E.A.R. 834P: ONE HECK OF A PHONO STAGE
I’m not done yet! Every once in a while
a real audio gem comes along that represents
a really good sound value. Sometimes when I
discover such a product I go beyond the usual
expectation of purchasing one for my own system.
Being in the audio manufacturing business, as
opposed to the audio reviewing business, I have
a number of my own dealers and a few retail
customers with whom I share products of merit.
This is only a small part of JENA LABS business,
but because it does generate some profit, I
want you, the gentle reader, to know about the
whole situation and not come back later screaming
that I used my position with Positive Feedback
to blatantly sell goods. ‘Nuff said.
year I was introduced to a product through the
PF review process that I liked so well that
I became a dealer for it. Not only that, I introduced
it to two of our cable dealers who have themselves
now become authorized outlets for this product.
Well, what, says you, is the product? The E.A.R.
model 834P and 834P w/level RIAA phono stage
you have a CD only system, are satisfied with
the sound and the format, go ahead and turn
the page. I’ll see you over in the Taddeo
Digital Antidote 11 review. But if you have
a vinyl front end, or are interested in adding
one, you might want to read on.
834P is robustly built black box a little bigger
than a brick. It provides gain and RIAA compensation
for either low output MC type cartridges or
higher output MM type. Three 12AX7A tubes do
the voltage gain, and an honest to goodness
real audio input transformer is used in the
MC position to provide low noise matching for
the low output associated with this family of
cartridge. As implied above, a version of this
device can be had which incorporates a built
in volume control.
to be honest, the unit without the volume control
is a just a little bit better overall, due to
expected potentiometer coloration, but the prospect
of doing away with normal pre-amp altogether
might raise an eyebrow or two. The audio circuits
are the same in both versions, so no difference
is found outside of the dual section stereo
volume pot and its short internal hook up wires.
Power enters by the usual IEC socket, and is
converted to useable voltage in a low stray
field toroidal power transformer. A high quality
PC board holds the balance of the parts. RCA
jacks are of the molded plastic frame variety
that mount directly to the PC board. A small
rotary switch on the front panel turns the unit
on and off. On the version with volume control,
an additional front panel knob is found. From
turn on, it will begin operation in about 20
seconds, without any clicks or thumps, but if
started from cold it should be left for a few
minutes of warm up to fully stabilize before
playing music. It really blooms after about
an hour. I just leave mine running all the time.
834P, like other E.A.R. products is designed
by Tim de Paravicini. I have had the pleasure
of meeting Tim and really enjoyed talking engineering
with him. Audio is a field where almost anybody
can throw a few parts together and be in business.
This simple act does NOT, however, make them
a qualified designer. Rest assured that Tim
absolutely does NOT fall into this semi-amateur
category. He combines an excellent solid traditional
engineering comprehension and plenty of creativity
with the good judgment needed to design high
value and highly reliable products. This is
a rare professional blend, indeed! In addition
to home stereo electronics, Mr. de Paravicini
also designs and manufactures a complete range
of recording electronics which have earned a
reputation around the world as being just about
the best there is. You may recall that the Water
Lily Acoustics recordings which I have highly
praised in the pages of this magazine were recorded
on equipment built by E.A.R.
CHARACTER WITH BALANCE
so much for the small talk. You want to know,
"how does it sound?" In a word, neutral.
Very quiet. Very dynamic. Very dimensional.
This is not a device that will shout out to
you and say "tubes are in me". It
has none of the classic soft tubby and over
rich character typical of older, or less expensive
modern tube designs. It is solid and firm in
the lows and very fast in the top. The mids
are liquid and emotional. The frequency spectrum
and dynamic expression work in harmony, with
no one aspect of the sound standing out as better
than the other parts. Conversely, nothing is
obviously lacking either. This is one sonically
well balanced design!
synth and cymbals on Lori Anderson’s Sharkey’s
Day are hot and really tingly, but never to
the point of fatigue. This indicates speed and
bandwidth without transient ringing and overload.
