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Plinius SB-301 Amplifier

The Plinius SB-301 has been in my system only a week, but even in that short time span this 310Wpc New Zealander has reignited music in ways that are nothing short of enthralling. The largest beneficiary of the Plinius’ charms, by far, was my compact loudspeaker reference, the ATC SCM20- 2. “Transformational” might sound like too strong a word, but it applies.

At the time I wrote the review of the ATCs, I was fairly confident that I’d extracted as much of their potential as I could, and had accurately described them, including shortcomings that resided mostly in the treble octaves. I knew the ATCs, an acoustic-suspension design with 83dB sensitivity, hungered for power in the same way that a Hummer craves fossil fuel. But it was not as if they’d been wanting for powerful amplification. Over the months they’ve been driven by the crème de la crème of high-power amps, including integrateds like the Plinius 9200, the Chapter Précis, and the MBL 6011, as well as Class D amplifiers like the Spectron Musician III and Rowland Model 201 monoblocks. They’d all taken their best shot, often with excellent results. I wrote the ATC review in spite of a feeling that there was still untapped performance to be had from a treble that seemed slightly crimped at times rather than expansive, and dynamics that sounded constrained, especially in the mid and upper bass.

This is all a roundabout way of saying that the SB-301, a high-bias Class AB solid-stater has permitted the ATCs to finally and fully (I think) clear their throat and shrug off the dynamic handcuffs. Bryn Terfel’s rosewood baritone now emerges with unbridled gusto. The Plinius unlocks the tendency of the ATCs to compress mid- and upper-bass dynamics, without which a presentation is dulled and diminished in texture and complexity. It sculpts an orchestral soundstage with confidence and grace, layering air and images to the back of the hall. It creates dimensionality and openness with soloists and orchestral sections alike. It extracts midbass extension and clarity from the system and by doing this increases the scale of the soundstage. Thanks to a lowering of the noise floor, the micro-halos and comet trails that can cling to transients have all but vanished. Solo violin, for example, is not only harmonically more extended but sweeter (a characteristic that seems hardwired into the SB-301’s personality), as if the arteries that send treble information to the tweeter had received a sonic angioplasty.

By Neil Gader


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