The Boenicke P1 power amplifier is reviewed by Frank Peraino: Class Warfare – Is it Alive and Well in Audiophilia?
THE CLASS “A” vs CLASS “D” DEBATE IS SETTLED ONCE AND FOR ALL!!
Alright, — that outlandish and shameless click bait-inspired statement aside, are we any closer 20 years later to resolve this debate? Is the debate worth the time? Is it manufactured?
“Class Warfare” – Wikipedia:
“Also called class conflict. the conflict between different classes in a community resulting from different social or economic positions and reflecting opposed interests.”
“Class Warfare” – Dictionary.com:
“Political tension and economic antagonism that exists in society consequent to socio-economic competition among the social classes or between rich and poor.”
Given the recent interest in Socialism, we can also turn to Marx who theorized that the bourgeoisie, a minority within the population, would use their influence to oppress the proletariat, the majority class. I prefer Groucho Marx.!
Well, I have bad news for both those on the left or right of the class warfare debate: Yes, there is class warfare in America, but the real battle isn’t between the rich and poor, but between the owners of Class A (or A/B) amplifiers and Class D amplifiers – while the rest of the audiophiles and music lovers (what class do we put them in?) have to bear the brunt of this power debate on the audio forums and when reading audio rags and who pay the price in lost liberty, property, and opportunity – okay, so maybe it’s just the price they pay in losing time that could otherwise be spent listening to their favorite music rather than reading the endless arguments between the classes!!!.
As anyone following my time at the Sound Advocate knows, I was initially wallowing in cable purgatory for the first two reviews (and, as we know, everyone agrees on the value of wire!!) Well, here for you all to read is my second-Class D amplifier for this latest review as if to say to me “next time be careful what you wish for!!!”
So here I am writing about perhaps the only other current intensely controversial and divisive audio topic since the “perfect sound forever” vs vinyl debate started in the early 80s. And to be honest, for quite a while, likely out of inexperience, I contributed to the current debate.
Generally, I’ve never summarily dismissed any format or type of amplifier design as being inherently inferior or superior. Implementation can make a world of difference. I have owned and enjoyed in my systems pure Class A, Class A-B, SET, OTL, EL-34, 6550, KT-88, 300B, 2A3, and 45 based tubed designs, hybrids, and pure solid-state amplifiers. But the amplifiers that have held my attention and ultimately remained in my main system for 18 years are the excellent Lamm Industries M1.2 Reference hybrid mono-blocks – a Class A design. I also very much enjoyed the 6C33C based Tenor Audio 75 Wi OTL Monos for a while in 2003-2004 between my Lamm M1.1s and the successor M1.2 Refs. However, the Tenor OTL’s propensity to break down combined with the company going out of business for a while stopped them from becoming my reference amplifiers as a reviewer.
(Disclaimer: Assuming readers might value a comparison of an amplifier being reviewed with peer amps in a similar price range as the most useful, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not have on hand any similarly priced amplifier to compare to the Boenicke P-1. Instead, it was compared to the exponentially (12 times more expensive) Lamm M.1.2 monoblocks).
THE BOENICKE P1 –DIMINUTIVE, POWERFUL, AND PACKED WITH UPGRADES
Before receiving the Boenicke P1 ,I’d never heard of this well-built, solid, little tricked-out Class D amplifier. I was aware of Swiss designer Sven Boenicke’s reputation for making the company’s well-regarded solid wood speaker line and that it recently added high-end cables and power distributors to that line of products. Boenicke also has a line of his recordings.
As for the P1, I say “tricked-out” because this 300-watt Class D design is not just a diminutive, beefy enclosure stuffed with the same old standard off-the-shelf parts sourced from existing parts suppliers. Boenicke starts with the designer’s choice of amplifier modules – the Italian Powersoft module that Sven Boenicke mechanically tunes. Given that Boenicke eschewed using the more common PuriFi, Hypex, ICEpower, or nCore modules, I was intrigued and didn’t have any preconceived notions of the sound.
However, what piqued my curiosity was that the P1 seems to be a purposeful implementation of a modified Powersoft module surrounded by high-end upgrades from several respected (and high priced) cable and “tweak” manufacturers such as Chord (for the captive AC cable), LessLoss (internal wiring and Firewall filters) and Bybee (Quantum Purifier filters) – to name a few.
