The EAT C-Major Turntable

Carbon fiber is just cool, no matter how you look at it. Sure it’s stronger and lighter than steel, but it looks so high-tech and sexy, especially when it’s done right.

And the folks at EAT have done a smashing job on the C-Major turntable and tonearm – it looks much more expensive than the $2,495 retail price, with an Ortofon Quintet Blue MC cartridge, that would typically set you back another $550. Preinstalled no less. The EAT C-Major got a lot of attention in the photo studio as we were setting it up for the first time.

Whether you are jumping off the cliff with your first table or trading up from something in the $700 – $1,200 range, the EAT table will give you a major increase in fidelity. A quick comparison to the offerings in the former category from Music Hall, Rega and Pro-Ject, put the EAT way out in the lead on every level, so this is money well spent.

Much of the technology in EAT’s $3,495 C-Sharp turntable that has won the hearts and ears of critics around the world is present in the C-Major. The plinth, platter, and tonearm are of similar design, though the C-Major has only a 9-inch arm tube and lacks the precision speed control of the more expensive EAT table. The C-Major is just a slightly more basic version.

After a quick check on cartridge alignment, via the Acoustical Systems SMARTractor, which has become our reference standard, the factory Lofgren A alignment was right on the money. However, I’ve become hooked on the Uni-Den geometry and after some initial listening, went back to the alignment I have on the rest of my tables. Apples to apples I guess.

The first LP is like that first kiss; it sets the tone for the relationship. If uninspiring, there’s not much chance for anything long-term. Happily, the C-Major sails through the first side of the self-titled Little Village album with ease. The triangle at the beginning of “Inside Job” is round, yet defined with more air than you might expect from a $500 MC cartridge. But Ortofon is the master of reasonably priced cartridges delivering high performance, and this cartridge is a perfect match for the EAT table.

The Quintet Blue, loaded to 100 ohms feels complete mated to the Pass XS Phono. Yes, this is somewhat overkill, but we’re evaluating the TT, don’t want the system to get in the way. The dead neutrality of the Pass makes it easy to complete the homework assignment. For some of the listening sessions, we switched to the Simaudio MOON Ace integrated (that is our Product of the Year) and a step up transformer to get more of a real world system perspective. The remaining listening was performed in system two, via the Simaudio MOON LP610 phonostage, PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP integrated amplifier and the Quad 2812 speakers. A highly revealing, yet musical system that the C-Major feels right at home as a part of.

The Sound

Every turntable imparts some sonic signature, and the C-Major has a slightly warm overall tonality. While this is always relatively difficult to quantify, when swapping cartridges to a known entity, in this case the Ortofon Cadenza Black (the closest to a neutral cartridge in my arsenal) the C-Major leans slightly to the warmer, more relaxed, more mellow side of the fence. To put this in perspective, it’s not as soft and unresolving as say, a mid-grade Linn LP-12, and it has a wider top to bottom range with more heft than say a Rega RP6. If anything, it sounds a lot like a cross between a VPI Classic 1 and a VPI Scout. Make any sense?

Listening further to Johnny Cash on the lovely Speakers Corner remaster of At San Quentin album, the EAT table does a fantastic job with pace, yet digs out the details in a much younger Cash’s voice, revealing nuance that a budget table can’t. A lot of this can be chalked up to the tonearm. More carbon fiber! This carbon fiber tonearm mated to an aluminum headshell and a precise bearing looks and feels as if it should cost as much as the table alone.

Tracking through some solo vocal and instrumental favorites again reveals nothing but nuance. Going back to some of the early Windham Hill records, mastered by Stan Ricker and pressed at the same JVC plant responsible for the first Mobile Fidelity titles is exciting. Alex DeGrassi’s acoustic guitar and George Winston’s piano comes through clean and clear. Piano notes are clean, with the proper amount of sustain and depth.

The uncolored piano rendition leads to a quick speed check, with the Feickert phone app and all is well. The EAT reads at 33.38 r.p.m. If you can hear that .05 r.p.m. difference, I’ll buy you a new BMW. More importantly, watching the speed graph in real time, it’s very stable. Not as stable as my $10k Brinkman Bardo, but damn good for a belt drive table. Bottom line, my review sample is well under the speed variation specified by EAT, and that’s always a good thing.

The C-Major also does an excellent job at untangling records having a dense mix, and this is something you don’t get much of in the $1,000 tables. Of course, they all play music, but if I dig out a copy of Bowie’s Scary Monsters, a lot of the minute details tend to blend the details into the background. Ditto for a lot of my Eno favorites, yet when played through the C-Major, those extra backing vocals on the Bowie albums reveal themselves as distinctly separate tracks, rather than just being played back as a single, fat vocal track. And the ethereal bits in Eno’s Ambient 1: Music For Airports float around the room with vigor.

Major manual

To EAT’s credit, they’ve produced an excellent manual for the C-Major, with very clear explanations and excellent diagrams illustrating what needs to be done. If you proceed with patience and follow the directions, even a novice analog enthusiast should be able to be up and running within about 20-30 minutes. Save those screws in the box, so in case you ever move, they will be at your disposal to lock the table down again.

Once the transit screws are undone, the rest is gravy. A quick double check of the factory set Ortofon cartridge confirmed no more work would be needed here, but should you start with your C-Major sans cartridge, the manual will talk you through it. Also, should you be using a cartridge with other than the supplied Ortofon, be sure of its weight. The standard counterweight will accommodate cartridges from 5-9 grams, and the additional insert extends that range from 9-17 grams, leaving a very wide range of cartridges at your fingertips.

Be sure to level the table, with the adjustable feet, and you’re nearly there. A particularly nice feature of the C-Major is that it has a pair of RCA jacks instead of trapping you with whatever tonearm cable might happen to be attached to the arm. Considering that the C-Major offers enough resolution to work with more expensive cartridges than the $500 Ortofon it is bundled with, taking advantage of a premium set of interconnects can also increase the performance and functionality of this table down the road. And, it gives you the option to run a slightly longer ground wire, should the need arise.

Cool for cats

The EAT C-Major is a cool, yet compact turntable that offers a significant step up in the amount of music it reveals from tables a few clicks down the food chain. It looks stunning in an understated, techy kind of way, and is easy to set up. Best of all it sounds fantastic. You rarely get all of this at just over two grand. I look forward to investigating more of what this company’s turntable range has to offer. Highly recommended.

