This is not the first contact of “HIGH Fidelity OnLine” readers with products of the Swedish Bladelius. In the “digitALL” edition from last year, devoted fully to digital sources we reviewed a highly interesting, multiformat player Freja Mk II, a natural partner to the presented integrated amplifier Thor Mk II. So let us shortly repeat, who is this uncommon man, Mike Bladelius – owner and constructor of the company. In the years 1990-1994 he was the head of the designers at Treshold, in 1994-1995 a consultant, of the project department of Classé Audio. The company Bladelius Design Group, that encloses not only Bladelius but also Advantage, and earlier S.A.T., was founded in the Swedish Alingsås in 1994. Later he was employed for specific products by the company Primare. So the guy has substantial experience and enthusiasm. I liked the player, it had its doings, but overall it presented an extremely even performance level, regardless of the type of discs played. So I was looking forward to the amplifier with good prejudice, and although this does not influence the final conclusions, I tested it as soon as I could, frankly speaking putting a few devices on the waiting bench.
And I was not mistaken in my expectations. The Bladelius presents a sound one can fall in love with. It is organic, full, and similar to the digital cable DSIX/1.0 from the Japanese company, perfectly organized. We will find a shortcoming that can grow to the size of a flaw but – nobody's perfect... These characteristics can be heard on the level of timbre as well as space. Those two things go in a pair, actually. The song opening the disc Five Songbirds First Impression Music (FIM048 VD, HDCD24), “Kinderspiel”sung by Esther is composed of just two elements – a voice and a guitar. Bladelius positioned them perfectly on the stage – on one side the voice and on the other the guitar, connected together by the common acoustics. Normally the elements have a tendency to sound close to the center. This time, the three-dimensionality of the guitar and voice were shown very well, as well as them being organic and true. Undoubtedly this was aided by the rich timbre and splendidly shown distance between the instruments. This in contrast to the first moments spent with this amplifier, when the sound seems to be big but also warm, what was especially evident in “A Taste of Honey” from Patricia Barber. After some time everything returns to normal, the treble is very good, the midrange open, and the initial impression finds its resolution in the lower registers. Bass is big and not fully controlled. Thor – standing to its name – shows this frequency range in a resilient, saturated way, but this big amount of sound should have a shorter reverb. And this is mainly about the mid-bass range – the element that decides that the Bladelius can be perceived as a warm device. This has also an impact on the way the vocals are reproduced. If, like with the Barber piece, it is neutral, the amplifier will add presence and melodiousness to it. But if it happens like in the recording “Danny Boy” by Jacintha, where her vocal is nasal and recorded from a very closely positioned microphone, the effect will be deepened. There will be no tragedy, but the clearness will be lower.
But how brilliantly the electric guitars are shown due to this! I mentioned the shortcomings at the very beginning, so that you'd not think that I am deaf or something, but with the right material they are forgotten fast. The guitars are warm, organic, have a good definition, with a slightly rounded attack, but not by much, are fluent and absolutely credible. Also the worse recorded discs gain by that kind of presentation. The sounding with some kind of “skeleton”-like sound disc On An Island by David Gilmour (EMI, 55695, CCD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copy_Control ) sounded in a way that you just wanted to listen to it. And probably for the first time since I bought it (and this happened some time ago) I managed to listen to it from the beginning to the end, without jumping over in the middle of the song. Some things are however irreversible, and the resolution will not improve, but within the limits of the recording the sound starts to correspond with music. The voices were big and credible, and only the upper midrange was a bit brightened and reminded, that this disc is copy protected with an anti piracy code bringing the drive to the edge of its error correcting capabilities (I am talking about CCD http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copy_Control ). It sounded really splendid, however in “This Heaven” one could wish shorter reverb of the bass.
With both the FIM disc as well as now with the “Blue Train” of John Coltrane in the reference edition DVD-Audio 24/192 Classic Records (Blue Note/Classic Records, HDAD 2010, DVD-A 24/192+24/96) the noise of the master tape was to be heard in an especially natural way. I know, that this game is not about listening to noise, but based on this extra musical element the tonal balance and sound resolution can be perfectly defined. Because in the recording studio, I used the analog tape recorders for a long time, for stereo and multichannel recordings, I am especially sensitive to this aspect and I can distinguish natural noise – like in this case. And if the noise sounds well (although this might be silly) the music is later at least sounding well – as in this case. Taking all this into account, it is not difficult to understand why Thor brilliantly teamed up with the Cepheus DAC and the dedicated mutiformat player. Just as if those two devices would be created for each other. Although full potential was unleashed only by the Wireworld Silver Eclipse 52 cable, but you have to be prepared for sacrifices. Nat “King” Cole from the beautiful disc Penthouse Serenade (Capitol Jazz/EMI, 45042, SBM CD) sounded in a full, dense way, and especially, what should not be a surprise, his voice – velvet, strong, flowing around the legs, was engraving into memory. The rest of the band was hidden behind the leader, but he was reproduced in natural size, in a disturbingly palpable way.
