Lyrita tube amplifier


Well-Known Member
Jul 7, 2008
It was a lazy Thursday afternoon in Chennai and I was parked a few yards in front of Park Sheraton in Alwarpet - waiting. The late afternoon was lazy for me if not for the bustling Chennai crowd which was busy getting wherever it gets to amidst all the indescribably messy traffic. I had cut out a chunk of time to experience a Tube amplifier at Rajiv's place. In this I was not alone. Ramanujam who had dropped in here from Mumbai on a short visit also was joining me for an independent assessment of the Lyrita amplifier at Rajiv's place. He was also joined by his brother, Nikesh - a keen Carnatic music rasika.

Efforts towards this meeting were on much earlier in the week - with many quick PMs exchanged between Ramanujam, Rajiv and myself. The plan was to be at Rajiv's place around 4:30 pm and this was accomplished - more or less. Ramanujam along with his brother Nikesh met up with me and we drove together to Rajiv's apartment.

Before I get onto the listening experience as such, a word about the objectives of the members visiting Rajiv's place. I was looking forward to getting my first taste of a tube amplifier - being used only to solid state amplifiers till then. My listening material for the most part is vocal based. Carnatic music, Jazz, Blues mixed with the occassional Rock/Pop hit and the usual smidgen of film music is the full range. My objective was to check and verify if Lyrita's valve amplifier could give me a better musical experience than my present NAD C372. With an aim to cut out as many variables as possible, I had decided on taking my PC - which I was using as the source - along with my speakers (EPOS M12.2). So, effectively the only equipment that I should hear different from my NAD amp would be the tube amplifier. Along with the changed listening environment, of course.

From speaking with Ramanujam and with his brother Nikesh, it appeared that we shared quite a bit of common musical interest. Ramanujam had already listened to the Lyrita amps at Viren Bakshi's place in Delhi. His objective insofar as I understand was to check the range of the tube amplifier system in terms of driving different speaker loads. To that end, it worked out well with me bringing my EPOS speakers to the party. With its low sensitivity (87 db/w) it would be the perfect test for the valve amplifiers in terms of being a difficult load. Such was our thought.

As luck would have it we could not have had a better host than Rajiv. A very warm and thoughtful man - he offered us refreshments and juice before our main course. Main course being the music of course. Rajiv is a big-time analog man. Tubes and LP's are his world. Not surprising considering a look around his home would get you glimpses of vintage speaker drivers, Luxman amplifiers even a Quad valve amp - which was his pride and joy. Although we did not listen to the Quad amp that day, Rajiv did mention that we could try listening to that amp maybe next week. And I for one sure do look forward to that!

Before the review proper, a word or two on how it is going to be structured. Many a time, listening to an audio setup it is not those carefully thought-out phrases that appear on your mind. Most of the time there are those one word expressions or single liners which the system and very rarely the music itself coaxes out of you. I think it is important to look at those expressions engendered in you by the system and look deeper to see what gave cause to them. Such would be the approach that would be attempted herein.

Rajiv's Audio setup:

Custom made, Altec Lansing driver based speakers with horn loaded tweeters,
LINN LP12/ITTOK/Asak Turntable
Philips DVD player (used very occasionally)
Lyrita 2A3 valve amplifier (3.5 watts)
Lyrita matching phono stage
A pair of 45 tubes to mix and match (2 watts)
The listening environment was a 10X10 bedroom with minimal furniture and with the seating at around 7 feet from the speakers. The gap between the speakers on the X axis was about 4.5 to 5 feet. The EPOS speakers (when they were used) were slightly toed in towards the listener.

Rajiv had the 45 tubes on to start with as he preferred this tube over the 2A3 despite the drop in power. We started the audition off with a couple of Neil Diamond numbers as he happens to be Ramanujam's favourite artist. What we listened in those first few minutes was wholly analog. We listened to the LP fed via the phono stage to the imposing custom made speakers. Not being very familiar with Neil Diamond songs, I was not able to come to any conclusion. But I certainly enjoyed what I heard. Ramanujam appeared to be relishing the fare on offer. Still on analog we moved on to Dave Brubeck's classic - Take Five. In this case, the LP was older and there was the odd crack and pop sound and I was not too convinced with the detailing in the reproduction. However all of the music somehow sounded mellow and warm. Is it at the cost of detail? I will have to say yes. There was also not that ultimate bite in the saxophone and the ripe sounds produced at the ending notes or in a flourish piece were also not being reproduced with attack. Considering that Rajiv's custom made speakers are specified at 50 W for the low frequency, I thought they did a good job of reproducing the kick drums. The ultimate bit of impact was sacrificed for timing. But I could definitely live with what they had on offer.