The EAT C-Major Turntable (US Distributor) (manufacturer)

MSRP: $2,250 (without cart), $2,495.00 (with pre-installed Ortofon Quintet Blue)


Phonostage                Simaudio 610LP

Amplification             Simaudio NEO Ace, PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP integrated

Speakers                    Quad 2812, Graham LS5/9

Cable                          Cardas Clear

Power                                     Torus TOT

The Merrill Christine Pre and Jens Phono

The good news is that both the Merrill Audio Christine linestage and the Jens phonostage are two world class components, revealing a tremendous amount of music, while leaving no sonic signature of their own. No small feat for any linestage or preamplifier at any price. Considering that the Christine tips the scale at $13,000 and the Jens at $15,500, you might even consider them a bargain. That will depend on your meal plan.

Listening begins with the Christine Reference linestage to get familiar with the Merrill Audio “sound,” or in this case a complete lack thereof. The Christine Reference Preamplifier belongs on the ledger with the $40,000 Robert Koda K-10 for delivering a neutral presentation in every way. It sounds like neither tubes nor solid state, it is merely a conduit for music. Talking to Merrill Wettasinghe, the designer, he stresses the wide bandwidth of this preamplifier as part of it’s neutrality and it only takes a cursory listen to realize he’s on to something.

Get ready for major goosebumps

Queuing up Mickey Hart’s Drumming at the Edge, a real audible stunner, both for micro dynamics and dramatic bass drive instantly hammers home the capabilities of this preamplifier. The instantaneous nature of Hart’s big bass drums is engulfing, giving the Quads a level of sock that doesn’t happen easily, yet when fast forwarding a few tracks to “Lonesome Hero,” you can hear the beads flowing back and forth in their stick, and you’re waiting for Hart to hand it to you from inside one of the speakers like the ghost in Poltergeist about to pop out of the television set.

Moving on to “Mali Men” from Afel Bocoum and Alkibar, with it’s dueling acoustic guitars, the lightning speed of this preamp takes charge, revealing every nuance of the fretboard action, to the point where through the Quad 2812s, it’s as if you are sitting right in front of these guys feeling their fingers zoom up and down the fretboard. Saying that the Christine conveys the emotion of the performance doesn’t do this box justice.

Much fun as this preamplifier is with the Quads, (and they’ve turned in a breathtaking musical performance with the Christine) moving to the GamuT RS5i’s and the Focal Sopra no.3’s, both of which have some serious bass output, further illustrates the speed, precision and articulation of this incredible linestage. If you want bass grip, you’ve got it.

The deep, slippery bass groove in Thomas Dolby’s “Pulp Culture” hits hard through the Focals, and these speakers which share the Grande Utopia’s ability to nail percussion transients do an incredible job at painting a distinctly multilayered portrait of this and many other highly familiar recordings.

Even relatively blasé recordings like the Monkees self titled album reveal hidden treasure. Granted, the Christine shows off the somewhat low fi recording, it still digs up a plethora of detail, not only showcasing the delicate harmonies in the arrangements, but keeping the bass line intact and powerful. I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Last Train to Clarksville” sound more engaging.

Vocal and acoustic instrument aficionados will not be disappointed either. However, extended listening sessions reveal that while this linestage is tonally neutral and incredibly true to the music, it does not embellish in the least. Fortunately, it is not forward, etched or strident in any way, yet it will not make magic out of lousy recordings. So the final choice will be up to whether you want to play it as straight as it gets, or do you want special sauce?

Ins and outs

Magical presentation aside, this is probably one of the more difficult preamplifiers I’ve used. Nothing about the Christine is intuitive and while the manual is nearly 50 pages, you don’t even get to how to turn the damn thing on until page 24. Once you’ve paired the supplied Apple Remote and waded through a few menu layers, you will be rewarded with incredible sonics. Christine should be better accessorized for 13 grand. However, Mr. Wettasinghe has spent the money where it counts, on top of the line Cardas XLR connectors throughout. This is a fully balanced preamplifier, though it is supplied with two pairs (one for output, one for input) of Cardas premium XLR adaptors too. Always the mark of an excellent design, the Christine performs equally well mated to balanced or single ended components, so don’t shy away from it if the rest of your gear is adorned in RCA jacks.

Aesthetically, the shiny gold plated front panel will appeal to you or it won’t. Should you purchase the matching Jens phonostage, you will at least have two components that visually complement each other. The alphanumeric display screams Apollo 13, however it is easily read from across the room. Whether this will cloud your judgement and subsequent purchase decision is up to you.

We have no idea what’s inside the case of these solid-state miracles, as Wettasinghe does not talk about it or publish pictures. This preamplifier is a two-box design, with a smaller, external power supply attached via a supplied umbilical cord, which is also of very high quality. Should you buy one and open it up to peek for yourself, the warranty is void. As Tom Waits would say, “What’s he building in there?” Proprietary anything makes me suspicious and crabby at the same time, but the damn thing delivers. My K-10 is the same way. Shrouded in secrecy. We’ll never know.

Analog, eh?

The $15,500 Jens Reference phonostage is equally compelling. Sharing a similar lack on sonic signature with the Christine Reference linestage, the two together are a powerful combination. Fast, full range, and audibly engulfing. Oddly, for as much as Mr. Wettasinghe carries on about the benefits of a fully balanced topology, the Jens is single ended, with a single input and single output.

No matter, the delicacy of Eric Bibb’s guitar comes through strongly, striking a great balance of brushwork on the drums with Bibb’s plucky guitar style. His recent release from Pure Pleasure Analog is absolutely sublime. Partnered with the Koetsu Onyx Platinum, the Jens reveals a lot of music, taking you to a place I’ll stick my neck out and guess you haven’t been.

Gain is fixed at 70db, which works well with every cartridge in my collection, especially with said Koetsu, having only .3mv of output. Loading is widely variable from 5 ohms to 5,000 ohms, which should accommodate a wide range of cartridges, especially with the range between 25 and 500 offering the bulk of the settings.

Where the loading functionality of the Jens Reference Phono stage is incredibly well thought out, implementation is not terribly user friendly. That big lighted panel on the front face merely has three sets of LEDs indicating the Jens’ power up status. Adjusting gain requires going back behind the preamplifier, and rotating a pair of black knobs, hoping you’ve set the same number of clicks on each channel. If you are an analog lover that changes cartridges often, this will become tiresome in a hurry.

