Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier

I was doing my press beat for Stereophile in the hallway of Montreal's 2019 Audiofest when I glimpsed something that stopped me in my tracks. It was a marketing slogan, across the room on importer/exhibitor Goerner Audio's floorstanding banner: "Tubes or semiconductors? Magneto-solid technology amplifies emotions."

Intrigued and with pen and paper in hand, I settled into one of the listening chairs and soaked in the smooth, luscious, musical sound coming from a system with the Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier at its core—and wondered: tubes or transistors? The line was blurry.

I'd never heard of Grandinote, whose electronics have an unobtrusive, elegant look that sets them apart from the typical fare. The man helming the room—Goerner Audio's amiable Reinhard Goerner—clued me in. Designed and manufactured in Italy, Grandinote products are exported to 32 countries. The Shinai is a special breed of integrated: a solid-state amplifier that uses a tube-based circuit.

I have since heard Grandinote products demoed at two other shows. At the last of these, Toronto's 2019 Audiofest, the Grandinote integrated was being fed music files from a Grandinote server, feeding in turn the unusual, sensitive, crossoverless Grandinote Mach 9 loudspeakers. I wrote, "My journalistic objectivity be darned! The Goerner Audio/Grandinote room produced the sort of sound that melts my heart, ravishes my senses, and reminds me of why great hi-fi is worth the money."

Max Magri
Grandinote founder and product designer Massimiliano Magri—Max to his friends—grew up in a small town in northern Italy's Lombardy region in the province of Pavia, whose namesake capital city, in 452 CE, was sacked by Attila the Hun.

As a child, Magri told me, he played a game where he tied links of string between pieces of furniture to simulate an electrical circuit. A few years later, he had earned a degree in electronic engineering from the University of Pavia, less than an hour's drive from Milan, and had built his first amplifier, a tubed unit that featured his first output transformer. Output transformers became one of Magri's fascinations.

In time, he decided it's the most critical part in an amplifier, because of how hard it is to build a really good one and because it's the interface between the amplifier and the speaker. I asked him if that meant that it was the most critical part, soundwise. His answer: Context matters. Design matters. "It's stupid to think that the best output transformer is the secret sauce. It's like the guys who buy the most expensive drivers and think they make the best speakers. Both the drivers in the speaker, and the output transformer in the amplifier, need to work for a specific project."

Magri's studies of output transformers would be the foundation for his invention, at age 29, of "Magnetosolid technology," a portmanteau of "ferromagnetic" and "solid-state." The invention led to a transformer made to work with a tubed circuit, minus the tubes, that could deliver the high bandwidth, low impedance, and bass solidity of a solid-state circuit but also the rich tone tube designs are known for. That richness, he was convinced, was due not to the tubes themselves but to tube circuits that abide by the same simpler-is-better ethic that informs the design of the Grandinote Shinai.

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The Shinai
The Shinai is an integrated, push-pull, dual-mono amplifier specified to deliver 37Wpc into both 4 and 8 ohm loads, entirely in class-A.

How dual mono is it? It is so dual mono that a power cord is needed for each channel. Ba-da-tish!

The stylish, flat-surfaced front panel has no protruding toggles or knobs—just a symmetric array of seven pushbuttons: three on the left for inputs and programming, three on the right for volume setting, and a big one in the middle, at the bottom, to power the unit on and off.

Negative feedback? "As long as I am Grandinote boss," Magri said, "feedback will be prohibited like sincerity in politics." He is proud of the Shinai's low impedance and high damping factor—the highest in the world, he claims, for an amplifier that uses no negative feedback. It's a feat he credits for delivering what his company's website describes as "control in the bass frequencies that tubes can't dream!!!"

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The Shinai is fully balanced, although two of its four (line-level) inputs are single-ended, with RCA connectors. Each of its four direct-coupled stages uses two transistors, and—get this—each transistor has its own power supply. (How many power supplies does the Shinai have? It depends on how you count. There are two power cords and two transformers—one for each channel. Each transformer has five secondaries. Those 10 secondaries feed 32 circuits, each with its own energy storage, filtering, and regulation.) This configuration "is very important for the three-dimensionality of the sound and the location of every instrument in space," Magri said.

The Shinai's 16-page manual is written in the same charming, occasionally frustrating Anglo-Italian dialect found on Grandinote's website. You must visit the website to download it; it isn't in the box. What is in the box is a sleek, solid-billet aluminum remote control handset. Plus the amplifier itself, and two power cords.

