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Berendsen Audio PRE 1 SE and STA 150 SE

 

 

August 2005

              


It was a year ago when I first met Clement Perry during his visit to the Windy City with S-T staffers Dave Thomas and Mike Wright. We had a great discussion about some of our favorite jazz musicians and their recordings and before long he asked if I would be interested in joining the magazine as part of what is quickly being referred to as the Stereo Times Chicago Connection (along with Thomas and Wright, H. Courtenay Osborne and Tom Mallin who also hails from the Windy City area). I told CP that though I was flattered by the invitation, I knew it would be a lot more fun listening to live music than bench-pressing six foot tall, two hundred pound crates that contained the latest in speaker technology. I also felt compelled to let him know that even though I thought the mega buck equipment sounded fantastic, I truly believed that some gear had significantly outpaced inflation, and common sense. Clement jokingly replied, ďDonít worry. Weíll refrain from sending you the really, really good stuff.Ē Actually, he didnít intend to send me any stuff. Instead he suggested that I join the publication as a music reviewer. After a moment of reflection I agreed to become a music critic with an emphasis on ďstraight-aheadĒ jazz.

Nine months later, as I was helping DT pack up some incredibly heavy components (as I often do), I took the liberty of getting a sneak preview of his 2005 CES/T.H.E. Show report. Itís not that I couldnít wait for the official release, but I just wanted to know if somewhere down the road I would regret his attendance at the show and find myself in another impromptu weightlifting session. It was with a sigh of relief that I found out that one of his new discoveries, the Berendsen Audio STA-150 SE power amp and Pre-1 SE preamp, weighed a combined 72 pounds.

Shortly thereafter, the Berendsen gear arrived at DTís place and I finally got to hear what heíd been so excited about. As I started to explain to him what I thought about the gear he said that he thought that I would be a great person to review the equipment. So after a brief conversation with CP, it was decided that I would begin doing equipment reviews after all, and that the Berendsen system would be my first foray.

A little about Sven
Sven Berendsen of Moers, Germany has been manufacturing the Berendsen line of solid-state electronics for over fifteen years. The line includes an integrated amplifier, stereo amplifiers, preamplifiers, phono stages and CD players. Each component is handmade and is designed to allow the customerís recordings to sound as natural as possible, have the ability to be upgraded, and be priced competitively within the marketplace. As a child he developed an ear for music while playing the piano before switching to concert guitar. While listening to his parentís audio system, Sven became dissatisfied with its sound. Initially, he decided to improve their loudspeakers, but eventually discovered that he would have much better success building electronics. During his training in general and industrial electronics he realized that designing audio circuits that allowed the music to sound natural shouldnít be very difficult but in reality it was a lot more challenging than he imagined. After a couple of design tries he developed some prototypes that were compared to some existing high-end manufactures and the feedback he received was enough to convince him to start his own company.

Like most international manufactures Sven uses an importer to market his products and he couldnít have partnered with a better one. Randall Marder of Distinguished Audio Imports LLC, (formerly known as Acoustic Partners LLC), has been an audiophile for over thirty years and has been an importer for the last two years while also running the retail store, Colorado Audiophile Sound and Design in Elizabeth, Co. After a brief introduction from DT and a rather pleasant and lengthy conversation with Randall about audio, I soon had the top-of-the-line Special Edition, Berendsen STA 150 SE power amplifier and PRE1 SE preamplifier in house for review.

Fine German Engineering
The PRE1 SE ($1895.00) is a single-ended, solid-state line stage preamplifier. Although Sven believes in the merits of balanced circuitry he feels that the added cost would outweigh the benefits when value-for-money is a primary design criterion. However, if he were to design an amplifier with a cost no object approach he mentioned that a balanced design would be incorporated. The PRE1 SE is well constructed, has substantial weight at 16.5 pounds and comes supplied with a rather simple remote. It is a very straightforward design without any capacitors in the signal path. Sven feels that since even the most expensive capacitors will alter the signal, itís better to leave them out.

