Test: No 198* – 1 October 2020
Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Images: Pilium Audio | Wojciech Pacuła
Founded in 2012, PILIUM AUDIO, owned by KONSTANTINOS PILIOS, „designs and manufactures state-of-the-art audio components of the highest quality, handcrafted to meet the highest quality standards” (so- urce: press release). It has its headquarters in Bulgaria. ⌋
To understand why we planned to test two products, the Achilles power amplifier and the Ares preamp, and ended up with one product, the LEONIDAS integrated amplifier, we need to go back to March this year
⸤ Pilium Audio system with YG Acoustics loudspeakers during the Audio Video Show Prague 2020
One of the people who represented this company at that time was Robert Kovac (the resemblance to the name of the hero of the book and the movie Altered Carbon is not accidental 🙂 We then agreed that he would bring one of these products to me within two weeks. And then COVID-19 “happened.” So only recently did we start the conversation which was interrupted at that time and we agreed that I would receive the system I mentioned at the beginning for testing. Or so I thought. The switch happened when I told to Mr. Kovac, on which floor I live on and that there is no elevator here.
This is an important piece of information as the Achilles stereo power amplifier weighs 160 kg. And that’s its netto weight. It features two huge transformers in a relatively small chassis, and the chassis itself is very weighty. After a short deliberation, we decided that we would show the “High Fidelity” Readers the “entry level” amplifier of this brand, the Leonidas. The device was brought to me by my colleagues from Slovakia, led by Ondrej Artim from DreamAudio, Pilium Audio distributor for three countries: Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
Looking out down the staircase, I heard them first, then saw them. My surprise at the sight that opened before me was enormous: it looked like a small case was being carried by two big, strong guys and yet they obviously struggled with it. Everything became clear when I looked at Leonidas’ catalog data – it weighs 100 kg – yes, one hundred kilograms! And I thought that my amplifier, the Soulution 710, is unique in this respect. Measuring almost as much as Leonidas, the Swiss amp is 40 kg lighter than the Greek beast.
Right – Pilium Audio is from Greece but also from Bulgaria. The owner of the company, Mr. Konstantinos Pilios, is Greek and his devices are mark “Made in Greece”. However, if one checks the “Contact” tab on the manufacturer’s website, it reads that the company is based in Bulgaria. I asked Mr. Kovac about it:
Pilium Audio was established in 2012, during the greatest economic crisis in the recent history of Greece. Greece was almost forced to leave the EU, which could be disastrous for a new company. So Mr. Pilios decided to register Pilium Audio in Bulgaria. It was about being careful and making sure that the company would stay in the EU no matter what happened in Greece. The designers, engineers, workers and of course the owner of Pilium Audio, Mr. Konstantinos Pilios, are Greek and all products are made in Greece in our factory.
In the meantime, the design of its products has changed. The Divine series resembles what the Soulution introduced to the audio years ago and which is slowly gaining more and more acceptance and more and more supporters, and what has been perfected by VITUS AUDIO. It is about the simplifying the chassis as much as possible but also to make sure it is perfectly made and finished.
Leonidas is the basic amplifier in Pilium Audio lineup. It measures 300 x 480 x 490 mm (H x W x D) and weighs, as I said, 100 kg. This is an integrated amplifier with a dual mono design – but a true dual mono, not with a split transformer. This means that each channel uses a separate power supply and separate electronics for both the preamplifier and power amplifier sections. And even separate AC power cables for the left and right channels. The latter solution has been known on the market for a long time, but it is rarely seen because it requires using (purchasing) two power cables, not one. To emphasize the use of this solution, the company calls it “True dual mono design”.
The amplifier output is impressive as it is capable to deliver 200W at 8 Ω, 400 W at 4 Ω and as much as 800 W at 2 Ω. This is ensured by 44 output transistors, in a parallel push-pull circuit, working in the AB class, with a low output impedance of less than 0,1 Ω. The distortion of the amplifier is moderately low (<0.1%), but the frequency response is quite wide (>100kHz). It features five line inputs – two XLRs and three RCAs; the amplifier is a fully balanced design.
On the front panel there is a monochrome, white touch display, which allows user to select an active input, volume level or switch it to standby mode. There is a mechanical power switch on the back, which will turn it off completely. We can also control it with an aluminum remote control, featuring also a button allowing user to dim the display.
