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To be honest, throughout my hifi career I've never much befriended the belief that component combos best stem from the same design house. My tolerant eyes are to blame. What's wrong with components which, respectively, are black, silver and striped lilac/green? For years now, electronics of diverse origins have moshed it up in a crossover happening in my digs. I simply don't get why one would sacrifice even an iota of performance at the altar of identical face places. But, there are those who call me the - cough, minor minority. On the other hand, I routinely view review quotes about a given combo of kit by maker ABC working particularly well with suspicion. That however did not prevent me from accepting the Norwegians' offer to send both amp and matching PC-1. It also proved instantly problematic. Now I gotta admit that the PC-1/PI-2 combo truly meshes. Core traits really complement each other. Who'll believe me now - or is that private paranoia? I even have a matching loudspeaker tip. Amp first though.

It took time to ferret out the 'how' behind this integrated's special charms. It's no Cassius Clay to dance into the living room with (initially fascinating) eccentricities but a big mouth you want to shut up an hour later. This piece invites endless sessions. Things sound of a piece, nothing aggravates or is amiss. Such finely nuanced, well balanced understatement makes for a good foundation. And elusiveness to break down sonic specifics. It sometimes helps to reach for similar components if one has such acquaintances. Sadly no integrated suggested itself. As soon as Zappa's Yellow Shark spun up though, my inner eye saw the Destiny CD player from Creek. It too plays phenomenally relaxed but not sloppy. It too sounds subliminally full and warm but never excessively so. And it too has mastered terrific soundstaging without defaulting into the brightly lit sketching that occurs when a lack of bass foundation gets spun into a virtue of transparency.

The PI-2 likewise frolics on the summer side of neutral without buying into portliness, dimensional opacity or sepia-effect tonality. Quite the opposite. The self-secure fashion by which actors are assigned their place, micro dynamics finessed and tones differentiated all appeal. Then add outright glorious bass which provides life, naturalness and tactile body on voices and instruments. Very sexy. It remains true however that low bass could be drier still. The PI-2 plays it semi seco. Properly partnered, that can morph into a true virtue. Dryness per se is of no value when too lean and dusty. Simply don't pair the EC with poorly controlled bass-heavy boxes or those with an upper bass emphasis. The treble is very clean and open and rough patches are absent without soft focus or showiness. The upper octaves are so well balanced and integrated that they're simply the midrange extended exactly as it ought to be. They are not hyper present, nasal, metallic gray, matte, spiky or dull. The list of ill-fitting descriptors for the PI-2's treble is legion. This treble is simply there and brooks no complaints.

SMT devices people the board and four transistors per channel adorn the output stage

I already mentioned soundstaging excellence but (sorry) it's not of the extremely airy, super crisp, noon-lit sort which certain components project more obviously into your ear. What I noticed first was in fact the very happy bass and the relaxed, very non-technical presentation. Only in headier review mode did I identify that depth layering was particularly brilliant, that image focus was well beyond average and that the stage was fully de-correlated from the apparent sound sources. These impressions were reached in quite non-spectacular fashion to eliminate all artifice and fatigue. The longer one listens, the more one discovers here. This amp was plainly no frontal assault type.

To symmetry or not, that is the question...
Electrocompaniet preaches symmetry and conviction that XLR-connected sources sound better than RCA equivalents. With the matching PC-1, it was child's play to verify either feed. Alas, first impressions were rather non-committal. While there was a slight gain of tautness, body and definition in the low bass to suggest this connection (why settle on a lesser version), it patently wasn't a big step forward. I'd expected rather more. This lack of belief confirmation was followed duly by one of the most profound "input differences" of my career. It arrived by way of my fully symmetrical Aqvox phono stage which leashed up via cinch and XLR. Perhaps it's only complete symmetry from source (the cartridge) to speaker terminals that parlays all the advantages. Perhaps it was purely coincidental. Whatever, I henceforth won't do single-ended analogue. Pretty much everything improved significantly - clarity, resolution and particularly plasticity all combined with greater 'joy of play' and more extension on either end. Via RCA, a grey film inserted itself, quite strange since over other amplifiers, it never did before. The moral is obvious if banal. Your primary source into Electrocompaniet's Prelude PI-2 ought to be symmetrical. Sonic gains could span from marginal to profound.