Having had my first taste of analog I was eager to sample my 'digital' fare on offer. Rajiv was extremely kind to offer his Lenovo monitor to use with my PC and we hooked it all up quite quickly. Cooperation from Ramanunjam and his brother Nikesh, in this regard, must be made a specific mention of. We also unpacked the EPOS M12.2 speakers and hooked the whole system together. We fired the PC up and got the party truly going in impressive time!

All Lossless and FLAC files mentioned hitherto were played on cPLay (a software audio player) and the occasional MP3 (320Kbps rip) was played using Foobar with the Sox resampler. Almost all music was played right off the PC hard disc with only one or two numbers being played from the DVD drive.

The first voice to ring out of the system was Unni Krishnan's. His 'Nee Irangaayenil' rang out true and clear from the EPOS speakers. For a moment I think all of us were flabbergasted and I am sure all of us threw a glance at the volume knob. And yes, the knob was just between the 9 and 10 O' clock position. Remember the tubes we were using were the 2 Watt 45 and not even the 3.5 watt 2A3! To everybody believing that these valve powered systems cannot power conventional speakers I have a happy surprise coming. These valves are perfectly capable of driving even conventional speakers to decent levels provided your listening area is not huge. Granted - the kind of music we listened to was mostly vocal and instrumental and we never ever got near 90 db listening levels leave alone head-banging ones. But then according to most sources, the valve amplifiers may not be the perfect solution for such music anyway. Time for our first one liner.

There was an 'immediacy of voice' which made the music sound lifelike and therefore near at hand.

I dont know if my limited experience of just listening to my first valve amplifier empowers me with the ability to do a blanket comparison between solid state and tubes. But my mind insists on doing so. In a mental A/B comparison, I believe that I heard more body in the voice through the valve than through my NAD. In that, I can sense that a flesh and blood person rather than a recording as the source. I have experienced such a feeling when I have moved up the solid state ladder as well. But not to this degree.

Anuradha Sairam's 'Theertha Vittala' - an Abhang rendition was supreme and overpowering in its emotional quantum. Ms. Sairam's is a strident voice which can quickly become piercing on bright systems. On the valve amplifier there was not a hint of shrillness or brightness. There was just music. And emotion. Lots of it. And music is nothing if not emotion.

The music that we heard was plainly more emotionally involving than on my solid state amplifier

Now for this I dont have a ready explanation. Save for again mentioning that the whole musical experience was euphonic. There were no harsh edges whatsoever. When there was a peak in the music you rose with it and then you plunged into the valleys and in general wallowed in music - rather than the equipment per se. For the keen audiophiles there is also a downside to it which I will come to.

After a couple of songs on the 45 tubes - which frankly nobody here gave any chance to play music through my low sensitivity EPOS speakers - I requested Rajiv to switch over to the 2A3 ones. He did mention that while those tubes added more power to the setup, he valued the 45 more for its detail and its sound characteristic.

With the 2A3 on, music was truly enveloping. From Balamuralikrishna to Dave Brubeck, all of it had more presence and lushness. Also there was a bit of extra sibilance that I heard - especially in Aruna Sairam's voice - with the 45's which was not there with the 2A3's. However it was not all positives. The 2A3 I felt did not have it in them to get that last iota of detail from the music as the 45's did. Let it be mentioned that even the 45s were not as detailed as the NAD in comparison.

With the valves music was more around you. The word 'lush' just pops into your mind almost immediately.

Now this I have thought about in depth, after the fact. The very fact that the music was more enveloping had something to say about the soundstaging and imaging capabilities that audiophiles are so much after. Yours truly not exempted! To sum it up, you could no longer have the luxury of a stage sitting before you and pinpoint performers. The tabla on the left and the tampura behind or the saxophone a few feet behind the microphone and so on. On the face of it this appears to be a limitation. But pray do consider - as I did - whether there is any limitation this imposes in our enjoyment of the music itself. For my ears, this actually helped in forgetting the equipment and joining hands (or ears as it may) with the music.

