Test: No 198* – 1 October 2020 from Mr. Wojciech Pacuła
*translation with the help of Google translator ( Official Engligh version coming 1st of November from HighFidelity.pl)
⌈ Founded in 2012, PILIUM AUDIO, owned by KONSTANTINOS PILIOS, “designs and manufactures state-of-the-art audio components of the highest quality, handmade to meet the highest quality standards” (for: press mat. Its headquarters are in Bulgaria. In order to understand why we planned to test two products, the Achilles power amplifier and the Ares preamp, and we ended up with another product, the LEONIDAS integrated amplifier, we have to go back to March this year.
At that time, one of the last – if not the last – audio exhibition, still “pre-pandemic”: Audio Video Show Prague 2020 took place. In one of the corridors of the Don Giovanni Hotel, I fell into the arms of Robert Kelly, the sales manager of YG Acoustics. He presented Hailey 2.2 loudspeakers in Prague. Since I had the Hailey 1.2 at home, he quickly dragged me to the room where they were set up and placed in front of a mass of aluminum, divided between loudspeakers and electronics, weighing – I’m not exaggerating if I say – a ton. Some of this weight was provided by the speakers, but most of it was due to Pilium audio’s Amplifiers and DAC system.
One of the people who represented this company at the time was Robert Kovac (similar to the name of the hero of the book and film Altered Carbon not accidental 🙂 We then agreed that one of these products would be brought to me up to two weeks. And then “happened” the COVID-19. So it wasn’t until recently that we started an interrupted conversation and determined that I would get the system I wrote about at the beginning for the test. Or at least that’s what I thought. The change occurred when I wrote to Mr. Kovac on which floor I live and that the elevator is not available.
It’s important to note that the Achilles stereo power amplifier weighs 130 kg. And that’s without packaging. In fact, in a relatively small case there are two huge transformers, and the case itself weighs as well. After a short discussion, we agreed that in this regard we will show to the readers of “High Fidelity” the “starter” amplifier of this company, model Leonidas. The device was brought to me by colleagues from Slovakia, led by Ondrej Artim from DreamAudio, a distributor of Pilium Audio in three countries: Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
Looking at the staircase, I first heard them, and only then I saw them. My surprise at the view up to me was huge: here was a small box carried by two powerfully built guests, and they had problems with it. Everything was explained when I looked at Leonidas’s catalogue data – he weighs 100 kg – in words: one hundred kilograms! And I thought it was my amplifier, the Soulution 710 power tip, that’s unique in this respect. Measuring almost the same as Leonidas, however, the Swiss oven is as much as 40 kg lighter than the Greek beast.
Well – Pilium Audio is a little from Greece, and a little from Bulgaria. The owner of the company, Mr. Konstantinos Pilios, is Greek and bears the inscription “Made in Greece” on his devices. However, when we look at the “Contact” tab on the manufacturer’s website, we will read that the company is based in Bulgaria. I asked Mr. Kovac about this:
Pilium Audio was founded in 2012, during the biggest economic crisis in recent Greek history. Greece was almost forced to leave the EU, which could have been disastrous for the new company. Mr Pilios therefore decided to register Pilium Audio in Bulgaria. It was about being careful and to be sure that the company would stay in the EU no matter what happens in Greece. Designers, engineers, employees and of course the owner of Pilium Audio, Mr. Konstantinos Pilios, are Greek, and all products are manufactured in Greece in their factory.
In the meantime, the design of its products has changed. The Divine series is reminiscent of what Soulution introduced to audio years ago, which is slowly gaining more and more acceptance and more followers, and what perfection has led the company Vitus Audio. It is a formally simplified housing, but made in the best possible way.
Leonidas is the basic amplifier in the Pilium Audio range. It measures 300 x 480 x 490 mm (height x width x head) and weighs, as I said, 100 kg. It’s an integrated dual mono amplifier – but a real dual mono, not a split transformer. This means that each channel has its own power supply and separate electronics, both for the preamplifier and the power amplifier. And even separate, for the left and right channels, AC power cables. The latter solution has been known on the market for a long time, but it is not often encountered because it forces the purchase of two power cables, not one. To emphasize this solution, the company says “True Dual Mono design” about it.
The amplifier offers high power because at 8 Ω it gives 200 W, 400 W at 4 Ω and as much as 800 W at 2 Ω. This is ensured by 44 output transistors, in parallel push-pull, operating in class AB, giving a low output impedance of less than 0.1 Ω. Amplifier distortion is moderately low (< 0.1%), but the bandwith is quite wide (>100 kHz). The signal can be sent in one of the five linear inputs – two XLR and three RCA; amplifier has a balanced design.