The amplifier sports a chassis made of very thick, perfectly fitted aluminum plates. From the sides you can see large heat sinks, hidden in the housing so that they do not protrude beyond it. No screws anywhere are to be seen. Which automatically sent me back to Vitus Audio amplifiers such as the SIA-030. Perhaps the same company is preparing the housings for both companies. The whole thing is placed on special anti-vibration feet, which can be extended using another decoupling level – that however will cost you extra.
The manufacturer declares that inside he used the best components available. Indeed, they are. Volume control is executed via a resistor ladder and relays, controlled by a microprocessor – hence the “clicks” that come from the inside of the amplifier when adjusting volume. The printed circuit boards are made to military specifications, and the polypropylene capacitors bear the Pilium Audio logo.
The transformers were bought from Noratel (power amplifier section) and Talema (preamplifier). The former are 1.2 kW each, and the power supply features capacitors with a total capacity of 200,000 μF, decoupled using small polypropylene capacitors. The output sockets are also of a very good quality – the speakers ones are identical to those in the Soulution 710 and were sourced from the Mundorf company, and the ones in line inputs from the Neutrik company.
HOW WE LISTENED 100 kilograms is a weight that my audio rack cannot “take”. Admittedly, it handled the 50 kg TechDAS AIR FORCE ONE turntable, but it is not the same. So we decided to put the amplifier on its transport case, in front of the Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition rack, exactly where the Vitus Audio SIA-030, EINSTEIN THE SILVER BULLET OTL, THRAX TERES and AUDIOPAX MAGGIORE a50 and others were placed before it.
The source was the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player, and the signal was sent using a balanced Acoustic Revive Absolute cable. In turn, the signal to the loudspeakers, the Harbeth M40.1, was supplied by the Silver Triple Crown (the player also powered the Siltech Triple Crown). I supplied the power to the amplifier with two ACOUSTIC REVIVE ABSOLUTE POWER CORD.
ALTHOUGH my first contact with Pilium Audio electronics during the Prague Show was more than satisfying, although Sinatra from the Come Swing With Me! album then played from Tidal, from FLAC MQA files, sounded very convincing, I didn’t really know what to expect from the Leonidas amplifier. From how it looks like, I could have assumed that it would deliver a precise, technical, maybe even a bit brutal sound. Knowing that the hot southerner’s blood flows in the veins of the company’s owner, I could also consider the opposite scenario, i.e. it would be a warm, „sticky” sound. As it turned out, it’s none of the above.
In the sound of the tested amplifier, one can indicate elements of both, the first option, which I bet on more strongly, and the second one. But to point them out is like picking out raisins out of a cake, cutting the frosting from the top of it, or tearing off the seared bottom and claim that one knows the taste of the whole cake. It would be wrong.
Because the sound of the Leonidas amplifier is perfectly balanced. I cannot lead with any other feature – this is one of the few – maybe two, maybe three – integrated amplifiers that I listened to in my system, which sounded like this – following in the footsteps of the separates in my reference system. It is a presentation rich with information, and therefore also details, but also one that uses this information – and therefore details – to build an absolutely credible world in front of us – the world of music.
So it is an open sound, a sound open to details, decay, and small pieces of information. All the albums that I played with it were reliable, and their sound was natural. It was also fantastically focused on every element. When the stage was stretched far back, mainly due to the natural reverberation of the room in which the recording took place, like on a beautiful re-edition of the Go Right by Andrzej Kurylewicz Quintet album, the back of the stage was really far away from me, stretched, like a gymnast during the Olympic Games. On the other hand, if the instrument was close to me, like Bill Evans’ piano on the Portrait in Jazz, it was within my grasp.
This above-average, simply perfect differentiation made each disc sound different. Played from the SACD release, Evans was shown in a rather dark, dense way, the Oscar Peterson Trio from the album We Get Request, played from the Master CD-R released by First Impression Music, was open, dynamic and tangible, and Kurylewicz – also from a Master CD-R – on the one hand open, but on the other distanced, just because of long reverbs. The differentiation I am talking about concerned not only the recordings as such, but also the instruments within them.
