Now that 2016 is gone, in the rearview mirror, forever to be forgotten, I look back on some highlights.......just kidding.
Other than the release of the microRendu and the Holo Spring dac I found little to be excited about in 2016. It sucked! And through it I had my worst health crises (I am fine now, thanks for asking ). But one audio company, a small family-owned business in Sparks, Nevada, kept me toe-tapping in my music, come hell or high water. And that company I discovered in 2015. In fact, I so owe it to the readers of Computer Audiophile to become aware of Shane Duffy's wonderful little company that I thought I would shout it from the hills (no hills here in Cleveland, but just go along anyway).
PERLA AUDIO! Yes, Perla Audio, the little audio enterprise that had the cojones to introduce new amplifiers and preamps (and a DAC and some wild new speakers) into a very crowded and mature industry segment.
Perla's ideas started in 2010 when Shane and his family decided to mortgage out the nestegg due to his zeal and commitment that a new set of speakers would impress the audio community. But he needed more technical help and in came his technical partner-to-be, Ronald van Robinson, a 30 year veteran in the industry. Perla Audio was born sometime in 2012, and their first products (while continuing to work on speakers) included an integrated amp called the Signature 50, a dual mono design which, among other features, had no coupling capacitors in the path. It wasn't long that this product got the reviews and awards it was destined for, including my buddy Terry London's wonderful review in HomeTheaterReview.com (Best of 2015 award) and Dick Olsher's large kudos in Absolute Sound ( 2015 Editor's Choice award).
Due to my relationship with Terry (aka teajay) I contacted Shane and asked about a planned preamp and dual monoblocks, worried I would not be able to drive my Aerial 20T's with the Sig 50 (which was likely an incorrect assumption, but lets' face it, more power is more power).
Well, the Righello monoblocks ($6,250 each) and Maestro preamplifier ($5000) arrived and I began breaking them in. But first, a few words about their build and specs (best read online at perlaaudio.com). They arrived in well-constructed boxes, beautifully packed (apple-style quality) and somewhat ridiculously heavy for their size. The black exterior, although not steeped in bling, is gorgeously simple and incredibly solid, as if the things were sculpted out of a solid piece of steel (actually black anodized aluminum). Both the monoblocks and the preamplifier are single-ended only, by design, and have no external thermal heat sinks. They run fairly cool to the touch and have minimalist front panels (preamp has input, volume and an illuminated power button front and center; monos have the illuminated power buttons, period). The rear panel of the monoblocks includes an interesting feature, a sparate rca analog out for subwoofer or other amp (biamping, etc). The speaker terminals are the well-thought-out Cardas clamping design. All PCB boards are custom-made, the wiring is by hand and uses a proprietary Cardas solder blend. Everything in this monoblock design is high-end and best described on their website. Too many internal features to list, and, as per my usual review style, they make no sense to me if the amp didn't sound great!
Here are the standard specs:
Power : 100 watt 8 ohm 200 watt 4 ohm
Frequency Response : DC to 100KHZ
Power Consumption at Standby : < 5 watts
Input impedance : 100K
Voltage gain : 27 DB
Height : 5” 5/8 with feet
Width : 14” ˝
Length : 18”
Power : consumption < 1 watt
Frequency Response : DC to over 100KHZ
Power Consumption at Standby : < 1 watt
Input impedance : 100K
Voltage gain: Unity “0"3 sets of inputs 1 set output / remote control positions
Height : 5” 5/8 with feet
Width : 14” ˝
Length : 18”
Although the Perla sound is clearly a product of all the pieces, I can say some things about each as I did enough swapping of units to understand the contributions of each pretty well. I will start with the Maestro preamplifier. I was used to the sound of my hybrid (12ax7 tube output) $20k list Concert Fidelity pre, so the bar was set pretty darn high. This preamp was the darling of Dick Olsher, Steve Hoffman, to name a few. Me too. And to introduce a passive preamp like the Maestro into the setting was going to be difficult. And yes, the Maestro took a back seat to the CF...for about a 5% sound quality hit at one fifth the cost (and to explain what that 5% entails is to try and explain my mood at any given time). Otherwise, the state of the art holographic presentation, wide soundstage, timbre, tonality and dynamics are all there with the Maestro...and this is a PASSIVE design! In fact, the noise floor and overall ability to extract important low level microdynamics is indeed superior to the CF preamp. I can't wait for Shane and company to deliver a truly active stage. Update: the new passive/active preamp has shipped and is now $7500. I will be listening soon.
