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SET Asylum: REVIEW: EAR/Yoshino 869 Integrated Amplifier (Tube) by Robby

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REVIEW: EAR/Yoshino 869 Integrated Amplifier (Tube)

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Model: 869
Category: Integrated Amplifier (Tube)
Suggested Retail Price: $4,500
Description: 15 Watts PC SET Integrated Amplifier
Manufacturer URL: EAR/Yoshino
Manufacturer URL: EAR/Yoshino

Review by Robby ( A ) on April 23, 2004 at 08:38:52
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for the 869

I have owned the EAR 869 SET amplifier for well over a year now. Before I took the plunge and handed over hard earned cash to buy it I listened to various other amplifiers including Lavardin IS Reference, Plinius 8200, DNM Pre/Power, Naim 112/150 pre power and Primare A60.

Obviously, due to the fact that I ended up buying the EAR, it is fairly clear which amplifier I preferred I will not make any direct comparison with the other Amplifiers I auditioned. This is for the simple fact that each of the other amplifiers is very, very different to the EAR and all or some of them may work beautifully in other systems. It just so happens that whilst they all sounded good to excellent in my system it was the EAR that impressed and beguiled me the most.

I will, therefore, comment on the performance of the EAR based on my current system which is Sony SCD-XA333ES CD/SACD player (not US changer), EAR 869 Amp (obviously), PMC DB1 speakers hooked up with a Van Den Hul Integration Interconnect and QED Silver anniversary speaker cable (single wire). I also use a Lynwood Advanced Mains conditioner and all equipment is placed on a Standesign wood and glass rack.

I would like to point out at this time that I originally auditioned the EAR using my then Harbeth HLP3ES stand mount speaker. In an insane moment I sold these speakers and bought a pair of large floorstanders which was a huge mistake the details of which are not worth going into here. Suffice to say I had a kind of small speakers epiphany and knew there and then that my current hi-fi journey would involve small speakers. A new pair of Harbeths were out of my price range and so I set about auditioning many speakers in order to find a pair that got me close to the sound of the Harbeths but at a significant cost saving. I eventually settled on the PMC’s which were half the price but equal (and in the bass, better) in performance.

The EAR 869 originally started life as the EAR 859. This is essentially the same amplifier as the 869 but produced two less watts (13) and didn’t have the facility to use the amplifier as an integrated, pre or power amplifier depending on the users needs. As far as I am aware EAR still produce the 859.

Facilities are minimal with 6 line inputs including a tape loop (no monitor switch). There is, disappointingly, no phono stage. Source select and volume control grace the front panel which is a slab of polished chrome. Its is all very minimalist.

Behind this fascia sit the transformers and two EL519 valves which are covered with attractive cylindrical grills.

So how about the sound??!!

Well, I thought long and hard about how I would describe the sound and concluded that the best way would be to select a few CD’s of different styles, listen to each one and then make notes after each detailing what I felt about the amplifiers performance. And, again I cannot stress this point enough: I can only comment on the amplifier in the context of MY system, with MY ears and MY taste in music and how I want it presenting to me.

The CD’s chosen are:

Johanna Martzy - Favourite Short Violin Pieces (Coup D’Archet)

Beethoven – Piano Sonatas played by Daniel Baremboim on EMI

James Taylor - Hourglass SACD (Columbia)

Firstly the Martzy CD. This CD contains short pieces of some of Johanna Martzy favourite violin sonatas. The recordings were made, it would appear, back in the mid-50’s and 60’s for several radio stations.

Despite the age of the recording and the fact that it mono the music coming from the speakers sounds sublime. Martzys playing is beautiful and the system really lets you hear everything. The piano in particular sounds very believable seems to occupy its own space totally distinct from the violin. To me it sounds as though the two instruments are coming from two different positions in the sound-stage – both central but the violin sounds as though it is being played by someone standing up (which I am a sure it is) and is forward into the room and the piano appears slightly lower down and a little further back. All in all it sounds as though you have a violinist stood in front of a piano in your listening room playing a beautiful recital of violin sonatas. You cannot ask for much more than that.

The second CD that I popped on was the Daniel Baremboim Beethoven Sonatas on EMI Classic Recordings of the Century. I listened specifically to the Pathetique.

I am no classical music specialist, believe me, but of all the version of this sonata that I have heard this is my favourite. Considering the size of the speakers I have (around 10inches high and 8 deep) the sound of the piano is huge. The power and excitement of Baremboim’s playing is amazing as the music builds to a crescendo and then delicately reverts to a slower subtler pace. Baremboims piano appears between the speakers free from their boxes with startling clarity. Fabulous!!

Finally, I put James Taylor’s fantastic album (if you like that sort of thing – and I do) Hourglass into the CD Player and as the first track – Line ‘Em Up - played I let his smooth, soothing voice wash over me like a gentle tide ebbing and flowing with the music. His voice was almost palpably real between the speakers with every word, inflection and emotion clear for me to enjoy.

And then bang! No not an exploding valve, just the first thud as the drums in the next track come in and a more upbeat James is on show with Stevie Wonder’s harmonica leading the way – it is truly great stuff and easy to immerse yourself in the music and get lost in that voice.

I then skipped to my favourite track on the album. A tree-huggers anthem this may be but there is, at times, so much going on that I believe this song is a good test of how a system resolves those finer details other’s just gloss over.

Now I have heard this song so many times over the years on different systems and I find it amazing what different components can do to the structure of the song. It is also a song which is good to play to those friends and family who have a remote interest in you hobby to show them what you hear.

Let me explain a little more. The first few seconds of the track contain synthesisers with some strange effects like tinkling sounds (you have listen to understand). Then James’ plucked guitar arrives and then the main theme appears being played with a saxophone. Moments later the backing vocalists float around the back of the sound stage and around the sides almost enveloping the whole sound in a vocal hug. Finally James shows up singing the first verse and we are away.

Now, for this song to truly work you have to get the balance right. On some systems all the different elements of the sound can become confused and turn into a wall of sound with no differentiation in each of the building blocks that go into creating the structure of the song.

With the EAR it just sounds right.

Okay, so with all these positive comments surely this is the most perfect amplifier in world.

Well, no. Such a beast does not exist. Despite what the EAR does well, in some ways (and on a very subtle level) the EAR does betray the companies studio equipment leanings in that can sound just a little bit sterile. A little bit more emotion would be preferable. It’s performance taken as a whole, this is a very minor fault and didn’t stop me from (a) buying the amp or (b) sticking with it.

It is an amplifier, as Jimmy Hughes once put it, that is for life. Can’t say much more than that.

Product Weakness: Can be a little sterile (only a little)
Product Strengths: Great soundstage, very musical, powers "real world" speakers

Associated Equipment for this Review:
Amplifier: EAR 869 15 watts SET
Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): None
Sources (CDP/Turntable): Sony XA333ES Clearaudio Champion/Hadcock Arm/DNM Cart
Speakers: PMC DB1
Cables/Interconnects: Van Den Hul/DNM/QED
Music Used (Genre/Selections): Folk/Classical/Country/Pop
Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner

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Topic - REVIEW: EAR/Yoshino 869 Integrated Amplifier (Tube) - Robby 08:38:52 04/23/04 ( 7)