Elipson P1F Preamp & A2700 Power Amplifier Review
James Michael Hughes is seduced by this chic Parisienne pre/power combination…
P1F Pre and A2700 Power Amp
£2,749 and £2,999, respectively, as reviewed
Elipson is a French company mainly known for making high-end loudspeakers based in Champigny-sur-Marne, in the Paris suburbs. Its origins go back as far as 1938, and by the early fifties, it was making futuristic-looking loudspeakers. By 1968, it was offering designs that look a lot like many of today's high-end models from the likes of B&W or KEF.
In 2015, Elipson made its first turntable, and now the company is selling amplifiers too. Styled by Clément Servonnat, Elipson's new P1F preamp and A2700 power amp (£2,749 and £2,999 as tested) form an elegant duo that boasts optional turntable and digital inputs, along with generous power output.
The P1 preamplifier is a line-level device with two unbalanced inputs via RCA sockets and one balanced input using XLR connectors. Users have the option of adding an MC/MM phono stage or a DAC based on a Sabre ESS 9028 Q2M chip with RCA (coaxial), optical (TOSLINK) and USB inputs.
The matching A2700 power amplifier is a fairly compact Class D design delivering a claimed maximum of 400W RMS per channel for 1% distortion. However, at lower power levels, distortion is said to be very low, with just 0.005% at 100W and 0.003% at 1W, the company says. The amp can be bridged to deliver a claimed 1,400W RMS or 2,500W peak – that should really flap your flares! There's a set of regular single-ended RCA inputs plus balanced inputs via XLRs. As the P1F preamp offers a choice of single-ended or balanced outputs, it's possible to connect the two using balanced XLR cables for improved sound quality. Finally, a single set of speaker outputs is provided.
Elipson's simple, functional design is elegant, stylish and attractive. The preamp features two rotary controls for volume and input selection. To choose an input, turn the selector knob until the illuminated display shows the one you wish to select. Then, as the display blinks, you confirm your choice of input by pressing the selector knob. The volume control is electronic, with a read-out in decibels going from -60dB to +12dB. Unusually, volume levels can be increased or decreased in fine 0.5dB steps over the entire 72dB range.
With volume controls of this sort, the lower level settings nearly always have bigger steps between them. For example, the Technics SU-R1000 has 3dB steps between -88dB and -82dB, then 2dB steps from -82dB to -66dB, 1dB steps from -66dB to -22db, and 0.5dB steps from -22dB to 0dB. I like the way Elipson has implemented the volume control very much. It gives you fine control over all volume levels in 0.5dB steps and lets you set the volume accurately – something important and useful when you're A/B comparing different audio components.
The volume control itself operates very efficiently. Spin it quickly, and it traverses the extremes in an instant. Turn it slowly, and you have fine adjustment in 0.5dB steps. Using the remote, you just press the button once for a 0.5dB change or press several times for more. Thus, pressing the volume button four times would deliver a 2dB increase or decrease. If you keep one of the volume buttons pressed down, you don't get a running increase or decrease in level – just a single 0.5dB change. To get more change, you have to keep pressing the volume button. What all this shows is the thought that the manufacturer has put into the operational feel. Few companies do better, in my experience.
Additional features include a left/right stereo balance control allowing +/- 6dB shift in channel gain and that rarity – a stereo/mono button. Unusually, Elipson's mono setting gives about 3dB extra gain over stereo – so the sound doesn't 'collapse' when playing a stereo recording in mono. Usually, when switching between stereo and mono playing a stereo recording, mono sounds a bit closed-in – less wide and expansive than stereo. But, due to Elipson's slight increase in gain, the results going to mono are enhanced. Another clever move!
Electronically and physically, both components are exceptionally quiet. With an ear right close by, I heard no mechanical noise. Despite using 105dB sensitive Klipsch Cornwall IV speakers, residual hiss and hum were totally inaudible. The line input is silent too, but what really impressed me was the silence of the phono stage. Even set to moving coil, it was amazingly quiet – no hum (at full volume) and exceptionally low hiss – at least 6dB (or more) quieter than my other outboard phono stages.
