October 6, 2009

Swedish Truth. Bladelius Idun Pre Amp.

Fine satin finish face with form follows function industrial type design.

As I was carrying the Bladelius Idun pre amp home, one thing kept popping in to my mind, it is very heavy for a pre amp. Before hooking it up with the rest of my system, I peeked inside through the ventilation slots and found the reason for the heft, a huge power trans inside located just behind the left front panel. It would seem bigger than some power trans inside some of the more modest stereo power amps! And it is this big, big power supply that would repeatably proved why this pre amp always sounds so in control, even when the going get tough, the Idun stay cool throughout it's performance, never flustered or showing any signs of edginess. Whilst on the build description still, there's only two small PCB boards inside the big, sturdy all aluminium case. A control PCB resides at the front panel where the display and volume knob resides and another PCB board is installed at the back panel, direct soldered to the RCA and XLR inputs and outputs, for the shortest possible signal path. This is true audiophile philosophy design. The all aluminium remote supplied is the same as the one used in the more expensive Bladelius Saga pre amp and the Embla Memory player, which with familiarity is much easier to use the second time now. One feature which I had found particularly useful is the individual input level setting, which allows for a very uniform volume loudness, irregardless of source selected. So far so good, let the sound begin!

The very small button and smaller print remote, but easier to use with familiarity.

They say an audio system equipment largely dictates your music play list, from my very recent two pre amp experience, I just couldn't agree more. When I had the JRDG Capri pre amp in my system, the dynamics and rhythm forward driving qualities lead me to play mostly pop and rock music, especially LPs, during it's time in my system. The Idun on the other hand is the exact opposite, it's rather quiet and reserved if controlled musical presentation had me favouring more toward jazz and classical repertoires. Don't get me wrong me here, both are very good pre amps for the money, but I am merely describing their respective sound character presentation, for the ease of system matching in mind.

The Bladelius Idun, just barely fitting in to my FE spider like rack.

In comparison, the Bladelius Idun is just as quiet as the JRDG Capri for back ground noise, both are certainly quieter than my older designed Pass Labs X2.5. The Bladelius Idun is certainly more transparent sounding than my Pass X2.5 from the mid highs onwards, whilst the Pass is a tad more colourful at the bottom end. The tonal quality of the Idun can be classified as neutral with a tinge of warmth for good measure. The highs are very clean and tidily presented, and will remain so, even at very demanding passages in the crescendo of orchestral music, like the Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances, with Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, a HRX recording by Reference Recordings. The Idun coolly holds the orchestra at full on crescendo together on whilst the Pass X2.5 seems to be losing it. The Idun's mids are not lush and full bodied as the Pass X2.5 but it's also slightly more focused on the vocals. If the Pass X2.5 give you an orange size mouth, the Idun will re-focus it to the size of a Malaysian 50sen coin. The bass, like the rest of the frequency spectrum, is laid back, but still highly revealing from note to note, and will present kick drums cleanly and forcefully.

This excellent recording by Spectral's professor Keith O' Johnson is a must have CD, to experience a well recorded hall ambiance. The first track, Non-allegro-Lento-Tempo I in C minor, alone is worth buying the CD!

The Idun's forte is the presentation of staging and imaging, especially playing classical music. The Idun will recreate the whole spectator ship experience with ease, especially when playing well recorded materials like the one mentioned above.Listening to that Rachmaninoff RR CD, I had the similar sensation as if I am attending a Dewan Filharmonik Petronas concert. The Idun's ability to recreate hall ambiances and atmospheric spatial cues adds a touch of reality to the whole music listening experience. When playing blues and jazz pieces of more inmate nature, the Idun has the ability to bring you to the recording studios or if listening to a jazz club concert, it will recreate the whole scene realistically, minus the smoke smell.

The Bladelius Idun is also highly transparent as demonstrated when playing the opening track Maastricht Salon Orkest Andre Rieu/Serenata. This is a truly fabulous hifi track, titled Serenade for Voice & Piano or Orchestra(Rimpianto) No.1, Op.6, that not only test a system's transparency to the max, but offered to do so yet in such a musically digestible manner. You see, this track has(some say 3) little nightingale birds chirpping away between 8-9 ft in sound stage height, accompanying Andre's violin interplay with piano backing. And in the faint back ground of the track, right between the musical notes, the recording also captures what seems to be a highway, or a busy road out side the studio, just faintly audible in the back ground of it all. If your system is transparent enough, some say you could even hear the number of cylinders of the buses or trucks passing by! After hearing this track via the Bladelius Idun, I can confirm that the above statements are no mere exaggeration, well, maybe not the one about the buses and trucks, but the truth is closer to reality when the track played back via the Bladelius Idun pre amp.

Another reason to test your system, with great music to boot! As per Andre Rieu's usual high standards of entertaining violin play. The birds on track 1 are digitally reproduced by the way, but in a well set up system, they are as alive sounding as the real thing!

The Bladelius Idun is pretty good on macro dynamics but there is a slight trade off when handling micro dynamics. Meaning huge orchestral crescendos are easily handled but a solo classical guitar string attack, would appear to be slightly blunted, however, the sustain and decay part that follows is gives me no reason to complain.

Unlike the Pass Labs X2.5, the Bladelius Idun doesn't do the following. It doesn't present music with added lushness. It doesn't play a fool to poorly recorded materials, irregardless of source. It doesn't dramatised musical events like the Pass do. The Idun just gives you almost everything on the recording source. I said "almost", only because I had experienced other pre amps that are a few rungs higher up the price ladder(the ARC Ref 3 and Bladelius Saga comes to mind), that will present music with even more transparency, wider bandwidth at both frequency extremes, and even more noise free, just to put things in to perspective.

The Idun's back panel, all the inputs and outputs are direct soldered to audio pre amp PCB board.

I quite like the Bladelius Idun retailing at RM$14.8k. It certainly is an option very viable if one's musical diet are mainly classical, jazz and well recorded audiophile variety music. It'll however, ruthlessly expose all the commercial quality, of poorly recorded pop/rock and chart music's short comings. I will certainly keep the Idun in mind should I plan to next upgrade my pre amp.

Bladelius is sold by Audiomatic, contact Eugene, tel:012-3222698

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