Setup
I substituted the Shinai for an Antique Sound Lab mono amp at the top of my rack. I connected two sets of RCA cables—one from my phono stage, the other from my DAC. The Shinai was connected via two power cords—I used LessLoss DFPCs—to my Shunyata Venom 8 power conditioner, which itself was connected to a dedicated 20A electrical line via a Shunyata Research Black Mamba CX power cord.

The Shinai drove, alternately, the recently reviewed Totem Skylights, my KEF LS50s, and a pair of mystery speakers I'll get to later.

Listening
I started with an album that, as I later learned, Reinhard and I both routinely use to set up speakers: Roger Waters's Amused to Death (CD, Columbia CK 47127). It was mixed using QSound's "3D binaural" technology, which generates two-channel audio with 3D effects from multiple mike feeds. Get the imaging right, and the rest falls into place.

COMPANY INFO
Grandinote S.R.L.S.
North American distributor: Goerner Audio
91 18th Ave.
Deux-Montagnes, Quebec, J7R 4A6, Canada
(514) 833-1977
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
JHL's picture

A measured, positive review of what looks to be a superb product artistically engineered with deliberation and care that sounds tremendous. And if you look closely, the reasons for this sound are in there too.

And yet it doesn't impress the bench.

Is the ear's fault or the bench's fault?

Ortofan's picture

... the sound quality of an amplifier with a "bent transfer function" that exhibits relatively higher levels of distortion dominated by "subjectively innocuous second and third harmonics".

So much for a "straight wire with gain" being the paradigm for the ideal amplifier.

JHL's picture

...cant and dogma is consistently exposed as an obsession with assuming cause and effect, co-opting whatever "science" may exist thereby, and browbeating the nearest pair of ears with what they're hearing and especially, what motivates the stuff between them. This we call the scientific method and/or real musical fidelity. Or if we're not, we make assumptions, cast aspersions, frame narratives, and draw conclusions.

Speaking of feedback, it's a lot like fallacy: It always sounds worse when you nest it in complexity.

Archimago's picture

That JS likes the sound in his room, with his speakers (don't know about the WLM Diva, but the LS50 and Totem are small speakers), using his playback gear, that's great. If he likes them and feels they're worth $15,000 for 37Wpc into 8-ohms (manufacturer specs), I hope he keeps them...

Subjective reviews are simply opinions based on the reviewer's system, ears, and mental preferences anyway. IMO, too many variables in there for it to necessarily tell me if anyone else might really like them or would put up 15-grand to own these. Of course, nothing wrong with gathering these opinions and listening for oneself.

On the objective side, no they won't win any awards for resolution and definitely no awards for power with low distortion. Nor are they great with demanding loads. These are just the facts and would be useful if you're thinking about buying these considering your room size and type of speakers. That's useful information, right?

Given the fact that distortions can be high with speakers and human perception has its limits as well, the objective results suggest that these should sound good at normal power output; as with most decent gear these days whether tube/solid state, with or without feedback...

Doesn't seem like there's anything here all that controversial.

Ortofan's picture

... speaker testing, you state that "many audiophiles dismiss controlled blind testing when in fact this is in all likelihood the most powerful tool available for honest research - just as it is for every scientific discipline involving human subjects!"

If that is indeed your viewpoint, what value do you place on the results of subjective evaluations (of any type of sound reproduction equipment) which are not the result of controlled blind tests?

If you've not read them already, you may wish to review back issues of the Audio Critic magazine. Before employing controlled blind testing, they were wont to recommend the latest "amplifier of the month".
After instituting a controlled blind testing protocol, they determined that the $500 price of a Yamaha integrated amplifier under evaluation "will purchase as much electronics as most of us will ever need." (A comparable model from the current line-up would cost no more than $900.)
The review concluded with the comment "as to those of you who want to know 'how it sounds' - well, we must not be getting our point across."

Anton's picture

Job well done. I liked how perfectly you placed that piece into your life for the time it was on hand. Thank you.

Something in review reminded me of something I have been 'believing' of late:

I think we are going through a sort of "punk" era in Hi Fi.

I am of a certain age and recall the 'excesses' of rock as the prog infestation occurred.

Back then, there came a point where it took the London Philharmonic to make rock records. (Moody Blues, etc.)

Tours made Spinal Tap shows seem humbly intended.

Rock music became a sort of quagmire (to me.)

Then, punk came and shook the barnacles off again.

