Nagra PL-L Preamp and PMA Mono Amps Reviewed

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Nagra PL-L Preamp and PMA Mono Amps Reviewed

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What the Nagra PL-L does that I found frightening in its veracity was to covey the punch and power of loud acoustic instruments - something to which I'm attuned because I hear live sax whenever my son practices. I suspect that 30 seconds listening to this pre-amp with really hot and fast trumpet work will ensure an instant sale. I fed it some live Louis Prima, with Louis duelling with Sam Butera in a trumpet/sax confrontation: the Nagra lapped it up, keeping every note clear and natural. When they overlapped, there was no smearing. And when it came to Louis singing alongside Keely Smith, rasp vs liquid, the PL-L showed itself to have finesse, detail and clarity without peer.

I absolutely, positively loved it.

Then I switched in the PMA.

Additional Resources
• Read high end monoblock amp reviews from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Classe and many others.
• Read unique audiophile preamp from Benchmark Media, Copland, Gryphon and many other companies reviewed here.
• Learn more about Nagra on this resource page.

At first, I was too easily seduced by the power. It has plenty of grunt, and I would be hard-pressed to name a speaker it can't handle. But, from the get-go, it seemed lean - too lean. And we all know that a steak or burger without fat is too dry to swallow. Gimme some cholesterol. I put it down to my using, primarily, valve amps, but I'd also been experiencing heavy usage of a pair of mono'd Musical Fidelity X-200s. I was baffled.

Not only did the X-200s seem more powerful, if less composed, they were more life-like. So I collared as many people as I could to determine whether or not senility was setting in a decade too soon. Straight away, one golden-eared visitor said, unprompted, 'This (pointing to the X-200) isn't as accurate, but it's a helluva lot warmer and more listenable.' Another - a Nagra no less - was beside himself. 'It's brittle and edgy. Why did they bother?'

A mystery, then. How does one of the greatest brands in audio history mess up like this? Whatever the amplifier module in the PMA, however good the MOSFETs, the PMA does not sound like a thoroughbred in any area bar power. Its bass was solid and taut, but it sounded artificial, even when the source was wholly acoustic - upright bass sounded electrified. Large-scale percussion was paper-y, the fluidity removed from the Latin flavourings of Mike Nesmith's 'Rio' on LP. Vocals acquired a mild rasp. Sibilants? The PL-L could ameliorate it only so far.

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You have no idea how much it hurts and confuses me to write this. In the same review, I have one of the three or four pre-amps I've ever had the pleasure to use. And with it? An amplifier that recalls early CD. So here's how this plays out for the Nagra devotee:

Nagra's previous power amps, both the valve and the solid-state, categorically obviate the need for the PMA. I'd be honoured to use either. So would most sane enthusiasts. So what is going on? Nagra is far too classy a company to dabble with the audio equivalent of bling-bling, and not one visitor to my listening room - each and every one a seasoned audio enthusiast - was complimentary about the look the sound. Maybe it's an early model, and there's work to be done. The shape? Call it a matter of taste if you want to be kind. But as far as this reviewer is concerned, I've just spent a few weeks with a pre-amp so magnificent that I wish I never had to let it go, and a power amplifier that had the wrong effect on me: my ancestors built the bloody pyramids. Under duress.


Additional Resources
• Read high end monoblock amp reviews from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, Classe and many others.
• Read unique audiophile preamp from Benchmark Media, Copland, Gryphon and many other companies reviewed here.
• Learn more about Nagra on this resource page.

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HTR Product Rating for Nagra PL-L Preamp and PMA Mono Amps

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

3

Overall

3.5

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


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