Con­vert Tech­nolo­gies Plato Class A

FOR Im­pres­sive ver­sa­til­ity; fine build qual­ity; tidy sound AGAINST Sound lacks a lit­tle ex­cite­ment; video per­for­mance

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

“It’s a breeze to record vinyl. We put Alice by Tom Waits on our Clea­r­au­dio In­no­va­tion Wood record player and mar­vel at how easy the process is”

What is Con­vert Tech­nolo­gies’ Plato Class A? It’s a won­der­fully ver­sa­tile sin­gle-box so­lu­tion for those who want to play mu­sic (and, to a lesser de­gree, movies) to a high stan­dard with­out hav­ing stacks of elec­tron­ics lit­ter­ing the lis­ten­ing room.

It will stream files from an on-board 2TB drive or from a NAS de­vice on the same net­work, as well as ac­cept in­puts from a range of dig­i­tal and ana­logue sources, in­clud­ing a record player. Yes, this dig­i­tal Swiss Army knife also has an ad­justable phono stage. The built-in power am­pli­fier means that all you need to get go­ing is a pair of speak­ers and a home net­work. As far as grown-up hi-fi goes, this is about as neat and flex­i­ble a so­lu­tion as we’ve seen.

About a decade ago, we were con­vinced that me­dia cen­tre PCS were the fu­ture. Those we re­viewed at the time seemed to have ev­ery­thing in their favour, com­bin­ing cut­ting-edge spec­i­fi­ca­tions in a neat, mod­u­lar, one-box elec­tron­ics pack­age. They per­formed well too, to a de­gree.

The prob­lem was that they were still very much PCS. They took ages to start up, were clunky to use and crashed on oc­ca­sion, as com­put­ers are prone to do. While such things are ac­cepted with a re­luc­tant shrug when do­ing com­puter tasks, we’re far less for­giv­ing when such a unit fails to load a film or gets stuck skip­ping mu­sic tracks. Un­sur­pris­ingly, they never caught on in any significant way for do­mes­tic use. Is it pos­si­ble for Con­vert Tech­nolo­gies to suc­ceed where oth­ers have failed? Pos­si­bly.

Ro­bust and re­li­able

Dur­ing a cou­ple of weeks’ worth of use, the Plato Class A proves a gen­er­ally ro­bust per­former. Only once does it need a restart to get things work­ing.

Rather than de­vel­op­ing its own op­er­at­ing sys­tem, Con­vert has taken the sen­si­ble ap­proach of us­ing a cus­tomised ver­sion of An­droid in­stead. Any­one fa­mil­iar with An­droid from phones or tablets will find the Plato’s op­er­a­tion sec­ond na­ture. We’d add only that it oc­ca­sion­ally feels a lit­tle clunky in this Av-based con­text, though.

The large touch-screen dis­play on the stark front panel is rea­son­ably sharp, but could do with greater con­trast, par­tic­u­larly when viewed off axis. We think most peo­ple will end up con­trol­ling the Plato us­ing the ded­i­cated app. It’s An­droid and IOS com­pat­i­ble, but Con­vert thought­fully sup­plies an Ama­zon Kin­dle Fire tablet (pre­loaded with the ap­pro­pri­ate soft­ware) in the box. The com­pany also in­cludes an LG DVD-RW disc drive, so rip­ping your CDS into the Plato is easy.

We value the in­put

There’s no short­age of con­nec­tiv­ity here. There are three op­ti­cals, a sin­gle coax­ial and a trio of line-level ana­logue in­puts. There’s even a ded­i­cated mov­ing­mag­net/mov­ing-coil phono stage that can be con­fig­ured to match your car­tridge prop­erly thanks to gain and in­put im­ped­ance ad­just­ments. Add an HDMI out­put and a plen­ti­ful sup­ply of USBS – as well as built-in Tidal in­te­gra­tion – and we can’t think of a sce­nario in which the Plato is likely to get caught short.

Its 50W-per-chan­nel power am­pli­fier mod­ules fea­ture a vari­able-bias sys­tem that al­lows the first 8W to be de­liv­ered in Class A mode. The com­pany has taken a great deal of care to de­sign the cool­ing ar­range­ment so the unit doesn’t run too warm. We barely get it to heat up with our usual lis­ten­ing lev­els.

The en­gi­neers have also worked hard to min­imise the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween var­i­ous dig­i­tal and ana­logue sec­tions, so max­imis­ing per­for­mance. Con­vert makes a ver­sion of the Plato called the Class B, which has a more pow­er­ef­fi­cient power-amp mod­ule. This has the same claimed power out­put but will run even cooler. The com­pany ob­vi­ously doesn’t think it sounds as good though – it charges a whop­ping £1000 less for it.

