November 8, 2012

Old Kiwi Brute. Plinius SA-250 MK IV Power Amp.

Plinius SA-250 MK IV power amp. It's a monster, and it runs so... hot, that my air conditioner has to be set just a few Celsius lower to cool the room down.

I think my dearest buddy, fellow reader and supporter of this blog, Ken will feel most vindicated with this posting of mine(though we tend to disagree on nearly all things when it comes to hifi). I am the sort of  hifi guy equivalent compared to Vin Diesel's character in, The Fast And The Furious movie franchise, who only goes for American muscle cars. I only go for class A muscle amps, no class A/B or class D bull shit for me, not that they are no good(in fact some high end class A/B and class D designs offers state of the art leading audio performance). Yes, there are draw backs a plenty when it comes to class A amps, like they tend to be monstrosity sized with chunky finger cutting heat sinks, they are bloody inefficient, they draw current like hell and yet waste most of it as dissipated heat via those chunky heat sinks. There is however only one theory in discipline that makes class A amps worthy of any audiophile's salt, they tend to pack lots of juice(a.k.a. ampere) to speakers and there's no hand over distortion between class A and B push pull transistor pair, making each musical note seamless in theory. The most common class A amp's sonic character, if I may use an M&M chocolate copy line, "Melts in your mouth, not on your hands!" That's how I feel each time I hear a class A amp sing(maybe it's the heat, stupid! my sanity cells of the brain telling me).

The object that is the subject of this posting is non other than the Plinius SA-250 MK IV power amp. It's a brute of a power amp, with the monstrosity in size and those chunky finger cutting heat sinks. If weight is any indication of a well built quality product, how about all 60kgs of it? Thank fully, the manufacturer didn't forget to put a handle on each corner to assist the in transit operations, but the front handles proved more cosmetic than useful, because it is too thick and slippery to hold on to properly, especially with sweaty hands! It's a bitch's work for two full grown men to bring it up to my first floor man cave! At the back panel, you will find WBT style speaker terminals for 2 pairs of speakers, an IEC power inlet and fused ON/OFF switch and a toggle switch to select between RCA(single ended) or XLR(balanced) inputs. On the front, you'll find similar simplicity for operations. There's another ON/OFF switch, flanked by a pair of toggle switches on either sides. On the left hand side toggle chooses between standby/mute and the right hand side toggle switches between class A/B or class A operation. The Plinius pumps out 250W @ 8 ohms load in either class operation, and double the output wattage at 4 ohms load.
The Plinius does benefit from a good power conditioner, it does sound better when drawing it's juices via the Torus Power RM8A AVR, compared to direct from wall. The amp draws 1 amp in class A/B mode, and 5 amps in class A mode. It's a good thing my Torus is still up to the task.

The sound of the Plinius is one that walks the fine line between of a brute, and of being a gentleman. While it grabs and controls the drivers of my PMC Fact 8 speakers like a Rottweiler sinking it's teeth in to one's neck, the Plinius doesn't really just sound like a crazy bitch(there, I said it again!) in heat all the way. On the contrary, it's very civilised on the highs, never un-tidy and definitely will bite when the music called for. The mids are strictly neutral and it presents an open window to the music. Like I said earlier, the bass is brute force strong, I heard more "kick" from kick drums, more defined double bass plucks and more solid, and wholly filled up bass guitar lines. The bass response of my Fact 8 speakers probably dived just a few Hz lower too.

Sound staging took on a deeper and more clearly separated layers of depth, plus the stage opened up wider, and taller too, beyond both sides of the speakers, and outside the room's physical boundaries. It's like listening to music on a 2:35 aspect ratio screen and projector AV set up! Talking about AV set up, I finally get to experience transient and dynamic response of an amp truly grabbing a pair of speakers by it's balls(or is it mine?......ouch!), musically speaking of course. The Plinius is about the quietest of muscle amps, with no hiss or hums what so ever heard, just silence when doing the ear to tweeter test. I must highlight that so far, I am only describing the sound performance in class A/B mode only.

When switched to class A operation, this amp goes in to hyper drive mode, there's more flow to the sound, to start with. One can hear strings more tensioned on guitar, violins more rosinated, drum skins tightened and vocals honeyed. The mid range gets more dark chocolaty with the sweetness of "Old Jamaican" rum and raisin kind too. Bass response also goes harder and punchier, with highs getting just a little more moist too. It's like as if every aspect of music making is taken to an extreme joy ride, that much more stimulating, for one's emotions and dynamic senses. I think a comment made by an audiophile sifu most aptly applied, "it's like all the musicians had finally got their pay cheque and year end bonus all at once!" Makes ya wonder.........hmm.............???

