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PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier Review

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KT 120–Arnold, “I’ll be back” muscle

While EL 34 power tubes favor delicacy, sweetness and refinement, the Tung-Sol KT 120s demonstrate brawn and power, while also retaining some of the delicacy. A fine example of both power and grace is the Mari Kodama rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 23 (“Appassionata”) on the SACD recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, no. 21, 23 and 26 (Pentatone). Ms. Kodama’s fluid playing style allows the listener to absorb Beethoven’s many emotional moods which the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP reproduces as a thrilling roller-coaster ride. Hold on to your hats ladies and gents! The amplifier’s ample power reserve allows it to convey subtle dynamic shadings easily, from the softest pianissimo (pp) to the loudest fortissimo (ff). The diminutive Ms. Kodama must have had a field day with her piano recording this album. She would have been doubly delighted if she had heard the recording with the DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier.

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier Review

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier Review

Cassandra Wilson possesses a natural deep voice, and the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP adds fullness to her already sonorous vocals. This is evident on the track “If Loving You Is Wrong” on Glamoured, where I have not heard her or the rhythm section sound so full before. The same can be said in her cover of Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” on the same album, where the bongos, drums and bass guitar establishes such a firm foundation that my neighbor must be wondering if I hired a band to irritate him.

I was startled when the kick drum started pounding on Wilco’s “At Least That’s What You Said” from A Ghost Is Born and half expected the band to jump out of the speakers, such was the sudden impact. The song’s drive and tastefully distorted guitar work is captured wonderfully with the DP/Rogue Audio/AAD 2001 combination.

In my system, the KT 120 doesn’t quite have the same midrange sweetness and smoothness of the EL34, but provides an overall fuller and weightier sound. For example, bass guitar and piano sound closer to the size and weight of real instruments on Holly Cole’s “I Can See Clearly Now” track. The same can be said of “Ride On The Train” with its propulsive beat stronger and more prominent than with the EL34 in place.

As previously stated, vocals tend to sound deeper, as if sung at a slightly lower register. Joni’s voice in the two songs from Blue I noted seems to drop by about a half octave, as if she sung more with her diaphragm than with her throat–which is a positive for me. However, this is at the expense of a slight loss of presence in the mix, resulting in a little less transparency.

Near the end of my auditioning process and with Kevin Deal’s permission, I dug into my stash and pulled out several vintage pairs of 12AU7 and 5814 to get different sonic flavors. My two favorite alternatives in the input section are Mullard long plate square-getter 12AU7s and RCA black plate square-getter 5814s. The Mullard provided greater midrange presence, while the RCA presented a warmer and slightly darker sound. I felt the other vintage brands I tried did not improve the sound of the stock 12AU7s, but merely change it somewhat.

While I ultimately ended up preferring the Mullard 12AU7/EL34 combination slightly more than other tube combinations, I applaud the fact that I can substitute the KT120 or a different 12AU7 when my mood for a particular sound needs to be satisfied. This demonstrates again the flexibility of the DiaLogue Premium HP to alter the sound characteristics by simply changing a tube.

The combination of my Rogue Audio 99 Super Magnum preamplifier and the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier (with stock tubes) are close to neutral or linear sounding, especially in ultralinear operation. Even when using the triode mode the sound never approaches the overly warm, thick delivery of the majority of vintage tube equipment. Of course there are some who prefer that type of sound, and I belonged in that camp early on in my audio journey. What the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP produces exceedingly well are complex harmonic textures and an ability to hear into the recording.

I like the warmth of tubes. Just like a cup of hot chocolate in wintertime, the sound relaxes me and gets my emotional attention. But if the sound is overly warm and euphonic, music becomes too muddy by obscuring detail. I can report the Dialogue Premium HP is not that type of tube component.

Through the generosity of friends and audio club members, I have had on numerous occasions been able to listen extensively to several PrimaLuna ProLogue or DiaLogue models (both integrated and power amps) and thought the dynamic range good for relatively low powered amplifiers. With this beefed-up HP version, the dynamic needle has swung farther up the scale decisively. In fact, the dynamic range is nearly outstanding. While not quite reaching the dynamic level of a kilowatt solid state amplifier, I doubt if anyone will be complaining about the dynamic range, unless one owns very low efficiency–either dynamic or electrostatic speakers–and there’s a good possibility they may even be satisfied.