On the front panel there is a monochrome white touch screen, on which we canl change the active input, volume or “sleep” the device. On the back there is a mechanical switch, which will turn it off completely. We can also control it with the aluminum remote control, where there is also a button to dim the display.
The amplifier has a case made of very thick, perfectly matched aluminum plates. On the sides you can see large heat sinks, hidden in the enclosure so that they do not protrude beyond it. No screws are visible anywhere. This automatically refers to Vitus Audio amplifiers, like the SIA-030, so maybe the enclosures are prepared by the same company for both companies. The whole thing stands on special anti-vibration feet, which can be increased by another decoupling level – you will have to pay a little extra for this pleasure.
The manufacturer says that he used the best available components inside. And indeed, they are really good. The volume control takes place in a resistor ladder and relays, controlled by a microprocessor – hence the “click” that comes from inside the amplifier when changing the volume. The PCBs are made in specification, as for the military, and the polypropylene capacitors carry the Pilium Audio logo.
The transformers were bought from Noratel (power-pre) and Talema companies. The former have a power of 1.2 kW each, and the power supply uses capacitors with a total capacity of 200 000 μF, decoupled by small polypropylene capacitors. The output sockets are also very good – the loudspeakers are identical to those of the Soulution 710 and come from Mundorf and the line input ones from Neutrik.
Having 100 kilograms is a weight that my audio table can’t “take”. Although he managed to handle a TechDAS Air Force One turntable weighing 50 kg, it is not the same. So we decided, that the amplifier will stand on its front desk, in front of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition table, exactly where Vitus Audio SIA-030 amplifiers, Einstein The Silver Bullet OTL and Thrax Teres monoblocks, Audiopax Maggiore a50 and others used to be.
The source was the SACD Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player, and I sent the signal with a balanced Acoustic Revive Absolute cable. The signal for the speakers, Harbeth M40.1, was supplied by Silver Triple Crown (the player also powered Siltech Triple Crown). I supplied voltage to the amplifier with two Acoustic Revive Absolute Power Cords.
| DISCS USED IN TEST | choice
⸤ Polish Pianism, Core Port RPOZ-10037, CD (2017)
⸤ ANDRZEJ KURYLEWICZ QUINTET, Go Right, Polskie Nagrania „Muza”/Warner Music Poland 4648809, „Polish Jazz | vol. 0”, Master CD-R (1963/2016); recenzja TUTAJ
⸤ BILL EVANS TRIO, Portrait in Jazz, Riverside/Fantasy RISA-1162-6, SACD/CD (1959/2003)
⸤ EVA CASSIDY, Songbird, Blix Street Records/JVC VICJ-010-0045, XRCD24 (1998/2010)
⸤ FAURÉ, Requiem, dyr. Michel Corboz, Erato/Warner Music Japan WPCS-12545, SACD/CD (1972/2012)
⸤ FRANK SINATRA, Nice’N’Easy. 60th Anniversary Edition, Capitol Records/Universal Music LLC (Japan) UICY-15883, CD (1960/2020)
⸤ GESUALDO, Terzo Libro di Madrigali, wyk. La Compagnia del Madrigale, Glossa GCD 922806, CD (2016)
⸤ LED ZEPPELIN, Led Zeppelin (I), Atlantic/Warner Music 8122796439, „Super Deluxe Box Set”, 2 x CD + 2 x LP (1961/2014)
⸤ PINK FLOYD, The Division Bell 20th. Anniversary De Luxe Box, Parlophone 0825646293261, Box Set | Limited Edition, 2 x 12” LP + 2 x 7” SP + 12” Maxi SP + CD + BD (1994/2014)
⸤ ROSEMARY CLOONEY, Rosemary Clooney sings Ballads, Concord/Stereo Sound SSCDR-007, „Flat Transfer Series”, Master CD-R (1985/2016)
⸤ THE OSCAR PETERSON TRIO, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music LIM K2HD 032, K2HD Mastering, „24 Gold Direct-from-Master Edition UDM”, Master CD-R (1964/2009)
Although my first contact with the electronics of Pilium Audio during the Prague show was more than satisfying, although the Sinatra from the album Come Swing With Me! played then from Tidala, from FLAC MQA files, sounded very convincing, I didn’t really know what to expect from the Leonidas amplifier. Looking at what it looks like, I could have guessed that it would be an accurate, technical, maybe even slightly violent sound. Knowing that the hot blood of the South is flowing through the owner’s veins I could also consider the opposite scenario, that is, it would be a warm, pouring sound. None of these things.
