Stereo Amplifier

Review: Pioneer A-400 Stereo Amplifier

Pioneer, as an old established Japanese company, have been on the UK scene for many years. Early on they suffered from the inconsistencies of a series of importers and distributors but all that changed when they set up their own branches in Europe, most recently manifested by their prominent British headquarters and warehouse alongside the A40 at Greenford on the outskirts of London: In spite of the fact that they can point to as wide a range of products as most of the Japanese majors, historically it has been one outstanding item which brought them the most notoriety and, one hopes, profit. Back in the 1970s countless hi-fi initiates entered the world of recorded music with the help of their deservedly famous PL12 turntable and at one period a check on any university campus would have revealed dozens of them gracing student rooms. I think it is just possible that they have achieved something like it again with this A-400 amplifier which, for a bargain £230, could happily take its place in a system costing thousands.

A few years ago Pioneer declared its intention of taking a sizeable slice of the UK hi-fi enthusiasts' disposable income by attracting a wider public through clever off-beat advertising and then producing equipment, particularly amplification, tailored to local requirements and to indigenous valuations of what is right and proper. To that end they have studied some of our most widely accepted products, noted their features and facilities, assiduously digested our high fidelity magazines and, having filtered this mass of information to remove the grosser absurdities, produced the A-400.

Obviously one of the things that surfaced was our increasing dismay at products becoming overburdened with unwanted facilities at each annual update. We just do not want the elaboration of controls and the proliferation of coloured lights, all of which apparently delight Japanese home consumers; this very minimalist A-400 is not for them-yet! This is not to say that it could be seen as anything other than a Japanese product; but in spite of its standard black finish, the drum feet and classic layout, it has gained immeasurably in dignity by having only three rotary knobs and their tidy gold legends on the front panel. These controls are a six-position Record Selector switch, which permits dubbing between two tape decks, a similar Input Selector switch and a dual coaxial Volume control, allowing for adjustment of balance. There are also two push switches, one at the left for power on/off-with the only coloured LED above it (a rather feeble red) - and a tiny button alongside the volume control to match your selection of pick up cartridge, magnetic or moving-coil. Oh yes, there is a headphones socket too, but no loudspeaker switching, no tone or loudness controls, no muting or direct inputs-in short, no nonsense.

Internally the only departure from common Japanese practice appears to be an obsession with the hexagon; so a six sided honeycomb extruded array of cells is used for the power output transistor heat sink and this shape is also pressed into the chassis walls and floor wherever additional strength is called for in place of the usual ribbing and ventilation holes. However, the black painted steel top cover is ventilated with the usual oblong slots and this caused me some concern when I spotted that there were a number of live mains connection tags on top of the power transformer bobbin only some 15mm below it. Picking up the nearest suitable metal object, a humble paper clip, I had no difficulty in making contact with them. If the amplifier was switched on any adventurous child would be at risk of a severe electric shock and even if the fuse blew there would still be more than a possibility of a flash burn. On checking the British Standard I found that as these slots measure only 2mm by 10mm no regulation has been broken, but please, Pioneer, fit an insulating cover on your transformers.