In all fairness, we didn’t knock the $60,000 Indigo Qualia for having one input and a single gain/loading setting, so we won’t knock the Jens for the same failing. Simaudio’s MOON LP810 also only sports a single input and is similarly priced to the Merrill Audio. So consider this a high performance phonostage for the music lover with a single turntable that doesn’t swap cartridges often. If you like to diddle with multiple table/arm/cart combinations, you might be best served elsewhere.

Again, like the Christine, the Jens is sealed, with an equal penalty (i.e. no warranty) so there is no way to see just what lurks underneath the cover and how the build quality of this preamplifier stacks up to its competitors.  It uses the same two box design, utilizing the same power supply as the Christine Reference Pre, so if you decide to go all Merrill Audio, the line and phono stages will require three shelves to accommodate all of the boxes.

Combining the Jens with the Christine makes for a dynamic combination. Both share the same ultra wide bandwidth design ethos and provide a very fast, clear and immediate presentation. Even the notoriously forward Rega Apheta 2, thanks to a 25 ohm loading setting is easily tamed, providing linear response. While there is no listed specification for signal to noise ratio, the Jens has a complete absence of background noise; it’s high res digital quiet, making for an incredibly dynamic analog presentation. All the audiophile cliché’s about “inky black backgrounds,” and “sound just creeping up out of the background,” etc., etc., apply here. Most phonostages have at least a tiny bit of noise, but not this one. Even with the volume control of the Christine cranked fully clockwise, there’s a total absence of sound. Impressive.

Total honesty

The Jens’ lack of sonic signature doesn’t really make for exciting audio journalism. Extended listening with a wide range of highly familiar pressings proves highly engaging. A perfect tonal balance, wide dynamic range and weighty presentation gradually increases the gravitational pull of your listening area. A few hours on the couch with the Jens makes it tough to escape your hifi system’s orbit. As more hours racked up, the same thought occurs when listening to the Jens, it epitomizes the analog feel, giving recordings this homogenous flow resembling a master tape that helps fool your brain into thinking you are listening to the real thing.

And the more you listen, the more you’ll be pulled in. Everything feels a little bigger, a little deeper than what you’re probably used to. The only phonostages that have exceeded this have been the $60k Qualia and the $65k Pass Xs Phono. I’ve yet to experience a phonostage that reveals this much music at this price, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay the Jens. A few other phonostages do things differently, a few are more user friendly and a couple of great tube phonostages offer their own sonic signature that one listener may prefer over another. But if you want analog honesty and you don’t mind the quirky nature of the Jens, I can think of no better phonostage unless you’ve got $60-65k to spend.

The Merrill Audio Jens Phonostage and Christine Linestage
MSRP:  $13,000 and $15,500 respectively


Turntables                   AVID Acutus REF SP/SME V/Lyra Atlas, Brinkmann Bardo/Koetsu Onyx Platinum

Preamplifier                Merrill Audio Christine, Pass Xs Pre

Amplifiers                   Pass Xs 300 Monoblocks

Speakers                      Quad 2812, GamuT RS5is, Focal Sopra no.2, Sonus faber Il Cremonese, MartinLogan Neolith

Cable                           Tellurium Q Silver Diamond interconnects and speaker cable

The Brinkmann Audio Bardo Turntable

Closing the door on a Porsche 911, clicking the shutter on a titanium bodied Leica camera, that’s German engineering excellence, baby!

If you love that level of precision to go along with whatever high-performance product that suits your fancy, you’ll freak out just watching the 10.0 tonearm on the new Bardo lower ever so gently onto a waiting LP. This is such a precise, delicate action, the stylus cantilever on the Koetsu Onyx Platinum barely deflects at all. Those of you wanting to install a mega cartridge on your Bardo can rest assured it is up to the task.

As Adrian Belew’s trippy, reverse tracked, overdubbed vocals in “Big Electric Cat” go all the way from the edges of my speakers, out about seven more feet to the walls of my listening room, with detail galore, it’s easy to fall in love with this table. The Koetsu Onyx Platinum cartridge that costs as much as the Bardo puts forth a more engaging performance than it has here in any of my other reference turntables. Here, here for synergy. During the review period, everything from a Shure M97 to the Koetsu has been taken for a test drive, but the Japanese masterpiece wins the day. Everything on hand works exceptionally well with the Bardo. However, this table is fully up to the task of a $10k premium cartridge. It’s that good.

Living with Brinkmann’s direct drive Bardo for the last few months has been nothing but joy. This table is incredibly easy to set up, stays set up and is equally easy to use. With direct drive coming back in vogue these days, there are a few other DD tables on the market, but they are both considerably more expensive than the Bardo. Thanks to a change in their distribution scheme, and a Brinkmann USA office in place, the German manufacturer is now able to be much more price competitive, and that’s a great thing for analog lovers. The Bardo table/10.0 arm was still a fantastic deal at $13,500, but at $9,900, this is a straight out bargain for those wanting a world class, destination analog deck.

Should you want the benefits of Brinkmann’s direct drive expertise, but already have your favorite tonearm on hand, Brinkmann can supply whatever arm board you need. Ordering a Bardo sans tonearm will only set you back $7,000. Considering what a great job they do with their tonearm, which Helmut Brinkmann refers to as a hybrid unipivot design (and you can read more here both mechanically and visually, it seems pointless to use another arm. But you can if you want to. To clarify the “hybrid” moniker, Helmut Brinkmann tells us that “his proprietary design uses Swiss-made gimbal bearings in the vertical plane and a bespoke unipivot in the horizontal.”

Multiple connectivity options make this beautiful table even easier to integrate into your system. Our review sample arrives with standard RCA connections going from table to phono preamplifier, but you can also opt for balanced XLR connections (this will take a little longer for delivery, as the RCA’s are standard issue), or a 5-pin DIN socket. Modifying an existing Brinkmann arm to a Din connector will set you back an additional $180. Handy if you already have a premium tonearm cable in your arsenal.

A further performance upgrade is available with the optional RoNt vacuum tube power supply ($4,190) for those wanting still more performance. A few Brinkmann owners have commented that this is not a subtle improvement, so look forward to a follow-up review sometime next year.

More music

The easier a turntable is to use, the more likely it is to get used. The Bardo takes up a small footprint and being a non-suspended table, you may want to install one of the better isolation bases, like the ones from SRA; it all depends on your room and taste. My floor is relatively inert and thanks to an SRA Scuttle rack, I felt no need to improve on the Bardo’s placement in my room.