In the sound of the tested amplifier you can point out the elements of both the first option, which I bet more strongly, and the second. But to indicate them isolated is like picking out raisins from the dough, collecting the icing from the top, and finally tearing off the baked bottom and stating that this is the taste of the dough. None of these things.
Because the sound of the Leonidas amplifier is perfectly balanced. I can’t start otherwise – it’s one of the few – maybe two, maybe three – integrated amplifiers that have been in my system that plays like this – following the split amplifier from the reference system. It is a message where there is a lot of information, and therefore details, but also one that uses this information – and therefore details – to build an absolutely believable world before us – the world of music.
So it is an open sound, a sound that is open to details, sounds, small information. All the records that I played with it were therefore reliable and their sound natural. It was also fantastically focused on every element. When the stage was pulled back, mainly due to the natural reverberation of the room where the recording took place, as on the beautiful reissue of the Go Right album by Andrzej Kurylewicz Quintet, the back of the stage was really far away from us, stretched like a gymnast during the Olympic Games. On the other hand, if the instrument was close to us, like a Bill Evans piano for Portrait in Jazz, it was at your fingertips.
This above-average, just perfect differentiation made each subsequent disc sound different. Released from SACD Evans was shown in a rather dark, dense way, Oscar Peterson Trio from the album We Get Request, played from Master CD-R of First Impression Music, was open, dynamic and tangible, and Kurylewicz – also from Master CD-R – was open on the one hand, but on the other hand distanced, just by long reverberations. The differentiation I’m talking about was not only about the recordings as such, but also about the instruments within them – it was a “tied” agreement.
This is because the resolution of the Leonidas amplifier is so good. I remember the sound of Kondo OnGaku well, and although it is not yet the same level of fluidity and microanalysis, the Greek amplifier followed exactly the same path, the same path set by its ingenious predecessor. It’s a holistic play in which we don’t focus on details unless they make musical sense. We absorb music that is shown in a large space, with instruments that have a large volume and in a way that leaves a taste of something perfect on our palate.
The records I have recalled are, on the one hand, intimate, ultimately small, but on the other hand they are extremely expansive, ultimately jazz. The amplifier we’re talking about, however, is doing just as well, it conveys the sound of intimate, small, dense recordings with equal charm. Like Eva Cassidy’s Autumn Leaves from Songbirds. Recorded during the concert at New York’s Blues Alley club on September 23, 1996, it is a little bright on the one hand – it’s a stage microphone – and on the other hand, intimate.
Leonidas didn’t brighten up the sound of this album, but he didn’t darken it either, he didn’t round it. So it will not be a panacea for system problems. If there is something wrong with the audio system, the amplifier will only show these problems. Maybe it will not emphasize, but it will not let you forget about them, it will be honest in its message. If the system is really good in something, the amplifier will multiply it. The biblical offer, so to speak, is that whoever has little will have even less, and who has much, even more.
EVERY TIME in a good system, the amplifier will show the music and how it was recorded. Cassidy’s recording has a lot of noise underneath, underneath the sounds, but also fantastic micro-dynamics, and it starts with a strong, near-setting guitar that speaks right in front of us. After a while, however, the performer reverberates and moves it to the right to make room for the vocal. With Leonidas it was perfectly audible. It was similar to the assembly of two performances (fragments) in the song Obsession from Kurylewicz’s album, which can be heard around 4:30 (I write from memory, give approximate time).
So we have both saturated colors, excellent micro-dynamics and resolution. It is also important that the sound built by this amplifier is simply large, natural, and the message has a momentum, thanks to which we do not get bored. In this respect, the device slightly resembles all recordings, but it does so with charm and with the goal of bringing out as much “music” from the recording as possible. The point is not to get bored, not to kill us with sounds, but just to drag us into this world.
It seems to be a device that has no problem with driving speakers, even such difficult ones as Harbethy 40.1. In fact, it played beautifully with them. I was equally successful with Dan D’Agostino’s Progression Stereo amplifier, Accuphase’s large power amplifiers, Naim Audio Statement and my Soulution, although each of them plays a little differently.