Combo tips ...
... aren't what your fairaudians usually promote. Who purchases complete systems in one go after all? Okay, some do. Mostly though, our kind tweaks away at an existing set of electronics and boxes. Little good it is then to be informed that other rigs play nicely too. Yet the PC-1, PI-2 and Thiel SCS4 compact monitor combo didn't merely play nice. It hit its mark with bravura. Quite out of character, colleague Jörg uttered a string of superlatives in one of our admittedly rarer moments when everything came together just so. As to why, how and because, I can merely speculate.

It could be that an ultra-transparent, spatially truly gifted speaker like Thiel's smallest simply isn't served up any dirt, distortion or harshness it would then have to reveal ruthlessly when fed by the Prelude amp. As already stated, the PI-2 itself stages very well to not present a bottle neck. The dimensional accuracy of the Thiel isn't throttled back but allowed to redline. Further assets are drive and power which the Kentuckians never refuse and which the Electrocompaniet obviously provided. Nor was its downright seductive bass unwelcome with a speaker not lean per se but clearly not fulsome either. A shot of warmth was noted with appreciation. Finally the Norwegian player added flow and nimbleness into this very transparent constellation (though on its own, I found it a mite harmless and not quite detailed enough).

However one adds up sonics, the wallet counts €6.100 total. With cabling and speaker stands that approaches 7K; no loose change but many systems at multiples thereof cannot touch it sonically. (An important qualifier is to not energize much more than 25 square meters; to not throw parties every day; and to plan on giving up some ultimate bass. The only real disadvantage of this system is intrinsic to the choice of compact box.)

Here you expect a character sketch of each component mentioned which I'll provide. Personally though, my wrap culminated in wondering if this integrated already played with such maturity and sophistication, what should one expect from the massive black/gold power amplifiers in the Classic Line? That's the central boogieman of the hobby. We always crave more. And more. Weighing in on EC's Prelude PI-2, I got infected by curiosity about its massive stable mates despite my modest dwelling. That's obviously my issue. It's very rare that review components play quite as salivating and appetite whetting as the Prelude PI-2.

That's obviously a fat plus for the Scandinavian and makes it easy to admit that macho muscle amps really aren't necessary when entire systems can be assembled for the same coin which transmit the musical essence in one piece as our rig does today.

Electrocompaniet's Prelude PI-2 is characterized by...

  • Playing somewhat warmer than neutral central, with a powerful and very attractive bass that's not portly but very agile. Without obscuring the midband, voices and instruments are fleshed out and earthy. It's a matter of taste -- this amp has character -- but precisely why an audition is meaningful.
  • The low bass is controlled but not of ultimate dryness. The latter isn't necessarily ideal but poorly damped speakers (capable of low bass) do appreciate extreme grippiness.
  • The mid- and treble bands are ultra transparent but free of negative analytical associations. If you believe that bass-endowed amps interfere with transparency, listen to the Prelude preferably with low-distortion monitor-type speakers that maintain its niveau.
  • Excellent integration of the upper octaves to avoid any treble emphasis.
  • Soundstaging is a clear forté. The virtual stage is fully liberated and neither width nor depth invite any criticism.
  • Image focus is good but by tendency, the PI-2 generates sound bodies with contours rather than caliper crosses on a map.
  • Macrodynamics are good but certain massive bass attacks could stand more pepper. Microdynamics are stunning.

• Model: Electrocompaniet Prelude PI-2 integrated
• Dimensions & weight: 420 x 340 x 77mm (WxDxH) / 14 kg
• Output power: 100/150wpc into 8/4 ohms
• Power consumption: ca. 100 watt at idle
• Connectivity: 2 x RCA, 2 x XLR, 1 pair of 5-way posts
• Other: Fully differential circuitry, "TIM-free" design

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