03 September, 2010

Overview: E.A.R.

Image result for ear 912Overview: E.A.R.

Revised 2016

EAR-Yoshino Official website
E.A.R. USA official website (with TdP 1995 Audio and Hi-Fi Review 1990 Interviews)
TdP 2007 Stereophile Interview

TdP 1990 Stereophile Interview

EAR = EAR Yoshino = Esoteric Audio Research

The Man There are important facts about this company that everyone remotely interested in their products show know, chief among them the fascinating biography of its legendary founder and designer, Tim de Paravicini (TdP). Read the links above and you shall know why.

Compared to his CV, that of the average hifi designer (who dresses "better" and talks a lot more) seema to be just a recent grad's empty sheet. Take just the example of Musical Fidelity, it's most revered product up to now is still the legendary integrated amp A-1 (covered in my integrated amp overview), which sold 200,000 units at GBP250. Now, that was the heyday of hifi: conscientious companies, talented designers and a populist approach. Not now, when a BS company would just hire some "designer", claim some digital "innovations" and sell products at the price of a car!

TdP is a practical man of no bullshit. Note in his interviews his openness to everything, yet he is a man that is, to say the least, NOT easily impressed. One of the last renaissance man in the industry.

The EAR Sound, or Lack of? Aside from an occasional product like the popular 834P, EAR shall always be a connoisseur's brand. For non-sophisticated audiophiles, EAR's balanced sound does not "stand out", and why should it? Only those who listen carefully shall note the neutrality, nonpareil dynamics and integration behind the sound.

I think partly due to their superb quietness and full bass, some EAR gears may sound a little "dark" at first listen, but I assure you the bass is agile and tuneful.

EAR products are rarely reviewed by the hifi magazines (one exception being Stereophile's Art Dudley). Hence, I hope my coverage of mostly products I have used (some borrowed), plus some that I have heard, shall be useful to readers:

834P - mine is an old MC/MM switchable version, a black box, with the optional volume knob. The MC gain utilizes a small step-up transformer. the MM part uses 3x 12AX7/5751. Although there is no loading option it sounds quiet and superb with every cartridge I tried, from Ortophon MC15 Super II to Benz Micro Gold to Denon 103. Most impressive was this phono preamp's dynamic capability, best among all the lower priced phono preamps I have tried. I cannot remember how many times I have recommended this to people.

834L Line stage - very simple if you look at the tiny circuit board. But wait a minute, how did he make it SO quiet? Very good.

Note that the 864 resembles 834P + 834L, with a few extra options.

509 Mk II - Mine is the commercial monoblock (40V filament), still in production after more than 30 years (official link)! For bias adjustment, MkII, with bias pots adjustable from the top, is much more convenient than Mk I. This has to be the among the finest best high-powered tube amp I have heard. Not big, but BIG sound. Read the literature about the intricate design of the bifilar (a la McIntosh) output transformers. Expensive, but good enough to go head to head with the legendary vintage big power amps. My friend Thomas has heard these driving my Tannoy Canterbury, and he still regards that as the best he has heard. (2016) More, after more than 10 years of idling hiatus, it instantly trounced a friend's actively in-use Conrad-Johnson LP-275 (here).

Want more power? No problem, the 549, with double the power tubes and power, is just the ticket! My friend icefox uses a pair of these (report here).

Similar to 509 Mk II, 519 is rack-mount, and differs in having a separate screen supply which allows a lower supply voltage with 600uf of capacitance. It also uses 1x12AX7 and 1x12AU7 instead of the 2x 12AX7 of 509 Mk II. These are less often seen than the 509's and 549's.

MC-4 (reviewed by Art Dudley in Stereophile) This is the MC step-up transformer inside the 912. Superb. Earlier versions had one less tap (MC-3). I have heard these many times, always to good effect, and have recommended them to many friends (My friends Robin and WoSirSir are two prime examples).

912 - What a preamp! The epitome of TdP design, as it uses not only input and output transformers, but also coupling interstage! With so many transformers, this design attest to TdP's expertise in transformer design. Experienced tube people know how hard it is to make coupling transformers sound good, and that a compromised trannie will mercilessly shave off the frequency extremes, which this design of course does not do. The ultimate balanced tube preamp. Unlike my other 6DJ8 preamps, this 7DJ8 preamp of heavy built is unbelievably quiet and not prone to interference nor microphonics. Like a good EAR product, it has killer dynamics. Read the wonderful stereophile review by Art Dudley as well as a review by Ken Kessler. This is one of my reference preamps now.

868 and 324 Wonderful full function preamp and phonoamp. For full coverage, see here.

Additional Note on 890 and ACUTE CDP: The following is what I wrote of an audition in R33 on 22/03/07:

"...Yesterday at Sound Glory they were using the E.A.R. 890 power (4x KT90 per channel) amp, rated at 70 wpc (hence most likely the KT90's are run in triode mode) to drive the ATC. paired with the Canary CDP and Canary preamp (I don't like this brand at all) sound was not too bad. I asked to substitute the EAR ACUTE CD player (what a weird name). Remember this CDP was favorably reviewed by our own 風鳴 some time ago and I had always wanted to her it. A little description of the CDP:

"...the Acute starts out as an Arcam unit, with the wonderful Wolfson DACs. E.A.R. adds a volume control, and disconnects all the circuitry save the DACs and the transport. All of the new innards are E.A.R. custom goodies, including analog filtering, transformer coupling in and out, a much bigger power supply, and a two-tube output stage featuring 7DJ8s or the equivalent (any 6DJ8 type will work). The circuit is transformer-balanced, and provides single-ended and balanced outputs, digital outputs, and a very flexible remote control. The output circuit is similar to that of the stellar E.A.R. 912 preamp, which allows the unit to be connected directly to amplifiers. The volume control should be set at 2 o'clock if you use it with a preamp, as I did. The Acute is a full-time 24/192 upsampler, for which the Wolfson DACs are famous. Everyone has heard of the custom de Paravicini modifications to tape recorders and other such gear. Well, now you can own a modified, full production CD player with Tim de Paravicini's transformers, circuitry, and other touches..."

From the first track, and this is long before the unit warms up, we were astonished by the difference. Everything came to life. A breathing, clear and dynamic sound. Of course, we were also impressed by how well the 70 wpc of EAR 890 amp controlled the ATC20! Next time I'd love to use an EAR preamp too.

Now, unlike the Blue Note Stibbert, this seems a lot of modifications, and when have you seen transformer coupled input and output in a CDP of this price? And a REAL tube output stage (not buffer)? This unit does not look like much, but it certainly puts money inside the chassis and is actually a bargain..."

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