I like speakers which disappear. How nice then, to have the system disappear and to have been replaced by the performers themselves!

We moved on from there to a few extremely well recorded Charsur recordings. Notable being 'Maaya the Colour of Rain' featuring Sikkil Gurucharan and Anil Srinivasan - a Carnatic fusion album which is truly a treat to the ears. With the song 'Poonguyil Koovum' there was this acoustic quality to Gurucharan's voice which still sticks to the mind. Some skilful piano work from Srinivasan is also the highlight of this album.

O.S.Arun's Divine Classicals is an album I often use to check an audio system's reproduction of a male voice - bordering on being gruff, yet pleasing on the ear. It is not quite a baritone either. One has to listen to this artist to make sense of this description, I am afraid. The aforementioned acoustic quality imparted to the voice was a feature here as well. An observation follows.

Human voice takes on a beauty of its own. High pitches are not shrill as with reproduced music but is natural and hence mellower. There is a hard to describe acoustic quality as well to the human voice.

It took me a little bit of time to narrow down on this hard to describe phenomenon being observed with the human voice through the tubes. What it was was that the voices sounded more live. If the artist were to setup a microphone and sing for us in that room, that is how it would probably have sounded. With the echoes in the room and all. In audio as in life, somehow the most appealing presentation is somehow the most genuine one - even if
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it be warts and all.

After a deluge of Carnatic vocals we again stepped back into the fold of Jazz with Dave Brubeck in Take 5. This time with the digital source. Most of the observations made earlier generally held good this time as well. The bass was there, but just not tight enough. And the saxophone could use more bite and rasp. And the ripe notes at the end were still missing. Marantz is the one amplifier I have heard shine intuitively with Jazz. Saxophone on the Marantz is an unabashed treat to the ears.

When it comes to Fusion, 'This is Fusion' from Music Today (various artists) is a personal favourite. 'Sea Breeze' by Pandit Chaurasia has a transporting quality - reminding you of windswept beaches and the gentle breaking of waves upon the shore. It was all there with the valve amplifier. Sand particles in our hair was the only thing we were missing after hearing this piece!

'Adbhuth' from the same CD is a blazing fast violin number from the Ganesh Kumaresh brothers which can again get quite strident with bright systems. A difficult to tame piece, in my opinion. The recording too does not help. Here, it has to be said that stringed instruments, the violin in particular did not get more life like than with the valve amplifier. The effort of the artist came through but without the attendant strain upon your ears. Just music. That is all that came out. And that was impressive. Some more on this all-taming quality of the valves to come later.

This same quality was also observed with the outstanding CD where L.Subramaniam combines with Yehudi Menuhin. Haunting melodies which remained haunting through the valves. Lest this be considered a simple feat, I must hasten to assure to the contrary. Violins can easily expose bright systems setup for impressive first listening. A bit of treble excess or any problem with the tweeters and the violins will let you know.

And so on we went merrily totally unmindful of the time - feasting on Rajiv's hospitality. After playing a lot many similar songs, we went onto more practical listening - read film songs.

'Kholo Kholo' from Taare Zameen Par was impressively rendered. The base guitar was again warm and lush with the voice coming out soothingly. However, the bass attacks were lacking. The bass was all there - but it was not tight and harnessed and therefore not impressive. I know that the EPOS does a better job of it with the NAD.

For a bright recording you cannot look past 'Rang De Basanti' from the movie of the same name by Daler Mehndi. The general cacophony of instruments in the song failed to faze our ears - even after all the soothing violins it had been listening to all this while. That is a plus, right? I would be tempted to answer in the affirmative. But then as somebody put it so evocatively, some music is meant to rouse you up and make you pick up a butcher knife and go about running or do some such violent thing (hopefully less so). I do not see this valve based system rousing anybody in that fashion.

As far as bass is concerned, my impressions remain the same. It is all there but it is not tight as I like it to be. There is slight overhang of string as well as percussion bass, which Rajiv mentioned could be changed by using different tube varieties among other things.

