The Esoteric Audio Research 834P Phono Stage
Without meaning to flatter, I say simply that Tim de Paravicini is one of these individuals. Those of us who love the sound of vinyl are very fortunate that his British company, EAR/Yoshino has produced the EAR 834P phono pre-amplifier at a refreshingly modest cost.
Compared to some circuit boards I have seen, there is a genuine lack of glamorous components. The designer seems to be able to work his magic without them. The parts count is low, and those parts that are present are well spaced and easily identifiable.
Three 7025/12AX7WB low-noise Sovtek tubes (branded 'Chelmer') are used in the circuit. The set in the unit I auditioned performed flawlessly, so don't race out looking for NOS flat-plate Telefunkens until you've given the Sovteks a chance to show their mettle.
A sub-miniature push switch on the back panel allows the user to change gain settings for either moving-magnet or moving-coil cartridges. Available voltage gain is generous at 48dB for moving-magnet and 68dB for moving-coil inputs. I found the 834P very quiet in operation, making these unusually high gain values practical. Input impedance for the moving-magnet input is nominally 47.5 kOhms. The unusual and defining feature of this phono stage is the inclusion of two small transformers, potted and screened in cans, which act as a gain stage for moving-coil cartridges. Interestingly, one of the audio print journals measured the moving-coil input impedance at 515 Ohms. The implication is that the designer believes that moving-coil cartridges should be loaded down to tame high-frequency resonances. After listening, I can't dispute this notion, as the purity and liquidity of sound that the 834P evinces is utterly captivating and convincing.
While listening to Britten's Four Sea Interludes (Angel S-37142) with the Jadis Orchestra and the Quad ESL-63 USA Monitors, I noted that the treble was open, detailed, and delicate. This reading by André Previn conducting the LSO was redolent of atmosphere, ambience, and layered depth. Players were sized realistically and positioned within an exceptionally wide soundstage. Bass passages were firm, deep and had true pitch. Low-level timbral details, like the subtle doubling of trumpet and xylophone, were portrayed with clarity and nuance.
Malcolm Arnold's English Dances (Greensleeve ESD 1077801) was highly entertaining. The strings of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra were remarkably sweet, and I was treated to riotous dynamics throughout without a hint of glare or glaze. The ambient detail captured in the Guildhall, Southampton, was very transparent, revealing reverberant whacks on the bass drum and resounding volleys from the brass section. Oddly, Sir Charles Groves and the EMI engineers elected to record the Dances straight through, with tape rolling between movements. I was immersed in the live ambience of page turning and chair shuffling throughout. Again, the sense of layering was very good, accompanied by a slight emphasis in the mid-bass and lower midrange.
I found the Water Lily Acoustics recording Saradamani (WLA-ES-23), featuring Vishwa Bhatt on a hybrid slide guitar, to be exceptionally revealing of the timbral beauty and balance of the 834P. Bhatt plays an evocative guitar equipped with twelve sympathetic strings. It was immediately apparent that more overtones were being retrieved from the grooves by the Lyra Lydian cartridge, giving a slightly more silvery tone to the guitar. The five or six simple bell strikes that occur a minute or so into the first cut startled me with their verisimilitude, each one clearly varied in intensity. The tabla was firm, dynamic, and tuneful. I became aware that the sound was slightly warmer and darker than that of my reference SP-9 Mk ll, this being counterbalanced by the 834P's shimmering treble.
In summary, I would characterize the EAR834P as floridly rich in harmonics, quiet, dynamic and in complete control.
As I did not have the opportunity to bypass the volume control in the test unit, I can only imagine the improvement that would surely bring. If you have an amplifier like the Jadis Orchestra with a passive volume control, then this should be considered mandatory.
The EAR/Yoshino 834P is a highly musical design. Consider it a gift from one of the giants on today's audio scene. I recommend it to analog addicts without reservation.
Manufactured by Esoteric Audio Research, Huntingdon, UK
U.S. Distributor: EAR USA
1624 Sunset Ave., Santa Monica, CA, 90405
phone/fax: (310) 396-1919
Price: US$895.00 (black), US$1195.00 (chrome)
Source of review sample: Canadian Distributor Loan
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