Pilium Audio Brutale Series, The Ares Preamplifier (Line stage)
Pilium Audio hails from Greece but its business is registered in the country of Bulgaria. They have been around for a few years but only recently introduced their high end line of audio products, the Brutale series, namely the Ares line stage preamplifier and the Achilles stereo power amplifier.
Mr Constantino of Pilium Audio contacted me one fine evening to introduce his company and products. I told him I saw postings of his products on a social network page. The Brutale Achilles amplifier looks huge and imposing, to say the least. He added that the preamplifier is an equal in form and performance, to that of the amplifier.
Mr Constantino wanted to send himself and the combo over for a demo and review. Both of us agreed that the combo was best showcased in a massive audio system (courtesy of Mr Ben Tan of Kuala Lumpur) for the performance (and to accommodate a large and curious audience).
In short, both the audience and host were mightily impressed with the presentation. The Brutale Achilles was able to drive the Focal Utopia Grande EM during the most demanding musical passages with ease to peak decibels of 110.
While all eyes and ears were on the Brutale Achilles (and I must admit I cannot blame any of them), the Brutale Ares line stage preamplifier deserves some credit and attention. Therefore, I decided to do a stand alone review of the Brutale Ares in my own audio system, partnering my own Vitus Masterpiece Mono amplifier MP-M201 driving the semi active Gryphon Kodo loudspeakers system.
Enter Brutale Series: The Ares Preamplifier (€17,500)
The Pilium Audio team believes that a “modern preamplifier should act as an interface between the music sources (components) and the power amplifier, ideally matching impedance and provide a volume control functionality”. They tried to achieve so with “quad-mono, true balanced design to ensure ultimate channel separation, and a sophisticated volume control design of minimal signal path component (with just one resistor)”. In addition, they employed “zero-loss design techniques, excessive voicing and cost-no-object parts and/or materials” to reach their ideal preamplifier.
The Ares came with three XLR and two RCA inputs, and two XLR outputs (standard output with other branded amplifiers and P-LINK output for Pilium Audio amplifiers). According to Mr Constantino, the P-Link XLR output was impedance matched and voice tuned to work extremely well with their Brutale series amplifiers.
I connected the Ares to the Vitus MP-M201 mono block amplifier through the other standard XLR outputs, throughout the entire period of this review.
Where It Counts
My usual reference would be my analogue sources. I started with a vinyl record, a gift from an audiophile friend, Smoke A Moto’s Blues by Tsuyoshi Yamamoto with Ray Brown (Yupiteru Records YJ25-7028). Once the stylus hit the grooves of the record and the music started, you knew that the Ares was not your ordinary high end preamplifier. It has a certain love for the music that went through it. There was that richness, bloom, body, weight and presence to the entire musical presentation.
It was immediately apparent that the Ares differed slightly from my other listening experiences as it was able to ‘hug the entire musical presentation with certain care and love’.
It has a way with the mid range which allows the bandwidth to bloom to an unprecedented extension. The double bass’ strings enjoy freedom of extension that resulted in ‘a clear cut and snappy dynamic and contrast’. The piano notes played out with such richness and weight that they could easily touch the listener. The experience made me wonder and asked the question – “How close was the illusion to the real thing?”
The Bigger Picture
The challenge built up with my next vinyl, “Faust” Ballet Music & “Carmen” Suite ~ Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden conducted by Alexander Gibson (Analogue Production/Living Stereo LSC 2449). I found that the orchestra presentation was full and the recorded details were present but not exaggerated (which reminded me of the review of Skogrand Beethoven speakers cables, a “rightful balance” and no tilting of certain frequencies to make music more exciting as it was).
In comparison with my other preamplifiers (that cost several times more), I found nothing was amiss and that alone was an achievement in my audio book. In addition, there was a sense of ‘musical stability, realism, naturalness and flow’ to that experience.
As a listener, I found myself carried away by the whole presentation. It also made me realized the importance of the right and natural volume setting for the music you love. As I have said, the details were all there and there was no need to increase the volume to be able to hear more.
On An Intimate Level
I remember some years ago I experienced a moving experience with Mr Ben Tan’s excellent system when he played a vinyl record of the single, “Send in the Clowns” by Bill Henderson “Live At The Times” with Joyce Collins at the piano (20th Anniversary Commemorative 12″ Single, Jazz Planet/Classic Records JP 0779-12). I was moved to tears by Bill Henderson’s emotional rendition of the song.
Here, the Ares allowed Bill Henderson’s ‘weight and palpability of his emotion’ pour into the song and sail through unhindered.
As incredible as it may sound, you can actually hear him ‘breathe life’ into that performance. It was a heavy and emotional moment in a thoroughly enjoyable listening session.