The preampís aesthetics are first rate. It has three large knobs in the middle of the faceplate, a smaller aluminum power button to the left, and an infrared sensor to the far right that receives the signal from the remote control. Once the power button is depressed a small red led light lets you know that the unit is operating. The input selector next to the power button controls the six single ended inputs. The slightly larger knob in the middle controls the volume, and the knob on the right is used to control the source components for tape recordings. On the back of the unit, next to a set of gold-plated RCA inputs are a tape out and a set of main outputs in case you want to bi-amp. There is also a receptacle for a detachable power cord. The unit is slim in design and can be ordered with either a black or silver faceplate and I found that both colors appealed to my simplistic tastes.

The STA 150 SE ($3495.00) stereo power amp is a solid-state design that, like the preamp, is well crafted with a simple but attractive finish. It delivers 150 watts into 8 ohms and 240 watts into 4 ohms. The faceplate is made from quarter inch thick aluminum with a metal on/off switch. It is 17.5 inches wide, six inches high and 15 inches deep. The unit weighs 55 pounds so there isnít a need for rack handles. It has been designed with soft start-up circuitry to prevent overload and installed with a feature to prevent short circuits in case the positive and negative speaker leads touch. When the unit is turned on there is a slight delay and after a short pause, two small LEDs are illuminated to let you know that both channels are functioning properly. The heat sinks are covered and the unit does get warm to the touch. Just like the preamp, the inputs are RCAís only and it also has a detachable power cord. There is only one set of speaker terminals so if you want to bi-wire, your other set of cables should be terminated with banana plugs.

The SE or ĎSpecial Editioní version differs slightly from the standard edition. The standard edition utilizes op-amps while the special edition version uses discrete technology. Sven has added higher filter capacity, tighter transistor tolerances and upgraded the internal wiring to silver. It is also important to note that the special edition version of the power amp inverts phase so you just need to switch the leads at the speaker posts. These additional improvements should produce a much more relaxed and more natural musical reproduction with enhanced resolution of inner details, according to Sven. My review samples were delivered with silver faceplates and the aesthetics should appeal to even the most hardened interior designer.

Personal Show Invitation
At the 2005 C.E.S. there was a lot of buzz coming from the Berendsen room. The setup included the Von Schweikert VR4-jr with the Soundstring interconnects, power cords, and speaker cables. Since I already owned the VR4-jrís and had in my possession some power cords from Soundstring I simply made a phone call to Soundstringís Andy Miller and requested a bi-wire pair of speaker cables for use with the review. He informed me that he had a new digital power cord, some new interconnects, and a better sounding speaker cable. A couple of weeks later I received a box from Andy containing all the new stuff. DT has already written highly about the previous versions of the Soundstring cables but a review of the new products is in the works. I was hoping to have an exact replica of the system from the show but unfortunately I didnít have the Berendsen CDP-1 CD player on hand so instead I used the Electrocompaniet EMC-1. After giving the cables a chance to break-in I was ready to find out if Svenís claims were true.

My first impressions of the system as a whole are that Sven is on to something special. The sound is balanced from top to bottom and there isnít an emphasis on a particular part of the musical spectrum (i.e., bass, midrange or treble). It was a clear, open sound, with a nicely detailed soundstage, but without being overly analytical. Stage width and height were good but in the depth department Iíve heard better presentations. The critical midrange area was not artificially warm and the low end was firm without dominating the performance. The highs were crystal clear and, depending on the cables, varied from good to very good. The overall portrayal of the performances on a number of selections was very musical and I grabbed a few discs that I am intimately familiar with to complete the evaluation.

Itís music time
One of my favorite alto sax players, Hank Crawford, produced a marvelous album in 1962 entitled, From the Heart [Atlantic Records]. Thankfully, it has recently been reissued on CD by Collectables Records [COLĖCDĖ6526]. It was recorded not long after his performances with Ray Charles as his musical director. This disc features Hank with David ďFatheadĒ Newman on tenor sax and Leroy Cooper on baritone sax. Itís a collection of jazz, blues, and a little R&B that, from start to finish, will have you tapping your toes and snapping your fingers.

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Berendsen Audio PRE 1 SE and STA 150 SE