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Amplifier Pioneer A-229 review

Having broken the mould with superb, fuss-free amplifiers like the A-400 and A-300, Pioneer’s engineers must have suffered a relapse when they conceived the A-229. This is one of two very conventional budget amps that are clearly aimed at a wider audience than their illustrious companions.

Nothing wrong with that of course, but the budgeting of this product has been spread thin to accommodate niceties like balance and tone controls, A/B speaker switching and a second tape monitor loop for connection to a graphic or surround-sound processor.

A rotary selector hops between the remaining three line inputs and a MM disc stage, while a ‘Direct’ facility allows you to bypass much of the frippery. For some unknown reason, however, Pioneer’s loudness control remains in-circuit. Still, the slim profile and uncluttered fascia of the A-229 gives it a graceful appearance even if, round the back, you’re faced with a set of truly ghastly spring-clip speaker terminals.

Inside we have a classic example of -how can I put it-cost-effective engineering. Disc equalisation is based around a cheap and cheerful op-amp while the entire power amp assembly is condensed into a hybridised block from STK. Electronic speaker protection is provided and Pioneer has even attempted to shorten signal runs by using a remotely-controlled selector switch.

Sound quality

Somewhat predictably, this amplifier proved to be very consistent from input to input, offering a decidedly even-handed if not exactly thrilling sound. All our listeners thought it lacked ‘drama and spirit’, though its warm balance and polite presentation did not interfere, with the natural ‘bounce’ or rhythm of the music.

Warm and unmuddled, certainly, butfight-ing shy of grandiose dynamics meant the tumultuous opening of Rachmaninov’s Symphony simply, in the view of the panel, ‘just failedtohappen’. Itwasclean, quiet, smooth and pleasantly detailed yet soft of focus and lacking bite and impact.

Its imaging of individual performers was just as good throughout the Julia Fordham CD, a stable sound with no exaggeration of her natural sibilance. Nevertheless there was still this all-pervading civility, a softly-softly approach that failed to reflect the ‘true grit’ of real-life music.

Conclusion

Flere is an easy-going and thoroughly unfatiguing amplifier that, while harbouring no unpleasant foibles, is equally unlikely to kindle sparks of passion. It has its virtues, to be sure, but prefers to cruise rather than stride its way through the music.

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