With around 400W per channel, the A2700 power amplifier is very punchy. But more to the point, it actually sounds powerful. It's very dynamic and delivers heavy passages with no sense of strain. The impression is one of relaxed ease with power and dynamics to spare. Quoted damping factor is a very high 1,000. The nature of the design limits the maximum operating temperature to 40 degrees centigrade, and it's protected from thermal runaway. Large short-duration peaks of up to 900W at a low impedance of 2 ohms can be produced without risk of overheating, says the manufacturer.
Those needing still more power can buy a second A2700 and use both amps as bridged monoblocks. Not only does this massively increase the available peak power to 1,400W, but it will also sound better – partly because the power amps work in a balanced fashion when bridged.
As already mentioned, you'll get better sound if you connect the P1F and A2700 using a balanced cable with XLR connectors rather than choosing the unbalanced RCA option. The gain will be higher, and the overall sound bigger and more dynamic, with increased presence and detail.
Firing up the P1F/A2700 combination, and first impressions were of a solid, direct, and focused musical presentation that was energetic and immediate. Warm, alluring and euphonic it was not. The sound was very crisp and detailed, with fast transient attack and plenty of bite.
One of the first CDs I played was a two-disc compilation of Argo recordings by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble on Decca. The P1F/A2700 really brought out the brilliance of the brass instruments, creating a result that was impressively forceful and exciting with some thrilling dynamics.
David Sylvian's Rain Tree Crow really emphasised the strengths of this pre/power combo, sounding tight, clean, open and transparent. Drums were tactile and natural, with a satisfyingly breathy but tightly controlled bass – although was the voice perhaps a little husky on some tracks? Well, yes, at times, there could be a bit of a sting at the extreme top end. But whether this was being added by the Elipson itself, or simply limitations in recordings being revealed, I couldn't always say. The P1F/A2700 is a transparent and open-sounding amplifier, so doesn't hold back.
It's, therefore, a lot more revealing and less forgiving than softer, less focused amplifiers. Certainly, the Elipson is impressively clean and detailed; it definitely sounds more forward and immediate than the excellent Technics SU-R1000 I've been enjoying for the previous few weeks.
As the Elipson amps had already seen some action before I received them, I assumed they were more or less fully run-in. However, over four or five days of use, I definitely noticed an easing up in the sound, with things becoming smoother and sweeter – albeit still more tactile and forward than the SU-R1000.
The PF1's internal DAC sounded very good and achieved much of the smoothness and refinement I experienced from the SU-R1000's DAC. On CD, the SU-R1000's DAC seems to reduce some of that top-end glare you get on massed violins and choral music, and likewise the PF1's DAC. When comparing the DAC in the P1F to the line output of a Marantz 30n SACD player, the two were quite close in terms of tonal balance. The Elipson's DAC sounded excellent and offered a slightly cleaner, more refined sound over the DAC in the Marantz 30n SACD player.
Playing the Brodsky Quartet's recording of Janacek's String Quartets 1 and 2 on Brodsky Records, the sound was impressively sharp, focused, and clean. The music itself is quite craggy and raw at times. It's not easy to reproduce, but via the Elipson, the results were surprisingly listenable.
I tried a CD of a cappella choral music by Vaughan Williams – a disc that had impressed me with its clarity when played through the Technics SU-R1000's DAC. On the P1F, the results were also very impressive. The Technics was just a shade more refined, but there wasn't much in it. I liked that there was almost zero delay when switching between inputs. The Technics introduces a short delay of about half a second. Not much, admittedly, but – if you're making A/B comparisons – having no delay helps you evaluate differences in sound quality more readily.
If the Technics sounded a tad more gracious and mellifluous, the Elipson offered greater immediacy and made the musical performance seem more urgent and committed. The Elipson is very good at conveying pace and rhythm. It's lively and forward-moving. Indeed the more I listened to this combination, the more I noticed the way this amp draws you into the music by way of its speed and immediacy. The P1F/A2700 sounds fast, as the notes have crisp attack and release. There's nothing vague or fuzzy about its musical presentation.
