RIVIERA AUDIO LABS APL-01SE PREAMPLIFIER REVIEW


There is something very inviting and distinct about the Riviera Labs audio products. It's only been three years since they've entered the high-end audio market and in a relatively short period, the brand has managed to establish an impact of its own. Quite a few highly demanding audiophiles and music lovers embraced their products or even build the system around their products.

I've already reviewed Riviera Audio Labs AFM-50 hybrid monoblocks and really liked them.


APL-01SE preamplifier follows the instantly recognizing aesthetics and represents the current Riviera Audio Labs top-level preamplifier. At the 34.000 EUR (plus VAT where applicable) APL-01SE does have few rivals in that price range, but as you can read on, the APL-01SE has a lot to offer and differs enough to be more than just interesting upper echelon preamplifier.  

THE INNER HEART


Let us look closer, what makes the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier so special and what sets it poles apart...


OPTIMIZATION

Everything connected with Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE design is most highly optimized to provide a pure musical outcome in the absence of mechanical sonic traits. Such optimization results in many aspects, that are further explained in the paragraphs below...

THE CIRCUIT

Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE is a full tube, pure class A, zero feedback circuit design. This refined circuit offers technically proficient solutions that translate to exceptional musical results. 

The SRPP of 6350/6463 was designed and optimized in such a way that deals with any kind of "distortions" in such a way that our receptors decode it as natural, transparent and non-fatigued.


As you can read on, while APL-01SE does have a rich, vibrant hearth it's not a saturating type of preamplifier, that can often be the case. Riviera Audio Labs flagship preamplifier was designed from the ground up to avoid any distortions. The initial goal was followed throughout to reach the most natural sound. On contrary to the introduction of the pleasant saturation, Luca has painstakingly avoided any introduction of distortions across the complete preamplifier design.  

While the unnatural distortions are avoided by all means, like with the rest of Riviera Audio Labs products, the circuits are designed in such a way, that they're intimately mirroring the psychoacoustic's principles of the human ear mechanism. Something that Lamm and FM Acoustics seem to be implementing for years with great success. 


APL-01SE achieves this sort of mystified phenomenon through the optimization of the working points of the active devices and the careful selection of passive components.  

POWER SUPPLY 

APL-01SE implements a massive and oversized linear power supply (200VA) transformer. Filtering is executed with the double-PI filter, using the choke. The anode power supply is highly regulated, but not with the standard series regulator.


APL-01SE uses a unique, parallel regulated power supply. Overall, there are six regulated power supplies in the Riviera Audio Labs preamplifier.

BALANCED INPUTS AND OUTPUTS

APL-01SE offers a fully balanced operation. This is achieved with ultra-high-quality transformers on both inputs and outputs with mu-metal core and mu-metal shielding. 


Choosing the transformers of the same quality ensures the same quality from the inputs to the outputs. 

VOLUME CONTROL

A Top quality TKD motorized potentiometer is used in a combination with an internal ladder configuration. This clearly differentiates APL-01SE and mimics the best switching solution by offering and smoothness and gradual behavior of a real potentiometer. 


The volume control module is elastically isolated from the chassis to avoid transmitting vibration from the motor to the rest of the preamp's innards' structure. 

BALANCE CONTROL

On contrary to the usual implementation, the balance control is made of two separate potentiometers on the output, not on the input. This particular solution avoids the standard "cascade" of two potentiometers on the input (the volume pot and the balance pot). Riviera Audio Labs strongly believes such solutions introduce considerable degradation of the sound.


CAPACITORS

The "only" capacitor in the signal path is not exactly a sloe component. It's a blending of three different caps using, that uses a trio of various technologies. They are refined and tuned by listening tests for the best result. 


CHASSIS

Serious thought was dedicated to the mechanical behavior of the preamplifier, that is Luca's opinion has a big influence on the sonic output. 


Extra, extreme attention was dedicated to the mechanical construction of the preamplifier, that compliments other optimization mentioned above. The APL01-SE weights over 25kg due to a massive, machined aluminum enclosure that was designed from the very beginning to deal with unwanted micro-vibrations and resonances.

