review - convert technologies plato
In the past, any single box that was designed to be more than it should be was always seen
as a compromise, and to an extent, that was true. It's nice to have 'one box for one job', but more and more listeners are moving away from racks of boxes, either because they don't have the necessary space to dedicate to such a commodity, or purely because they don't want to give up their living space. Things have moved on though, and there are a growing number of products that are flexible enough to offer the listener far more than just amplifying speakers,
or just playing a compact disc, and with advances in power supply and circuit design, no
longer compromise sound quality. One such product is Plato, from British company
Convert Technologies, based in Derby.
There are four Plato models currently available: Plato Lite which acts as a stand alone streamer/media server; Plato Pre which is a just that, a pre-amplifier, stripped of its power amplification. Plus there are two models with on board amplification - Class B and
Class A, the latter being the subject of this review.
what's in the box?
The Plato is extremely well packaged. The excessively large outer box opens up to reveal the reason for its size - a much smaller box suspended by large pieces of foam in the corners, giving it a good 3 inches of fresh air around it. This inner box in highly unlikely to receive any damage during transit. Inside this is the accessories tray, and then the Plato, with even more protective packaging. Supplied is a mains lead, HDMI cable, a portable DVD drive, a registration card, and a support card with a link to the user manual - no telephone directories to be seen here.
Whilst there is an IOS control app, a Kindle Fire is supplied as a remote control. As the Plato is Android based, the Fire is the best option as a full user experience. Up to this point I've exclusively used iPads, so getting used to the Kindle as a remote and in general has been a learning curve in itself. The Plato's front display also acts as a touch screen, although you'll find it lacks one or two aspects of the control app. The contents of this display can be mirrored to the Plato tablet/phone app, or to a TV connected via the Plato's HDMI output, which supports 1080p.
what does it do?
So what can you squeeze into a box that only measures 370mm wide by 301mm deep by 130mm tall? Quite a lot, it seems. But before we look at what it has, let's mention what it doesn't have. The Plato doesn't have a dedicated subwoofer output, but seeing as the average Plato buyer is buying an all-in-one system, they're more likely to want a relatively compact pair of loudspeakers, and not adding large sub boxes. However, the left/right pre-outputs can be used to add a single or dual subs, if necessary. There's no Bluetooth. That doesn't particularly bother myself as I don't use my phone or iPad as a source, but some might - but there's plenty of cheap USB solutions out there to remedy that. There's also no CD drawer or cleverly concealed CD slot - it has no internal CD drive at all. Initially, some may see that as a drawback, but if you consider the reasons for the purchase of a Plato in the first place, an owner is unlikely to be wanting walls of shelving for their CD collection. A portable USB DVD drive is supplied in the box though. Why? On to what the Plato does have...
The whole Plato family have internal hard disk drives to store digital music. Plug the DVD
drive into the USB input on the front of the Plato and you can start ripping your CDs directly to it. One unique feature the Plato has is that your record collection can be stored in exactly the same way, thanks to it's switchable moving magnet/moving coil phono input on the rear panel. This input gives you options for adjustable gain, resistance, capacitance etc for matching the cartridge used, as well as a rumble filter. Just plug in your turntable, choose the input, and Plato will ask if you want to rip your vinyl to its hard drive. The clever thing about this process is that all metadata for vinyl is provided by external websites such as Gracenote (in exactly the same way as it does so for CDs) and it'll accurately mark the tracks for you too, so unlike most vinyl ripping experiences, you don't have to be present to keep putting in track markers between tracks as you go. Vinyl ripping made easy, or at least, as easy as it can be. Any ripping to the internal hard drive can be done at 16 or 24 bit depth, and either 48, 96, or 192kHz sampling rates. These ripping options also cover the other three analogue inputs - digital sources are recorded "as is" via the four digital inputs. Any of these inputs can be re-labelled by the
user, and input levels matched to avoid switching between quiet and loud sources.
TIDAL and Spotify streaming is provided (with a subscription of course), andPlato also has an integral High Res Audio app, from which you can browse the website, buy high resolution music and download directly to the Plato - no fiddling with PCs and transferring music files - simplicity. With the TuneIn radio app, Plato gives access to tens of thousands of internet radio stations, the quality of which will vary, but most are more than good enough for general listening or discovering new music. Personally, I recommend Radio Paradise and the
Soma FM stations.
A neat little feature is the Plato's Mood
Grid. Instead of manually searching for what you feel like listening to, Mood Grid steps in and makes things nice and
simple for you. This feature can be set to either 25 or 100 moods, giving a number
of variances between the main four
moods on the screen. Each pink mood "blob" has a darker inner blob which dictates just how many tracks there are associated to that mood - the bigger the blob, the more tracks there are to play.