Listening to Handel's Messiah (Harnoncourt's 1983 version on Teldec), I liked the way the Elipson conveyed the keen cut and thrust of this live performance. The presentation was musically trenchant and exciting, with a sense of depth and space around voices and instruments. Playing this same recording using the Technics SU-R1000, the sound was noticeably sweeter and more refined, but musically not quite as direct and engaging. During choral movements, the words were easier to discern with the Elipson; diction was enhanced, seeming firmer and clearer.
Being in the mood for Messiah, I then played the John Eliot Gardiner recording on Philips – a set I've known since it was first issued on LP in 1983. It was one of the earliest 'period instrument' Messiahs and created a lot of interest when released. However, I always had mixed feelings about the early digital recording from a technical standpoint. On many systems, the sound lacks presence and bite and can seem recessed. I felt the slightly earlier (1980) Hogwood L'Oiseau-Lyre set (analogue) sounded a whole lot better…
Gardiner's Philips set is actually very truthful in terms of dynamic range. There's no compression of soft/loud extremes, so subjectively, the mean/average level seems a bit low. It needs playing about 6dB louder than other recordings, but once you increase levels, the sound really projects. The last time I listened to this recording, about a year ago, I was underwhelmed by both the performance and the sound, but via the Elipson it was excellent. The music had impressive drive and forward momentum, and the sound was detailed and immediate.
Indeed, I was so taken by what I heard that I ended up listening to the whole of part 2, having only intended to sample maybe five or ten minutes. I found this happened quite a few times with this combo; I'd put something on just to see how it sounds, only to play the whole darn thing!
The phono stage in the PF1 is outstanding – solid, clean, and crisply focused, with excellent clarity and fine low-level detail. As previously mentioned, it's impressively quiet, with noticeably less background hiss compared to other good phono stages – at least 6dB to 10dB less noise.
Playing Brahms' second piano concerto with Alfred Brendel and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips, I was impressed by how dynamic and lively it sounded. This is another LP I've known since its first release in 1974, and it's a recording that can easily sound a bit grainy and lacking in clarity. Using Vertere's MG-1 turntable with SG-PTA arm and MC-1 cartridge, the P1F/A2700 delivered a sound that was firm, bright, and detailed. The piano cut through clearly, and the orchestra sounded deliciously pungent and rich despite the crisp brilliance of the sound.
On Jeep's Blues from Jazz at the Pawnshop on Proprius, the Vertere/Elipson combination reproduced a palpable sense of tension and interplay between the different musicians, with some surprisingly explosive dynamics and impressive subtle low-level detail. I was taken by the 'inky black' silence of Elipson's phono stage; its lack of noise is remarkable. Although I was largely unaware of noise from my other phono stages, the Elipson's extra quietness helps to make low-level detail seem clearer.
For example, all those faint audience noises on Jazz at the Pawnshop were rendered very lucidly without seeming to be boosted. They were quietly and correctly distant but cleanly and precisely focused. As a result, you really could hear deep into the acoustic of the venue.
Summing up, Elipson's P1F/A2700 pre/power amplifier combo is a formidable and versatile design that offers outstanding clarity and detail, along with exceptionally low noise. Indeed it's easily among the most musically involving and engaging amplifiers I have ever heard. It's also a very nice amplifier to use. For example, the precisely stepped volume control, its cool running, and amazing quietness. I like its complete lack of fussiness and the fact that it sounds great from the moment you switch it on.
It is most likely to appeal to listeners who favour a clean, focused, lucid sort of presentation. It's not really a warm or lush-sounding amplifier, yet neither is it hard and dry. The sound is neutral and true, and I found I liked it the more I used it – which is always a good sign. So, if you're in the market for an outstanding pre/power amplifier with MM/MC phono stage, a built-in DAC, and ample power output, do add this to your shortlist.
An avid audiophile for many decades, Jimmy has been writing about hi-fi since 1980 in a host of British magazines, from What Hi-Fi to Hi-Fi Choice. Based in London, England, he’s one of the UK’s most prolific record and CD collectors – no streaming service can yet match his amazing music collection!
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