Yes, this Plinius power amplifier together with the Tautoro preamplifier is very expensive, very heavy and about as environmentally friendly as an oil tanker – however, we can't help but love it.
At £18,500, the combo sits in the highest boughs of the amplifier tree, but it justifies every penny. There are many great high-end pre/powers that cost less, but none comes close to matching this pairing for clarity, dynamics and insight.
Used in a similarly capable and pricey system, the Tautoro/SA-Ref sounds wonderful. It delivers Timbaland's Shock Value with all the brutality it demands while rendering something delicate such as Tracy Chapman's debut album with utmost care.
You'd expect any quality amp to play a wide range of music well, but it's the way this set-up combines force with finesse that really impresses.
Power amplification old-style
The SA-Ref power amp looks at odds with its curvy partner. This is power amplification old-style – masses of heat sinking and not much styling. The SA-Ref can switch between Class A and Class AB operation. To us, Class A mode is so much fuller; we can't imagine anyone using AB.
The problem with Class A (the amp stays in Class A for the first 100 watts and reverts to AB up to 300 Watts for each channel) is that the amp runs hot enough to give a radiator an inferiority complex, so you'll need plenty of ventilation.
If 300 Watts per channel isn't enough you can turn the SA-Ref into a kilowatt monobloc – enough power for anyone.
Yet for all the amplifier's bulk, it's so fuss-free in use. It's common to find similar high-end products that hum or click when swapping inputs, or that have cheap control buttons. The Plinius pair suffers from no such shortcomings, which bodes well for long-term use.
We listened to this amp extensively, yet never failed to be sucked in by its excellence. It makes for a hugely enjoyable experience that, in terms of value for money, almost makes sense. Almost.