EAR-Yoshino 834P
Hi-Fi News & Record Review, June 1994, by Ken Kessler

A Real EARful

Maybe, just maybe there is an ‘analogue revival’ underway, and the arrival of one of the biggest bargains in vinyl playback history isn’t a fluke. On top of the latest edition of the Michell GyroDec and power supply, a new (affordable) Grado Signature cartridge, the latest version of Lyra’s Lydian moving-coil, the MC Kinnie R03 head-amp from Switzerland and Mobile Fidelity’s return to vinyl LP manufacture, Esoteric Audio Research has launched a phono amp for the impoverished. And not only is it ludicrously inexpensive, it’s also all-valve. Best news of all? If you’re one of those die-hards operating a vinyl-only system, it’s available with a volume control, to serve as a one-input pre-amp. But that’s jumping the gun.

Called the EAR 834P, this device is as basic as it gets- Tim de Paravicini has said that the secret to good design is not using the most expensive parts for a given goal, but to achieve it with the most cost-effective parts. In other words, the 834P is wholly utilitarian and to hell with the aesthetics and designer-name bits. What it does, too, is contrast nicely with EAR’s top-of-the-line, ultra-luxo Yoshino, showing the extent of Tim’s versatility.

The 834P is, quite literally, a black box. Measuring 95mm tall including the feet, 124mm wide and 275mm deep including knobs and socketry, the 834P is small enough to reside next to an existing pre-amp without the sacrifice of much additional shelf space. To relieve the blackness of the front panel, there’s a rotary on-off control and, if so ordered, a rotary volume control, along with legends in gold paint. The back contains a fuse holder, IEC mains input, a multi-way earthing post, gold-plated sockets for phono in/out and a press button for m-c or m-m cartridges.

Inside, it’s tidy but not bursting with bits; this is a basic design conceived with an eye to cost and simplicity. Three ECC83s make up the valve complement, the unregulated power supply features a small but good-quality toroidal transformer, and the components reside on a main PCB. Output is line level, the m-m input is a standard 47k-ohm and the m-c setting is spec’d at a nominal 5-50ohm impedance, adding a useful 2OdB of gain. In the interests of quietness, m-c gain is via transformers.

Most important is the price. If you want to feed this into an existing line input, you can save on the cost of the volume and leave the hi-fi shop a meager 290 poorer. But for 310, you get the volume control as well. My review sample was supplied with volume control so I could try it directly into the power amps; I therefore cannot comment on whether or not there’s a sonic difference between the with-or-without versions. Suffice to say, the 834P sounded better when not encumbered by a second pre-amp in the circuit, so I used it straight into a number of single-ended power amps as well as into the GRAAF, Krell KRC and Linn Kairn pre-amps. One other thing: it’s worth the extra 30 for the volume-control option (even if you have no intention of directly driving a power amp) because it’s handy for matching playback levels between phono and other source inputs.

While the EAR in m-c mode would just about handle the signal from the low-output Transfiguration cartridge, I found it better to stick with medium output types. Denons and Lyras in particular worked very well with it. Depending on your own cartridge and the gain characteristics of your pre-amp or integrated, you might prefer to leave the EAR on m-m setting, the 47k-ohm input being a shade quieter and more open. (This, for younger readers, is the kind of stuff we used to write about all the time, when controversy meant "Should I or should I not use a step-up with my m-c cartridge?" Which led, of course, to a whole generation of cartridge designers producing m-cs which worked straight into m-m inputs.)

So how did it sound? In a word: Wonderful. As with all tube bargains - budget Crofts, some kits, vintage stuff - there’s a certain price to pay in absolute detail and background silence. The 834P, though, swings so fluidly and has such wide dynamics that you just don’t notice the barely audible background hash. Hell, most surface whoosh is so much louder than the 834P’s own noise that the LP will mask it.

What distinguishes the 834P from solid-state phono stages is the sense of openness, scale and three-dimensionality. While it’s easy to better the retrieval of detail - this is no Gryphon, no MC Kinnie - it’s hard to match the warmth and the ‘analogueness’ of the 834P. It’s a great soundstager, a strong defender of the analogue argument and (for those who cherish this one aspect of playback above others) the source of some of the sweetest bass I’ve heard in years. As for vocals, all I can do is s-i-g-h-h-h. [E-h-h-h? – Ed.]

And you know what else this gem does? It answers an old prayer of mine, filling in perfectly for the late, lamented Moscode Superlt all-tube phono amp, right down to the pocket money price tag. But be prepared to wait for an 834P. I reckon demand could outstrip supply once the word is out.