PrimaLuna: the Warmth of Tubes?

I have heard the expression, "The warmth of tubes," forever. Few among us have experienced as many different tube amps as this humble prattler and I swear: I have (almost) never experienced that so-called "warmth." In my experience, what tube amps usually do (that solid state amps usually don't) is reproduce small-scale and micro-dynamic information (they are sensitive and feminine) that gets lost in the hard-thumping maleness of transistor amps. For me, a good tube amp will flesh out and illuminate the images, soundstage, and hall sounds of a recording better than its denser masculine counterpart. When I returned to audio, I began to cast about, looking for what and who was happening in high-end amplification at reasonable prices. Right away PrimaLuna (tubes) jumped out of the audio Tarot deck.

PrimaLuna products flesh out texture, hall sound, and instrumental color better than the tube amps of yore and on the scale of warm to cool, PrimaLuna is always exactly in the middle—as in Goldilocks' "just right." In fact, I would have to say that PrimaLuna's just-right neutrality is its #1 best trait.

I am currently reviewing a the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium stereo amplifier ($2199) and their ProLogue Premium preamplifier ($2199) and the system PrimaLuna's Kevin Deal was demonstrating was clearly much higher up on the hi-fi food chain than my humble bunker system. I was excited to see what this gear could do on a big stage, supported by talented audio legends and professional lighting.

While we talked, Kevin Deal played selections from Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall double LP. Mr. Deal was powering the beautiful Sonus Faber Amati Futuras ($36,000/pair) with Dialogue Premium KT120/150 amps ($3899 stereo, $7798/pair mono), and the Dialogue Premium preamp ($3199). He had the ferocious VPI Avenger turntable ($9500) equipped with one of my all-time favorite cartridges: the Kiseki PurpleHeart ($3499) feeding the renowned Manley Steelhead phono stage ($8500).

What can I say? "The warmth of tubes"???? Forget that ridiculousness. This system did small-scale and micro-dynamic information like almost nothing I can remember. The best I can say is; "Midrange, midrange, midrange!" Color and detail out the yin-yang. Extremely not warm or cool. Until Pono, I was never a giant Neil Young fan—but I am now. Young's voice was pristinely sweet and present. This system gets my vote for Best Sound among the "budget" (cough, cough) systems I heard at CES.