Perreaux R200i integrated amplifier Page 3

A few days after I started running the R200i in direct mode, Chad Kassem's (of Analogue Productions) personal vinyl test pressing of Dark Side of the Moon arrived. The commercial LP will be pressed in the Netherlands; Chad's was pressed at RTI. It was easy enough to switch the R200i back to integrated operation, audition the disc, then listen again in direct mode, running the Manley Steelhead phono preamp via its variable output. Even through the R200i's preamp stage, the Gray/Hoffman/Sax analog mastered Dark Side smoked the SACD in terms of richness, midband bloom, and sheer palpability. This was the best-sounding Dark Side I'd ever heard. Running the Manley directly "in" via its variable-output jacks improved the picture further.

Later, I ran the R200i's preamp section into my reference Nu-Vista amplifier, followed by the same sources (dCS stack, Manley Steelhead) run direct in to the Perreaux's power amp section. These comparisons revealed R200i's preamp section to be, overall, pretty good. It had slight, mostly subtractive problems—losses of transparency, harmonic richness, palpability, and soundstage depth—but it was free of etch, grain, and other easily noticeable and offensive sonic problems.

Finally, I ran the Hovland HP-100 preamp into the R200i's direct input, and that combination was something special: It combined the Hovland's strong suits (see my review in the November 2000 issue) with the R200i amp's bass punch, rhythmic drive, and crystalline transient response. Yes, the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 300 still had a bigger picture and better midband richness—and a greater sensation of bloom and harmonic nuance—but the R200i made it clear that the Nu-Vista 300 is a bit soft and forgiving on the bottom (not news: the Parasound Halo JC 1s that I reviewed in February did as well).

But this is a review of an integrated amplifier and not of its individual parts. Two visits to Avery Fisher Hall in the past two months have refreshed my memory about the speed and timbral presentation of unamplified live music. With LPs and CDs that I consider to be sonic references—such as Cisco's superlative reissue of the Dvorák and Glazunov Violin Concertos, with Nathan Milstein, William Steinberg, and the Pittsburgh Symphony—the very reasonably priced and powerful Perreaux R200i was more than competent. Though on the slightly lean and somewhat fast and punchy side of live music, the R200i was nonetheless credible because it committed no obvious additive sins. Though it lacked the midband richness, three-dimensional bloom, and tactile presentation heard in concert and, to a lesser degree, through far more expensive amplification, the R200i avoided sounding electronic, wiry, or mechanical. Its low-end foundation was deep and authoritative, its high-frequency extension clean, fast, and well-focused. With its generous power output, the R200i can adequately and easily drive a wide variety of loudspeakers without breaking a sweat. It certainly mated well with the unforgiving, revealing Audio Physic Avanti IIIs.

When I cranked up this integrated amp, it delivered wide dynamic swings while maintaining its generally neutral timbral character. At low levels, it seemed to maintain the proper dynamic proportion between the loudest and softest passages. Some powerful amplifiers "close down" at low output levels. The R200i remained open and exciting.

Sonic "perfection" for $3995, as well as all of the R200i's features, flexibility, and power? No, and not to be expected. Nonetheless, the R200i offered an impressive balance of strengths and no serious shortcomings. It was in my system for well over a month, and while when playing familiar favorites I was aware of what was missing or different, the musical pleasure derived was such that I listened as long and as intently as always.

Perreaux Industries' R200i attempts to marry audiophile sensibilities to modern, microprocessor-controlled design. In one sleek, attractive, dual-mono package that is superbly engineered and built, Perreaux has combined a powerful solid-state amplifier capable of outputting 200W into 8 ohms (and significantly more into 4 ohms), and a competent and flexible preamplifier, both controlled and monitored by a configurable microprocessor that offers the user a wide variety of setup possibilities and sophisticated performance monitoring. And thanks to careful circuit design, it does all this without seeming to compromise the sound.

The RF remote control gives the user a level of convenience and control uncommon in the High End. While the R200i's taut, somewhat lean performance won't appeal to every audiophile, it's sufficiently accomplished to please many (especially if care is taken in choosing auxiliary components), and easily justifies the R200i's $3995 price even without the microprocessor-driven flexibility and features.

The impressive balance Perreaux has struck here among convenience, performance, modern design, high build quality, and reasonable cost will in time no doubt be emulated by others. For now, anyone buying the R200i can be assured that his or her $3995 will have been well spent.

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