Going way back to the obscure bin, an old favorite, Tim Curry’s Fearless is an album full of slick late 70s production, with some of rock’s favorite sidemen backing up Dr. Frank-n-Furter in his alternate career as a serious musician. The bass line in this record has always sounded somewhat vague, yet when portrayed by the Bardo, it’s rock solid. Actually, everything played on the Bardo has an uncanny sense of pace to it. The nearly $40k AVID Acutus REF SP and SME V has a little more weight in the lows and delicacy in the highs, but the Bardo is unbeatable at its price point.

Direct drive is not a dirty phrase

It goes without saying that a lot of the resolution the Bardo offers comes from meticulous build quality and attention to detail. Much of the major pace and timing accuracy this table delivers comes from the direct drive system. Utilizing Feickert’s iPhone app to check speed accuracy reveals most belt drive turntables to be relatively close to spinning at 33.33 r.p.m., but there is a fair amount of variation on the theme.

Watching the real-time speed graph for the Bardo, it’s near flat across the board. The phrase “rock solid” definitely applies here. Because Brinkmann implements direct drive the opposite way that the legendary Technics tables did, the result is much more to the liking of a modern audiophile.

Technics DD tables, initially designed for the broadcast world, used a high torque motor, hammered into speed accuracy by a quartz lock control mechanism, resulting a lot of motor “cogging.” This is what happens in the small spaces in the 360-degree rotation of the motor that don’t always have power applied. Unfortunately, this aggressive speed control did exactly the opposite of what was intended. Pulling out my SL-1200, with the excellent TimeStep power supply and a stock SL-1200, tracks played on the Brinkmann get progressively flatter in terms of three dimensionality, going back to the TimeStep equipped 1200 and then a stock one. It’s easy to see how the early direct drive tables got pooh-poohed, and I can see how easy it was to be seduced by the Oracle back in the early 80s.

Mr. Brinkman’s low torque approach, coupled to a heavy platter and world class bearing makes for smooth sailing. It takes about 8-10 rotations to get up to full speed, which is about the amount of time that it takes for the tonearm to set, and once you shut the power off, it rotates for a long time before coming to full stop. Brinkmann’s research led him to the current lead crystal platter insert in the aluminum platter, making for a major increase in resolution over one strictly machined from aluminum. Brinkmann spends a tremendous amount of time on materials research alone, and on his website, he claims this goes all the way down to the fasteners used to hold things together! The proof is in the listening; this is a very refined design.

Controlled ease

The presentation of the Bardo is indeed unique. Record after record has an ease and freedom from fatigue, again because of the excellent speed accuracy this table offers. Friends with canine hearing claiming perfect pitch that can hear a plethora of speed issues on every table I’ve ever reviewed were not only dead silent listening to the Bardo but they were also outright complimentary. Violins take on a magical realism with this table because of that speed accuracy.

You’ll probably key in immediately to how great your rock records sound, should you be a fan of this genre. The Bardo does a great job in the bass performance, but if you live on a strict diet of Zeppelin, you might not notice the subtleties of this table quite as much as the classical listener preferring soloists and small ensemble music. Sampling this fair gives the Bardo a near reel to reel tape like transparency.

Our choice for Analog POY

Here’s why the Brinkmann Bardo is our choice for 2016 Analog Product of the Year; it offers tremendous value, build quality, sound quality and ease of use. I’ve listened to my fair share of $100,000 plus turntables and have always walked away unimpressed. You can buy a pretty major hi-fi system for $100k, and I suggest if you take that path, you put the Bardo on top of your rack. Seriously, other than a few audio reviewers and a couple of hedge fund managers that got a screaming deal, who owns a $100,000 turntable anyway?

Wacky as it might sound, the $10,000 – $20,000 category is the hottest category for “destination” turntables. There are a handful of great tables costing 2-3 times this much (like the SME 30, the AVID Acutus REF SP and a few others), and they do reveal more music for sure. But again, the Brinkmann Bardo presents so much music, especially with your choice of awesome $5,000 – $10,000 cartridge, I’ll stick my neck out and say that most of us could live happily ever after right here.

If you’re currently using a table in the $3,000 – $5,000 category, you will be floored at just how much more musical information and nuance that the Bardo can shed light on, that if you have the purchasing power, this won’t be a difficult decision.

I’ve purchased the review sample and plan on spinning a lot more records on the Bardo. It’s simple, elegant, yet high-performance design has captured my enthusiasm. Should you be planning on buying a table in this price range, I not only recommend the Bardo, I sincerely hope you will audition one, and see if you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Brinkmann Bardo Turntable

MSRP:  $9,900 with Brinkmann 10.1 tonearm ($260 savings, purchasing the bundle)


Phono Cartridge                    Koetsu Onyx Platinum, Ortofon Cadenza Black

Phonostage                            Pass XS Phono

Preamp                                  Pass XS Pre

Power Amps                          Pass XS 300 monoblocks

Speakers                                GamuT RS5i, MartinLogan Neolith, Quad 2812

Cable                                      Tellurium Q Black Diamond speaker and interconnect,

Power cords                           Cardas Clear

The Latest From Yumi

A relative newcomer to the audio industry, U.S.-based Kanto opened its doors in January of 2007. After working for larger consumer electronics companies for many years, Kanto’s founders put their design discipline to work developing new products to meet their goal of delivering high-quality products at very reasonable prices. Kanto’s latest speaker product conceived in Canada, the Yumi powered speaker, is building a fan base of its own. After putting the Yumis through their paces, I count myself among Kanto’s recent fans.

In The Eye of the Beholder

Kanto speakers are available in a variety of colors to blend in with any home décor or provide a nice contrasting hue. A prospective owner has the choice of matte black, gray and white finishes. However, I’d highly recommend choosing from one of the beautifully executed gloss finish options including black, white, gray, blue, purple, or red.

Kanto deviates from the standard boxy speaker shape, giving the Yumi’s a modern twist. While the front and back of the speakers are flat as you would expect, all the speaker’s side edges are curved. Rather than having defined sides it’s more like the speaker has a “flow” around it.

Tweeting and woofing are handled by a one-inch silk dome, and a five-inch Kevlar driver, respectively. Despite the small dimensions, these drivers prove themselves serious workhorses. To encourage better bass response, each speaker has a two-inch bass port. With the ability to output frequencies ranging from 60Hz to 20 KHz, the Yumi’s cover the majority of the human hearing spectrum. For those craving full range bass down to 20 Hz, the Yumi’s do include one subwoofer output on the rear.

