True story: A VERY knowledgeable audiophile arrives at my listening room, on 18 November. Pink Triangle's Integral integrated amplifier is driving the Wharfedale Diamond 8.1s, its badge covered with tape. I state to this collector of some repute with a memory spanning 35 years, 'You will never guess who made this amplifier. Never.' He muses aloud. 'Hmm, a bit Krell. Balanced input. Nice blue lights. Not Krell? No, no, it's English.' Silence. 'Sugden?' Close, but no cigar. He studies it some more. He fiddles with it, listens, stands back. After eight minutes of excruciating silence, he says, 'I give up.' I tell him, 'Pink Triangle.' He looks at me, mildly horrified. 'You're bloody joking.'
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There's a reason for recounting the observer's genuine shock. Like many, I thought that Pink Triangle was long gone. This company, after all, wallows in the glory of being a part of the 'cottage industry', a brand unlikely ever to reach an annual turnover of nine figures, employees in the thousands and its own hall at Funkaustellung. With hand on heart, I'm genuinely amazed that Pink Triangle is celebrating its 21st birthday, even more than I'm staggered by Croft's longevity.
But most amazing of all is the Integral, which would have fooled me, too, if I hadn't opened the box myself. It certainly owes nothing to that great-sounding but poorly-made, utterly hideous, fragile, pain-in-the-arse turntable on which the company was founded. And which truly belied the stereotype that all gay men have great aesthetic sensibilities. (Just check out founder Arthur Khoubersserian's wardrobe...) But the Integral? It's downright mouthwatering.
Pink Triangle's first integrated amplifier, the Integral is an extremely low feedback design utilising an unusual cascode topology, output stage. [See box.] Fully dual-mono, it produces 100W/ch into 8 ohm, 200W/ch into 4 ohms and 300W/ch into 2 ohms, as it proved with the Wilson WATT Puppy System 6 and the Apogee Scintillas. A line-level design - there are rumours of a matching phono stage for release in the future - the Integral provides an XLR balanced input marked CD, plus three line level inputs via beautiful gilded phono sockets and facilities for two tape decks with record inputs for both. The Integral also encourages integration into a multi-channel A/V system or bi-amping, and a rear panel switch sets up the Integral to be driven directly from source components with variable outputs, such as the upcoming Da Capo II CD player. All of the inputs are wired with pure silver wire, while the outputs are connected with silver-plated copper; all wire uses PTFE insulation. Also on the back are WBT's wonderful EC-approved multi-way binding posts, with slots for spade connectors.
But you won't want to look at this unit's tush. This amplifier is one of the best-looking components I've ever seen, and I wouldn't have registered one iota of surprise if I'd been told it came from Gryphon, Burmester, Bow or Primare. Finished in a fabulous charcoal grey anodising, its accents are chromed, including the huge, centrally-positioned volume control mounted in a chrome sub-section. This is flanked by two rows of push buttons, each marked with an icon, for on/off, mute and the source selections. Each is accompanied by a blue light (why not pink??), and the volume control's illumination turns red when the Integral is set to stand-by.
It's important to position this gem in the context of the Great High End Integrated Amp Survey, which started with the Musical Fidelity A3, the Krell 300iL and the Gryphon Callisto, and of which there are at least five more to follow throughout 2002. Like these predecessors, the Integral is fully remote controllable; the hand-held even has provision for the forthcoming CD player. Like its predecessors, this integrated amplifier is designed to match whatever separates you might consider at the same price point, especially by virtue of its exceptional power. But the Integral has a little ace up its sleeve: it's actually svelte. Measuring only 450x310x112mm (WDH) not counting the sockets, the Integral is delightfully, deliciously, deliberately compact. And despite the slight hump which runs from front to back across the lid, it will be stackable with the CD player - combined, the two will still be smaller than many of the integrateds in the round-up.
As far as this beauty is concerned, I have but one non-sonic complaint: the rows of viciously sharp heat sinks along the sides. When will manufacturers learn to round off the corners? That aside, the Integral deserves some kind of award for its looks alone.
Given its vast reserves of power and its choice of balanced and single-ended inputs, the Integral slotted nicely into the systems I was using, accepting the balanced outputs of the Audio Research CD3 and Marantz CD12 CD players, via Transparent Ultra. I fed the Musical Fidelity 3D into the single-ended inputs, and used the Integral to drive the aforementioned Wilson, Wharfedale and Apogee speakers, plus a burst of the old Quads and LS3/5As. I don't know what the retailers will try to force upon you, but, so far, I couldn't find a single speaker which gave the Pink a hard time. In that respect, it also matches the previous super-integrateds in this series.