Also, it doesn’t surprise me that Boenicke went this route. I’ve had the privilege of knowing many successful speaker designers who have incorporated wire and internal components sourced from Bybee, high-end cable companies like Transparent, LessLoss, or Chord in their speaker designs to great effect. Since Sven Boenicke takes this approach in his speaker designs, my expectations for the P1 grew.
The P1 is dense and compact and seems exceptionally well built. The front panel has what, for all intent and purposes, looks like a volume control but which simply turns the amp on and off. The review unit was black except for the back panel insert to which the connectors are mounted which is a solid piece of walnut about 1/8’ thick. Boenicke is emphatic that this wood panel sounds better.
What seemed odd to me and I suspect may cause headaches to potential buyers is Boenicke’s decision to use “banana only “and somewhat closely spaced speaker connections. The “banana plug” only feature may cause problems for anyone with larger diameter cables and will be something that spade lug speaker cable owners will have to address – likely as I did with aftermarket adapters (which may degrade the sound?). Finally, it’s RCA inputs only on the P1 as there are no XLR connectors on the back panel.
I know space is limited on such a small, compact chassis. However, I also had to do some serious component rearranging due to the short 1M captive AC cable. I suppose this issue may not be a problem for everyone for you can just buy a unit with a longer captive cord.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ITS SOUND QUALITY?
I’ll cut to the chase and then go back for the particulars. I enjoyed this amp immensely – period. As a former musician, tone and timbre is king and, if a component can’t get tone and timbre right, it’s all downhill from there. The P1 did an exceptional job at capturing the realistic tone and timbre of the instruments or voices in the recordings I chose. While I can sound like a broken record, I always listen to music I enjoy when reviewing equipment and, when possible, I try to use recordings of live music of musicians or groups I have heard live many times. In that regard, I went straight to my reference group, Tower of Power, and to the recording of their live 50th Anniversary Concert performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland California on June 1, 2018 – which I attended!
Having heard Tower of Power live over 100 times (and, literally 10s of thousands of times on my system), I know their sound like the back of my hand. At the 50th Anniversary concert I was thrilled to hear, for the first time in decades, two of the band’s alumni and early members from the 70s into the early 80s, Lenny Pickett (tenor sax) and Chester Thompson (Hammond B-3) who went on to other gigs – Pickett as the leader of the Saturday Night Live Band and Thompson as the keyboard (B-3) player for the legendary Carlos Santana [Note – I was streaming a channel in the background when the song “Squib Cakes” from Tower of Power’s 1974 Back to Oakland LP came on.
Hearing Pickett and Thompson live again in 2018 for the first time in 40 years at the 50th Anniversary concert and, thereafter, comparing the sound quality using the P-1 in my system, I will tell you that the P1’s reproduction of these artists’ and the band’s tone was spot on.! – Tower of Power is normally a rather large 10-piece group with a powerful five-piece horn section. However, for this momentous occasion, the band added 5 additional alumni musicians (3 extra horn players and a second B-3 and guitar player), two backup singers, and an 8-piece string section for a 27-piece super-group!
All 27 pieces were produced with proper scale and clarity through the Boenicke P1. The P1 didn’t overly emphasize any band of the frequency spectrum and quite aptly captured the intricacy, special depth, and immensely accurate stereophonic image of this performance. The power, musically realistic tonality, and bass impact of the Boenicke’s reproduction were immense and distinctive!
As a Dan Fogelberg fan from way back and having heard him live several times over the years, I had to stretch my memory back a bit further as, sadly, Dan Fogelberg died way too early in 2007 at age 56. His music, however, lives on and I, for one, am a better person for having heard and enjoyed his music.
His “Leader of the Band” always touches a nerve with me as my father was my hero and his classic “Auld Lang Syne” surely reminds many listeners of a chance encounter with an ex-significant other years later. For this review, I turned to his 1993 CD entitled “River of Souls” and was immediately struck on the first cut, “Magic Every Moment” and the fourth cut “Faces of America” by the P1’s accurate tonal reproduction of Fogelberg’s acoustic and slide guitars and the ability to render the various tonal changes in his soulful and sometimes gritty voice. On both the Tower of Power and Fogelberg CDs, the Boenicke P1 threw a wide if, not overtly deep soundstage and images were as crisp, clear, and tightly focused as many much more costly amps that I’ve had in for audition or review.
