28 September, 2016

Conrad-Johnson vs EAR; Wilson Alexia

In front of the CJ GAT preamp are the EAR 509 MkII monoblocks, much smaller in size, but not in sound, than the CJ LP275 monoblocks. In the foreground are removed TAOC stands. Click to enlarge.

Home Visit: Conrad-Johnson vs EAR; Wilson Alexia

Talk Tweak: Ditch your Amplifier Stands; TAOC

EAR Overview

EAR 509 MkII Resurrected While my EAR 912 has been making the rounds and seen active use, my pair of 509 MkII have been idling for over ten years - until recently, when my friend WoSirSir expressed interest in them. Lo and behold, at my old place they worked a charm with my Tannoy Canterburies! We both agreed they sounded excellent, with a clear and controlled sound.

Then I met up with Andy (one of the trio covered in this blog, last featured here), and things blossomed into a second day of "slug-fest"! Don't you get too excited; it did not last long!

Resident System:

Turntable: Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger
Phonoamp: Clearaudio Statement Phono
CAS: Aurender N10
Preamp: Conrad-Johnson GAT MkII
Amp: Conrad-Johnson LP275
Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia

Challenger Amp: EAR 509MkII
Challenger Preamp: EAR 912

  • Andy's Previous Magnepan 3.7 Setup As reported, Andy was previously a horn and SET guy. Between then and now, he had a period when he used the Maggie 3.7 with largely the same analog and CJ gears, and I had heard them. For CAS, he was still using the Weiss and as before I didn't like it one bit. Analog was much better, though the Maggies as expected lacked deep bass and had a mid-bass leaness (preferred by the ribbon/ESL crowd).
  • Wilson Alexia  It was immediately apparent that the Wilson's sounded very much meatier and heftier that the Maggies. And I mean that in a good way - images were just fleshier and more real, and the bass had real kick. Although a trace of bass bloat remained in this large room, which is unfortunately closer to a square than a rectangle, it was the best sound I had heard yet at Andy's.
  • CAS Aurender and EMM Labs To my ears, the Aurender N10 and EMM Labs DAC2X combo is much to be preferred to the parched sound of the Weiss. Fleshier, more naturally flowing - in a word, less digital.
  • Clearaudio Statement Phono While the analog sound is clean and good, I cannot help feeling this phonoamp, like the turntable it partners, lacks rhythmic verve. Andy likes it for its remote controllable features (like equalization curves), but for me it is just plain spoken.
  • Challenge: EAR 509 MkII vs CJ LP275 While we were chatting on the first day, I was a little surprised that Andy expressed interest in hearing the EAR after I told him of its excellent bass control. And so it happened on the second day! Despite having only just one hour of playing after a ten-year hiatus, the EAR 509 MkII trounced the actively in-use CJ LP275 immediately and in convincing fashion. The bass was simply tauter, more controlled and extended lower! The CJ LP275 uses 8 tubes per monoblock, but did not sound more powerful than the EAR's simple pair (and Andy matches his tubes with a top-notch tube tester); also, it is actually quite light and easy to lift, indicating the light weight of the transformers! Andy was impressed! See "Andy's Decision" below!
  • Challenge: EAR 912 vs GAT MkII The sound was quite similar, but the EAR 912 had a more subtle and easier musical flow. Andy agrees, but loves the remote facilities of the GAT. If you ask me, the EAR 912 is the better preamp, full-function at a much lower cost; there was no area where the GAT could manage to surpass. One can only gasp at the ridiculous price some hifi manufacturers charge, or marvel at how reasonable EAR gear is!
  • Andy's Response Man of Action! Andy immediately ordered the EAR 509 MkII! But he has retained the GAT for its convenience.
  • UN-Tweak At first, Andy has his amps on his surplus TAOC stands (foreground). Since I have never heard amplifier stands do any positive thing, I asked for their removal. Bingo! More coherence and better bass (here is yet another example: "...like a good audiophile, SG had almost all his stuff on heavy (wood) racks and gears were placed on various tuning devices (which I usually avoid). The Goldmund Telos were placed on Nordost Pulsar Points over a Solid-Steel amp rack...JC, a previous user of Goldmund, suggested removing the Nordost devices. It took a while, but the result was mind-boggling. Music became much more lively. Then we proceeded to remove the amp rack. With the amps on the floor now, there was further improvement, but not quite of the same magnitude as removing the Nordost devices. So much for isolation devices (at least for power amps)..."). Andy's preamp is also temporarily sitting on two TAOC's, but in this case, as I had reservations about putting it on the floor (preamps are much more susceptible to vibrations than amps), we slotted two slabs of solid wood between the preamp and the stands, and sound again improved.
  • Things at CJ are definitely not like before (not that I have been that much of a fan). The light weight of the LP275 is a joke - indicating transformers are smaller than before (similarly, Audio Research trannies now are smaller). Those were the days, when their classic amps like the Premier One had really heavy transformers. The 8x 6550 per side did not feel very powerful. Likewise, I also think the GAT is ridiculously over-priced for what it is.
  • Wilson Audio is finally getting better. I have lost count of how many times I have listened to generations of Watt/Puppy, but I know I have never heard them to total satisfaction! I have also listened to a large number of their larger offerings, like Alexandria, Maxx etc, and they never fully impressed either. That started to change when I heard the Sophia at the HK hifi show. Now, Andy's Alexia is not perfect, but it has potential. Think of all those hifi writers (like TAS) who praise each iteration - hey, should the customer fork out so much money for Wilson to move slowly on his learning curve? Basically, most Wilson's were (some still are) incoherent, and the hifi press indulged him instead of warning readers.
  • EAR's Tim de Paravicini is my hero. Great designs, compact size, powerful and controlled sound, all at much more reasonable cost than most manufacturers.