Presenting music euphonically I guess is a double edged sword. It makes for long range listening with minimal, if any, ear strain. But then even if you were in the mood for some music which could savage you, you are out of luck. As the system is going to absorb most of the venom and only let its warmth soothe you. What if you dont need soothing at that time? I think that is a question prospective valve amplifier buyers might need to reflect about.

So at the end of it all - was I impressed with the valve amplifer?

Absolutely. It was everything and more than what I had expected. I had definitely not expected even the 1.5 watt 45's to drive my fairly less sensitive speakers to an enjoyable level. For the record we were able to achieve a perfectly decent 88 db listening level with the 2A3 powered valve. The volume knob at this point was at the 11 O' clock position.

Most of all consider this. Four of us with fairly diverse music tastes were able to spend an enjoyable time in one room for four hours. That in itself speaks volumes about the audio system.

What was different about the valves?

That is difficult to say. I guess that is one of the reasons why this review has gone on for quite a bit. The valve amplifiers offer an immediacy of sound and an intimacy which is not there in a solid state amplifier. They do this at the cost of a few things such as detailing and sound staging. The imaging too is not as good as high quality solid state amplifiers. Seen bit by bit like that this may not sound a strength at all. But then maybe we ought not to see these bit by bit. Just as we do not hear music bit by bit. On the whole, with the valves I was able to forget for a period of time about the performers and focus on what they presented as music.

Not that I was not able to do exactly this with my NAD. Just that doing that was easier with the valves. Effortless, to be exact.

Will I go for a valve based system?

Short answer - Yes.

There are a few caveats, as always. At the beginning I had mentioned that apart from the different amplifier I was hearing the only variable factor was the room. And that was no small factor either. This was a smaller room than mine and consequently I understand that it could have been easier for the amps to drive the speakers to our satisfaction. There is still a question as to how it would perform in a slightly larger room. Mine is about 11X14 feet.

Rajiv just uses 2 pairs of tubes - the 2A3's and the 45's. That is because he has, with his wealth of experience, narrowed these down as catering to his taste - which is mostly Western music of the Jazz/Blues kind, from what I understood from our brief meeting. Now to find out which set of tubes would be right down my alley, I think I need to expand my understanding of the whole tube technology and how to personalize the whole system

The whole concept of being able tweak and tinker appeals to the computer-man in me! For those people set in their ways, this need not be a concern. You could just let the system be, and I am sure it will return the favour!

There has hardly been anybody who has failed to say anything but the nicest things about Viren. That is something which is of great importance to me. An understanding dealer willing to listen to what his customers really want and help them get there is worth his weight in gold. I am impressed.

So, in conclusion, a tube amplifier worth around Rs. 30,000 successfully competes with a decent integrated amplifier such as the NAD C372. If this were a boxing match, one would have to say that it was a tie. A close one, but nevertheless a tie. The NAD punched harder. But the Lyrita moved lithely and with greater grace. It caught your eye (or ears) and never let you take them off it. There was an economy to its performance which appealed. Ultimately a few judges would vote this way and a few that. Whether you stand for the ultimate impacting punch or for euphonic presentation, you will have to determine. And it is an easy decision if you clearly lean on either side of the spectrum. Or if you need something of both, like me, then I guess it is time to do some more homework on tubes!

[This review would never have been possible but for Rajiv's hospitality and immense patience in putting up with our intrusion. Hearty thanks also go out to Ramanujam and Nikesh for all their legwork in helping me get the PC and speakers into and out of Rajiv's apartment. You saved me some serious backache. In retrospect thanks also goes to Suprateep in prodding my curiosity with the Miniwatt review as also other esteemed forum members who gently prodded me in the valve direction.A big thanks also to Viren Bakshi for hooking me up with Rajiv to get my first valve listening experience]
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Hi vortex,

That was a honest review:).You have clearly conveyed what you felt hearing the tubes. Many thanks to you and Rajiv too.It was a shame you were not able to be present at the shootout for long. I would have loved to know your impressions.

On the strength of your imressionas 'Will i go for the tube amp?' I think i will.But i have an uneasy feeling that my son wont be liking it. May be i will have a tube setup for myself leaving Marantz to him.:)

sigh..... If wishes have wings.