As a former professional trumpet player, I place a high value on subtle yet crucial tonal variations not just from artist to artist but also within an artist’s arsenal. To gauge the latter, one of my favorite jazz trumpet players epitomizes the art of changing up his tone to meet the mood—this being German jazz trumpeter extraordinaire, Till Bronner.
On his 2015 compilation CD, “Till Bronner – Best of the Verve Years” Bronner’s beautiful tone and his total command of the instrument and ability to squeeze out every nuance or variation his horn is capable of — as if it were his own “voice” — was overtly apparent through the P1. It then struck me that the common knock against Class D amplifiers — either by the Class A or tube amp devotees (or those who have not heard some of the better implementations of what Class D has to offer) – typically involves the amps being dry, uninvolving or over-damped. I heard none of those negative traits from the diminutive P1. Nothing dry or “meh” sounding here. I found the P1 not to be “polite” or unexciting at all – though, as explained below, comparisons to the enormously more expensive Lamms did reveal some of its relative limitations. The P1 was unmistakably musically engaging and only when pushed to the limits on more bombastic, large-scale music did those limitations become somewhat more noticeable.
Overall, I found the P1s well balanced, engaging, and tonally on the mark – all of which traits are necessary to me not only to produce good sonics but to the very enjoyment of what the artist has to offer.
LIMITATIONS AND THE “NOT SO” FAIR COMPARISON WITH THE WORLD CLASS LAMM INDUSTRIES M1.2 REFERENCE CLASS-A MONOBLOCKS.
I would be remiss in my duties as a reviewer if I didn’t bring to the reader’s attention, an issue that both my Editor and I experienced during our time with the Boenicke P1. On some occasions, the P1 would just stop producing music. I tried the usual turning on and off and plugging or unplugging the P1 to see if it would “reset.” The P1 would not come back on – and then after 20 minutes, it would just start playing. I have no explanation for this behavior and, due to my time constraints at the time, didn’t have the chance to call Mr.Boenicke – so that’s on me.
I noticed that Sven Boenicke makes it a point on his website to warn those using Schuko power plugs with the P1, that it is very important to have the Schuko power plug in the correct orientation! The red dot on the plug has to go to LIVE. If you are not sure where live is in your wall outlet, you have to measure it. In my case, however, I had the three-pronged captive power cord plugged into the dedicated lines for my Lamms all of which have been tested for hot (live) and neutral. So, I am unsure if it simply blew a fuse, or a wire or transistor, or something worse. The review unit did not ship with an Owner’s Manual and do not know if there is anything I would have missed had it been included.
From this experience, however, I am drawing no hasty conclusions about the P1 or Boenicke’s normal production run of P1s for sale to the public. I believe this particular unit may have made its rounds to a few audio experts or reviewers and could well have been a prototype – so I would not take too much from this. However, just to be on the safe side, you may want to ensure you talk to Sven Boenicke before plugging the P1 into your system.
Did the P1 have limitations compared to the Class A Lamms? Would you compare a Buick Regal to a Lamborghini or Ferrari? Yes, the Lamms have more finesse, air, and more pure realism than the P1s. Oddly, the P1 was bettered in bass response not just in weight and depth but also in the micro-detail department by the much more costly Lamms. However, as I stated in my last review of the well-reviewed Amp2400 Class D design, where the Lamms excelled and showed that their lofty price tag delivered the sonic goods – albeit with diminishing returns — is by delivering a more natural, quicker, and clearer, speedier transient attack and extraordinarily realistic sustain, and decay – while retaining a natural full-bodied tone with great dynamics. This attribute made everything more realistic because this quicker more natural transient attack followed by the proper development and decay of the notes allows the music to be delivered with superior resolution and transparency while never sounding harsh, cold, or analytical
Only when I put the $35K Lamm monoblocks back into my system, was I able to hear the P1’s minor limitations. No, it wasn’t as transparent as the Lamms. Nor could the P1 match the big mono’s mind-boggling resolution and transparency, extended, crystalline upper frequencies all delivered harmonic completeness.
