Helmut Hack reviews our Eloquence 250i, 40th Anniversary edition integrated amplifier for German, Image Hi fi Magazine. We are delighted to bring you the English version of the original review which first appeared in the May 2014 issue.
In 1974, Germany won the world cup football competition, beating rivals Netherlands 2-1.
1974 was also the year that Perreaux started designing and building “Mosfet Amplifiers” in New Zealand. The 40th anniversary of Perreaux was welcome and to commemorate the occasion, they chose to release a limited edition of their largest integrated amplifier. The 250i had been refined internally also with the addition of a few nice cosmetic touches. Not a complete overhaul, but significantly better mains and signal smoothing capacitors along with higher quality internal wiring. The 40th anniversary model also features a small golden plaque affixed to its faceplate. Only 50 audiophiles will ever have the opportunity to own one. This number is now 49, as I am reviewing number 1 of 50.
Unlike Magnepan MG 3.7i (test S. 16), you can see the not so subtle improvements of the 250i solely buy its price. I was unfamiliar with the standard production version of the 250i. Anyway, I came to enjoy them both as top quality components as they performed magnificently straight away.
Maybe it’s the ‘i’, which in the new millennium has become the undisputed superstar among vowels, a design icon, symbolising the progress and technological revolution. According to the Magnepan it stands for ‘improved’, and “integrated” for Perreaux. A few years ago both would have presumably been awarded “SE”, for Special Edition. The small i with a dot is a universal quality seal and a very large letter.
MOSFET semiconductors offer a superior sound to bipolar transistors, reads the credo of Perreaux since the beginning. There are also developers that argue the opposite. In my humble opinion, you need to get in both ways with the corresponding engineering services to make any conclusions, which can sound as good as a tube amp. From memory I look for the “eternal” reference among the expensive integrated amplifiers that produced is the Gryphon Diablo (hifi image 4/2010), the bipolar transistors unyielding, enforcement stronger, but no less musical sounds – a strict and clear announcement on the speakers. Equally relentless, but still analytic, it’s a direct competitor from Australia, the Hiato by Pliny to work (hifi image 4/2011), whose formidable thrust for the feel-good listener sometimes may be overkill.
The Class-AB design of the 250i is indeed specified with 250 Watts into 8 Ohms, which squeezes even more demand out of the field effect transistors, and thus blessing it with awe-inspiring power. Yet it manages to sound softer, gentler and more like a tube like. This is confirmed using the right sound transducers, paired with MG 3.7i and compared with the Kondo Kagura amplifiers that aren’t safe or an optimal match to the power hungry Magnepan, it’s the shark grey comet from New Zealand, that exudes more charm.
To be fair, I must mention that the mythical Japanese tube amplifiers all reproduce a technical music reproduction at an inappropriate efficiency out of weak speakers, and thus are taken out of competition. Yet remarkably, a proper synergy prevails between Maggie and Perreaux, on the other hand, Cessaro Chopin speakers had more of a backlash.
The powerful 250i exerts a damping factor of 800 (too much control?) over the extremely playful Cessaro Chopin horns, which prevents the music from expanding out into the room too much. The eloquence 250i is built to drive each speaker, also critical, but in no means insofar as, is that the extreme damping factor gives the high pitched horns a bit of a strange lilt, almost an inefficiency.
While waiting for the 250i to burn in I had time to occupy myself with the menu. I thought it would turn out to be so much time, but I couldn’t have imagined it. For weeks the 20kg comet was supplied power and was playing most of the time, then it began to run away, later totally listless. Only after approximately one month it appeared supple, so we opened it up, and allowed it to display its characteristic gentle but certain charm. The 250i put the demanding and sensitive speakers on a significantly shorter leash than my small DNM amplifier; they didn’t throttle the sound, but enabled them to develop freely. As expected, the 250i excelled especially in bass presence and body. Contemporary and rock music or Cessaro are quite capable in fine details and speed particularly in the bass. With the right amplifier, like the 250i, there’s even a texture to the sound.
Perreaux explains that the microprocessor controlled, analogue volume control ensures that the signal path remains intact and the volume is digitally “connected” – it makes its sensitive 0.5dB steps with no problems to efficient speakers. I always found the right volume, mostly on the upper level (Perreaux loves higher volumes), because it seems to become freer and more dynamic. The initial volume is of course a matter of user preference. The 250i also has six individually nameable line inputs. To name inputs, you have to traverse the very comprehensive but intuitive menu. The volume controller then serves as a scroll and select wheel.
From your couch you can also use one of two supplied remote controls. One is more beautiful, minimalist in function and design and you would use it once the menu settings are done. During normal operation, the 250i shows the input volume level on the blue display and is also easy to read at some distance.
You are allowed to accept an invitation that shows you the amazing surface quality of the massive aluminium front. The grey finish is fantastic, depending on the light it acts sometimes as metallic paint, granite, or matt titanium.
Although the 250i with headphone jack and mini-jack input for any possible portable stuff is fully equipped, it does tend to affect the clean and elegant front look and feel. The arrangement of the LCD display, and the few controls except level controls – I don’t find this too successful.