With the Ancient Audio Prime as the source, the vocal was a bit thinned, and though the resolution rose definitely, as well as the depth of the stage, still I preferred the pairing with the cheaper, and apart from this context, worse Cepheus. With the Primare the upper midrange was colder, but better integrated with the treble. Also Cole’s band had more to say this time, it was just audible better. For example the piece “Too Young” begins with piano solo, and the hammers are heard clearly and just behind them the resonator. But, as a paradox in this case, with the ultra-precise speakers Dobermann from Harpia Acoustics, that I use since half a year as my reference (I prepare their official test, but first I want to listen to them with as many amplifiers as possible – one or two monsters more and I will have a full picture of those fascinating, but for many of my friends, controversial speakers), anyway is such company, the inexpensive DAC seemed to be custom tailored for it. And an interesting thing at the end – although both devices are balanced, with the Wireworld interconnect, they sounded better when RCA connections were active.
Thor MK II from the company Bladelius Design Group, belonging to its part called Bladelius (besides this one, the group encompasses also the devices called Advantage and until recently S.A.T., the latter was lately sold to Primare) is a huge amplifier, with a minimalist fascia that is much to my liking. The tendency to eliminate unnecessary additions, already visible in the Freya Mk. II player, achieved here probably the best balance between what is needed and what not, leaving space for true design work. And on the first glance there is almost nothing here – slightly to the side the volume knob, to the right a window with pale green display, and to the left three buttons – standby, input selector and dimmer. And this looks just perfect. This impression is aided by the beautiful aluminum front plate, with rounded edges and deeply cut logo. The display is alphanumeric, of reasonable size, and we read off it the current volume and input name. This can be entered manually, as well as the input sensitivity can be set separately for each input. This is possible, because the Thor is controlled by a microprocessor. Looking at the device from the front, we are not prepared for its significant size – depth – and the solid weight. The whole enclosure is made from aluminum (also the screws are from aluminum) and the top and side covers are full of ventilation holes. This is not without a reason, because the device gets hot (and this is a good sign, meaning, that the idle current is high) even if the device is in standby mode – it seems that the preamplifier is always on (as the heat is coming from its location) to eliminate the time needed for stabilization after power on. The back plate is very nice. The speaker terminals are real WBT (model WBT 0765), no look-alikes, and in addition we have two balanced inputs and five RCA sets. In addition there is a tape (or headphone amplifier) output and pre-out. We also have two Ethernet type sockets labeled “Data Com”, a RS-232 for multiroom Crestron or AMX systems and 2 trigger 12V sockets, to be used in more expanded system. There is also an input for an external IR receiver. Top notch – all modern devices should be equipped that way.
When we open the enclosure it is easy to notice, why it weights so much – near to the front plate a gigantic toroidal transformer is placed, (from the company Toroid, with a characteristic logo in the shape of a hedgehog) with 1800W power, with the inside covered with resin. It is separated from the electronics by a heat sink of considerable size, to which eight pairs (four per channel) of power transistors are screwed. Unfortunately their symbols cannot be read. The signal to them is not lead on the PCB (that would be easier) but with solid core cables and then directly to the speaker terminals, placed where they are as there the length of those cables is kept as short as possible. The power amp part is constructed using SMD as well as thread through components, with usage of non-inductive wire resistors and Evox capacitors. The preamplifier and control sections also use SMD parts, but all transistors are traditional – J-FET type. Here we can see that the balanced inputs are not just a marketing hype, as the whole device is balanced – so we have effectively four identical power sections (two channels, and two branches – plus and minus – each). The volume control is done through the use of two ICs with a resistor ladder, the Burr-Brown OPA2134 and keyed with hermetic relays. Interestingly the tape input has a separate symmetrizer, so it is worth to try if it maybe does sound better. The preamplifier output is desymmetrized using the same IC, and the tape output receive a worse one: NE5532. The signal is not passing through any capacitors as it is DC coupled.
The transformer has many secondary windings, including one for the preamplifier. The rectification is done near the circuitry. The power section has a common power supply, but a very nice one, with six very nice BC (formerly Philips) capacitors with 10000μF each. Besides those, in the preamplifier we have four 4700μF capacitors. Interestingly, the power amp PCB has four empty places for fitting additional capacitors (two for each channel), so this can maybe be used for a future upgrade… It is a pity, that this device does not feature separate power supplies for the power sections, as the transformer has separate secondary windings, later on connected in parallel. However I have seen something like this before in the amplifiers from the French company Atoll (in HFOL we have tested the CD player Atoll CD 100) and this is done to optimize the grounding layout. The control section power supply is also stabilized, and very nice capacitors Dubilier were used here. All outputs are gold plated, and also the montage is extremely thorough, as well as the PCB workmanship. We have also to mention the remote controller, as it is splendid – massive, metal cased, can control four devices; and its small buttons with clearly palpable point of contact are quite sensibly placed.
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