive my Teresonic Magus speakers, but for this comparison I used it with their Midnight Blue 4734 Power Amp; review forthcoming. This combo sells for $4,500 which makes it a very fair comparison. Both the 47 Labs combo and the Electrocompaniet PI 2D were really musical, emotionally involving. The 47 Labs combo put more emphasis on clarity, transparency, and detail than the Electrocompaniet, whereas the PI 2D was more robust and full-bodied, and also sounded more powerful and bigger. I also found the DACs in the Electrocompaniet to sound less digital than the 47 Labs combo.
I’ll conclude with a confession, I’ve been a little slow getting this review written because I just didn’t want to give this thing back. No, the Electrocompaniet PI 2D was not the best amp I’ve heard and I wouldn’t choose it for my reference system. By the same token, it’s not the absolute best DAC I have heard, although it’s really good. The PI 2D was simply a wonderful integrated amp, a wonderful DAC and the best USB DAC I have heard. Having two sources going into its main DAC and the computer with all the music and movies going into the USB, the Electrocompaniet was perfect for my digital/video system.
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