Switching next to a female vocalist, I turned to the voice and artistry of Ms Lyn Stanley. Ever since her debut album, many of us have followed her work and have noticed how far she has progressed. My audiophile circle are in agreement that her recordings are excellent and the accompanying musicians are all top notch artists.
Her latest work on SACD, Lyn Stanley, The Moonlight Sessions Volume One and Two (SACD A.T. Music LLC #3106) is a great reflection of her dedication to her art.
I found the Ares presented her voice to be ‘more fluid and organic’, and at the same time, ‘breathy’throughout the recording. I did not hear this with my other preamplifiers except the Audio Note M10S (tube line stage preamplifier).
In terms of timing, the Ares “presented every ‘pause’, no matter how short” and the listener could easily savor her artistry and ‘enjoy another level of intimacy to her voice’.
The Vincent Belanger & Anne Bisson ‘Conversation’ (XLO International INC. CAM5-2022) on vinyl is a well recorded album, especially for its fine and inner intricacies of tones from the few instruments used. I think it captures Belanger’s artistry and control over the cello exceptionally well.
The Ares did not disappoint as it allowed the ‘delivery of energy and life’ of his bow onto the strings and could easily hit the spot of the listener’s inner being.
As for Anne Bisson, she is a household name among most audiophiles.
Here, her effort was extra special, especially with her first Mandarin song. It was not an easy task for her but the Ares’ ability to present the vividness of her emotions was nothing short of mesmerizing, and that alone was enough to forget about the language barrier.
On a faster pace and bigger presentation, I played the vinyl record, “A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald” performed by Ms Clare Teal with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra led by Chris Dean (Chasing the Dragon’s Directly Cut to Vinyl VALDC003). The Ares presented a ‘well layered, clear and separated soundstage’ between the vocalist and the big band.
Ms Teal’s voice was given total independence (and a private space away) from the bombastic big band. In any lesser preamplifier, the vocalist could easily be drowned out. I could not stress enough here how layered the entire presentation was through the Ares.
Looking at my notes, I recall that the Ares also delivered a dynamic contrast and was readily available to accommodate the sudden attacks of the drums in the low regions. I made a note to myself to fully test out the Ares more in these areas.
A Show of Control and Power
When confronted with issues of dynamics, attack and power, I usually turn to my go-to record, “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head (Extended Play Single, Chess PD-13959). I wouldn’t say it has extreme low registry compared to those from classical orchestra. But it does allow the Ares to showcase “great control over what could be a ‘messy presentation’”.
Here, the vocalists were never overwhelmed by the accompanying music and bombastic mid bass. In addition, the background cacophony of opera, songs, choirs, etc were clearly presented. Even the ‘bass lines were articulately outlined’.
Next in line of my fun rotation vinyl records would be Larry Carlton’s Tequila from the album Friends (Promotional Copy, Warner Bros 1-23834). This track would be another fine example of how well the Ares was able to ‘put the whole presentation into perspective and in an organized manner, rendering the session a thoroughly enjoyable one’.
I believe wholeheartedly the Ares is not just a transparent conduit but that ‘it’s noise floor was so low, it actually did not interfere (much) with the signal that passed thru it’. Otherwise, the argument would be that the Ares has the ability to correct ‘a messy recording’ and that would be stretching it somewhat.
Could the Ares handle really low-low bass passages? Well, I have the CD soundtrack of the motion picture, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (La-La Land Records LLLCD 1361) on hand to answer that question. Wave after wave of low bass with the accompanying energy just came charging at me, without any hint of loss of control. The best part of this was the Ares ‘kept those waves of low low bass in their respective position in the presentation’. It allowed each tone to bloom to their fullest and seemed unclouded by the low frequencies, which may not be the case in most instances with lesser preamplifiers.
In other words, the Ares presented the music with all its intended bloom and glory, unhindered.
After spending more time with the Ares line stage preamplifier, I realized that it is named after the Greek mythology’s God of War. I suppose it was done so for a purpose. The Ares was designed as an ‘ideal’ and a ‘statement’ of a preamplifier. In addition, it was designed to be a challenger against other worthy designs. It is not your ‘another high end preamplifier’.
To me, the Ares has ‘formidable teeth, admirable characteristics and envious abilities’ that could ‘educate the listeners‘. It would attract many admirers and at the same time, some detractors (just like any real statement product that survived the ages).
I have decided, after a period of extended listening, to purchase the Ares Line Stage Preamplifier outright and keep it in my reference set up. After providing me with so much satisfaction and joy, I can only ask a simple question:
“Could anyone live with anything less?”