Lots Under the Hood

Within the modern exterior lies the real magic of the Yumis. In Kanto’s design implementation, one of the two speakers is both the brains and brawn of the pair. It houses the control knob, source switching circuits, and the amplifier. Only this speaker must be attached to a power outlet using a standard electrical cord. Each of these elements requires some additional explanation.

The dual-purpose knob on the front not only controls volume but by pushing in the knob and rotating it, the Yumi toggles through various input options. Owners have a choice of connections for music sources including RCA, 3.5mm, Bluetooth, and optical.

Opposite the knob is a small LED that indicates the speaker’s state and source.  White, blue and amber colors – flashing or solid –  show various states of sources and power readiness. In addition to the various inputs, and a power switch on the rear of the speaker, a built-in USB charger is a convenient addition, making it easy to charge a mobile phone or another audio device while using that device to stream music.

Yumi’s are powered by a 30-Watt Class AB amplifier. Putting that much juice in a little speaker enclosure is a bit like packing a turbo charged V8 engine in a Volkswagen Bug… and it’s awesome! While I admire greatly the energy efficiency and sound quality of modern Class D amp designs used in many powered speakers today, there’s still something about the older-school amplifier circuitry that usually generates, to my ears, a more musically engaging and lifelike experience. The Class AB implementation in the Yumi is no exception. When in standby mode, the Yumi amp sips only half a watt, keeping the circuitry warm and ready for use. While the owner can manually put the Yumi’s into standby mode via the remote, the speakers will do it automatically if no source material is detected for a period.

External dimensions of the speakers are a scant 6.9” W x 8.1” D x 10.6” H (17.4 x 20.5 x 27 cm). The Yumi speaker pair weighs in at about 23 pounds. Of course, the passive speaker makes up only 8.8 pounds (4 Kg) of that heft since the heavy amplifier, power supply, and other technology is packed inside the other speaker enclosure.

All in the Wrist

As if all this isn’t stellar enough, the Yumis come with a plastic remote that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand, allowing the owner to control many functions from the comfort of a favorite listening seat. Volume, mute, and source selection are complemented with the ability to control bass and treble. A reset button snaps the sound back to neutral when frequency emphasis isn’t desired. When using a Bluetooth connection, additional buttons control the ability to play, pause, or select the previous or next song.

Sending music from a phone via Bluetooth is incredibly easy, however, in my experience a fair amount of fidelity gets lost with compressed music despite the Yumi’s implementation of the aptX codec created to give Bluetooth better sonics. Using the analog RCA inputs to pipe in music from my reference rig, the Yumis take flight. In every perceivable way, music comes though with a sonic improvement over of the wireless connection. It may be silly to feed the Yumi’s a signal from sources priced much more expensively than the Yumi’s themselves, however, these speakers demonstrate their ability to take great source material and deliver it to the listener in a musically satisfying and very engaging way.

Shocking Sound

These powers speakers deliver impressive sound. Though the Yumi, tracks like “Rotten Apple” by Alice in Chains have a surprising level of texture, emotion and depth which I would normally associate with  larger speakers and more powerful upstream equipment. Similarly, vocal tracks like Cat Power’s “Silver Stallion” reveal the emotion of the performance.

There’s a relaxed naturalness to the Yumis voice. It’s easy to settle into long listening sessions with various music types like electronica, vocals, pop, classical and jazz, never feeling like huge compromises are made. All of the tracks auditioned are delivered with nuance and delicacy beyond the Yumi’s price point. At the same time, there’s a quick-paced liveliness when the music dictates it. These speakers are not one-trick ponies, but chameleons that do well with whatever musical information is thrown at them.

The bass these little babies put out defies expectation. Even a few feet from the rear wall without any bass loading, there’s a good amount of lower frequency heft, and adding a little more is no problem thanks to the tone control options. With any small enclosure, though, there are bass limitations. Those craving heavy and tactile low frequency information can utilize the Yumi’s subwoofer output to augment the monitors.

From a soundstaging perspective, the speakers offer additional surprises. They somehow manage to throw a huge, three dimensional soundstage with ease, as you might expect from a great pair of mini monitors. Musical elements exceed the left and right boundaries of the speaker bodies and there’s a perceived depth of musical cues projected well above and behind the speakers.

The Yumi speakers deserve many accolades. But yes, they do have limitations. Are these tiny speakers going to reproduce spacious orchestral works with the impact, powerful swells and crescendos of a full range floor-standing speaker? Of course not. It’s important to frame perspective here. Let’s just say these Kanto speakers pour forth music, across the frequencies they are capable of reproducing, with ease, grace, and potency.

Given the speaker size and $449 price tag, I can’t criticize something that does so much so well. Some compromises must be decided deliberately by designers in order to satisfy size requirements, manufacturing costs, and future consumer sales. Kanto’s team made took a lot of care to avoid glaring errors that can make modestly priced speakers sound or feel cheap, impeding listening enjoyment. For potential owners living in a small apartment, or who want a set of speakers in a bedroom or den, the Yumis easily offer enough oomph to fill a room with spacious sound. Heck, they did a mighty good job filling my main listening space.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot!

Right out the gate, these speakers command attention and deliver big, thrilling sound that seems impossible from such an unassuming enclosure. It’s a pleasure to test a product that provides so much quality for a modest price. Over the course of my time with the Yumis, my enthusiasm for them only grows. At the end of the review period, I could not bear to pack up and return these mini marvels, and purchased the demo pair. For all they offer at their price point, we award the Kanto Yumi Speakers a 2016 Exceptional Value Award.

Kanto Yumi Powered Speakers

MSRP: $449


Analog Source: SME Model 10 with SME V and Model 10 tonearms. Dynavector 17D3 and Denon DL-103R cartridges

Digital Sources: Mac Mini, Roon Music Service, dCS Debussy

Preamplification: Coffman Labs G1-B

Cables: Jena Labs

Power: Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose power cords

Accessories: ASC tube traps, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Equipment Footers, AudioQuest Jitterbug, Atomic Audio Labs Mac Mini stand

Scaling The Mighty Neolith

The good news is that after years of refinement, MartinLogan has nailed the integration of ESL panel and dynamic woofer to a level they have never done.

