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PrimaLuna Prologue One Integrated Amplifier (Tube) Review by Doc Sarvis

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Model: Prologue One
Category: Integrated Amplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $1095
Description: 35w/ch, Adaptive AutoBias, point to point wiring, premium parts, available with silver or black faceplate
Manufacturer URL: PrimaLuna
Model Picture: View

Review by Doc Sarvis (A) on December 15, 2005 at 18:17:15
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PrimaLuna Prologue One Integrated Amplifier

I don’t need to say much by way of introduction for the Prologue One. If you’ve been paying any attention to the audiophile press over the last year, then you already know the story: A new line of affordably-priced integrated tube amplifiers hits the market, and is met with rave reviews from almost every direction; praised for their appearance, their ease of use and dependability, even their smell (according to one reviewer) – but most of all, their sonics. Almost overnight, a new standard is set for tube-based electronics.

Because this story has already been told so many times, I don’t need to rehash it here. Instead, I’ll take a page from the world of marketing and advertising, and talk instead about the experience of the ProLogue One - from the moment I became aware of it, to its current place in my life.

Like many others, my first exposure to the Prologue One was through the auspices of my favorite audio equipment dealer, Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio. I was already a multi-year satisfied customer of Kevin’s, and buzz was beginning to spread about the PrimaLuna line, that Kevin was helping to introduce to the U.S. market (as he had previously done with the now-famous Ah! Njoe Tjoeb CD player). The new amps would be point-to-point wired, and would sport many value-added features - including auto-biasing - which would simplify the life of even a fairly seasoned tube amp owner like me. I was certainly intrigued when the ProLogue One was introduced and received the first of its many favorable notices, but I did not initially “give in” – mainly because I had no use for an integrated in my system.

It was here that the “experience” factor began to play itself out. My fourteen-year-old son, who had been spending his entire life observing his father’s audiophile manias from a respectful distance (“careful son, those things get really hot!”), came to me one day and uttered the words that every audiophile Dad longs to hear: “I was wondering if I could borrow some of your tube equipment for my room.” My heart sang with joy: Despite the preponderance of MP3 culture in his life, and despite my repeated admonitions that his friends would just not “get” tubes, he nevertheless had learned something about good sound from his dad, and wanted to have it in his life.

At first, my idea was to bring him into the tube world by way of a cheap headphone amp and some HD-600s. But, as fate would have it, I had a short-term need for a replacement amp in my own system (mine was at the shop). So, a plan was hatched (and spouse-approved): I would buy the ProLogue One, use it in my own system for a while and teach my son about it, then, when he least expected it, casually announce that we should set it up in his room. Without explicitly verbalizing it, the ground would be laid for eventually letting him take the amp with him when he set out into the big world on his own – still wet behind the ears, perhaps, but at least well-grounded in his appreciation of good sound. My audiophile passions would be successfully passed on to the next generation.

I set the scheme in motion with a call to Kevin. As always, he was completely accommodating and service-oriented. (A special mention is apropos here: Kevin Deal continues to be one of the shining lights in this hobby. You should consider patronizing his business whenever circumstances permit.) I opted for the $159 add-on phono stage (called the PhonoBoard); I had no illusions about my son wanting to adopt my vinyl obsession, but I reasoned that a phono stage would be good for possible resale (plus, as mentioned, I needed the amp for short-term use in my own system – which most definitely includes a vinyl rig). As usual, Kevin’s service was fast and efficient: He makes a point of trying to get his customers’ new gear to them in time for the weekend, and that’s exactly what he did for me.