LISTENING AND OPTIMISATION

Critical listening evaluations and needed optimizations were made in the final stage of the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier fine-tuning. While many manufacturers focus on a singular point, APL-01SE embraces many attributes like unrestrained resolution, grand dynamics, maximum sonic impact, deepest low frequencies, maximum transparency, and unaltered transient respond, maximum speed, etc. 

THE BALANCE

Due to the R & D, the Riviera Audio Labs team tried to find the perfect balance between all the aspects. Each part of voicing matters and finally results in the proper rendition of the music. When all of the attention is prioritized at one aspect the needed balance collapses, the harmony is gone and consequently, the reproduced music sounds bland and un-involving. 


The initial logic and ultimate goal of any Riviera Audio Labs product is the delivery of all of the aspects of the music. Something that is easily experienced with in the live concert.

PSYCHOACOUSTICS!?


Especially with Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier it's more than needed to address the psychoacoustics part. 

This field deals with the acoustics and general auditory physiology. It addresses the intimate connections between sound essential elements and the auditory reaction it ignites. 

Those who've been following my writings for a long time know how evocative I've been about the gain and all the associated paraphernalia that is closely connected to how cognisant we are to the subtle changes in gain. 


Our ear is highly sensitive to the sonic intensity and the sound pressure allows us to discern the minuscule (0 dB SPL) and very loud sounds (120 dB). 

Our ear is most sensitive to the frequencies up to 8kHz and that's why many audiophiles claim, that is the upper-mids where the magic happens, yet also the fundamental low and high-frequencies matter a lot in the delivery of the music.  

Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier has shown proven to be a splendid perfmorer across the complete frequency range. 

Both lows and highs need much bigger sound pressure levels to act in sync with other frequencies. This is due to the limited dynamic range and the very reason why integrated amps and preamps from the past had a loudness knob. It's a matter of science and physics.  

In the absence of dedicated loudness, knob music has to be played at a certain level. On a more than few occasions, I've witnessed the system and components evaluations at extremely low levels which still bewilders yours truly and shows how even seasoned evaluators and "expert" presenters fail to embrace and exhibit the basic logic of the trade.   


In reality, almost every album if not a single track comes with a different dynamic range. This is closely connected to the way that the music was recorded and how it was mastered. If you use Roon, the latest upgrade shows the dynamic range of each album and song (in tracklisting). It's not even funny how contrasting this can be... When I'm asked why the remote control is a mandatory feature of any high-end audio preamplifier, I usually just point at this self-explanatory facts. It's rarely a simple matter of plug and play, even with the vinyl records. 

I liked and loved the way Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier handles the volume. Perhaps even more importantly, I truly appreciate the APL-01SE dealings with the above-mentioned epicenter and critical frequency bands. 

Somehow the APL-01SE acted naturally with the cochlea's modus operandi. Unproblematic dealing with the complex frequency structures clearly shows how Luca's and Riviera Audio Labs' heavily research the intriguing domain of psychoacoustics. 

I'm sure, that many if not most of you have experienced the particular traits or even frequency bumps with various line level preamplifiers. This is closely connected with the way each preamplifier deals with the passing of the signal and with gain attenuation. There are many ways to treat the fragile signal, but not every, even most exotic principle is a success story. On the contrary... Even some of the most cherished preamps dismantle the music into bits and fractions, that have little to do with the actual music's message. 


It fells how Riviera Audio Labs has profoundly addressed everything related to the proper inner working and attenuation of the signal. The gain is easily matched (with the help of two gain knobs if needed) and music never felt congested or uneven across the complete frequency spectrum. 

The same goes for gain distribution. I've found a pleasant synergy match across various system combinations and partnering with different amps. 

With APL-01SE, it was not all about just adding the gain, but about the fuller, more intimate presentation of the music. 

Preamplifier needs to let the music fully expand and unfold and the Riviera Audio Labs flagship preamp acted above of just being exemplary. It just sounded right from song to song, album to album.  

THE SOUND OF MUSIC!?