This is due to the fact that the resolution of the Leonidas is so good. I remember well the sound of the Kondo OnGaku and although this is not the same level of fluidity and micro-analysis, the Greek amplifier followed exactly the same path set by the brilliant predecessor. It is a „holistic” presentation in which we do not focus on details, unless they make musical sense. We absorb music that is shown in a large space, with instruments having a large volume and in a way that leaves us with a taste of experiencing something remarkable.
The albums I mentioned are intimate on the one hand, after all these were small ensembles, but on the other hand they are extremely expansive, ultimately it’s jazz. The amplifier we are talking about, however, is doing just as well when playing intimate recordings with equal grace, ones that are small in scale and dense. Like Eva Cassidy’s Autumn Leaves from the Songbirds. Recorded during a concert at the New York’s Blues Alley club on September 23, 1996, it is on the one hand slightly bright – it is recorded using a stage microphone – and on the other it is intimate.
Leonidas didn’t brighten the sound of this recording, but neither did it darken it, nor rounded it. It is not meant to be a panacea for system’s problems. If something is wrong in a given setup, the amplifier will only make these problems more obvious. Maybe it will not emphasize them, but also will not let you forget about them, it will be honest in its presentation. In turn, if the system is really good at something, the amplifier will multiply it. Such is, so to speak, the biblical offer: whoever has little will have even less, and whoever has much will have even more.
ANYWAY in a good system, the amplifier will present both, the music and the way it is recorded. Cassidy’s recording has a lot of noise underneath, but also fantastic micro-dynamics, and it starts with a powerful, closely positioned guitar that sounds right in front of us. After a while, however, the sound engineer moves it away with reverberation and to the right to make room for the vocal. With Leonidas I could hear it perfectly. Similarly, the combination of two performances (fragments) in the piece called Obsession from Kurylewicz’s album, which is heard around 4:30 (that’s approximate time, as I remember it).
So there is proper tonal saturation and perfect micro-dynamics and resolution. It is also important that the sound built by this amplifier is simply big, natural, and the presentation has momentum, thanks to which we do not get bored. In this particular respect, the device makes all recordings bit similar, but it does it gracefully and with the goal of extracting as much music as possible from the recording. The point is not to get bored, not to kill us with sounds, but simply to draw us into this world.
It seems to be a device that has no problem driving loudspeakers, even as difficult as the Harbeth 40.1. In fact, it played beautifully with them. Dan D’Agostino’s Progression Stereo amplifier did just as good a job in my system, as well as some other mighty power amplifiers from Accuphase, NAIM AUDIO STATEMENT and my Soulution, although each of them sounded a bit different.
And it is not only about controlling the bass, although it is also an important aspect. It is about overall control of the loudspeaker so that the sound is focused, open and dense – all at the same time. In which the Greek amplifier is most similar to the fantastic FM ACOUSTICS FM 268C + FM 711 MkII set.
Compared to my two-box amplifier, consisting of the Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier and the Soulution 710 power amplifier, the Leonidas sounds a bit “higher”. This means it has a more open midrange. The reference system is darker and more resolving, it also has slightly better differentiated dynamics. But this is to be expected, we are talking about amplifiers from different price ranges and I would be surprised if it were otherwise.
But something else surprised me – how similar the presentation ultimately was – at least in terms of intentions. I heard a similar commitment, similar sensitivity to information as with the Ayon / Soulution system. And due to a slight brightening of the midrange I got a bit more active acoustics of the venue where the recordings were made and clearer reverbs that were added. I was also surprised by the scale of differentiation, as in the above-mentioned disc Polish Pianism, where the recordings shared a new common mastering, but nevertheless it was perfectly audible how they differ from each other.
LEONIDAS is one of the best, as far as I remember, integrated amplifiers that I have listened to in my room. And maybe only the Soulution 530 would get a similar rating from me, although it offers a completely different sound and the phenomenal Vitus Audio SIA-030, with incredible saturation and calmness, would be a worthy rival for Leonidas.
The Greek amplifier sounds in an open, carrying way with fantastic dynamics. It has an excellent resolution and offers exceptionally good differentiation. And at the same time, the sound is smooth, has a flow, i.e. we don’t focus on details.
The reference system goes even further, it is even denser and more resolving, and at the same time darker. However, the differences are not as large as you might expect. Which shows that the tested amplifier is a unique design. It is smooth, but not as smooth as the – aforementioned – Kondo OnGaku or Dan D’Agostino amplifiers, it is open, though not as much as the Soulution 710 or Naim Statement. It just has its own way, putting all the elements together into something new. And the “new” in audio happens very rarely. And this is why we are talking about a similar caliber of performance, about a device from the same league as the above-mentioned highly regarded competition.