The amount of resolution and transparency are excellent (especially with EL34), allowing the listener to hear well into the recording without stepping beyond the boundary of realism to hyper-realism, an area where I hear digital noise or hash and what some proponents believe to be ambience or atmosphere, but what I find as unnatural and unrealistic.

 

Sine qua non

Although I have auditioned or listened to thousands of components since my interest in audio began at a young age, I have never found the perfect or ideal piece of equipment so far. This PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier is perhaps among the three or four best I have heard to date. Certainly the synergy created by one’s associated equipment will bring out the best in each of the individual pieces, resulting in a gestalt sounding system. The DiaLogue Premium HP sound is so captivating in my system that I can’t seem to resist. You win PrimaLuna! My Rogue preamplifier, AAD speakers and the rest of the motley crew welcome the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP into our extended audio family. I was in the market to buy a reference amplifier and the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP came along at the right time. Thanks Kevin. My check is in the mail. I strongly urge anyone who is looking for a truly high-end power amplifier to audition this one. Until next time, I wish you happy listening.

 

Comment from PrimaLuna USA:

It’s a great review.  It would be super to elaborate on the Chinese manufacturing.  No matter how you cut it, it’s a negative to consumers.  And everybody is either making product there or having circuit boards stuffed there.  Frankly I don’t like China even being mentioned in our reviews as it makes it seem we are different when Krell makes entire amps in China as does Cary, Sonus faber, etc.  REL is made in China.

PrimaLuna is the Apple of high end audio.  Nobody manufactures like this.  Each amp has five coats of hand-rubbed finish.  Swiss watches that are certified chronometers are held in different positions and measured, and must keep accurate time no matter what position.  PrimaLuna products go into a robotic arm, where they are rotated into six different positions while playing test tones and being measured.

We supply our own parts to the factory as we want the best.  We decided to use Littlefuse branded fuses because we like the way they sound.  We bought them from a supplier in China.  Herman went to far as to take pictures of all the marking at the end caps, and sent them to Littlefuse engineering to make sure they were real.  They were fake.  Now we ship fuses there.  I know how freaky Herman is about perfection.

 

Kevin Deal, PrimaLuna USA

9 Responses to PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP power amplifier Review


  1. John chaney says:

    This is one of the few amps I am interested in. Quality and value. I bet they sound fantastic in a great analogue system.

  2. Nigel Marsh says:

    Great Review.
    As the owner of a three year old trouble free Dialogue 5 power amp,I can say PrimaLuna makes
    Really musical gear.
    As for tube selection,I have tried KT88,KT120,El34 etc.
    The one tube to me that is the most musical top to bottom is the… TAD 6L6 WGC STR.
    Can the reviewer at some time try these and report back?

    • Paul Mah says:

      Hello Nigel,

      Thanks. It’s difficult to borrow loaner tubes for audition from dealers/importers/manufacturers. Kevin is the rare exception. But if I do come across 6L6 outputs I will certainly write a follow-up to this review.

      Cheers,
      Paul

  3. Robert says:

    Another informative and entertaining review. Thanks Paul!

  4. Ron N. says:

    Great review Paul keep up the good work !

  5. Sunil Lekhi says:

    Paul, I enjoy your honest and informative reviews. Excellent job as always 🙂

  6. Paul, Thanks for the informative & honest review of the PL Dialogue H.P. Amp. I personally own a PL Dialogue Premium Preamp & PL Dialogue Premium H.P. Amplifier. The performance & quality of this gear is outstanding, particularly given It’s price. I have not found anything with the circuitry & design that is employed within the PL Dialogue Premium gear, that say’s a lot about the core of the company’s commitment values towards “Musicality First” principles. I love “Tube Rolling”, it really lets me dial in the sound according to material, taste, mood, etc. I like the Mullard cv4003, Cifte 12au7, Tungsol KT 120 combo in the amp. The Philips 5R4GYS rectifier, Mullard cv4003, Cifte 12au7 combination in the Preamp also sounds excellent, to my ears anyway. Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio really knows his stuff, he suggested these particular NOS tubes for my PL gear & was spot on as to the sound i was looking for. The music has dynamics, authority, warmth, detail, etc., something i did not know was possible with tube gear.Keep up the reviews, audio gearheads can never be too informed! Thanks, Mike

  7. Paul Mah says:

    Hi Mike,
    I recently tried some CV4003 and I agree with you, they sound great!

    Paul

  8. Kenneth says:

    The HP needs hours and hours to break in. Do not judge it to early after purchase. I have experimented with preamps and found Atma Sphere V 1 to bring the HP to the sublime.

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