There are many fine discovers I've encountered over the evaluation time with the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier. A lot is hidden under the Riviera's beautiful outer shell. The review won't allow me to touch upon all, but I'll try to share some of the most important aspects of this premium, upper echelon Italian preamp. 

Over the various tracks, regardless of the genre, I've never encountered a slight trait of fatigue. Even at the upper echelon level preamplification, this is not always the norm. Sad, but true. This is perhaps a bit harder (and logical) to discern at very low volumes,  but when we're listening louder, no matter how long the interval this unwanted hubris becomes apparent. If our ears are exposed to the highly intense sonic pressure our ear mechanism responds to this with fatigue, which is a sort of protection apparatus, that prevents not only ear damage but also unwanted stress. 

Especially with electronic and classical music, APL-01SE acted extraordinarily in this regard. Riviera Audi Labs preamplifier ignited something that didn't happen for a long time... The very late and prolonged listening sessions, that lasted up to the morning hours and this tells more than enough about the quality of the preamp.

Another distinctive feature that needs to be highlighted is the predictability phenomena. It goes beyond a simple intrigue on how intimately close our aural receptors operate with the logical parts of the brain. We are being fooled by our senses minutely without our consent and the APL-01SE preamplifier undoubtedly explores the psychoacoustics mechanics. 

The plot thickens... If we know that a very loud passage of the song is coming up, we tend to experience much lower dynamism as if we're listening to the unknown song with the sudden and unexpected dynamic shifts for the first time. Intriguingly, the Riviera APL-01SE somehow accomplished to provide more balancing act, letting the energy-momentum to expand with life-like qualities. Something that reminds of the live music characteristics. 

Beyond surprise, the APL-01SE didn't sacrifice the energy impact but presented it more plausible that yours truly expected. It's something to be experienced hands-on to fully comprehend, but it's a feature I've haven't stumble upon so far. I'm not sure if even Luca is fully aware of this sensation, but it clearly shows, that something very unique is ongoing under the APL-01SE hood! 

The almost cryptic, yet non-ordinary potent nature of the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier continues with the so-called masking effect (or lack of it).  

Our perception of various bits of convoluted sound is connected with the varying degree of dampening. Based on my observations and listening notes over the years such a sonic veil can be of variable degree and it's closely connected with the preamp electronic design and circuits. 

The intensity of sonic data overlaying is most indispensable correlated with the preamp's concept. To a significant degree, Lamm Industries' preamplifiers exhibit this very perceptibly, but I haven't evaluated their top tier preamps in my reference setup to fully endorse the overall effect with the complete product range.   

Music' structure and its DNA is far more complex than we can think of. What to talk about the process of reproducing it. At the end of the day, it's about the level of obstruction that preamplifier introduces to our perception and the level of aural illusion, that is materialized.  

I could easily point out that Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier doesn't' alter the loudness perception in the way the some, even more, expensive preamplifiers do. With APL-01SE preamp the level of sonic data unmasking reaches a different sphere where the newly introduced density allows remarkable music's insights. A lab-like precision sonic discovery does come and it's backed by the technical proficiency, but not on the behalf of destroying the harmonic content of tone's spectral shaping and shading.    

Yes, this particular music audit is presented in a bit unusual way. As APL-01SE preamplifier does act intriguingly unlike the usual suspects it felt mandatory to reveal it's potency in a profound, non-ordinary way. 

But to sum it up in a bit more conventional way, the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier easily fulfill all the needed audiophile demands and qualities. 

It just doesn't do it ordinarily. If the usual upper level high-end audio preamplifier provides the adventurous peek and sensual lurking into the favorite music's repertoire, the Riviera APL-01SE preamp act as the genuine via medium. It's a sonic telescoping radar that comes with a higher resolution and extraordinary interactive feedback. 

While most of the preamplifiers only touch and mirrors music's surface, the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier reflects the music's inner core with an enlivening and it's very own interactive ability. 

Again... Feature alone worthy of all of the high praise!

THE CONCLUSION


More than any tube preamplifier I've had the pleasure of listening too over the years the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier embraces the Law of Prägnanz. 