Double boxing has become de rigueur in high-end audio shipping, but the PrimaLuna actually arrived triple boxed – I have never received an audio component more effectively protected than this one. Again, it’s about the experience – Kevin and his PrimaLuna associates know that packaging goes a long way to cementing good initial impressions. At the threshold of the third box, I discovered a set of white cotton gloves for handling the amp – a nice touch. Finally, after breaking the third seal, the amp itself was revealed, protected by another cloth. Other reviewers have commented on the paint job, but it must be seen to be appreciated, a beautiful darkest-blue automotive paint, hand-rubbed to a gorgeous finish. (I immediately proceeded to put a small nick in mine, in an act of personal stupidity so shame-inducing that the details cannot be revealed here – suffice it to say that care should be exercised with the finish!). The tubes themselves (which, unusually, were already installed in the amp as it came out of the box), were protected by a sturdy tube cage. As has been well-reported, the cage is held to the amp itself by four ingenious banana plugs, and is easily removed as a result. Everything about the amp, from its industrial, “Metropolis-esque” overall look, to the feel of the volume pot and input selector knobs, to the sturdy five-way binding posts, testifies to the quality of the design and manufacturing process, and cemented in my mind the wise-ness of my decision to purchase. So far, the experience could not be better.

After removing the Styrofoam protectors around the tubes and checking that they were firmly in place, I was almost ready to begin. I had a choice between 4 or 8-ohm speaker taps on the rear, and I chose the 8-ohm hookups for my Gallo Reference3 speakers. I was a little pensive about trying the 35wpc Prologue One on speakers that are not known for their efficiency, but since it only represented a temporary setup before the plan with my son went into effect, I figured I’d give it a try. I’ll admit I was shocked by the results: From the moment I put on a CD and eased into the volume knob, the sound I heard from the Gallos was solid and authoritative – smooth midrange to be sure, but also pure, engaging highs and surprisingly effective bass response.

Amazingly enough, I noticed no shortage of power, either at that initial moment or at any other time throughout my experience with the ProLogue One/Gallo combination. I listen to a lot of classical music, and I had reckoned that the extreme dynamic range of, say, Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (in the famous Solti/CSO remastered “Legends” CD), would prove too much for the amp with those speakers. Not so. In fact, my overall experience with the ProLogue One and the Gallos leads me to conclude that either the rumors of the Gallos’ inefficiency are dead wrong, or that the ProLogue One is one heck of an integrated amp, with 35wpc representing a truly conservative rating. Likely both propositions are true.

Fact is, I loved the sound of the ProLogue One. All of the well-described “audiophile” elements were there; excellent dynamics, great response at all frequencies that the Gallos could muster (this was before I got the Gallo SA “subwoofer” amp, which I have reviewed here as well), a spectacular soundstage. Beyond that, however, there is that elusive quality of tube amplification, and the ProLogue One has it in spades. I’ve heard it described as “warmth”, “smoothness”, and “non-fatiguing listening”, but rather than exercise those tired warhorses of audio writing, I’ll simply say that listening to the ProLogue One is FUN. Those audio fans who have experienced this kind of fun, know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of fun that makes you rush into your listening room after a day’s work, and revisit parts of your CD and record collections that otherwise had been gathering dust. It’s the kind of fun that makes everything sound just right (and just as one would expect) while listening. It’s the kind of fun that causes a brief surge of unease, suggesting that maybe one’s (much more expensive) “main system” might not be as “fun”. What is it exactly? I don’t know – that’s kind of like defining what quality is, exactly. But whatever it is, the ProLogue One has it.

I had a great time during my “temporary” run with the ProLogue One in my main system. I grew quite fond of its warm (considering it’s a tube amp, the ProLogue One does not get excessively hot) presence in my listening room, and as I have stated, I really “got into” the way it sounded. But, the time came in due course to complete the experience I had originally envisioned for it. I had a great time introducing it to my son – the event played out exactly like I had planned, and he has become a certified tube addict, even to the point that he’s sending me tube-related links from his Internet searches. He immediately set up the unit in his room, with a pair of NHT SB2’s and his iPod as the only source. The combination sounds amazingly good.

So, the experience was complete, or so I thought: Just the other day, my son and I were talking about his new interest in good sound, and I asked what he would like for Christmas. His response took me completely off guard. “A turntable”, he said, “to use with the PrimaLuna.”

NOW the experience is complete.

Product Weakness: See review
Product Strengths: See review

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: See review
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): See review
Sources (CDP/Turntable): See review
Speakers: See review
Cables/Interconnects: See review
Music Used (Genre/Selections): See review
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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