Perreaux Silhouette SXP2 and SX60m
Some years ago I reviewed the SXH1 headphone amp made by iconic Kiwi manufacturer, Perreaux. It came in a neat little black and silver box taking up the floorspace of a paperback novel, but as headphone amps don’t need a lot of real estate, the small size was unremarkable. However, Perreaux had plans to launch an entire range of separates in the same form factor, a concept that I doubted would be viable. As proof that my opinion is worthless, there are now nine different members of the Silhouette family, including a CD player, USB DAC, phono preamp, a 25W integrated amp, and more, including the passive preamp and 60W monoblocs on test here.
I’ve learned that the physical scale of Perreaux’s Silhouette products is out of all proportion to their performance. The SXH2 headphone amp, successor to the SXH1, is a remarkable device, creating the tangible illusion of a musical performance in the listener’s surroundings from a pair of squeaky earmuffs. Yet, while I could believe a passive pre-amp would work nicely in the same box as the headphone amp – it’s just a potentiometer and a rotary switch, after all – sixty high fidelity speaker-driving watts from a box this size was surely asking too much? I remained sceptical.
Let’s scope these little guys out. The SXP2 preamp and the SX60m ‘mono-aural amplifiers’ occupy the same sturdy steel case, finished in matt black, with an engraved aluminium faceplate. Though handsome in an understated way, the Silhouettes are rather dinky, so if rack presence is a big deal for you I suggest you find a second hand deal on Perreaux’s Reference Classic 750 power amp in Ferrari red. Get one for me while you’re at it.
The pre-amp sports a pair of knobs, for volume control and source selection, and quite marvellous they are, too. Machined from aluminium with inset rubber O-rings for grip, they communicate a precise and expensive sense of control, which is quite a thrill to someone as vague and cheap as me. On the back panel, three unbalanced (RCA) line inputs, two RCA pre-amp outputs, and one RCA line out. The wee monoblocs possess balanced (XLR) and unbalanced inputs and outputs for daisy-chaining and high quality binding-posts that seem almost ridiculously large on their tiny cases.
Wasting no time, the SXP2 and SX60m pair are a brilliant combination. I tried the SX60s first using the pre-outs from my Plinius integrated amp, and couldn’t fault them at the price, despite the fact they were energising my rather insensitive (86dB) Castle speakers. Full bodied, even-handed, communicative, they were simply very good at their job. Indeed, the SX60m’s are those rare amplifiers that hold each element of an ensemble in place so as to give the listener a better idea of what the musicians were trying to achieve. We can attribute this quality in part to the separation of the amplification for each channel into its own box with dedicated power supply, eradicating the cross-talk that can plague stereo power amps.
At normal listening volumes the little Perreauxs are just the ticket, and they only showed signs of strain when I made a bid for concert hall sound pressure levels. We must be fair, 60 watts into 8ohms can only go so far, and the effortlessness that larger high end amps convey is not on show here. The manufacturer reports a lift of 30% in power into 75W into 4ohms, which is respectable, if not astonishing. Compare that to the 80% 8 to 4ohm power output increase in Perreaux’s Radiance integrated amp. Still, so long as your speakers are 88dB or better in sensitivity, you’ll find the SX60s wanting in the power department only when trying to hear the sweat in Keith Moon’s eyebrows.
Moving rapidly away from that unwholesome image, the good times really start to roll when the SX60m’s are fed a signal from their passive pre-amp sibling. Passive pre’s are often lauded by hi-fi enthusiasts for their transparency, and the SXP2 manifested this virtue in abundance. While there was a slight drop in volume when switching from the active pre-amp in my Plinius to the unpowered SXP2, it was more than made up for by the completeness of the performance emanating from the speakers. That is, everything but the loudness got better. A faint and hitherto unnoticed haziness was lifted from the sound, and the arrangement of instruments, especially in raucous or highly orchestrated pieces, became more intelligible. For example, some tracks on Dodgy’s Free Peace Sweet CD are an undifferentiated splodge, but these were disentangled and laid out afresh by the miniature Perreaux threesome. I was highly impressed, and there was no hint of the dynamic restraint of which passive pre’s are sometimes guilty – on the contrary percussion and bass were full of snap and verve.
Once again, Perreaux has built miniature marvels. For anything but sheer power and bulk they deserve a warm recommendation, especially in their price range.
Perreaux Silhouette SXP2 Passive Preamplifier ($699) and SX60m Monoblocs ($999 each)