Analog Turntable (will update with brand name)
The listening environment was a 10X10 bedroom with minimal furniture and with the seating at around 7 feet from the speakers. The gap between the speakers on the X axis was about 4.5 to 5 feet. The EPOS speakers (when they were used) were slightly toed in towards the listener.

Vortex,I enjoyed having you guys over,also I was introduced to/ heard some great music that I normally don't listen to.

The TT is the LINN LP12/ITTOK/Asak(fresh from a rebuild from Soundsmith USA) /Fidelity Research FRT4 MC transformer.

After nearly a quarter century of putting up with my hobby "she who must be obeyed" finally threw the book at me when I tried to bring the big multicell horns into the living room.I am now forever banished to the small unused bedroom.

Thanks to the help and suggestions I received from Dr.Bruce Edgar(Edgarhorn) , Bill Woods (Acoustic Horn Co.) and the guys at the Altec forum I managed to get the Altecs to work well in the small room.

Thanks Vortex for the wornderful write-up. I will add a few observations and fill in one or two gaps.

I had listened to Lyrita in Viren's place in Delhi. While i was happy overll, i felt the combination could limit my music preferences. The session in Chennai was to try Lyrita with other speaker combinations. The second reason was to introduce my younger brother and to understand his assessment.

The first LP that we listened to was Carpenters - Top of the world. Rajiv put the LP on even as i was settling down. Caren Carpenter felt my mother was singing to me (well - my mom didnt have such a great voice). The song itself, in even the worst of systems, sound like a gentle stream, and this system did it proud. The last bit where the music tapers off felt like honey dropping out of a bottle. Great experience. Next was ticket to ride and sounded great as well. Rajiv listens to Gordon Lightfoot as well and we tried Alberta Bound. His voice is made for a tube amp kind of a system and the experience was quite great.

I think the next was Take Five. My experience was totally different from Vortex's. I found the LP sound fantastic and somehow the digital sounded bland. everything except the source was the same and to me it brought out the flow of music in an LP fantastically. Just in time Rajiv warned me to keep off LPs if i a dont have a collection already. Wise advice i guess. It has taken me a year to get to some shortlist of my preferences, adding an LP dimension would have completely taken me off into a tangent.

Ksheera Sagara Sayana of Balamurali Krishna sounded fantastic. I had listened to it abruptly in Viren's place (when the power went off). This time, it was with a FLAC playback (compared to a Marantz of Viren) and EPOS speakers. Was equally impressed with this reproduction. The L Subramaniam - Yehudi Menuhin combination sounded sweeter with EPOS than with harmony One of Viren. Another L Subramaniam piece with Bismillah Khan sounded blander than my experience with Philips at my brother's place. Even Vortex mentioned that the recording didnt sound too good. I am trying to figure it out though.

The piece that i could clearly compare with Viren's combination was Kadri Gopalnath - Saxophone. There is a fast paced magudi piece which sounded terrible in Viren's combination. i had to stop the song midway. With EPOS it sounded quite nice and i could almost finish the song. Two other songs - Krishna nee and Kurai Ondrum Illai sounded much better with the EPOS speakers. The only other variable was the source, we were playing the CD off the CD Rom of Vortex's PC, which should in theory be worse than the Marantz. Therefore i could clearly attribute the improvement to the EPOS.

The Rang de Basanti piece was eminently mellow, unlike the original version which sound very sharp. It clearly brings out the amount of mellowness the valve amp brings out. Is it good or bad, to me it sounded like a better way to listen. Nityashree Mahadevan also sounded mellow, unlike her normal self.

Just before dropping into Rajiv's place, i had gone with my dad to audio people to listen to MS GS10 and MS RS6. They were paired with expensive amps, Lythos with the GS10 and Music Fidelity A1 with RS6. I have generally been tempted by MS speakers (BR2 and RS1 earlier) and i had to convince myself not to get overwhelmed by them. With Lyrita and EPOS, the speakers pulled me closer to them naturally.