I’ve owned nearly every version of ML speaker over the last 25 years and have loved them all. But these take the concept to perfection. Three minutes into the classic Robert Plant track “Sixes and Sevens,” there’s a tiny bell that sounds like a manual typewriter return and it hangs in space, crystal clear in a way that this well-worn classic rock track has never done. Even a fairly dense recording, like TV on the Radio’s Dear Science is unlocked, revealing a plethora of new information. That’s what you spend the big money on a pair of speakers for – and these are big money. Just a few nickels shy of $80k.

Turning the volume control on the Pass Xs Pre further clockwise, closing my eyes and staying in that vein, a 45 rpm maxi single of AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” pegs the meters on the Xs300 power amplifiers and I’m transported back to the front row of Milwaukee’s Auditorium. The cannons blast, without the usual clipping and compression that plagues most systems I’ve heard, and it’s 1981 again.

Other speakers I’ve been listening to sound small in comparison. You wouldn’t think anything this big could possibly disappear in the room, yet these monstrous speakers completely vanish. Even with the lights on, they just fade out of view. The Neoliths don’t just deliver holographic imaging, they turn your listening room into the holodeck. Where most other ESLs (some past ML models included) generate a luscious musical rendition, albeit with a small optimal listening spot, you can stretch out with the Neolith. Not only do they produce a couch-wide listening sweet spot, they sound pretty damn good when you’re just sitting down on the floor or off somewhere to the side. This doesn’t happen with any other ESL, period.

You might think an $80 thousand pair of speakers would do everything, and on many levels the Neoliths do. But just like the world’s most exotic cars, the mega speakers all have different personalities, some with greater strengths than others. Having spent a few years with the CLX as a reference speaker and reveling in its glory, it still did not represent mega speaker status to me. When set up to perfection it offered a glimpse into music that very few speakers at any price could match. But the CLX was not a full range speaker and required a great, actually a pair of great, subwoofers to really reveal all.

The Neolith is a different story entirely, featuring full range frequency response that doesn’t require augmentation with subwoofers, and stepping out from past ML hybrid designs, the Neolith is fully passive, not incorporating internal amplifiers. These are mega speakers in every sense.

Redefining what can be

The journey that began with the Summits 11 years ago culminates in the Neolith, and on so many levels exceeds what I thought a panel speaker capable of. If you haven’t been reading TONEAudio for a long time, I must confess a love for panel (primarily ESL) speakers and have owned a plethora of MartinLogan, Magnepan, Quad, Acoustat and Apogee speakers. But none of these speakers have proved captivating in the way the Neolith renders music.

Every time I review a pair of MartinLogan speakers I have to go back to “Tea in the Sahara” by the Police, from their Synchronicity album, because this is where my journey with the brand began almost 30 years ago. This sparsely recorded yet dynamic track with a quickly paced bass line is tough to get right on any speaker, yet hearing this for the first time on the legendary CLS was a revelation.

To refresh my memory, I spent a day with TONE staffer Jerold O’Brien, who just picked up a pair of CLS IIzs with brand new ESL panels, combined with a Krell KSA-50 amplifier and highly modded early Levinson preamplifier. Add a lovingly restored Oracle Delphi series II and a Dynavector 17D3 cartridge and I’m nearly sitting on the same couch at Listen Up! in Denver, Colorado, again. Not to mention it makes for a great way to revisit my first Martin Logan experience.

As MartinLogan moved to their current hybrid designs, making their speakers more user friendly, some models have performed better than others. From the Summit and Vantage models introduced about six years ago, their design staff has been on a roll, integrating the ESL panel with the woofer in great fashion, each model getting a little better. Honestly, the Summit is still a speaker I could live with happily ever after with a combination of transparency and integration that is tough to fault.

The Neolith supersizes everything; it’s an ESL hybrid that is without limits – at least not ones I could find. No matter what the program material, they never felt pushed, compressed or at any kind of disadvantage.

While the Neolith can handle any kind of program material with ease, its strength is that big ESL panel – 35% larger than even their Statement E2. If there has ever been a speaker that music truly flows from, it’s the Neolith. Other mega speakers like the Focal Grande Utopia EM, the GamuT Zodiac or the Sonus faber Aida all are equally mighty, but in this area none of them can match the Neolith. Spinning the title track from Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heel Boys, the gentle fade-in as the track begins, just seems to enter the listening space from nowhere. Then, as it reaches full volume, it’s present everywhere.

No crossovers in the signal path, from 400Hz on up, makes this happen. As great as the world’s best speaker manufacturers have become at driver, cabinet and crossover design, the interaction of different materials, the varied transient attack of different drivers still does not make for the seamless approach that one large driver with no crossover network dividing things up can offer.

It’s much like comparing the performance of the latest Ferrari to the Tesla P85D. Both cars are nearly equally fast on paper, but the driving experience is completely different. When you put the pedal down in the Tesla, 100mph comes up in nearly the same time, but the experience is completely effortless, without shifting gears. You might say it’s like butter.

You don’t realize how effortless it is until you go back to a traditional speaker, perusing the same music. On another level, it’s much like the seamlessness you hear when listening to a great SET amplifier, and if you’re like me, you might ponder “how can I get about 200 watts per channel of this?”  While you can’t get a 200-watt per channel SET, you can get the MartinLogan Neolith.

This brings up another important aspect of the Neolith’s performance. It’s the most tube friendly speaker MartinLogan has yet produced. Where other models have been less than sparkly on the high end with some tube amplifiers, the Neolith turns in an exciting performance with our PrimaLuna HP integrated amplifier (configured with KT150 tubes for nearly 100 watts per channel), Conrad Johnson CA125sa+, and the Audio Research GS150. They even turn in a respectful performance with the 20-watt per channel Nagra 300p. Wrestling a few other tube amplifiers from friends yields similar results – bad tube sound could not be found with these speakers.

Yip Yap

A cursory look at terrorist chatter on the internet reveals a fair number of people biased against the Neolith, claiming underwhelming demos, and as someone who tries to not fund the terrorists whenever possible, I must agree. I too have heard some very underwhelming Neolith demos, just as I have heard disappointing demos of a handful of other mega speakers. The Neoliths need to be set up properly, with truly great components behind them to deliver the maximum experience. And once you hear them in that context, I guarantee you will be blown away.

Revisiting time-worn tracks provides a wealth of new information. These speakers dig deep, really deep. Going back to albums used as demo tracks for decades is a sheer blast. Unveiling the jewels that Brian Eno left for us to discover in Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men is an auditory Easter egg hunt. The additional electronic pops in “Shrivel Up” and the extra vocal and guitar overdubs in the title tracks are simply hallucinogenic.

