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a AudioPhileDate Reviewed:
December 30, 2008Bottom Line:
Plinius’s new range topping integrated amplifier is called the ‘Hiato’, a perhaps unfortunate choice of name considering ‘Hiato’ in Spanish and Portuguese means hiatus or holiday in English! Naming convention aside, the Ross Stevens inspired curved facia panel still holds vast appeal even if it’s since been imitated by many. The Plinius has a comprehensive rear panel layout and the front panel is simplicity in itself with a volume control and a bank of horizontally aligned input selectors with small LED indicators. Whilst the exterior of the Plinus was generally pleasing the same unfortunately could not be said for the Plinius’s interior which employs an unusually large amount of wiring both by Plinius’s traditionally tidy design standards and in comparison to other amplifiers in this price range.
Looking at the key internal building blocks the power amp modules are SA-201 / Odeon based, but seem to have been modified to carry one extra power transistor on each power supply rail. This addresses the obvious initial question of how Plinius have been able to achieve the increased power rating of 300 Watts when the standard SA-201 is rated at 225 Watts into 8 ohms. This arrangement would manage 300 Watts but probably not with the dynamic headroom which has characterised Plinius’s earlier amplifiers. By way of comparison Plinius’s SB300/301 products use 8 power transistors per rail to achieve their 300 Watt rating and this might suggest that the Hiato’s power rating would be taxed into low impedances. Of immediate initial concern however was the Hiato’s thermal design. Whilst additional output devices have been added to the power amplifier – the heat sinks don’t appear to be much larger than those utilised in the SA-201 and moreover the heat sinking is certainty way smaller than employed in the similarly powered SB-301.
The Hiato is class AB from the get go and its power supply uses (like the SA-201) dual transformers in a parallel configuration. Both the line and power amplifier stages are fully balanced. The line amp appears to the same as the Tautoro which is not a bad thing! Setting up the Plinius was quick and painless. Based on experience I opted for balanced (XLR) connections between the source and the amplifier and mains powers was delivered to the Plinius via a Nordost Vishnu power cable directly connected to the wall. My source was a CAD 306 professional and speakers LFT8B planars by Eminent Technology. Earlier concerns about the Plinius’s thermal performance were largely mitigated during the audition period.
Moving to the sound the Plinius felt clearly at home with dynamic music. In Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Suite of Dance of the Tumblers’ the Plinius’s dynamic scaling was excellent, allowing each orchestral layer to build on the last. Blasts of broadband energy were delivered right across the low registers without hint of strain. Dynamic contrasts were however less impressive, most noticeably with quiet passages which frankly weren’t quiet enough to maximise the full contrast effect. This is not to say that the Plinius is a noisy amplifier though if compared with the Jeff Rowland which engenders the very blackest of backgrounds (and the lowest of noise floors) in the group – one could be forgiven for arriving at that conclusion.
With the vocals in Krall’s “temptation” it was blatantly obvious that the Plinius ‘house sound’ has changed. Whereas the Plinius 9200 integrated sonic signature was one of smoothness, warmth and relaxing engagement, albeit at times slightly too laid back for my personal liking the Hiato steers and drives some distance towards the opposing spectrum offering a cooler more airy proposition. The upside to this was evident in the ‘Dance of the Tumblers’ where the Hiato offered more excitement as evidenced by a perception of greater speed; and simply more snappiness which so nicely renders and underpins dynamic musical portrayal. This positive theme was continued with John Atkinson’s Fender precision bass guitar riff in Stereophiles Test CD 2 – where the final ‘pop’ in the instruments E string wonderfully delivered both the initial transient and the notes envelope change as it decays. The downside was I missed the traditional “Plinius playbook” with vocals, particularly female vocals which in instances I found to a touch bright in the midrange – a point I will come back to later. For now, Plinius 9100/9200 and 8000 series owners be warned, the Hiato’s read of music may mean that this amplifier is not an automatic “no brain required” upgrade for you.
A degree of disappointment was to continue in the areas of imaging and resolution. In Roger Waters “Perfect Sense, Part I” an album mixed in QSound to enhance the spatial feel of the audio – the vocals of Waters and American born soul singer Pat Arnold should be tightly centred, small and natural. They were this way with the Jeff Rowland, Gryphon and GamuT amplifiers – but they were lamentably larger, vague, less solid and unconvincing centred with the Plinius. Some believe that terrific sound stage width usually translates to compromised imaging but in this case the sound stage width of the Plinius does not better the other amplifiers. Neither does the Plinius better the other amplifiers on depth with the Plinius tending to press the sound towards the forward plane – indicating another possible deviation from Plinius’s traditional ‘house sound’.
The Plinius is no king of resolution either. In Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem”, Rebecca’s voice was front and centre, but everything else was an afterthought. While the opening bass was fine the shaker percussion was comparably vague and the soundstage lacked the ‘big air’ broad panorama of ambience that is encoded on the SACD disc. Ditto for Queen Latifah’s “I put a spell on you” where the brushed percussion was neither tactile nor vivid and decay of the cymbals appeared to lack depth and dimension which some of the other amplifiers here nailed, most notably the AMR and the Jeff Rowland.
I’ve saved my biggest criticism for last as for me whilst I could almost live with the earlier mentioned shortcomings some of which in this esteemed company of amplifiers might be considered nit-picking – this last criticism for me is a complete deal breaker. In my observation and to my ears the Hiato is marred with excessive treble bite in / around the 8th octave, an area where labial and fricative sounds lie. The treble emphasis does change the musical balance and nearly always not for the better. Listening to Krall’s “Girl in the other Room” album gave rise to many instances where the treble did not stop short of glare and instead continued down the irredeemable pathway to stridence. In the short term and if managed correctly this energy can be fun but over the longer haul I found this energy irritating, shrill, harsh and ultimately fatiguing. Were it not for the fact that I had other amplification present which sounded altogether more pleasant with the same material I might have blamed my ribbon tweeters – but considering the constants here, the finger wags disapprovingly at the Plinius.
In retrospect – in pure monetary terms the Plinius is the lowest cost amplifier in the test group by almost $2000 and it might have been unfair of me to include it in such esteemed company. That said, I have long believed that Plinius amplifiers deliver audio performance well beyond their comparative price tag and on this basis its inclusion here was warranted. In barely concealed disappointment I have to conclude that the Hiato as tested barely justifies its price tag and does not offer better value than others here. What the Plinius does offer (comparatively speaking) is brawn without brains and its muscular and forthright musical message seems better suited to home theatre than dedicated home audio which demands more broad based aptitude.
Used product for: Less than 1 month
Duration Product Used: AudioPhile
Product model year: 2008
Reviews 1 - 1 (1 Reviews Total)
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