As with visuality, our aural sense of perception will decode highly complex sonic in its own way. Some will say, we tend to rationally simplify the received dense musical package to let it unfold. 

Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier can present the complex music structures with impressive primary principles of gestalt without entering the ambiguous realms. This alone sets it far apart from most of the offerings on the market. 


Warm, radiant and rich inner nucleus easily renders the needed density without ever introducing any traits of brittleness or causing congestion.  

I was considerably surprised by the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier impact and performance. It has smitten yours truly with what it has to offer and how the music is conveyed. The only preamplifier that similarly addressed my inner clockings was Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier and that tells a lot about APL-01SE qualities. The organic nature, with an instant captivating sense of music's delivery, is something to be heard and experienced. It puts the APL-01SE on the higher-order audio throne and it deserves more than a worthy designation among the upper echelon high-end audio line-level preamplifiers. 

Having such a harmonically rich and potent inner kernel might call for some system matching, but this was not problematic with my cable looms that includes Nordost Valhalla 2, ZenSati sILENzIO, Tellurium Q Statements, Goebel High-End Lacorde Statement, etc. Like with any serious evaluation it wasn't an instant plug and play, yet after a few hours of experimenting, I've found a likable and preferable system match, that only changed slightly at the final stage. The end results, with a mixture of above mention cables, was, of course, dependable on the electronics being used. As most of you already know, yours truly don't believe in black and white component insertion magic per se. Finding a proper balance within the system takes a lot of time, multiple evaluations and a bit of mileage to reach the needed level of performance. To truly nail the proper system balancing act represents an art of itself.

This year I've hosted many people from industry and manufacturers in my reference listing room. One thing that was consistently motioned and appreciated was the proper distribution of energy and this is intimately connected with the optimum gain matching. It's a touchy subject that irritates some of the people, but it's factual and easy to demonstrate, even to the non-trained ear. And; it's crucial in achieving a true state of the art high-end audio reproduction. The APL-01SE's overall gain is about 12dB, but it can be reduced by the two separate gain controls (left and right) down to 3dB. This should be a strong foundation that lets exploration within most of the systems...

Riviera Audio Labs' top-level preamp's accomplishment was a delightfully surprising. Surely I've expected something special from Luca and Silvio, but not exactly on such level or refinement and involvement. 

APL-01SE is a remarkable preamplifier that in the age of endless déjà vu quasi standouts and quirky offerings provides a significant antidote. APL-01SE encompasses the true Italian spirit of timeless industrial design with sonic performance that opens up a very different window to an endless music universe. It's pure Italian in its vibrant way of transcription of the music and sonic gratification deserves a different kind of appreciation. APL-01SE is of a higher degree pedigree and a music machine that not only stand out of the crowd but also truly matters! 

For what it represents I'm granting the Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier the 2019 Mono and Stereo Editors Choice Award. A remarkable achievement, regardless of the tube or solid-state designs! 

Nothing in our world is universal or act as such. And the same rule applies to all of the high-end components. The sole leitmotif of my reviews is to provide enough usual insights, that would help audiophiles and music lovers to connect the dots and see if the evaluated product fits into their scope. 

Riviera Audio Labs APL-01SE preamplifier comes with so many positive attributes that it's hard to overlook the preamp's broad applicable insertion ability. If you're operating at such a level of sonic significance do consider the APL-01SE most seriously.    

Matej Isak

PRICE


- 34.000 EUR (without VAT)

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Tube Line Preamplifier
  • Zero Feedback
  • Pure “Class A”
  • All tube circuit
  • Double PI-filter, solid state, stabilized power supply using a non-conventional circuit
  • 2 Balanced Inputs (Transformer coupled)
  • 5 Unbalanced Inputs
  • 1 Aux input
  • Tape Loop (IN/OUT)
  • Output transformers
  • 2 balanced line outputs + 2 unbalanced line outputs (for multi amplification purpose)
  • Remote control
  • Dimensions: 44x49x19.5h cm. Weight: 30 Kg.

CONTACT



RIVIERA AUDIO LABORATORIES S.r.l.
Italy