  1. Dear Dr.John, what are your thoughts about the Ear 509 vs 890 ? I am seriously thinking of buying one of them to drive my Tannoy Turnberry SE. I listen to a lot of classic rock and jazz. I know that 509 is more expensive. If I get it I will have to cut down on the preamp budget. If you could suggest your thoughts about both these amps I can probably take a decision.


    1. Hi Pani, how large is your listening space and may I know the rest of the gear? The Turnberry SE I'd guess doesn't need THAT much power, if you ask me, and a lower wattage one, like the 534, should do just as well!

  2. Thanks Dr.John for replying back. My listening room is about 160 sqft. I normally listen a bit loud and in the past I have tried the McIntosh MC275 which is about 75 watts. It was just adequate. I also had an FM Acoustics F10 power amp for sometime which also provides 70 watts per channel and it was also just nice. Considering that these Tannoys like to have some extra headroom from the amp when driven loud I would guess 70 watts is a good to have. The rest of my setup is a Garrard 301 from Loricraft, Jean Nantais Reference Lenco mk2 TTs, SME M2-12, 47 Labs RS-A1, Gray Research 208 tonearms, Audio Tehnica ART9 and DL-103r cartridges, 47 Labs phonocube phonostage, Klyne System 7 preamp. At the moment I am considering buying a good amplifier (preferably integrated) to simplify my system. I have considered Zanden Model 6000, Ear 509, 890 and v12. I want to sell off the Klyne and get a matching preamp for the power amp or just get an integrated. What are your thoughts for the amplification ?

  3. You have some nice stuff! I do have some thoughts. Klyne makes good phono's but I am not so sure about the linestage. A good TUBE preamp likely would suit the Tannoy even more. As a matter of fact, a change of preamp will make you evaluate the system in a different light. I am curious about your experience with the MC275. It is quite powerful, but only adequate for you, and that puzzled me. I'd venture actually it is the preamp that strains when the signal gets loud, common for solid state. A good tube preamp goes loud more gracefully. If you have friends, trying borrowing a tube preamp to try out.

  4. Thanks Dr.John. I actually had a Lamm LL2 preamp when I tried the mc275. You are right, a good tube preamp is the way to go. My Klyne preamp has in-built phono MC/MM. It is nice but I would like a little more snap which I get from my 47 labs phonocube. The mc275 is powerful but to my ears even they do not have the snap and transient agility of a truly neutral amp like the Wavac, FM Acoustics or even Audio Note. For a reasonable price I have been eyeing the EAR and also considering the older Pass Aleph 2.

    1. You are an experienced audiophile, so I think an integrated/simplification is NOT for you! You know, we always think of changing and no integrated will do, such is our curse! :-)

      In any case, good luck. When you find the match, report back!

  5. So, what do you think about the 890 vs 509 ?
    The other option I am looking at is to get a Pass labs First watt F6 or an older Aleph 2. Have you heard any of them ?

    1. The 509 is a classic - more expensive but sourcing a reliable second-hand set would bring the cost down. New tube amps take forever to run in! Never heard the 890 but I don't quite like the KT90, in a way a transitory tube type, which will be phased out sooner than other KT's. Maybe one day TdP will create a KT150 amp - that would be great.

      I used to own the classic Aleph 3 (not enough power), and have heard the Aleph 2 indeed at a good friend's. Good amps! If you can find a pair in good condition, they retain their value and are worth trying. I hope you don't live in hot climate though.

      Ultimately, you're the judge, but I found your choice of Turnberry SE a bit unusual for a jazz and rock fan (not that they can't do these genres). Something like JBL, Yamaha NS-1000 would be more conventional. So I'd GUESS you are quite a demanding audiophile, who wants refinement, power, a fast leading edge and boogie factor at the same time! Who doesn't! But it takes work.

      A dark horse suggestion. Quad amps, ridiculously cheap, smooth and powerful. The QMP of my friend drives his ESL's wonderfully. Plenty of power, refinement and good speed. He took it to another friend's place and it KO'ed his uber expensive Dartzeel (which I consider a good brand). Credit to that guy he believed what he heard, make no excuse, and dumped the Dartzeel' and bought the cheap cheap Quad's.

      Lastly, the Tannoy Prestige models take a long time to run in!

    2. I forgot, my QUAD QMP experience is here:


    3. Also, I don't know where you are located, but perhaps, should you like, you can send your telephone # to me by email (listed on the right sidebar) and we may be able to chat further.

  6. If I an not a electruc guy, can I use 509mkii?

    Since I know 509mkii needing bias adjustment, I am afriad unable to deal with this jobs!

    1. Not a problem. A screwdriver adjusts the bias with 2 LED lights coming on and off. No meters, no electric problem.