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.