But it can’t all be sex, drugs, and rock & roll (or can it?). The separation of the violins in Arnold Bax’s String Quintet in G proves equally enticing. The violin is such a tough instrument to get right, yet the Neoliths sail through this album with perfect tone and timbre. Unlike the big Magnepans, which paint a supersized picture of ten-foot-tall violins, the Neoliths keep the size of the instruments as they should be. My 16 x 25 foot room creates an image that feels as if those four players are sitting about eight feet in front of my couch – it’s that holodeck thing again.

As user-friendly as a 385 pound speaker can be

It’s always fun to see how much better a manufacturer is at setting their speaker up than I am, and as you might imagine, I’ve gotten pretty good at setting up MartinLogan speakers. Due to the weight of the Neoliths and the willingness of ML’s Peter Soderberg to bring an associate and offer some extra muscle, I let him do the dirty work.

Once out of the crate, the preinstalled casters make short work of getting the Neolith into initial position. The front firing 12” woofer works full range up to the 400Hz crossover point, but the rear firing 15” woofer (with 4-inch voice coil) acts as a subwoofer, operating from 60Hz down.  Jumper adjustments to attenuate the bass output by -4 or -8 dB, along with a “distance control” to optimize floor and panel interaction, made this the quickest and most precise Martin Logan setup I’ve ever experienced. The supplied spikes can then be installed to get the perfect rake and tighten up the last bit of LF energy.

Without these adjustments, I may not have been able to achieve the stunning results I did in my 16 x 25 foot listening room and after hearing the Neolith in a few larger rooms, I’d suggest the more space you can throw at these speakers, the better. An even bigger, more cohesive musical experience awaits you if you can give your Neoliths a little more room to breathe. I’d go as far as to say that if your room is any smaller than mine, go for one of the smaller models for best results.

A quick sweep of test tones reveals solid bass response all the way to 20Hz. Playing a suite of EDM and hip hop tracks confirms the measurements; high volume of the initial bass line in Genesis’s “Back in N.Y.C.” would push the Maxell man’s chair out of the room. The Neolith will punch you in the chest, hard.

Some big speakers can only play big, while some small speakers can only play small. The MartinLogan Neolith does it all. A solo vocalist or instrument is rendered just right, with the tiniest of musical nuances never blown out of proportion. Yet when you need to rock, they will blow you away. Few speakers at any price can do this, putting the Neolith into the rarefied air of the world’s finest.

Faint of heart

The MartinLogan website says the Neolith is “not for the faint of heart.” At $79,995/pair, they are not for the faint of wallet either.  And at 385 pounds each, unboxed, you won’t be able to unpack these beauties if you are faint of bicep. The world’s finest electronics will take you to a new solar system of sound, yet the ease with which these speakers mate to nearly any amplifier make these our choice for this year’s Speaker of the Year. Watch for more gushing in issue 80.

If you love the portrait of music that panel loudspeakers create, there is no better embodiment of the genre than the MartinLogan Neolith.

The MartinLogan Neolith

MSRP:  $79,995/pair


Analog source:   Brinkmann Bardo turntable w/Koetsu Jade cartridge

Digital source:  dCS Rossini DAC, Rossini Clock and Paganini Transport

Preamplifier:  Pass XSPre

Phonostage:  Pass XSPhono

Amplifier:       Pass XS300 monoblocks

Cable:             Cardas Clear

Issue 79


Old School:

The Bowers & Wilkins 803 Matrix 2


KEF’s wireless Muo

By Rob Johnson

Journeyman Audiophile:

Q Acoustics Concept 40  Loudspeakers

By Mark Marcantonio

Personal Fidelity:

Woo Audio’s WA8 Headphone Amplifier

By Jeff Dorgay

TONE Style

The Wino: Four Modern Wines of Austria

Beck-01: The ultimate Jeff Beck book

The Impossible Camera

Hong Kong Phooey T-shirt

Mercedes USB Drive

Mahabis Classic Slippers

Scross Universal Voltage Adaptor


Spin the Black Circle: Reviews of New Pop/Rock and Country Albums
By Bob Gendron, Todd Martens, Chrissie Dickinson, Andrea Domanick and Aaron Cohen

Jazz & Blues: Dave Douglas, Mat Ellerstein, and More!
By Aaron Cohen and Jim Macnie

Bob Gendron listens to the Stones in Mono

Gear Previews

The G-Lab Block Amplifier

Pear Audio Kid Howard Turntable

Tellurium Q Black Diamond interconnects

Soulines Kubrick HDX Turntable

VPI Prime Turntable


B&W 803 D Speakers

Naim Mu-so QB mini

SVS Ultra Bookshelf Speakers

MartinLogan Neolith Speakers

McIntosh C1100 Preamplifier

Sonus faber Il Cremonese Speakers

JL Audio Fathom IWS Subwoofer

The Pear Audio Kid Howard Turntable

The home page of the Pear Audio Analogue website says that they are “turntables with pedigree.” If you’re relatively new to the vinyl game, it’s possible that you haven’t heard about the Nottingham or Well Tempered turntables, but the man behind Pear, Peter Mezek had a profound involvement with both of these legendary tables. So the tagline is very accurate.

These tables are hand built by Mezek in his factory in Slovenia, so these are as close to bespoke as it gets. The Kid Howard is as manual as it gets too; there is no power switch and because of the very low torque motor involved, KH needs a little push to get moving in the morning. But then again, so do I, so I won’t be too hard on this little turntable that can. This no-frills approach sets you back $4,995 with the Cornet 2 tonearm, which is a derivative of the Nottingham Ace arm, no slouch to be sure.

In the days of manufacturers applying Formula 1 machining techniques to their aesthetic design, as well as the goings-on under the hood, the Kid Howard looks somewhat primitive, mechanically at first glance. The olive green wooden plinth almost looks like it is hand carved and stained. I’ll warn you now the proof is in the listening with this table.

There are a great many ways to design a turntable, but the ultimate goal is to spin the platter at as perfectly close to 33.33 r.p.m., and isolate the record on that platter from any vibration either from the drive system and the surrounding environment. In essence, the stylus is merely tracking that delicate groove perfectly, unaffected by anything else.

