The Avid range of phono amps has sprouted a budget, model. Paul Rigby reviews the Pellar
Avid goes about its design in a different way to many other companies, it takes a top-down approach which, when you sit and think about it, makes perfect sense. Take the company’s range of phono amps. The first design in the range was the top-of-the-range, twin-box, Pulsare II. From that, the cheaper Pellere was developed which, in almost Biblical terms, begat the Pulsus and now, cheaper again, is this new model, the Pellar. The idea being to reduce the cost of the previous, higher range, product as much as possible without reducing the quality.
In Avid’s view, if you took the design approach in the opposite direction and began with the cheapest model first, then the better, dearer, models would not only lack focus but would encourage creative cul-de-sacs and would not benefit from the economies of scale that you can gain from using top-of-the-range components at cheaper prices which can then be trickled down to the lower priced models. Using this method, the audio philosophy gives the next model down a high benchmark to live up to. That even extends to basic phono amp features like loading, “On the Pellar, 47K is the default loading,” said Avid boss, Conrad Mas, “which is for a moving magnet. If you want to change that, you add externally fitted ‘loading plugs’ to the required value, to get the loading you want for a moving coil.”
Looking like a couple of RCA terminations, the plugs are packed with a resistor which matches your cartridge and plugs into the back of the Pellar’s chassis entering the circuit. Hence, when you buy your Pellar, talk to Avid and tell them what cartridge you have in your turntable and they will give you a set of loading plugs that will match your cartridge.
“It also means that you don’t have to go inside the box and mess around with jumper sockets and various other things like that. I don’t like people going inside boxes because that is where trouble begins. Whether that they damage the box or touch something they should not do and something goes bang. It’s not a good idea,” said Mas.
Although the Peller uses a basic DIP switch system, located underneath the chassis, because of the introduction of loading plugs, the phono amp doesn’t depend on the usual complex DIP switch array which can degrade the sound.
Taking the Pulsus as a template, Avid has utilised a lot of the Pulsus design in terms of its internal components but, “…we have crunched up the board so that we have made all the components a lot closer together,” said Mas.
The casework is slightly longer than the Pulsus because the company has integrated the, now tweaked, power supply within. Avid decided to go internal than rely on a cheaper wall-wart, “Those external power blocks that you plug into a wall? They are awful, horrible, nasty things. If you get three of them and measure all three then they will all measure differently. They are notoriously unreliable.”
Anyone concerned about a rise in distortive noise should, according to Mas, relax, “If you listen to the phono stage, you will find that, because of the design of the circuit, we have pretty much eliminated the noise issue.”
Spanning 305 x 250 x 110mm and weighing just 2.2kg, the Pellar is a neat system but, at £800, is this budget phono amp truly ‘budget’? Mas is adamant, “Avid is my company and I will always make a product that I would buy myself and listen to myself. And frankly, below £800 I would be pushing to make anything I would want sit down and listen to.”
I decided to break the sound quality tests into two parts, using MM with a cheaper Trichord Dino (£499) phono reference and the MC with the dearer Icon PS3 (£2300) reference. Often, relative price points fail to reveal the whole truth about two competing products. On price terms, the Pellar should walk all over the Dino and struggle against the PS3. So did the Pellar default to type?
You know, the original definition for ‘Pellar’ derives from a Cornish dialect word meaning wizard, exorcist or conjurer and there is something in that translation when you listen to this box. Plugging in my T+A G10 and spinning Yehudi Menuhin’s Mendelssohn and Bruch Concertos (HiQ) and Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26, the Pellar showed a rock solid stereo image that not only fixed Menuhin to the soundstage but also allowed it to become a far more balanced backdrop for the orchestra, supplementing texture with a believable degree of support that added colour and depth to Menuhin’s exertions. In fact, before we get to the maestro, where the cheaper Dino had trouble connecting the two, the Pellar allowed the orchestra to leap from the rear of the soundstage, becoming wholly involved in the performance. That Pellar-inspired partnership ebbed and flowed like a rhythmic tide. As for Menuhin himself? The Pellar allowed the great man’s violin to roam, following his more delicate turns of phrase that swept with a dual combination of romance and heartbreak to a more robust, almost confrontational aspect. The upper mids stretched and metamorphosed along with Menuhin’s mood. Bass was not a major player here but what there was quietly confident and supportive.
Moving to jazz vocal and the original Chris Conner album, He Love Me, He Loves Me Not (Atlantic). On High On A Windy Hill, the Conner voice has a brushed, husky flavour which gives any song she sings a distinct delivery. Here, however, the Pellar added a lightness of touch to the voice that, while still retaining that textural husky nature, reminded the ear that this was a lady singing and not several sheets of sandpaper flying in formation. The lightness of tone gave Conner a vulnerability plus a degree of emotional helplessness to the delivery, the midrange being full of detail that added import to the song. The featured harp was helped by a clarity in both the upper mids and treble while the carefully restrained percussion added enough bass to bring a level of structure to the arrangement.
Moving to rock and King Crimson’s Three Of A Perfect Pair which really worked the Spendor S3-5R2’s bass abilities. Partly with Bill Bruford’s adept and flighty percussive power but also bass player, Tony Levin, who kept the track moving with his complex finger work. The Pellar was up to the task here, tracking the lower frequencies with aplomb. There is a slight excess in compression on this mix which can lead to a slight lifting in the upper mids, especially when lead singer, Adrian Below, hits a crescendo. The Pellar recognised that the compression was there and certainly flagged the effect but its relatively high resolution helped to prevent pain to the ears.
Moving to MC and back to Menuhin which, although faced with the mighty PS3, the Pellar offered a very clean, low distortion approach that gave the violin a certain clarity and sparkle. While the PS3 offered more air and intimacy, getting close enough to the maestro to be liberally sprinkled with sweat from his energetic performance, the Pellar majored on the bigger picture. Lacking the detail of the PS3, the Pellar succeeded in broadcasting the epic quality of the track. Bass was big and portentous while the midrange was nothing short of epic. For the Pellar, this performance was grand, it was significant and magnificent to behold. While the PS3 snuggled you in close to the delicate emotion, the Pellar addressed the orchestra on equal terms, giving the second violin section a more significant role in the track. Nothing short of democratic in how it addressed the arrangement, the Pellar arguably offered a more balanced transcription of the track.
Via Conner’s jazz ballad, the Pellar took the broader point of view to the PS3’s more detailed, intimate take on the arrangement. While the PS3 focused on Conner’s smoky, rather husky delivery, the Pellar continued to address her emotional interpretation but restrained the smoky nature of the Conner vocal a touch to encourage the backing band to take a greater role, bringing in the bass that rooted the track in a solid manner and the upper mids of the wind instruments.
The sense of clarity promoted by the Pellar was emphasised within King Crimson’s rock track. The soundstage offered such a low noise platform that bass was free to articulate itself in a supremely precise manner. The complex bass guitar was easily discerned, percussion was both crisp and punchy while the upper mids offered no bloom, no smearing or stridency, just a damn good performance that belied its price.
Because the Pellar cuts the sonic rubbish out of the aural picture, the low distortion sound provides excellent instrumental separation that allows the ear to pick up subtle sounds that are often hidden behind the distortion giving the music an evenly representative presentation, addressing the mix as a whole.
AVID PELLAR PHONO AMPLIFIER
Tel: 01480 869 900
GOOD: value for money, design, overall sound quality, flexibility
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