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Amplifier Pioneer A-400X review

Having achieved best buy status for its A-400, Pioneer was bound to tread carefully when the time came for a replacement. Rather than a completely new amplifier, therefore, Pioneer has decided to launch a companion model, the ?300 lookalike A-400X. This version shares the same minimalist virtues found in the A-400 though there are some changes in the circuit detail.

It has the same casework as both the A-300X and A-400 with all the features of the latter (MM/MC, two tape and three line inputs) minus, for reasons of simplicity, a headphone socket. By way of recompense, there’s now a double set of speaker outlets to facilitate bi-wiring, though none of this betrays a hint of the metamorphosis within.

Here, Pioneer’s Super Linear Circuit has been dropped in favour of a new Wide Range Linear Circuit where high gain, tweaky capacitors and improved signal-to-noise ratios are the order of the day.

Sound quality

The net result of this rethink is a more contemplative sound than that provided by the original A-400. It certainly portrayed the drama of music in a thoroughly unforced way, captivating our listeners with a natural acoustic that hung between and behind the speakers rather than bursting forward into their laps.

Listening to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, we could easily discern the layout of the orchestra with violins and woodwind to the left, violas, cellos and double bass to the right, and brass bringing up the rear. More importantly, these instruments united to convey a mighty sense of scale without sounding confused or incessant. This sense of scale reflected the growing structure of the music while retaining a unique mildness of its own.

For example, the beautiful resonance of tympani and lower strings that mark the introduction to Rachmaninov’s Symphony were heard in a completely new light via the Pioneer’s MM disc stage. This richly detailed performance communicated the full scope and ambience of the venue in addition to the clear enthusiasm of the orchestra itself. It was absolutely fabulous stuff.

Conclusion

In much the same fashion as Audiolab’s 8000A, Pioneer’s A-400X is a highly consistent performer. Unlike the Audiolab, though, the Pioneer is gentler and more even-handed. It’s an amplifier that lulls the listener without betraying a breath of effort. It certainly offers a different perspective from its companion A-400 but is no less enthralling for its sobriety. As a result, the A-400X deserves a Best Buy all of its own.

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