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Perreaux amps make the grade

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Class consciousness: Perreaux amps make the grade

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1986, The Syracuse Newspapers

In the hi-fi business, class counts just as much as it does in the car business. Just as BMWs and Saabs have become trendy, upscale conveyances for the semi-well-to-do, so Perreaux components have achieved a similar status among audiophiles.

The similarity is striking. Like the two Yuppie automobiles, Perreaux amplifiers are finely crafted, unusually well engineered and expensive.

And, like those two cars, they come from far away—very far away, in fact. Unlike most hi-fi components on the American market, which are made in Japan, Perreaux amplifiers are made in a modern plant in New Zealand.

Perreaux loaned two of its top amplifiers—a power amp and a preamp—for review and long-term listening. Tests showed that they rank with only a few other amps at the top of their class, and they sounded every bit as good as their test results suggested they would.

But a caution is in order for readers who are still paying for their K mart hi-fi sets: The Perreaux amps cost as much as a new Yugo—the model 3150 power amp is $2,400 and the model SM3 preamp is $1,800.

I had only two problems with the amps. First, it was hard to see the name (the corporate logo) of the manufacturer, since the lettering was the same color as the background. At $4,200 a pair, the amp and preamp should have logos that stand up and salute.

A more serious problem was the almost total lack of controls on the preamp. The SM3 has an on/off switch, a balance knob, an input selector and a tape monitor switch. What's missing could fill the instruction manual of a typical Japanese receiver: No tone controls, no headphone jack, no stereo/mono switch, no 120-volt accessory outputs for other components, no muting switch, no loudness control and no filters for high or low frequencies.

Perreaux left these out for a reason. It believes signal-tailoring circuits such as bass and treble controls, filters and loudness controls can degrade the sound, and thus the quality of the preamp would be compromised if they were incorporated. Perreaux also feels that customers who can afford to buy their components will be able to buy separate equalizers if they want them.

Whatever the worth of that argument, the manufacturer should have included the usual switching facilities on the preamp, especially at the price.

The absence of a stereo/mono switch, which is standard on most preamps, makes it impossible for the listener to combine the left and right channels into a single monaural signal—a necessary step when playing pre-stereo-era microgroove LPs. (Otherwise, the separate left and right pickup elements exaggerate rumble and other noise.)

The 3150 amplifier, which is one of the most powerful on the market at a rated output of 300 watts per channel, is also a purist design, with no controls other than an on/off switch.

Connections at the rear of both components are gold-plated. Since gold is one of the best conductors, there is little chance that signals will have any problems getting into and out of the Perreaux amps—and since gold does not corrode, the connectors will stay clean forever.

Listening sessions were conducted with a variety of recordings and with live signals sent from an upstairs studio to the listening room downstairs.

Because Perreaux designed the power amp to withstand any kind of "normal" abuse (short of dropping the unit off the back of a truck), I checked how well the amp behaved when I intentionally played pipe-organ tapes though my eight-woofer speaker system at a volume that would have made a Wurlitzer proud.

After an hour and a half of this kind of "normal" abuse, the amp got hot enough to melt the wax on two decorative candles on an antique cabinet two feet above the Perreaux, but in the contest between the power amp and the eight woofers, the amp won; the woofers rattled in a frightening protest while the amplifier kept steaming along.

The real test of an amplifier, of course, is not how it takes such treatment, but in how it sounds. Judged in that sense, the two components from Perreaux were the equal of any others tested so far.

I am not able to ascribe magical properties to amplifiers, being convinced a good amp is a neutral element in the sound system — a transparent sonic lens, so to speak — and so I must also report the two Perreaux components did not sound better than other high-quality amps I have tested and used.

In some cases, it should be clear, money might not buy a better-sounding amp, although the Perreaux SM-3 and 3150 show big bucks can certainly help buy one that sounds good — and is bulletproof, too.

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