Berendsen Audio PRE 1 SE and STA 150 SE

 
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While listening to the first track, “Don’t Cry Baby,” the first thing I noticed was that I was enjoying the music so much that I completely forgot that I should be taking notes. The Berendsen’s recreation of brass instruments captured the tone and texture of the saxophones without the edginess that sometimes is associated with equipment in this price range. Dynamics are excellent and the brass section’s aggressiveness is apparent but isn’t tilted upward. Spacing between the musicians is good and the soundstage extended appropriately in front of the speakers.

Always in the mood to get my Gospel praise on, I pulled out Lonnie Hunter and the Voices of St. Mark’s Next Level [Music Shoals MSCD 8018]. One of the more moving numbers is “I’m In Need Of You” sung by soloist Stephanie Crews along with the praise team. The only minor complaint that I have with this recording is that the engineers highlighted the treble region. But I’ve always believed that what is on the disc should not be glossed over and four-fifths of the way through it gets just a little aggressive on the top end. This time remembering to write down some details, the one characteristic that I noted and circled repeatedly was that the presentation was very musical. One of the Berendsen’s strong suits is the way that it allows vocalists to have a natural presentation that doesn’t have that added warmth that tends to enhance the performance when you first hear it but later on becomes an annoyance because you come to realize that it shouldn’t be there. Yet despite that mild aberration on the recording towards the end, listening to Stephanie’s solo performance with the STA 150 SE and PRE1 SE was a special treat.

Still with an appetite for vocals but of a different content, I turned to Gabriela Anders from Argentina. Her music is a combination of jazz and R & B with a little bit of soul. Her debut CD entitled Wanting, [Warner Bros 9 46907-2] shows off her writing skills as well as her vocal talents. She has a sweet sounding voice that it is integrated well with the music. Before I started this listening session I also wanted to find out if I substituted cables if that would make a difference in the sound. The Soundstring cables are very good connectors in their price range but when I inserted the Virtual Dynamics Nite II Series cables, there was a noticeable improvement. Already enamored with the presentation, I was even more impressed with how the VD allowed the performers to have more of a presence, minor details were more apparent and the soundstage was fuller. Her duet with Eric Benet already my favorite song on the disc was even more enjoyable with the Virtual Dynamics inserted. But then that should hardly come as a surprise because the VD goodies cost as much as the Berendsen and Von Schweikerts combined.

Switching back to the Soundstring cables, on classical music the Berendsen gear certainly delivered the goods. On London Decca’s Lark ascending: The soft Sounds of Vaughan Williams [455 612-2] was portrayed in a very relaxed way. A big fan of string instruments I noticed that the performance was very sweet sounding. Musicians weren’t compressed together and the soundstage wasn’t artificially extended. The title track with Hagai Shaham on violin was sweet and articulate. Another positive attribute about listening to music with the Berendsen gear is that I was able to listen at low volumes and still enjoy the music. The equipment was very quiet and didn’t focus on one piece of the classical spectrum while neglecting others and the combo just allowed the beauty of Vaughan Williams’ masterpiece to come through. Even though there are not a lot of demanding tracks on this piece of music, on other classical recordings that I listened to I didn’t hear any areas where the Berendsen gear was overwhelmed by the material.

Curious to hear how the Berendsen gear would sound with an audiophile grade recording, I selected Sheffield Labs’ 20-bit edition of Pat Coil’s, Steps [10031-2-F]. According to Sheffield Labs, this 20-bit mastering technique will provide for “the truest and most accurate CD master from the original analog recording”. I’ve listened to both versions and I can say that the audiophile edition sounds significantly better than the 16-bit version. On this CD there are a number of stellar performances featuring guest drummer Will Kennedy (formerly of the Yellowjackets) and Pauhihno Da Costa on percussion. Once again that familiar theme of musicality appeared. The Berendsen gear allowed me to hear the definition and detail that I’ve often heard on other systems that generally cost one and a half to two times more in retail price. Although not to the same level the Berendsen certainly held it’s own. After sending the STA 150 SE and the PRE1 SE through its paces, I realized why there was quite a buzz at CES 2005.