I think I see some punk ethos hiding in Hi Fi these days: integrated amps that require less of us...fewer wires, shelves, tiny little feets, etc. Speakers with more manageable impedance and are less 'fussy' to drive. Speakers like the DeVore Orangutans, the Zu line, the re-emergence of the credibility of Klipsch, and others I am forgetting.

I am lately liking the idea of 'less stuff' to deal with.

This integrated fits this newer paradigm, I like it.

Imagine a room with a nice streamer, an integrated amp, speakers, and done!

Uh, oh, maybe I am starting to think 'exit level!'

Gotta keep my vinyl, though!

JRT's picture

The Plitron PAT-4152 toroidal output transformer was designed by Menno van der Veen for use in power amplifiers with a solid state output stage.

In any amplifier utilizing an output transformer, the qualities of the output transformer are critical to the resulting performance, and the easiest way to avoid the problem is to do just that by avoiding use of the output transformer in the design of the low impedance solid state output.

Good as it was, I don't think that the PAT-4152 attracted much demand, as it lags in benefit/cost in the analysis of alternatives in comparison to designs not using an output transformer, and more so as copper became increasingly more expensive.

The data sheet for that PAT-4152 OPT is available at the following link.

http://www.tec-sol.com/products/elec/plitron/spec/PAT-4152.pdf

Audiophon's picture

I am happy that Robert Schryer liked the Grandinote in his system. Over the last 16 years I had some really great sounding amps in my system: Classé CAM 350, Parasound JC1, Pass XA 100.5 and now the Grandinote Demone with the matching preamp Domino. When I heard the Grandinote amps for the first time in my system in direct comparison to my beloved Pass amps, it be became soon clear that concerning three dimensionality, naturalness and bass they outperformed the Pass be far.

They might not fit into every system due to their limited power, but they sound much more powerful than their power rating might suggest.

Just listen for yourself!

tonykaz's picture

Nice reading your work and thoughts, you seem to possess a refreshing everyman's perspective about our hobby's philosophies.

Might I request a series about today's phono cartridges.

Nice work, thanks.

Tony in earthly Paradise. ( an Incubator for Old people, wish you were here )

rschryer's picture

Are you asking me to write a series you won't read?

:-)

tonykaz's picture

I read EVERYthing you write!

besides,

I'm a transducer guy.

I own and invest in phono transducers.

I span from the ending years of 78 thru to todays formats, I'm eclectic and even esoteric.

Phono cartridges are the largest contributors to the Singing voice of a Vinyl system and it's most fragile component.

So I ask you, for instance, who is actively reviewing the Grado Series so that interested persons could understand the wide range of cartridges they offer?

If 33.3 vinyl is so important, the ongoing Phono Cartridge reporting is very much missing from the most important Audiophile Journal in the entire world.

Of course, I've advanced into the 21st. Century gear and enjoy the freedom of not having to curate a vast collection of that vintage stuff.

and...

I don't consider the $15,000 Phono Cartridges ( that the Planet guy reports on ) as valid or appropriate for our mainstream 33.3 vinyl lovers.

You could have a tonearm with the SME Bayonette headshell mounting system, a handfull or more of headshells filled with samples from every cartridge manufacturer. You would create the most read Monthly ( or weekly ) Stereophile feature. You would become another Tyll like giant in this tiny industry.

Wether I would read your reporting, or not, your work would gradually be positioned towards the front of the published monthly, everyone would read your stuff anddddddd buy more phono cartridges.

Tony in Venice

Glotz's picture

It would be great if more lower-priced carts get attention in the main review section of the magazine. Richard would be awesome for that! Please include comparisons in that price point, as well as some cost-no-object designs for reference.

I do think MF's reporting is spot-on all of the time, but one man can only do so much every month. HR does review great carts, but again, both of these men have a lot on their screens.

$15k cartridges are the Ford GT's of the audio world, and always have a place for anyone that digs the state of the art. The same goes with $15k integrateds!

@Richard - A truthful and funny response to Tony. Perhaps he is not done with turntables yet? It all depends how well you write! (Lol- and kudos to your writing.) A series may not be necessary, but coming back to new carts a twice a year would be very welcome.

rschryer's picture

...Robert, right? :-)

Thanks for the kind words, Glotz.

Glotz's picture

I am so sorry Robert!

rschryer's picture

That would be nice.

Btw, Tony, I agree with you. In our current political climate, supporting China's economy (and military) feels yucky.

At the same time, are we willing to pay substantially more for audiophile gear made entirely in N.A?

I'd like to think so, but...

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