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This review first appeared in the March 2009 issue of hifi & stereo magazine You can also read this review of the Electrocompaniet Prelude PI-2 in its original German version. We translated it through a syndication arrangement with our German colleagues. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of or Electrocompaniet. - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Sources: Analog - deck - Acoustic Solid MPX; tone arms - Phonotools Vivid-Two, SME M2 12 Zoll; pickups - Denon DL-103, Ortofon MC Rondo Bronce, Shelter 201, Zu Audio DL-103; digital - CDP - audiolab 8000CD, HIFIAkademie cdPlayer; Computer & Co - Logitech Squeezebox, Readynas Duo NAS-Server, HP Notebook; DA-converters - Aqvox USB2DA-MKII, Benchmark DAC1 USB
Amplification: Phono - Aqvox 2 CI MKII; preamp - Octave HP 300 MK2; power amp - SAC il piccolo monos; integrated - Lua 4040 C, Myryad MXI 2080, Accuphase E-212
Loudspeakers: Audium Comp 5, Quadral Rondo, Zu Audio Druid mk4, Thiel SCS4
Racks & Stands: Creactiv, Taoc, Liedtke Metalldesign Stand, Shale audio base
... plus diverse cables
Review Component Retail: €2.200

With the average audiophile, the cue Norway elicits Kari Bremnes. That's insufficient. So we'll take a look at Electrocompaniet. Unlike the songstress, they enjoy a musical reputation amongst cognoscenti. That had me curious but having never listened to their components at home, I had to wait. I don't trust trade show impressions alone.

Today's tester goes by Electrocompaniet PI-2. It's the bigger of two integrateds in the firm's entry-level Prelude series. Don't expect a black/gold color scheme though. You'd be disappointed. Or tickled. Prelude kit comes exclusively in black or silver. The black/gold look is reserved for the significantly costlier Classic Line. But certain cosmetic connections are immediate such as the four-square control cluster on the fascia's right. It's idiot-proof in use and to my senses adds class to the front panel. The PI-2 is very elegant even if nobody has yet devised a tactile replacement for the ubiquitous volume knob. That's a really marginal nit when 90% of all adjustments occur by remote but a guy can dream. So... don't park the left speaker terminals 2mm below the IEC.

The back carries four inputs. Two are uncommonly XLR which is nonetheless de rigueur for Electrocompaniet. The firm's CD players obviously respond with XLR outputs. Not just their socketry but all Prelude components exude solid quality of the non-bling sort. While I expected one in the back since the frontal button reads 'standby', an AC mains switch is MIA. But I can't say I missed it.

Electrocompaniet's portfolio breaks down into three product families. Currently sold exclusively through the pro audio market -- the Norwegians plan a hifi introduction later this year -- the DP Series sits on top and includes a preamp and two power amps. A CD player and cosmetic tweaks are in the works and the DP abbreviation derives from the firm Dynamic Precision which Electrocompaniet acquired in 2007. "Really powerful, really heavy, really expensive" is the tie-in. For years if not decades, the most well-known and continuously refined kit from Electrocompaniet has been the, nomen est omen, Classic Line. Potent, heavy and expensive applies as well. The Preludians are the newest members and dubbed the budget edition. While that's true relative to their brethren, it's relative considering the €1.700 to €2.200 bracket which the general market deems transitional high-end. The company insists that high-end ambitions weren't sacrificed by embracing modernized manufacturing protocols to drive down pricing. You might rightfully demure that each maker claims that but all Electrocompaniets subscribe to fully balanced architectures and, to quote, "reliance on TIM-free circuits by Dr. Matti Otala and Jan Lohstro". This segues straight into our Norwegians' philosophy.

Fully balanced implies a separate 180° phase-inverted signal processed by discrete but identical circuits in parallel to the original signal. Proponents argue higher immunity against external interferences due to differential cancellation. It's why massed electronics and very long cable applications (studios, concert halls) with their compound interference potential are set on the fully symmetrical standard. There signal transfer between components, i.e. over the actual cables, is always balanced whereas the circuitry inside the components may be but often isn't. For domestic scenarios where rock arena interference potential does not exist, detractors view as redundant and excessive the expense of doubling up on everything which is key for fully balanced. They further argue that each electrical component presents an innate signal 'resistance' which renders the greater parts density of symmetrical circuits anathema to the ideal of a straight short wire with gain. After all, the inverted signal must be amplified by its own additional circuit unless the source is vinyl (the only truly symmetrical source in home hifi). The notion of additional simply sits poorly with hifi minimalists. Electrocompaniet confirms that symmetry per se is worthless when mated to an inferior circuit. For its balanced circuits, the Norwegians claim not only elimination of 'gross' interferences but a lowering of distortion figures and an increase of dynamic headroom, without tricks like feedback as they put it.

Sans TIM
Today the mention of no or minimal feedback conjures up low-powered single-ended triodes. Such amps often are accompanied by claims for lower transient intermodulation distortion. But it's not the Swiss who invented that. Two Scandinavians Dr. Matti Otala and Jan Lohstro did. First attempts to turn their theoretical papers into actual circuits -- i.e. build amplifiers accordingly -- were by Electrocompaniet. With transistors, not valves; by rejecting single-ended circuits and adopting symmetry as the guiding mantra; and with models producing hundreds of watts, not the optimistic seven-some of most 300Bs. The latter-day careers of certain religiously charged audio terms are certainly quite telling...

According to the Norwegians, a reduction of TIM is how transistors lose their harsh cold tonality. The latter isn't intrinsic to the parts but 'wrong' circuitry, particularly the use of excessive global feedback which reduces harmonic distortion but creates TIM as something rather more insidious. Those interested in the story of Electrocompaniet's first integrated should enjoy this quite amusing lecture.