In the limited anniversary model the phono equalization and the DAC board is just like it is in the regular series. Both features I hadn’t asked to be on board but they can be benevolently be let pass as good standard solutions, although they can’t quite hold a candle to other quality amps. Particularly ambitious listeners would probably rather resort to an external device. The phono input of Perreaux accepts both MM and MC cartridges, pre adjusted to a gain of 40 and 60 decibels respectively in the menu, and sounds very neat, but misses out on customisation options for MC systems. 100 Ohm impedance is defined and must be enough. Tonally, it’s very balanced and not so thin as many built-in phono stages, it must nevertheless admit defeat to Lehmann in terms of fine resolution and background blackness. Considering the price of 500 Euros for the additional module, it’s certainly not the end of the world, but it takes the amplifier just a wee bit off its edge in musical notation. Second or third hand should lead you onto the right track. Promises of a 1000 Euro surcharge the DA conversion but are of another calibre altogether. In fact, they believe that an optical Toslink cable driven by attack is better than very fine differentiation between high quality and normal format of the CD standard. The conversion includes a general upsampling on 24-bit/192kHz, but leaves the switch off in the menu, worked so it becomes the native format of the source. All models are sonically worth the additional cost, but the thick end still unfortunately comes with it. That one of two coaxial S/PDIF inputs in BNC format decided against RCA jacks is unusual and makes no sense to me even after prolonged reflection. I got over it when I heard a BNC to RCA adapter will be coming with it in the future. The USB input is limited to 16/48, so you can now only convey with difficulty. The times of adaptive USB are definitely over, and that’s good. For the D/A conversion, my judgement definitely becomes ambivalent: Sonically top, in direct comparison quite yet in sight behind AK240, input diversity debatable and USB protocol obsolete. The transducer is a two way street, so I would also like to emphasize praise on the transformation from analogue to digital. Of course the receiving of the resolution of the limitation of the USB interface remains, nevertheless it is a great bonus since the recordings allow for vinyl or an archive of live music broadcasts from the TV, you or others might also have tapes that you want to save for posterity. The menu can be found adapting two digital filters to the tape to cater for personal listening taste. A soft, slow filter can conceal harsh highs and provides a more pleasing “analog” sound. With good recordings, the faster Sharp filter speaks to me more. “Pictures of You” by Guy Clark for example, a modern recording with excellent distinctness of image, sounds disturbingly pithy from my laptop with wonderfully concise KingRex UD384 USB connections and slow filter active. Something superior shows the Astell & Core AK240 mini with line input that digital music can sound good, namely completely effortless and flowing, almost perfect – Well, a small distance to the LP from Brinkmann remains, provided that the Gryphon Orestes equalization takes over. Excuse me, I just noticed that I constantly criticize the DAC slide, it basically hasn’t earned a reason yet, and the qualities it provides to the carrier host, so the 250i, are slightly negligible.
With that I just had great fun most of the time. Whether my highly sensitive, demonstrative and domestic opinions conceal my true meaning in this editorial, it doesn’t matter as long as you get the gist of it. The AK240 source functioned normally, because it’s practical and manufacturing is directly comparable to other companies. Approximately halfway into the quiet intro of “Shell of a Woman”, where they make a living out of them and crack heat out of a million parts, which metaphorically probably meant ripping a Doris Allen cry into the structure of the song, breaks it up and transforms the melodious ballade into a seething, rabid, and desperate charge, extending far beyond the personal inexperienced lover you get, the whole world against a black hearted woman. All the intensity of this is articulated instead in a groundbreaking cry of free energy.
My Magnepan SP1.1 works with the 250i in a way that formally laced up my throat. The powerful integrated amp offers the sensitive wide bands a more stable base than my own, very fine, spiritual power amp, and leaves the blood, sweat, and tears to be tangible, rather than just one of them to be felt. Behind this degree of emotional restraint remains even Cessaro Chopin – the spatial and colourful depth of this soul number better and fully illuminates the solidly built base. Also with the MG 3.7i the heavy bass line very understandable, though not as physically and certainly not so form fitting: The magnetostats put despair out, less the earth-shaking rage. But they create dark iridescent undertones in Doris Allen’s compelling voice, developing a real pull. You want to sink into pain in this world, never having to rise again, unless it’s to turn it up.
As a sound description that was perhaps a bit flowery, but the Perreaux 250i has thoroughly earned it. It might not be a flagship, but particularly paired with difficult speakers it’s probably one of the top examples of semiconductor design in the world. It hasn’t been built for amateur sound engineers or score-transcribers, but for drinkers of red wine in large gulps and music enthusiasts, who want to be carried away, for those that love their steak bloody and their music emotional. Maybe it’s not completely neutral, but how else could he transport this passion and empathy? It can’t be denied that I haven’t opened up to this entirely yet, but in recent weeks I’ve found an intimate relationship developing, which rarely succeeds for other strong, uncompromising integrated transistor amplifiers. And there are quite a few objective reasons: The eloquence 250i doesn’t take its place in the foreground and therefore harmonizes with diverse loudspeakers, not hiding behind safer neutrality, it likes to interpret music and mediate.
You can read the full German version of the review here.