Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier FollowUp April 2021

Robert Schryer returned to the Grandinote Shinai in April 2021 (Vol.44 No.4):

Eight weeks after I'd submitted my review of the 37Wpc Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier ($15,000), whose return to Reinhard Goerner of importer/distributor Goerner Audio was delayed due to the pandemic lockdown, the Italian integrated amp blew open.

I don't mean that it exploded; I mean its sound exploded: It blew open musically. As good as it was already, the sound went from here up to there, overnight. In 16 hours, the amp underwent a transformation that caused it to sound expressively freer.

Early on, as I was writing my review, Reinhard Goerner told me that the Shinai was newish. I thought he meant it was essentially up to date. (The Shinai has been in production for more than 10 years, with, presumably, a few small changes along the way.) Not once during the two months I'd used the Shinai for my review did it give off that new-car smell or exhibit the wonky tonal balance (its voice changing?) that are the telltale signs of a component crossing the threshold into adulthood. That's what Goerner had meant: It was still very young and improving. I should have noticed.

When I first heard the changes, my immediate thought was: "Wow, cool!" My second thought was: "Oh no! What have I done?" The latter thought occurred because my review was already finished; I had already delivered my verdict. It was positive and mostly accurate but based on incomplete information. I would need to write a follow-up review and submit it as soon as possible.

First, though, I needed to be sure the changes were real and not something my brain concocted. I A/B'ed the Shinai against my tubed separates: the Audible Illusions L3A preamp and Antique Sound Labs AQ-1009 DT monoblocks. Within a minute, the verdict was in. My gear fared glaringly worse than before in that direct comparison. The difference was too noticeable to have been a figment of my imagination or a consequence of having gotten used to the amplifier's sound. The Shinai had shifted into higher gear.

My plan of action was straightforward. I would relisten to the same music I'd listened to before, through my KEF LS50s and the Totem Skylights I still have in-house.

I began where I started the last time, with Roger Waters's Amused to Death (CD, Columbia CK47127). The 3D mixing process (footnote 1) on this album is impressive, but this is early-1990s digital and the sound is just so-so. Amused to Death showed me that the new, improved version of this Italian amp wasn't mercilessly accentuating the bad aspects of the sound, nor was it masking it. Rather, the Shinai was emphasizing what's good about the sound. The improved Shinai imbued the Roger Waters CD with extra color, sweetness that verged on warmth, and an even more intricate spatial layout, with GPS-level clarity that allowed me to zoom in on images.

Everything from Waters's voice to the electric guitar, to the tom-toms and piano, sounded at once bigger and more focused—a rare combination, since sonic images usually are bigger because they are unfocused. Now, images hovered near the water pipes that run just below my ceiling, bigger than life yet so realistically proportioned and dynamically vibrant that they seemed lifelike yet unexaggerated. I never got the impression I was hearing the music in a way that was different from the way it was recorded.

My ASL mono amps make smaller images, more realistically sized and less lifelike than this. Their sonic reconstructions, compared to the Shinai's, lack structural integrity. In a quick A/B test with the newly mature Shinai, my ASLs sounded congested, grainier, grayer, and less fleet-of-foot.

The 60Wpc ASLs did have one trick up their sleeve: They bested the Shinai in delivering propulsive bass energy and balmy whomp. But that's the only thing they did better.

Patricia Barber's Hammond B-3 organ, on Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), has never sounded more there than it did here. The sound dispatched by a finger-roll across the keypad sliced the air a foot from my chest with crystalline clarity. Bass-string finger flicks have never been more graphic. The venue was bigger now, filled with more of the crackling life force that makes being at a live concert feel like a unique, visceral, you-are-here moment.

On the hypnotic Floratone II (CD, Savoy Jazz SVY17855), by the Floratone collective, with Bill Frisell, I heard—I swear—sounds emerging from directly behind other sounds. There wasn't just a new range of depth to behold; there were newly excavated trenches of underground activity, confirming what I've long suspected: that the most dramatic musical secrets are stored in the richer-toned, lower frequency range, from 200Hz or so on down. Exhume that area, and the musical pathways that emerge in the low light can seem labyrinthine and eternal.

Listening to Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda (LP, Impulse! IMP-228), first on the Shinai and then on my ASLs, was akin to driving off a freshly paved autobahn onto a dirt road. I'm exaggerating, but that was the sensation. Once I got a taste for how the Shinai embodied the chemistry among Coltrane and her cohorts, returning to my ASLs' more ragtag portrayal was a letdown.

Please don't get me wrong: My ASLs can sound very good, but their performance is diminished in comparison with the Shinai. It pains me that the Shinai has to go back. Who wants to relinquish better?