But this review is mainly to educate the readers on the majesty of the Righellos. A 200 watt (at my 4 ohm load) pair of solid state monoblocks that combine the speed, low level dynamics, bass control and soundstage solidity of the best ss amps I've heard with the timbre, color, image density and fluidity of a great tube design. They are THAT good.
To paraphrase Martin Mull, writing about amplifiers is like dancing about architecture; but I will do my best to describe the best qualities of the Righellos, and why they became my home amplifiers for my main system.
I am a sucker for imaging and microdynamics. I need to feel that the artist or artists are nearly in my room, with that immediacy and air that results in the room being pressurized once the microphones come on, even before the first note is played. This does not describe the majority of recordings out there, but when you hear one, you know it right away...assuming your system is up to the task. This is what the Righellos do with aplomb, yet allow a Martin to sound like a Martin, and a Taylor to sound like a Taylor. If those color distinctions are not readily heard, the entire musical effect is quickly exposed as a ruse, a buzz kill so to speak. This is why I so like the Holo Spring dac coupled with HQPlayer as my playback device, as its dual PCM and DSD sides handle formats as best as they should be handled, and when given the best recordings of either ilk can reproduce this effect easily and realistically. And the Righellos "understand this" and do nothing to the signal to ruin a perfect stereo (or part of a multichannel) image. Take my standard demo disc of Keith Richards' Main Offender, a wonderfully raw live-in-studio redbook reproduction of an evening of basic songwriting, drinking and laying down chords like Keith is able to do at age 140 or whatever. The Righellos allow that magical "loading of the room" as the album begins, as if one is hearing into the studio itself. Some goes for Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions (although a segway from Keith Richards to a chapel in Canada is almost blasphemous I guess). Having the Righellos at the back end of this recording playback session assures that the dozens of tiny cues (subway rumbling, echoes off the chapel walls, Michael Timmins' amplifier feedback) are reproduced with the same exactness as sister Margot's beautiful vocal intonations and travelling Junky (or is it Junkie) Jeff Bird's floating fiddle and piercing harmonica work. The recording was done with a single ambisonic mic, and the Righellos respect that to the fullest.
In the live acoustic space of the majority of DSD-recorded music, the ability to portray the recorded venue as a 3 dimensional space, and the instruments with rich harmonics and overtones...well, that is the power of the one bit world of DSD, done right. Very little post-production, extremely low levels of noise and an immediacy to the sound of the recording. When played through the Righellos, Jared's Channel Classics recordings, especially minimally mic'd performances like those of Rachel Podger, are breathtakingly you-are-there real. The delicate combination of speed and control with color and texture flows through the Perla amps like water over Niagra Falls. Power, majesty and dynamics, mixed with a naturalness that doesn't fatigue, no matter how many times you've experienced it. Righello and DSD...nice!!
Are there weaknesses? Yes, of course. I would love for more amperage, but not sure why, other than my early 70's audio mentors always saying that more is better when it comes to amplification. I would wish for balanced inputs for those who own balanced preamps. I would wish for gauges, cuz I like gauges. But as you can see, I am being a bit facetious, as I really don't want for anything on the amp side, now that I own these puppies.
I owe Shane, Ron and company a huge apology for not getting the word out earlier, not that this is an ad for them, or that I owe them anything financially, as all I am is a happy customer...but when so many sounds-the-same products are released, it is my duty to alert the CA brethren to those products which make a damn difference. I am trying to catch up from a hideous 2016 and seriously wanted readers to become at least somewhat familiar with this company and its' amplifier products. Note: There is a nice StereoTimes review of these amps, written by Mike Girardi. Check it out, too.
Happy New Year
- Products - Perla Audio, Maestro Preamplifier ($5000), Righello monoblock amplifiers ($6,250 each)
- Manufacturer's Page - Link