Grandinote Shinai integrated amplifier Page 2

With all the speakers I used, the album's fade-to-white cricket-chirping intro filled more of the room than I was used to with my own electronics. It was as if a world was materializing around me, like I was gaining consciousness in the middle of a field on a hot day. Soon, every pore of the soundstage seemed filled with animated sound. The Shinai made aural space microscopically tangible.

The Shinai has a knack for detail retrieval, an attribute I've been fond of ever since, as a skinny, bespectacled 7-year-old, I got my hands on a magnifying glass, roamed a park on a burgeoning spring day, and learned I had a taste for close-up visualization. Here, though, what I was hearing was less about detail for detail's sake than it was about getting a clearer view of the big picture. Imagine drawing your eyes away from a blurry photograph until its image crystallizes and you'll have a better idea of what I was hearing.

The Shinai gave notes and musical lines enough space to stretch out and seamlessly transition into the next notes and musical lines. At the start of Amused to Death's second track, "What God Wants," the expanding resonance created by each strike of the floor tom served as a screenlike backdrop against which other sounds were projected. And when the drums kicked in to launch the band, they kicked! It was easy to forget I was listening to standmount speakers.

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The Shinais didn't gloss over the glare that's part of the sound of many early CDs, but it emphasized the good, in the recording and the system, including the more pleasing attributes of each speaker I was using: the Totems' pristine focus and color; the KEFs' room-filling lower-midrange.

Whenever I listen to Alice Coltrane's Journey in Satchidananda (LP, Impulse! IMP-228), with its mantra-like jazz incantations, I imagine I'm in India, barefoot, at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is disappointed in me for doing LSD. (Apparently in my daydreams I am the Beatles, whose drug use at the ashram displeased the yogi.) There's a slight claustrophobic feel to the album's sound, a darkish character made darker by a fat-bass undertow, some parts of which, through my tubed setup, might as well be whale farts for all their finesse.

The Shinai mostly degassed those farts, rendering them drier than I'm used to, more defined and solid, with better attack. Sorry.

That same quality coaxed other sounds through the mix to a scintillating, 3D landscape of percussion, string, and wind sounds. I could make out individual jingles on certain tambourine shakes, like singers in a choir.

Despite such detail, the Shinai didn't sound clinical or etched. Rather, the impression I had was simply that the speaker cones were completely under the Shinai's control. Nothing sounded sloppy, short-changed, or superfluous.

Next, I put on Frank Zappa's Apostrophe (') (LP, Barking Pumpkin Records ZR 3851), which is full of syncopated rhythms, virtuoso musicianship, and slapstick stories delivered by electric guitar, bass, drums, percussion, violin, keyboards, trumpet, trombone, a single sound (whaaaaaang!!!) from a cello (apparently not played by Jack Bruce, who instead was on bass)—and, of course, Frank Zappa's and his backup singers' mouths.

The Shinai delivered these disparate elements and their sonic offshoots like a Cirque du Soleil juggler, with poise and panache. It proved two things: That this album, mastered from the original ¼" stereo analog master tape by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering, is an aural funhouse, and that the Shinai is up to the task of revealing all the virtues of a top-tier recording.

I had similarly excellent results with the second track from Montreal-based jazz-soul singer Dominique Fils-Aimé's Nameless (LP, Ensoul Records)—but not the first track, which lacks the corporeality and intimacy that make the second track so compelling. Shinai amplification helped make the disparity between these two tracks remarkably clear: The first song I couldn't finish, the second I didn't want to end.

In the mood for another female singer, I played Patricia Barber's Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2), a live 1999 recording of a performance, engineered by Jim Anderson, at Chicago's famous jazz club, the Green Mill, where Barber held forth most Monday nights (in more normal times). Again, I heard things that were new to me, such as the slight delay Barber applies before hitting a piano note, and, less tangible but palpable, how her rhythm section plays off her, following her every note. The Shinai transmitted not just sound but subtle people-in-a-band cues and dynamics.

The shakes, taps, plucks, bends, snaps—the whole sonic business of the music-making—were in full swing, explicitly manifested. Human-instrument interactions were intricate, yet easy to follow. The LS50s blew fingerprint dust on dark recesses, sketching angles, corners, and objects in gray shades. I sensed I could see where audience members were seated and their proximity to the band. At times, I felt as if I was there with them.

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I had one last test in mind. I wanted to hear the Shinai with bigger, more ambitious speakers. Reinhard delivered his personal pair of the Austrian-made WLM Diva Mk4 floorstanders (approx. $15,000/pair US, footnote 1), with claimed sensitivity of 95dB into 8 ohms and frequency range of 30Hz–20kHz. The Diva Mk 4 uses a concentric driver for the midrange and tweeter and an 8" woofer for the lows. Reinhard set them up using a mathematical formula passed on to him years ago by Audio Physic founder Joachim Gerhard, which states that the distance between the speakers should be 1.2 times the distance between the tweeters and the listener. From there, adjust according to obsessiveness.

With the WLMs set up, I tried out larger-scale recordings: King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King (CD, EG Records, EGCD 1, 0777 7 86485 2 9), Itzhak Perlman's The Perlman Sound (LP, Warner Classics 0825646070985), and the Bartók Violin Concerto No.2 conducted by Antal Doráti (LP, Mercury Records SR90003). With each of those recordings, the Shinai and the WLMs mated like lovers, infusing the sound with more space, glare-free highs, and as much depth of field as an Austrian pasture. I don't know how well the Shinai drove the WLMs compared to other amplifiers; I only know that this was a great-sounding combination.

Conclusion
I believe that the best pieces of hi-fi have a spirit. The Shinai is no exception.

It has the spirit of a revealer. It speaks the truth—not ruthlessly, but honestly. It showed me, with conspicuous clarity, the sonic differences among music formats, speaker models, song-to-song recording quality, that section on an LP where, on my rig, the sound seemed to have spontaneously gotten much better, and the Shinai's own conspicuous improvement after 45 minutes of playing music. More importantly, it revealed myriad strains of musical information I'd not known were there.

It also forced me to face up to the fact that my tubed electronics were sweetening and homogenizing the sound.

Does the Shinai's tube-based circuitry make it sound like a tube amp? Not exactly. The Shinai sounds like its own thing, worthy in its own right. It's rich but not in the voluptuous, warm way of my combo of Audible Illusions preamp and vintage ASL monos. The Shinai is more neutral sounding. The Shinai did some things better than my tube gear—definition, detail, space, scale, touch—at a price I think fair considering that, for the money, one gets a line stage and two powerful-sounding (even if rated at just 37Wpc), class-A monoblocks, designed and hand-built in Italy.

I'm a tube lover but, were I looking to buy an integrated amplifier, the Shinai would be a contender as long as I had the ancillary components to do it justice. Feed it well, and it will reward you in equal measure.


Footnote 1: See Art Dudley's report from the 2017 Montreal Audiofest.
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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