Where it parts from its predecessors, besides its diminutive dimensions, is in sonic presentation. Every one of the others, however capable they were of displaying the most refined, genteel manners this side of a Leak TL12, never let you forget that they were real powerhouses. I suppose that the best analogy would be likening them to Ferraris or Lamborghinis in the city, which never leave second gear. The Pink takes the opposite tack. At normal listening levels - in my case, 88dB at 2m - you'd swear you were using a sweet 50 or 60W/ch classic, like a small Audio Research stereo amp, or a 25-watter from the Golden Age. It's all about comportment, and the Pink suggests breeding totally NOT in keeping with the company's radical, guerrilla origins and turntables with minds of their own.
Read more about the Integral on Page 2.
Then, when it's time to either rock hard or go all orchestral, the
Integral simply rises to the occasion, like a gentleman amateur
sportsman of the 1930s metamorphosing into a Battle of Britain ace
without so much as a twinge of his handlebar. As I tend not to lean
toward headbanging, it took me some days to discover the Integral's
split personality. (This was, however, partly due to the long burn-in
period I was asked to undertake.) All of a sudden, I have before me an
amp with the dimensions associated with budget integrateds, yet it's
providing all of the grunt necessary to deliver Kodo Drummers, the
Glory soundtrack, some Sousa and live Motorhead at teeth-rattling
levels - with no clipping apparent.
What the Pink also offers is the sort of cleanliness which - no kidding
- reminded me of the LFD phono stage in Alastair Robertson-Aikman's
system. Even when rocking hard, the Pink never succumbed to the barely
audible yet highly influential distortions which nag you even more than
obvious ones, just because you can't pin-point them. There are
texture-free silences between the players, creating a perfect backdrop
against which to hear minute details; I even dug out one of the old
Mo-Fi Firesign Theatre CDs to listen for the tiny sound effects which
made those recordings such a gas on vinyl 30 years ago.
Voice, too, was beautifully-handled by the Pink, regardless of type -
the extremes I used being Lou Rawls and Alison Krause. Smooth or
gravelled, male or female, the Pink keeps the sibilance at bay, while
the breathing is clear enough to detect for true veracity. Bass is
rich, well-extended and - surprisingly - more tubelike than
transistor-y, while the top end is fast without being relentless.
Weaknesses? The only area in which the Pink fails to match the earlier
models is in stage depth; the width is real Panavision, but the front
to back span is simply not as cavernous.
At 3995, the Integral is near to the top of the scale in this run of
high-end integrateds. But because it's worth every penny, it does a
number of things. (1) It serves as the prime British contender since
the M3 must be sold out by now. (2) It will sell bucketloads on looks
and user-friendliness alone. And (3) it announces the return of Pink
Triangle with something so utterly professional, slick, cool and
sonically delightful that I still don't quite believe who made it.
Pink Triangle Partnership ltd
99-103 Lomond Grove
London SE5 7HN
Tel 0207 703 5498
FAX 0207 252 6746
Owen Jones, the Integral's designer, is a reclusive, taciturn
individual who isn't all that forthcoming about his designs. Hell, Pink
T didn't even supply an owner's manual with the review sample. Jones
did, however, prepare the following on the Integral, which stands on
its own as the description of the Integral's workings as we're gonna
'As with all Pink Triangle products, our key design objectives were
neutrality and transparency. We were also keen to give Integral the
ability to drive just about anything bar an HGV. A decision was made at
an early stage to put build quality of the new range firmly in the
battleship class. With the extensive use of tool plate alloys and
custom extrusions we feel we've succeeded, the amplifier weighing in at
a backbreaking 20kg.
'The cascode output stage of the Integral offers a number of benefits.
The power handling and transfer function determining functions of the
output stage are split, allowing the power transistors to be better
optimised for their particular role. The transfer function is primarily
determined by the emitter follower section of the output stage. This
operates at lower voltage and power, so a faster, higher gain, more
linear transistor can be employed, improving output stage non-linearity
as well as reducing non-linear loading on the driver stage. The main
power handling occurs in the
common base section and this transistor can be chosen for its
ruggedness, in the knowledge that its transfer characteristics have
only a secondary effect upon the output stage characteristics.
'Conventional emitter follower output stages normally employ emitter
resistors to ensure thermal stability by providing local feedback to
the individual transistors. This worsens crossover distortion by
sharpening up the turn-on knee of the transistors. In the cascode
configuration, the emitter follower temperature cycling is lower than
normal due to its reduced operating voltage and its thermal stability
is therefore greater. This characteristic has been taken advantage of
in the Integral to allow these resistors to be reduced in value,
broadening the crossover region and
linearising the output stage, thereby reducing the severity of the higher order distortion products.'