PrimaLuna, Devialet, Hegel Music Systems, NAD -- Integrated Amp Shootout

To Hans Wetzel,

I have just read your review for the Devialet Expert 130 Pro. I am currently building a system and I haven’t decided which way to go for the integrated amplifier. My speakers are GoldenEar Technology’s Triton 2+, sources are a Rega Planar 3 turntable, a MacBook Pro, and a Bluesound Node 2 (strictly for the streaming function, will get a better DAC if not in the integrated).

I demoed a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium vs. a Simaudio Moon Neo 340i. The PL came out the winner because of the “flow,” the sensation of being live, in front of a band and not in a studio where everything is detailed but not blended (340i). Less details with the PL, but way more feeling. I am demoing a Devialet 200 vs. the PrimaLuna right now and I must say that I like the Devialet a lot, even though it is slightly brighter with rock/punk/pop. I can have both for the same price.

The last three [integrated] amplifiers on my list are the Hegel Music Systems H360 (I have an H80; don’t like it), a Bryston B135 SST2 (could go for a B135 SST3, but great deal on the older one), and a NAD Masters Series M32. I heard an NAD M32 at a dealer with Focal Aria 926 loudspeakers and I wasn’t impressed. My question is: Since you have heard the Devialet, Hegel, Bryston, and NAD M32, which one would you recommend for my speakers and a lot of rock, punk, electronica, metal, etc.? If it was your money?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

Guillaume Bouillon

I haven’t heard either of the Bryston integrated amps that you mention, though I admit to having wanted to for quite some time. Of the others that you mention, I think each is excellent in their own way, but as you allude to, there are different sonic profiles on offer that may appeal to some listeners more than others.

Based on your affinity for the PrimaLuna integrated amp over the Simaudio Neo 340i, I can rule out the NAD, Hegel, and Bryston amps that you mention. All are solid-state designs that, while objectively excellent, I’m betting won’t tug at your heartstrings -- that "flow" you reference will probably be missing. The Devialet 200 would be my suggestion of the amps you mention, though I think the newer Pro models, such as the Expert 130 Pro I reviewed, won’t sound quite as bright on the top end, while also retaining the signature Devialet sound.

I would make one other suggestion, though. Luxman’s L-550AX is a 20Wpc-into-8-ohms, class-A integrated amplifier that I reviewed several years ago. Don’t let the power rating fool you -- the Luxman has plenty of current, and I know for a fact that the stated power output is very conservative. Not only would it have no trouble with your partially active GoldenEar loudspeakers, but it’s a really cool amp. Between the retro look and feel, the front-mounted VU meters, and the gorgeous, totally holographic midrange presentation, I think it’d be a great foundation for your system. You get solid-state reliability, combined with the smooth, rich, engaging qualities of a class-A design. Luxman has recently updated the L-550AX, which is now called the L-550AXII, and I bet it’s terrific. Good luck in your search! . . . Hans Wetzel