Granted, there must be some down sides to this old brute, right? You may ask.

This is where my 90's vintage Pass Aleph 0 mono block make a fine case for them selves. Even in class A operation, the Plinius just fails to present the ninth degree of transparency, like the last bit of piano wood harmonics and string texture, the last bit of piano foot work, like on track 6, And So It Goes, off The Well album by Jennifer Warnes, so evidently heard via the Pass Labs. On recordings with delicate high hat and cymbal play, the halo of air surrounding the shimmer is also more moist when heard via the Pass Lab Alephs. Even breathy and saxophone finger play, and brass tube resonant harmonics is more pronounced via the Pass pair of mono block. If the finer details in life is more important, as in compared to the broad brush, big bold strokes of musical picture presented by the Plinius, than the Pass Alephs still holds their magical single ended class A spell.
The girly Lily Chen sounds more sophisticated, lustfully seductive even, especially when played via the Plinius SA-250 MK IV in class A mode. The lush orchestral backing with leading violin and viola sections certainly sounds realistically rosinated on some the tracks here. 

Thinking about getting an SA-250 MK IV for yourself? Here's my two cents of market research. The popular Plinius SA series are rather long running in production. Like it's more famous smaller brother, the Plinius SA-100 was available in 4 revisions. Most preferred is the MK II followed by MK I and MK IV in equal measures. The MK III for some reason, being the most un-loved of all, due to it's too neutral tonal balance as some would say. I've only know the SA-250 to be available locally in MK IV guise as the most desirable version. It was produced starting sometime in 1999 and ended it's production run by 2004. Plinius superseded the SA-250 model with an SA-Ref model in 2005. Even though all SA-250 shared the MK IV moniker, those produced after 2003, had revised protection circuit, making less prone to fault and less sensitive to false alarms, as witness in those pre 2003 production units. One must probably also run the Plinius in air-conditioned rooms(in our tropical environment) as they will run hot, and I mean skin burning hot!, at the edges of those chunky heat sinks. Many pre-owned examples may have been used to drive too low speaker impedance(way below 4 ohms), and may have been repaired with improper bias setting, resulting the overly sensitive tripping of the protection circuit on the older production units. While the Plinius SA-260 MK IV are a brute force, they are still not Krell KAS series level brute yet.

At their current 2nd hand market prices, which could be anything between RM$9-13.5k, based on condition and year of manufacture, the Plinius is current trading at just barely 1/3 off their original retail prices when new. This makes them a worthy choice of high end, high power amplification for those who are power mad, or who just happens to own power hungry speakers. Just be mindful of the conditions that you intend to accommodate them in your home, as mention above and if you think there's potential, then the Plinius is a mighty fine used acquisition.

It's now, my high power reference!


Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

unfieyn22Congrats Big E!

Now, your Fact 8 looks too small!

Ken said...

I heard my name being mentioned ;-)

Any high-end system not utilising horn speakers, using a powerful amp is a must. I always uphold this believe regarding amps:
1. get the most powerful you can afford
2. make sure it is quality watts

I have used PS Audio (250w mono), Krell KSA 200 and now Rowland 8, I would not say that Class A is the only way to go. I always believe that a well designed amp will always sound good, irrespective of what class of operation it uses. At the moment, most manufacturers are still learning how to maximise Class D

A lot of audiophile think that a decent wattage amp will be enough. What they dont know is that a lot of speakers can be hell to drive esp. when the music becomes more demanding like classical.
Good quality amps with high wattage wilol let you feel/hear the reverberation of the music, esp. when hitting the climax.

Big E said...

Hi! Ken,

Long time no contact, glad you still heard your name mentioned.

I agree there are many great sounding amps operating in class A/B and even one or two class D amps too. However, for my own personal consumption, it's class A or bust for now.


I agree that PMC Pact 8 speakers are starting to look kinda small for now, and wondering if a pair of Sonus Faber Cremona M or PMC IB2i will fit more from now on???

What's your opinion?

Wang said...

Big E,

Ooooooh....both are very delectable choices!

The only way to answer that is to try both on your room!

I am always available to lend you my ears to help u decid! :-)

Big E said...

I can see Felix the cat playing devil's advocate already!

Ha! Ha!

But seriously appreciate your help when the speakers do comne in for eveluation.

Ken said...

If you desire Class A, then Krell amps is what you should aim for.

Daryl Mills said...

I used the SA250 for the lower end only and the mids and tops were taken by the big VTL's - now that was a yummy combo.