The amplifier is large and incredibly heavy – an audio device weighing 100 kg is not that common. The chassis is made of very thick aluminum plates, sandblasted and anodized. Together with the heat sinks that occupy the entire side wall, recessed into the housing, they create a very rigid structure. For demanding customers, the manufacturer prepared special anti-vibration feet – I would recommend buying the amplifier with them.
Front | Despite the fact that it is an integrated amplifier, the front panel lacks classic manipulators – knobs, buttons, switches. The device is operated via a monochrome touch display. It allows user to read the volume level and the selected input on it, and to operate both these functions. One can do that also using a remote control.
Back | This is a classic amplifier, i.e. without a D/A section, without a Bluetooth, without a streaming module – it focuses on what is most important, i.e. on amplifying the analog signal from external sources. The device features five inputs, two of which are balanced (XLR) and three are unbalanced (RCA) one; the sockets come from Neutrik. On the other hand, large, comfortable, solid speaker terminals (single) are made by Mundorf – my Soulution 710 sports exactly the same ones. And there are two IEC power sockets (16 A) on the back, separate for each channel.
Inside | This is because it is a dual-mono design, both for the preamplifier and the power amplifier sections are. The basis is a powerful, incredibly large power supply, with two 1.2 kW toroidal transformers for the power amplifiers, bolted one above the other, and two small transformers, also toroidal, for the preamplifier; a separate transformer supplies the control section. The voltage for the output stages is filtered in large capacitors, large like a water bottle, and for the preamplifier in many small ones, both polypropylene and electrolytic, and also tantalum ones – they are connected in parallel. Their total capacity is of 200,000 μF.
The preamplifier has a separate PCB, located just below its power supply. The power amplifiers are mounted on printed circuit boards screwed directly to the heat sinks. It is an AB class differential circuit in push-pull mode, with 22 ultra-wideband transistors per channel. Thanks to this, high power was obtained – up to 800 W into 2 Ω! – and low output impedance (<0.1 Ω). The amplifier uses a microprocessor controlled protection against short-circuit, overheating and the DC voltage in the input.
This is a representative of a classic school of an audio amplifier design at its best. ■
Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)
• Design: dual-mono
• Frequency range: >100 kHz
• THD: < 0.1%
• Gain: 35
• Output impedance: < 0.1 Ω
• Dimensions (H x W x D): 300 x 480 x 490 mm
• Weight: 100 kg
Distributor (Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland)
Jaskový Rad 213
831 01 SLOVAKIA
| Our albums
Core Port RPOZ-10037 | Compact Disc
I found this disc, released by the Japanese Core Port label, by accident, browsing the online store in search of Sławek Jaskułke albums. He is one of the few Polish jazzmen released in this country, and not just single album but the whole discography is available there.
The Polish Pianism is a compilation album, featuring 11 recordings from various labels for example: For Tune, Outside Music and others. It includes works with a piano in the lead role by the mentioned Jaskułke, but also Możdżer, Hania Rani and Piotr Wyleżoł (from before the release of the Human Things album as part of the Polish Jazz, Vol. 79 series), Michał Tokaj and Simple Acoustic Trio. The set is quite eclectic, because the mentioned artists represent different musical sensitivity, but one listens to it with pleasure.
Yoshinori Shirao is responsible for the set, and the new master was prepared by CM Punch (Jolanta Młodawska-Bronowska mentions cooperation with Shirao-san of other Polish performers in her study New Oportunities for Polish-Japanese Cooperation: Diagnosis and Prostects |, a downloadable book in pdf format you can find HERE ; accessed: 27/09/2020). The disc was decorated using photos by Maciej Komorowski, taken in Krakow.
The sound of the Polish Pianism is just great. The recordings differ from each other, but they were nicely “stapled” together due to a very good mastering. They sound, to be honest, better than their Polish counterparts. They are more resolving and deeper tonally. This album is definitely enjoyable and useful while testing audio components – my recommendation! ♦
Recordings used for the test | a selection
⸤ 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); ⸤ 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)
Original review in Polish language, here