Think about that last section — just being compared to a world-class respected Class A design that has withstood the test of time over 20 years could be considered praise enough. But when the diminutive yet powerful PI gets inserted into a system built around the 12 times more expensive Class A monoblocs and goes toe-to-toe with those behemoths and holds its own, you know this is an excellent “first” amplifier offering by Sven Boenicke and that things may be changing in audio class warfare.
I could happily live with the P1 but am even more impressed with this amplifier as regards the current state of the Class D world. While I have been slow to the party, I thought the twice as expensive Amp2400 by AMPED AMERICA held its own and fared well against the Lamms in my last review. Now, the P1, at half the price of the Amp2400, not only also acquitted itself quite triumphantly in the same comparison but slightly improved on what the Amp2400 brought to the table. The bang-for-the-buck factor of the P1 is off the charts. It could fit into any high-end system, take up 1/10th of the rack space, save electricity, run cool as a cucumber in summer months and has enough horsepower to drive almost any speaker load.
While I have not heard the “high-end” Class D offerings such as the $35K Merrill Audio Element 118 monoblocks or any of the other GaN (gallium nitride) based offerings such Technics SE-R1, if the Boenicke P1 is any indication of the current state of Class D and what it has to offer, things are looking quite good for the future of the finest Class D amplifiers now emerging in high-end audio.
Notwithstanding that minor glitch as noted above, the Boenicke P-1 is an immensely powerful, tonally accurate, well-balanced, dynamic power amplifier that should be on anyone’s list of fine sounding, value packed amplifiers to be auditioned.
The rigidly built P1 with its highly regarded upgrades can give a real taste of the high- definition sound at a fraction of the cost of virtually all others and it just may be what is needed to help stick a fork in the same old tired argument against and stereotype of Class D’s performance and its relative place in this constantly surprising and changing hobby of ours ”! Recommended !!
A summary of the Pi’s specs follows:
- 300 W into 8 Ohms
- Mechanically tuned Powersoft amplifier module
- Chord Company Shawline AC power cord directly soldered in (10% silver solder), no screwed or plugged contacts!
- 3 LessLoss newest generation Firewall filters in AC input
- Custom–made AC soft start module on FR2 circuit board, trimmed to exact resonator length
- Bybee Small GOLD Slipstream Quantum Purifier filters in the audio input
- 3 proprietary resonators installed (16-cm parallel spiral resonator, 16-cm series spiral resonator, new 2 cm series resonator)
- ETI Research RCA input sockets
- LessLoss internal cotton-covered wiring
- Black Ravioli Small Pads feet
- Solid walnut backplate. According to Sven Boenicke, aluminum does not sound the same.
- Weight: Approx. 5 kg (11 lbs.)
- Enclosure dimensions: height 2.72” (69mm) / width 9” (230mm) / depth 8” (202mm)
REVIEW SYSTEM Speakers: Rockport Aquila Amplification: Lamm M1.2 Reference Monoblocks Preamplification: Line Stage: conrad-johnson ART III w/ Telefunken CCa’s Phono Stage: Aesthetix Io Eclipse w/ Dual Power Supplies Digital Sources: Esoteric K-01; Esoteric K-03; Reimyo 777 and AMR CD-77 DAC: Bricasti M1 SE Analog Sources: SME 30 Turntable w/ SME V Tonearm, and Dynavector XV-1s Rack: Silent Running Audio Triple Wide CRAZ Rack (main system); TimberNation Maple Audio Racks Cables: Silversmith Palladium speaker cables and Fidelium Cables and interconnects; Power Cables Conditioning: Reimyo ALS-777 power conditioner (DAC and Reimyo only); 20 amp dedicated AC lines.
Prices: black: 2662 chf (Swiss Franc) incl. shipping to the states (approx.$ 2,855) ~~ silver: 2863 chf (Swiss Franc) incl. shipping to the states (approx.$ 3070)
Price: With silver anodized chassis with 1 m power cord:
$3,082.00 US / 2’875 CHF incl. 7.7% VAT (2’653.50 net) [add 120 CHF for UK power plug].
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