Or better than better? Or another sort of better? Things took an interesting turn when, on a whim, I plugged my tubed Audible Illusions L3A preamp into one of the Shinai's line inputs and turned the latter's volume control way up.

It's not as weird as it sounds, or at least I don't think it is, and if it is I don't especially care. The Shinai's preamp section is refined but minimal. When you turn the volume control up all the way, there's not a lot of electronic clutter inside it to get in the way of the sound.

Maybe it was the continuousness of the musical signal passing through the units' philosophically similar designs—both units employ simple circuits with short signal paths and operate in class-A—but whatever juju was happening between them, the resulting synergy pricked my feathered tail, engaged my attention, and made me miss supper.

The level of transparency didn't change—it was already stunning—nor did the image size. What the Shinai+L3A did was flesh things out a little more, adding sheets of harmonic content across a luxuriant landscape where colors sparkled and the tiniest sounds had body. Images seemed less crisp, their outlines hazier, but the sun was warmer and the scenery more supple.

A run-through of the recordings I'd listened to previously with the Shinai revealed the differences as consistent: Coltrane's harp projected more girth and rainbow waves. Guitar strings on the Waters CD sounded more natural, the backup singers' voices more stickily moist. The individual cricket chirps that open the album twinkled, instruments on the Floratone CD sounded more like the materials they're made of, and Patricia Barber's live recording delivered more on-stage presence and crowd-interaction dynamics than they had without the preamplifier.

In fact, my CDs never sounded so good. I'm used to hearing a digital overlay akin to a see-through plastic divider between me and my CDs. Now that was all but gone. The music bulged from my speakers with a magnetism that made choosing what format to play—CD or LP—moot. Each format now had its own charisma.

Which encouraged me to try out more CDs. With the Audible Illusions preamp still connected, I played the Ginger Baker Trio's Going Back Home (CD, Atlantic CD 82652). Ginger's drum kit was splayed in a perfect arc around him, each drum flashing into illuminated life when struck. His tempos sounded tighter and more insistent than usual, and I felt like I could see his wrists pivoting down at the joint with each high-velocity snap. Cymbals spilled out fine-grained texture, like Cuban beach sand.

Even Cannonball Adderley's Mercy, Mercy, Mercy: Live at "The Club" (CD, Capitol Jazz 7243 8 29915 2 6)—a thin, bright recording—was a hoot. The Shinai/L3A combo couldn't transform it into tomahawk steak (footnote 2), but it was in T-bone territory, meatier and juicier. I had the sense that I was eavesdropping on indiscernible private chatter and could tell, among the more rambunctious patrons of "The Club," which had imbibed more. The air around us—us, since I was with them, and they with me—was charged and tingling, the musicians and the crowd more like real people than AM-radio cut-outs. The performance—the playing, the air, the groove—had been given a shot of Pinocchio wish-magic: What was once a wooden copy had turned real—and when I wrote that my nose didn't get longer, because it's true.

I even danced—okay, stomped around and jerked—which may sound like a frivolous thing to point out, but I don't think it is. It's a sign of total, physical immersion in the music, of forgetting I had a body.

The best sound will make me do that: sit rapt for minutes on end without budging, breathing just enough that I don't keel over, until I am swept to my feet by a blissful impulse to celebrate the gloriousness of what I'm hearing, to thank it for its generosity like a tribesman giving thanks to, and for, the sun. Because, just as life is mental and physical—and also spiritual and whatever else—to me, "immersive" isn't the right word if only the mind is immersed. It must be the body, too, and also the soul if such a thing exists. (Musical experiences like this are a good argument for it, it seems to me.) But certainly it's about the body, at the least, which explains my awkward tribal dance.

I asked whether Grandinote builds a stereo amp, because if you're going to use a preamp, a non-integrated amplifier makes a lot more sense. They do. The one with single-ended inputs (to match my Audible Illusions pre) is called the Essenza. Its design is similar to that of the Shinai, but it costs about $24,000—way more than I can afford.

It doesn't matter. The Shinai is fine enough. By itself, it sounds great solo, rich and bloomy but with a sense that you're hearing the true, original thing and not a recording. With the tubed preamp added, it sounds like—well, like what I wrote above. The Shinai opened my ears.—Rob Schryer

Footnote 1: Amused to Death was mixed using QSound, an audio algorithm that manipulates crosstalk to facilitate more dramatic positioning of sound objects in space.—Editor

Footnote 2: A tomahawk steak, apparently, is one of those bone-in caveman ribeyes that look like, well, a tomahawk. I had to look it up.—Editor

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

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


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!


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.


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...

MikeP's picture

Would love to see a shootout between this amp and the all new Pure Audio One.2 Best Kept Secret !