Perreaux R200i integrated amplifier Page 2

Unlike with the Chord CPM 3300 integrated amplifier I reviewed in the July 2001 issue, setting up and customizing the R200i was neither confusing nor overly complicated. Rather than go through the entire process, I'll just tell you some of what you can do via the System Setup menu to alter the factory default settings. You can label each input with one of 25 choices (Phono, Tuner, CD, SACD, Computer, etc.) and set a default channel balance, initial and maximum volume (convenient when leaving the babysitter in charge of your stereo), display-screen brightness, and Time Out (which darkens the screen after a set number of seconds).

You can also use the onscreen menu system for diagnostic purposes. Push the remote's T button to get an instant readout of the heatsink temperature. (I've just done that: the left sink was at 51 degrees C, the right at 19 degrees C. That doesn't seem right, but I can find nothing wrong with the wiring—I'll be curious to see if this correlates with something John Atkinson measures.) Thanks to multiple protection functions, the R200i is one amp you don't have to worry about frying because of improper hookup or the failure of another component. Protection coverage includes problems with external and internal AC supply (eg, transformer failure), clipping, over-current, over-temperature, DC offset, and internal fuse failure. Should any of these and/or others occur, the R200i will mute and the front panel will tell you why. If the problem exists in only one channel, it will tell you which one.

While those of you not used to navigating menus might have a few minutes of anxiety, once you understand how it works, you'll have the R200i configured to your liking in a few minutes. I can hear some of you: "I've lived without this stuff so far and don't see why I need it now. Why should I pay extra for it?" I don't disagree. However, when you look at the build quality and overall performance the R200i offers for $3995, the menu-driven display and microprocessor-controlled niceties are almost freebies.

For instance: You can lower the volume while in Mute, and there are eight internal timers, ranging from one hour to two days, so you can turn the amp on and shut it down at predetermined times. When you switch between sources, the volume ramps up rather than hitting hard, in case there are large differences in output level between components.

A minor complaint: The constricted spacing between inputs and outputs and between L/R jacks makes hookup tricky with most brands of audiophile cables, and impossible with others that use bulky plugs, such as Wireworld.

Power, Speed, Detail, Flexibility
The Perreaux R200i's unusual flexibility made it easy for me to audition it as a preamplifier, as a power amplifier, and as an integrated amp. I spent the first few weeks listening to it as an integrated, which is how most buyers will use it. I first positioned it on my rack, which required long speaker cables, then between the speakers, using my usual 8' lengths. The good news starts there.

Its high damping factor means that the R200i can deal with long runs of speaker cable without the bass suffering. Low-frequency punch, extension, detail, and control were among the Perreaux's strongest suits, as was its transient clarity and overall speed—not surprising for a purely solid-state product, even if I'd always thought that MOSFET-based amplifiers sound relatively soft and smooth (like the outstanding Smart Devices amplifier I reviewed in the January 2002 issue).

What weren't present were grain and etch (good riddance), or the kind of midband richness and textural nuance (sorely missed) available from far more expensive products—tubed, hybrid, and solid-state—and from some similarly priced gear. But the latter couldn't compete with the R200i's bass performance, or its upper-octave transient clarity and purity.

Compared to my much more expensive reference of Hovland HP-100 preamplifier and Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 power amp (total cost ca $10,000), the R200i presented a drier overall picture, more concerned with music's rhythmic structure than with its harmonic nuances and textural underpinnings: "thousands of colors" vs "millions of colors."

While the R200i was dead quiet, its low noise floor didn't translate into memorable resolution of low-level detail; it was merely adequate. It felt as if, beyond the main event, there was a dropoff of harmonic and spatial context compared to what far more expensive electronics can reveal. Transparency was decent, but on familiar recordings such as Tony Bennett's At Carnegie Hall (Columbia C2S 823) there seemed to be a thin screen separating me from the event. I had to work to experience the hall space. Still, it was there.

However, the R200i's transient speed and cleanness resulted in pinpoint imaging and crystalline overall clarity and focus, but without an etched or forward sound. On many familiar recordings, there was also a better rhythmic foundation and more bass extension and drive than I was used to getting from my references: the R200i had superb "rhythm'n'pace." This was one reason it was so much fun to listen to, though its presentation was different and, in some ways, limiting compared to my references. One night I plowed through Classic Records' boxed set of Led Zeppelin's first four LPs (plus a 45rpm single of "Stairway to Heaven"), pressed on 200gm Quiex SV-P vinyl and cranked up to lease-breaking levels (luckily, I own my home). Playing that kind of material, I didn't feel as if I was missing much.

The R200i didn't sound bright on great and familiar recordings, but when the source itself was bright or hard, it let you know about it unflinchingly. Whenever a bright record encountered the R200i's somewhat miserly presentation of "bloom," I quickly sought out something easier on the ears.

SACD editions of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (EMI CDP 582136-2) [this issue's "Recording of the Month"—Ed.] and the Police's Every Breath You Take: The Classics (A&M Chronicles 069 493 607-2) [last issue's "Recording of the Month"—Ed.] arrived late in the review period, as did Kathleen Edwards' Failer (CD, Rounder). It was instructive to audition unfamiliar material. I thought Dark Side sounded very detailed but a bit thin, especially the vocals, compared to what I was used to from Mobile Fidelity's gold CD and LP as I remembered them. The opening heartbeats were outrageously deep, clean, and well-sculpted, but the coin and adding-machine sound effects in "Money" were all rapid-fire transients, with little sense of the coins' weight behind them. On the Police disc, Stewart Copeland's drumming in "Roxanne" lacked a certain familiar crackle—and this was through dCS's state-of-the-art Elgar Plus/Verdi/Purcell SACD system! I was totally unfamiliar with Kathleen Edwards, who sounds a great deal like Neil Young. Failer, the Canadian singer's debut album, is wonderful, but its sound was kind of bleached and flat.

After playing all three discs, I decided to run the dCS stack into the R200i's input No.4, which can be set to bypass the preamp section. Using the dCS's volume control, I listened again. It was obvious that the thinness and lack of transparency were related to the R200i's preamp section. All of the integrated's attributes remained—punchy bass, transient speed, etc.—but the thin layer of glaze that I'd heard through the preamp input was gone in direct mode, and there was a bit more midband warmth. The difference was subtle, but enough to add weight and texture to the sound effects on "Money," restore some of the golden crackle to Copeland's drum kit, and reduce some of Failer's grayness—though I was sure that, even through my reference gear, the Edwards disc wouldn't sound very impressive.

P.O. Box 47 413
Ponsonby, Auckland
New Zealand
(800) 942-0220