And it is not only about control over the low frequencies, although it is also an important aspect. It’s about total control of the speaker, so that the sound is focused, open and dense – all at the same time. What would be closest to a Greek amplifier for the fantastic FM Acoustics FM 268C + FM 711 MkII.
Compared to my amplifier, consisting of the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and Soulution 710 power amplifier, Leonidas plays a little “higher”. This means it has a more open center of the band. The reference system is darker and more resolute and has a slightly better differentiated dynamics. But that’s normal, after all, we are talking about amplifiers from different price ranges and I would be surprised if it were different.
I was surprised by something else – how similar it was, ultimately, the message – at least in terms of intent. I heard a similar commitment, a similar sensitivity to information as in Ayon/Soulution. And by more powerful midrange illumination – I got a slightly more active acoustics, where the recordings were made and clearer reverberations that were added. I was also surprised by the scale of differentiation, as in the above mentioned Polish Pianism, where the recordings were given a common master, but still you could hear perfectly well how they differ from each other.
LEONIDAS is one of the best, if memory serves me correctly, integrated amplifiers I have ever heard at home. And maybe only the 530 from Soulution would have a similar rating with me, although there is a completely different playing (test HERE) and still phenomenal Vitus Audio SIA-030, with incredible saturation and peace of mind, would be a worthy rival of Leonidas.
The Greek amplifier sounds in an open, catchy way with fantastic dynamics. It is perfectly resolutive and offers unprecedented differentiation. And at the same time it plays smoothly, that is, we do not focus on details.
The reference system goes even further in this, it is even denser and more resolving, yet darker. However, the differences are not as big as you might expect. This shows that the amplifier under test is a unique design. It is smooth, but not as smooth as – mentioned – Kondo OnGaku or Dan D’Agostino’s amplifiers, it is open, though not as much as Soulution 710 or Naim Statement. He simply does it his own way, putting these elements together into something new. And “new” in audio is very rare. And that’s why we’re talking about a similar caliber of sound, about a device from the same league as the above-mentioned, titled competition.
The amplifier is large and incredibly heavy – a 100 kg audio device is not common. The casing is made of very thick aluminum plates, finished with sandblasting and anodized. Together with the radiators, which occupy the whole side wall, recessed into the enclosure, they form a very rigid structure. For demanding customers the manufacturer has produced special anti-vibration feet – I would recommend buying the amplifier with them.
Front | Although it is an integrated amplifier, there are no classic manipulators on the front panel – knobs, buttons, switches. The device is operated by means of a touch, monochromatic display. We will read out the volume and the selected input on it and change both of these elements. Changes are also available from the remote control.
Rear | This is a classic amplifier, i.e. no D/A section, no Bluetooth connection, no streaming module – it focuses on what is most important, i.e. the amplification of the analog signal coming from external sources. The device has five inputs, two of which are balanced (XLR) and three unbalanced (RCA); the sockets come from Neutrik. The large, comfortable, robust binding posts (single jacks) are made by Mundorf – they are the same in my Soulution 710 amplifier. And there are two more IEC power outlets (16 A) on the back, separate for each channel.
The middle | This is because the device has a dual-mono structure, both for the preamplifier and the power amplifier. The base is a powerful, unbelievably large power supply, with two toroidal transformers for the power terminals, 1.2 kW each, screwed one above the other, and two small transformers, also toroids, for the preamplifier; a separate transformer was given to the control section. The voltage for the terminals is filtered in large capacitors, large as a water bottle, and for the preamplifier in many small ones, both polypropylene and electrolytic, but also tantalum – they are connected in parallel. Their total capacity is 200 000 μF.
The preamplifier has a separate board, located just under its power supply. The power amplifiers are mounted on printed circuit boards screwed directly to the heat sinks. It is a differential system, working in class AB in push-pull mode, with 22 ultra-wideband transistors per channel. This results in high power – up to 800 W at 2 Ω! – and low output impedance (<0.1 Ω). The amplifier has microprocessor protection against short circuit, overheating and DC input voltage.
This is a classic school of audio amplifier construction at its best. ■
| TECHNICAL DATA (from the manufacturer)
– Frequency response: >100 kHz
– THD: < 0.1%
– Reinforcement: 35
– Output impedance: < 0.1 Ω
– Dimensions (H x W x D): 300 x 480 x 490 mm
– Weight: 100 kg
| DISTRIBUTION (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland)
Jaskový Rad 213
831 01 SLOVAKIA
Original review in Polish language, here