The hall space on Proprius Label’s famous
Contate Domino is well defined and large. Reverb
seems to go on forever and those palpable voices...
they just appear from space and demand that
you believe. Rough Trade, For Those who Think
Young, is an interesting album in that on some
otherwise pretty good systems it can sound almost
flat and 2 dimensional. A really good phono
pickup helps with this record, but if the phono
stage is in the least bit lacking you never
hear the space and dynamics that are hidden.
Note that the E.A.R. pulls almost as much space
and rolling bass slam out of this disc as does
my Vacuum State Research reference preamp -
and one of those (custom built all the way,
believe me!) would set you back about 30 grand!
Vocals are smooth and well placed in space,
if recorded well. It even works with both male
and female voice, rendering either with a flair.
K.D. Lang’s "Save Me’ on Ingenue
and Eddie Arnold’s "Cool Water’
on Cattle Call bring tears to my eyes.
equipment just puts the tunes in the room. This
one moves me.
TUNING WITH TUBES
have seen the 834P shipped with two different
brands of tubes. Direct sonic comparison of
the two standard varieties reveals only trivial
differences, so you need not worry about what
brand of tube will arrive in your 834P.
of the pleasures of owning tube gear is to enhance
performance or fine tune the sonic signature
by the process of installing specific tubes
of known character. Changing the generic tubes
to an expensive premium graded variety such
as offered by Gold Aero, or installing a set
of your favorite NOS brand offers you an easy
method of both tuning the basically neutral
character of the 834P and expanding on its already
abundant sonic virtues.
my own unit, I am using Gold Aero Platinum grade,
Chinese origin tubes, about 1989 vintage, These
are the ones with the large silvery colored
getter on the side of each plate. These tubes
are fast and detailed. They present an incisive
soundstage with really excellent localization
queues. Bass is rock solid and free of flab
or tub. Mids are precise, and topped by nimble
highs. The extremely rare Siemens 12AX7A of
the 1970s have a similar sound, and are my true
favorite, but good luck finding enough of them
to weed out the also-rans. One of my customers
is using Telefunken diamond bottom tubes in
his 834P. These tubes are legendary for their
warm and comfortable treatment of the music.
While not as precise in the localization of
the soundstage, the music will seem to have
a more ‘wrap around’ or enveloping
character. Fatigue from this tube is zero, but
there is no real tradeoff in lack of high frequency
resolving power. Tubes of this sonic family
are the ones to choose if your system has just
a tad bit of bright, but you wish to lose nothing
in the cure.
listened to 834P in direct comparison to several
other commercially produced phono stages, some
in its own price range of about a thousand dollars,
and others up to about twice its price. While
not an exhaustive survey of all available phono
stages, the 834P easily bested every unit in
this price range of those auditioned. These
comparisons were not just done at my home, but
at several locations in systems of widely varying
basic nature. The 834P shined brightly in every
application. This direct experience of hearing
the 834P in systems with tube and transistor
amps, and all types of speakers including electrostatic,
planer magnetic, and dynamic cone, leads me
conclude that it is basically right, and not
dependent on the coloration of some other piece
of the audio chain to correct an inherent error.
it as good as some of the really high buck gear
from say Audio Research, or perhaps some of
John Curl’s expensive phono stages? Well,
not really. But it will stun you how close it
comes! For the price of one of these really
high end phono stages you can buy the 834P,
put in some killer tubes, get yourself a Benz
Glider and mount it up to any of the several
really good arm/table combinations now on the
market and hey, there you are! Great vinyl system
for about three or three and a half grand!
also has a line stage pre-amp. Though it has
been out a few years, I have not yet heard it.
I have made arrangements to audition one in
the near future, and will let you know what
I hear when I hear it. Based on my experience
with the 834P and the great price/performance
value it represents, I have high expectations
for this line stage.
can read both the lines and between the lines
on this. It’s no secret, I believe the
834P to be the phono stage steal of the decade.
Did I mention that its made in England?