How effect this feature is I can't say at
this point as I'm an album man myself, preferring to listen through full albums rather than individual tracks.
Another handy feature is "download" in the "more options" menu. Using this, any selected media can be downloaded to the current controlling device (phone or tablet) , so you choose the music you want to take with you, whether you're heading out to the office or going on holiday.
Other than the dedicated phono stage, the Plato has three other analogue inputs, three optical digital inputs, and one coaxial digital input. Two optical outputs and a pair of RCA pre-outs are provided for connections to external products or systems.
The two Type A USB inputs and single mini B USB input are provided for backup and storage expansion via other USB devices.
The HDMI output is provided for mirroring the Plato's front display to a television screen, and playback of any DVD material stored on the Plato, as well as viewing high definition TIDAL videos. Plato isn't wireless for reliability reasons - an ethernet connection is required in order to provide remote app control, TIDAL and internet radio streaming, as well as metadata for CD
and vinyl ripping.
This particular model uses a Class A power amplifier section. The likes of Sugden, Devialet, and Krell are just a few of the high end manufacturers who use Class A amplification, and they do so for sound quality reasons. The drawback with Class A is that it normally produces a lot of heat, so amplifiers using this technology tend to run large heat sinks. The Class A version of the Plato uses amplifier biasing technology produced by Convert Technologies in order to reduce heat to a minimum, not only during playback, but also when the unit is sitting idle. For this review, my unit has now been on for over 4 hours, after which time most Class A amplifiers will be able to keep your cup of tea warm - the top of mine is extremely cool, only the sides are slightly warm, but no more so than an average Class B design amplifier.
My suspicions of very low distortion levels were confirmed by the lab results of the HiFi News review by Andrew Everard and Paul Miller here. This review is a more in depth than mine as I'm trying to keep things simple and to the point. Power output, which is officially rated at 50wpc into 8ohms, was measured at 65wpc in the above review, with 100wpc achieved into a 4ohm load. That's very good going for a small box, and testament to the Plato's design with regards to keeping the unit cool to the touch. The cheaper Class B Plato trades some quality for running even cooler, which also makes the Class B version ideal for those looking for a more discreet system, allowing it to be used in cabinets or tight shelf spaces.
It doesn't seem to matter what album I listen to, Plato does a sterling job of convincing me
that it IS a product worthy of being associated with the phrase, 'high end'. There's no
congestion or distortion. The whole soundstage is wide open and free to breathe well outside
of the speakers. The Sabre DAC has no problems weeding minute details out of the music,
only helping it to sound even more convincing and satisfying.
As much as I have listened to Alva Noto + Ryuichi Sakamoto's collaborative album "utp_", the entrance of the violin on the opening track, Attack/Transition, made me jump, so the unit certainly doesn't lack in the dynamic department. The slow build up of the third track, Particle 1, doesn't become muddled, keeping a nice, wide open window on the deep, three dimensional soundstage produced by the multiple electronic, woodwind, and string instruments used. My usual test of Neil Finn's solo album Try Whistling This was handled as I expected. On lesser systems, it usually sounds badly produced, muddled with a soft, ill defined bass. The Plato handled it well, with bass lines kept under control and nice and easy to follow. As with utp_, spatial information was excellent, with instruments occupying their own space, never
stifled or muted.
Listening to Radiohead's 20th anniversary remaster of OK Computer via TIDAL still produces a better sound than I've heard from some hi-fi systems, recreating the same sort of positive aspects that I've already mentioned above from CD quality rips.
I have to say I have really enjoyed the Plato/Ophidian Mambo combination, it's one of those systems that has made me want to run through my whole collection, including the stuff I hardly play, just to see how it all sounds through it. For those that like a crisply detailed presentation that is effortless to listen to, the Ophidian Mambo loudspeakers fitted the bill perfectly. With the Ophidian Mambo's being compact floorstanding loudspeakers, this is a great system for
medium to small sized rooms.
The Plato's weight to size ratio is pretty high, weighing in at around 15kg, which gives a reassuring sense of quality. Part of this will be down to the chunky base plate that is unique to the Class A model, but you can tell care has been taken as a 'knock' on the casework doesn't result in a bell-like ringing like some similarly priced products that could be mentioned.
Plato's whole design is modular, allowing easy servicing and upgrading, should the need arise.
Plato offers a hugely simple system that rips CDs and records with equal ease, offering a true one box system solution for those looking to do away with their source components. Despite being a 'one box' solution, it sounds anything but, offering true high fidelity for those who don't want to compromise on sound quality. In this regard, Plato has surpassed my expectations. On top of that, its control app has been faultless since initial plug in, and that's one aspect
that has to be right with any product.