Conclusion
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Berendsen equipment and was impressed with the sound, or better yet, the lack of coloration from this solid-state duo. These components are very good in the areas of transparency and detail. I feel that Sven has done a wonderful job of designing equipment that doesn’t interfere with the music on the recording, is well made, and at $5495 for the power amp/ preamp combination, is a real bargain in high-end audio. At this price level you have a number of great choices, but I feel that the Berendsen STA 150 SE power amplifier and PRE1 SE preamplifier does a good job of letting you just sit back and enjoy your favorite recordings and should be on your short list for evaluation. Sven’s engineering goals of allowing the music to sound as natural as possible while not drawing much attention to the equipment’s shortcomings was the reason why I spent many enjoyable hours listening to both older and newer material.

Regretfully, it is now time to send the review samples back to Randall but I really enjoyed my time with the Berendsen Audio gear. In fact, because I felt that it did some really good things, keeping in mind how much it costs or doesn’t depending on how you look at it, I decided to recognize the combo with a Stereo Times “Most Wanted Component” award for 2005.

So thanks to Clement Perry for suggesting that I also become an equipment reviewer (my latest music review is on the way) because not only did I have a lot of fun, but also unbeknownst to him, I’m already getting a chance to evaluate some of the “really good stuff”. Highly recommended.

Craig “Craigy G” Fitzpatrick

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Specifications:
Power Amplifier
Special Edition STA 150 (SE)
Inputs: 1 line pair RCA
Outputs: 1 speaker pair
Power output (5 Hz - 20 kHz, 8 Ohm): 150 W
per channel
Power output (5 Hz - 20 kHz, 4 Ohm): 240 W
per channel
Output current: 40 A (150 SE: > 40 A)
Linearity (5 - 20kHz, 22 W, 8 Ohm):
+0.02 dB, -0.08 dB
THD+N (1 kHz, 100W, 8 Ohm):
< 0.1% (150 SE: 0.006%)
THD+N (20 kHz, 100W, 8 Ohm):
< 0.3% (150 SE: 0.009%)
S/N-Ratio [ref. to 50mW, 8 Ohm]: > 78 dB
Input impedance: 47 kOhm (150 SE: 2.7 kOhm)
Gain: 29 dB (150 SE: 24.5 dB)
Input sensitivity [ref. to 1W, 8 Ohm]:
100mV (150 SE: 166mV)
Mode: Class AB (150 SE: Class AB, inverting)
Transformer: Toroidal 750VA
Filter capacitance: 60,000 µF
(150 SE: 100,000 µF)
Weight: 46 lbs./21 Kg (150 SE: 55 lbs./25Kg)
Size: 17.5" x 15.4" x 6.1"/445x390x155mm
Price: $3495.00

Preamplifier PRE 1
Special Edition
Inputs: 5 line RCA
Outputs: 2 tape, 2 main RCA
Record selector switch: Yes
Remote-control function for volume: Yes
Bandwidth (-3 dB): 1.5 Hz - 200 kHz
Slew rate: 25 V/µs
Linearity (5 Hz - 20 kHz): +0.02 dB, -0.02dB
THD+N (5 Hz - 20 kHz): 0.0015% S/N-Ratio (ref. to 1V,): > 105 dB
Input impedance: 10 k Ohm
Output impedance: 56 Ohm
Input sensitivity (ref. to 1V): 200mV
Transformer: Toroidal 30VA
Filter capacitance: 18,800 µF
Weight: 16.5 lbs. / 7,5 Kg
Size: 17.5" x 10.2" x 2.6" / 445x260x65 mm
Price: $1895.00

Addresses:
Manufacturer:
Berendsen
Audioelektronik GmbH
Nieperstrasse 103
D-47447 Moers
Germany
Tel. +49/(0) 28 41/96 40 25
Fax +49/(0) 28 41/96 40 26
E-mail: mail@berendsen-audio.de
Website: www.berendsen-audio.de

U.S. Distributor:
Distinguished Audio Imports, LLC.
P.O. Box 1122
Elizabeth, Co. 80107
Tel. (303) 646-8852
E-mail: rjmarder@comcast.net
Website: www.acousticpartners.com