Con­vert has taken a min­i­mal­ist ap­proach to the ex­te­rior de­sign. Apart from the main screen, a USB con­nec­tion and small On/off but­ton, the rest of the fas­cia is bare. It’s a solidly built case too, high in qual­ity and feel­ing nicely damped. The unit weighs in at a rel­a­tively hefty 15kg – ei­ther in a black/ white fin­ish (like the unit here) or all-white. It’s pos­si­ble to get high-gloss op­tions too – in black, white, sil­ver or red – but these com­mand a £300 pre­mium.

The Plato is gen­er­ally easy to use, though the app has a few quirks. Once you switch in­put, you need to press the ‘Now Play­ing’ tab to con­trol the vol­ume, for ex­am­ple. It’s a pain if your ex­ter­nal source is already play­ing and the vol­ume level is set too high. Beyond that, we like the app – it’s rel­a­tively easy to use (on the whole) and doesn’t crash much.

Take your part­ners

We con­nect the Plato Class A with Spen­dor’s rather splen­did £2200 A4 floor­standers, which are pretty sen­si­ble part­ners. We also try our ref­er­ence ATC SCM50S – which, at dou­ble the Plato’s price, are pos­si­bly not. What the ATCS do, though, is give us more of an open win­dow into the unit’s per­for­mance. For the most part it’s good news. We start off with Amy Wine­house’s

Back To Black and like what we hear. The Class A has a clean and pre­cise sound; one that has enough in the way of de­tail and agility to please. Its pre­sen­ta­tion has a good amount of punch, de­liv­er­ing the track’s jaunty rhythm with con­vic­tion. Wine­house’s vo­cals come through with clar­ity, and cut free of the in­stru­men­tal back­drop with ease. It’s a pleas­ant pre­sen­ta­tion, though not ex­actly thrilling. There’s a lack of dy­namic verve, so­lid­ity and en­thu­si­asm that adds up to a per­for­mance that’s lis­ten­able rather than en­thralling.

Tidy

We move on to Mahler’s Sym­phony No 1 and the story re­mains much the same. We like the Con­vert’s tidy ap­proach to mu­sic re­play. It’s or­gan­ised and in­for­ma­tive with a tonal­ity that’s on the taut side of neu­tral. Stereo imag­ing is on the com­pact side, but the sound­stage is nicely pre­sented and lay­ered.

Dy­nam­ics could be stronger, as could the sense of scale, but the Plato gets the ba­sics right, de­liv­er­ing a clear and ar­tic­u­late sound fur­nished with enough in the way of in­stru­men­tal tex­ture and dy­namic nu­ance to keep us in­ter­ested. It’s a breeze to record vinyl. We put

Alice by Tom Waits on our ref­er­ence Clea­r­au­dio In­no­va­tion Wood record player and mar­vel at just how easy the process is. The unit even cor­rectly iden­ti­fies the al­bum and finds the art­work and track ti­tles. The sound of the record­ing re­flects the qual­ity of the record player well, though the over­all char­ac­ter of the pre­sen­ta­tion re­mains con­sis­tent with that heard when stream­ing from the in­ter­nal drive or from an ex­ter­nal NAS.

The video tech

We load some video clips onto the hard drive to judge the qual­ity of the HDMI out­put and are left a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed. A Full HD clip of the Tom Hanks ve­hi­cle

Sully proves a lit­tle noisy, lack­ing the clar­ity and punch of the pic­ture we’re used to see­ing from budget Blu-ray play­ers. It re­mains per­fectly ac­cept­able for oc­ca­sional use, but we wouldn’t be tempted to use the Plato as our main video source. To be fair to Con­vert Tech­nolo­gies, the lack of sur­round­sound sup­port sug­gests that serious AV use isn’t a pri­or­ity here.

There’s much to like about the Plato Class A. It’s well made and, once you’ve got the hang of the An­droid OS, fairly easy to use. The ded­i­cated app is a good one, while the ex­ten­sive fea­ture list is im­pres­sive. Per­for­mance is good too for a prod­uct of this type, though it’s not up to the lev­els of de­cent hi-fi sep­a­rates.

To ex­pect it to be so is miss­ing its point. If you need a one-box unit that cov­ers pretty much all mu­sic-re­play bases, the Plato is well worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

One-box so­lu­tions can o en be a bit hit and miss, but the Plato Class A’s ex­ten­sive spec sheet sets it up to score a bull’s eye

Plato buy­ers get a free Kin­dle Fire sup­plied in the box (sofware pre­loaded) and an LG DVD-RW drive for rip­ping CDS

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Aus­tere to some, min­i­mal­ist to oth­ers; op­er­a­tion is via the touch­screen dis­play, although most will likely use the app

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