Overall my oberservations were as follows:

a) The listening experience, if you only focus on the music, and not on the performers or the equipment, was fantastic. If you get any deeper, i guess there would be some disappointments, like something missing or something sounding extra harsh. I hardly even bother about the name of the peformers (I used to love Tull and till i heard Jethro Tull live, i didnt know who Ian Anderson was), leave alone the next level of details. This experience seems to match upto such approach. For music lovers who dont remember the name of their equipment, this would be a great option.

b) It will seriously re-orient the listening choice to vocals. Any instrumental piece does not grab your attention as much as the vocals do. I didnt like the blandness it introduced into the violin peice by L Subramaniam.

c) The experience of the speakers vanishing is eerily real. It was a small room with an overflow of equipment, the pc sitting right in front of you, etc. Still, the moment the music starts, everything around you vanishes. I dint have the same experience with the MA GS 10 and RS6. The only other time i had this experience was in Viren's place itself.

d) The LP experience with Take Five was an eye opener. I think i would be a LP lover, but i would leave it to a time when i can afford it.

e) No issues at all about volume levels. Most of time, we listened at the 9.30 position. In small rooms (probably upto 12 X 12) i dont think my ears would allow any higher volume. Rajiv was getting about 78db average in his gadget with this volume position, with us sitting about six feet away from the speakers.

About the direction that i should head to;

1) While i liked the valve single driver combination for vocals, i dont predominantly listen to them. I liked the extra sweetness EPOS brought into this equation. So, a single driver does not seem to be the best bet for me.

2) The Lyrita sounded great and one option for me is to look at the higher powered setup that Viren makes and combine it with a high sensitivity multiple driver (Is dali Ikon 6 or Ikon 2 the right direction?).

3) Since i also listen to other genre, look at a simple SS amp for those sessions.

So life has got a bit complex, and i will pose these questions in the review that Kamal has written too.

The last bit of complexity that Vortex has introduced in my life is the PC Source. Since i wont be able to spend a lakh on a CD player, the PC option sounds best to me at around 25-30K. I will have to look for a simple solution for a display that can disappear within the audio rack when the system is not in use.

All in all, the four hours were great. Rajiv was an incredible host. His house betrays the music in his DNA. There is a Veena, two speakers in the living room, the QUAD amp, another power amp and you havent even got into the listening room yet.

Vortex did all the tough job of carting his setup and brought along some wonderful music. His thanks to my brother and I are disproportionate.

So, where will head in my discovery, dont know.
Thanks for the nice review. I have one question since there was a mention of timing - what component of the system would one attribute as contributing most to a sense of timing? The preamp or the speakers or the source?

Thanks everybody for the kind comments. From Ramanunjam's post I guess one can see how much time we spent at Rajiv's place. It was close to 4 hours of almost non stop music! I think there are still some songs that we listened to that may not be in both our lists:)

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening even if it has given rise to many tricky questions regarding my future audio setup. In active exploration/learning mode now for the past week on valve amplifiers. Would appreciate any and all input from members on this subject.
Thanks for the nice review. I have one question since there was a mention of timing - what component of the system would one attribute as contributing most to a sense of timing? The preamp or the speakers or the source?


I guess it is easy to say that the system as a whole is what is contributing to whatever you hear or dont - as the case may be. Personally I am familiar with my source and the speakers. So, I would attribute most if not all of the sound signature related items to the amplifier. Now, whether the pre-amp or the power section contributed to it - I may not know.:)

Ram,Bala you guys write so well.Reading your impressions and experiences is reliving the entire experience.Even people who were not present will get a feeling of the sound and tonal quality of the system.

The professional reveiwers at AV Max should come to guys like you, Kamal and others to learn how to convey their impressions of equipment in a reveiw.

Vortex, srramanujam, great review!
You guys use words like poets!
Welcome to the World of Valves....
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It is a mesmerizing experience to listen to the valve amp and high efficiency speakers. And yes, I too felt that the extreme bass is missing. So, for the kicks and punches, you should keep your solid state amp too - don't move it out even if you get a valve amp. That's what I plan to do when I get the Lyrita system - I will also keep my solid state system.

As far as my message exchanges with Rajiv, he is a great help - so I can imagine your experience at his place.

Rajiv and Kamal - you guys are far too kind. I dont know about Ramanujam, but I occasionally do write verses which I am fond of calling 'poems':)

good to know you've finally got a taste of valves. in time with reading up and listening you'll figure what valve you like best. its a fun journey! sensitivity isnt everything for driving speakers although most people tout that parameter left right and center. its sensitivity, cone material, crossover type and complexity and number of drivers. your epos is a good candidate for valves, simple crossover.

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