Of course, everyone claims their way is the best, with some even insisting that the others have it all wrong. Mezek prefers to use a drive belt to isolate a motor with extremely low torque minimizing the vibration transmitted to that delicate stylus assembly. Pear’s approach results in a lower noise floor and a larger sound field.

Do turntables have a sound?

Just like so many love to argue about the “sound” of an amplifier, DAC or any other component. The choices that every designer makes positively effect the overall sound of a turntable, or perhaps more accurately, the way the turntable’s platter and motor (or suspension if applicable) interact with everything else in the record playing system to have a sonic signature. The KH definitely has a somewhat warm, relaxed feel. On many levels it reminds me of a mid to late 80s Linn LP-12, and that’s not a bad thing by any means.

This table does not require the constant fiddling that my Linn always seemed to need. The KH has more sheer bass drive than that LP-12 did. A quick phone call to staffer Jerold O’Brien brings that LP-12 back, amidst curses that “it will take a week to get this damn thing sounding the way it did.”  The KH’s unipivot tonearm is enclosed, so it won’t pop off in your hands the way a VPI arm wand does, but if you are used to more traditional tonearms, you will need to get used to the slightly floppy nature of this arm. Some may snark about the lack of a finger lift, but none of my SME arms use one either, so this was not a point of contention. SME’s founder, the late ARA, claimed that the purist approach to the tonearm did not require one, so that’s good enough for me.

The bass line throughout the tunes on the ORG pressing of Joni Mitchell’s Wild Things Run Fast have more presence, more palpability and detail than on the LP-12, and certainly more than a few other things I have lying around. I found joy with every cartridge mated to the KH. At the suggestion of Michael Vamos, the Pear importer (and the incredible GamuT speakers) I began the review with the Ortofon Cadenza black MC cartridge, one posessing a sound that we are both familiar with. Comparing this to the sound of my Feickert Blackbird, where this cartridge usually resides and could immediately hear a bit less of the more neutral, almost clinical sound that this cartridge, for better or worse can exhibit.

Swapping to one of the more reasonably priced ZYX cartridges, the Fuji-R100 was the winning combination for me. Again, remember, I like things just a few molecules on the warm side and will always happily throw the last few bits of detail and resolution for pace, ease and musicality.

Regardless of program material, everyone that listened to the KH only took about five minutes to arrive at the same comment. This table has a powerful lower register, almost like my Thorens TD-124 possesses and that’s wildly ironic when you consider that the drive motor has virtually no torque. See why it’s not a good idea to jump to conclusions? The KH’s speed stability is directly related to the 17-pound aluminum platter. Remember physics 101: bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, and that’s certainly the case here. Oddly, as you install said platter, there is a big brown thing that resembles a grounding strap, providing a slight drag on it. Pear claims that this further stabilizes rotational accuracy, offering the slightest bit of tension on the platter-to-motor interface.

Reveling in minutiae

For all of its other virtues, the KH excels at retrieving fine details and spatial cues. Rather than bore you with countless examples, suffice to say this one will surprise you as you wade through your favorite tracks. I always try to suggest evaluating any new piece of gear with three distinct categories of recordings: records you are intimately familiar with, fantastic recordings and dreadful recordings.

The KH is outstanding in all three categories. Time worn musical favorites reveal fine inner detail that I’d never expect a table at this price to expose. The sound field rendered is big, big, big; extending well beyond the speaker boundaries, all the way out to the side walls in the room. Audiophile darlings with tons of detail do not disappoint either. That big platter is a big help when listening to solo piano or violin; both of these highly sophisticated instruments are reproduced without waver, retaining the necessary amount of weight to sound highly convincing. Lastly, the crappiest recordings in my collection come across with a vigor that I wasn’t expecting. Often this can be the most telltale sign of a table’s performance.

While this turntable can be dissected in many ways, it offers a sheer level of enjoyment that is tough to adequately describe. After about 10 minutes of listening, you’ll get it. The Kid Howard grows on you quickly. Yes, there are turntables that resolve more detail, etc. etc., but this table is a sheer musical pleasure. As I mentioned in issue 78, regarding Enjoyment Per Hour, this is one of my favorite turntables at any price.

The Pear Kid Howard ticks all the boxes, and at a much lower price than I’d expect. $5,000 is still a lot of money to spend for most people, but if you are thinking of spending this much on a table, the KH would be at the top of my list, and I doubt that you’d get more performance for the money.

Generally, this paragraph would make the KH a shoe in for an Exceptional Value Award, but it’s that time of the year again. I reserve the small handful of Publishers Choice Awards for the components that are my absolute favorites of the year, and the Kid Howard is not only on my list for the year, but it’s also on my favorite tables of all time list. However, we don’t give awards for that. Maybe we should. This is a music lovers turntable.

Pear Audio Kid Howard Turntable

MSRP: $4,995 with Cornet 2 tonearm (NA Distributor)


Preamplifier            Conrad Johnson GAT series 2

Phonostage            Conrad Johnson TEA-1 series 2

Amplifier            Conrad Johnson LP125sa+, Pass Labs Xs300 monos

Speakers            GamuT RS5i

Cable                Cardas Clear

KT150s For PrimaLuna’s DiaLogue HP Integrated

If you’re the kind of person that’s on the phone shopping for upgraded wheels, tires, suspension and brake components the minute you bring your new superbike or sports car home from the dealer (possibly even before you take delivery…) then this brief article might interest you. However, if you like things as they come from the factory, then turn the page.

It’s no secret we love the PrimaLuna  DiaLogue HP integrated amplifier. My relationship with PrimaLuna goes back to day one – the original ProLogue, which I reviewed for The Absolute Sound, and subsequently purchased. That little amplifier is still in my family on it’s second set of tubes, chugging away, nearly 14 years later without as much as a burp. That’s awesome reliability as far as I’m concerned.

As PrimaLuna expanded from their ProLogue series to the DiaLogue series, with bigger transformers and even better components, building on the core values that made them great, the resolution just kept improving. Their Adaptive Auto-Bias™ makes all the headaches associated with biasing tubes a thing of the past. In 14 years of using PrimaLuna amplifiers, I’ve only had one tube failure, and the  Adaptive Auto-Bias™ did its job safely and efficiently, shutting the amplifier down without bother. On a few other “big name” tube amplifiers I’ve owned, this would cause at least a blown fuse, and on occasion, led to a blown resistor; once bad enough to scorch the circuit board beyond repair, and once a mini mushroom cloud. Fortunately, I was sitting close by, jumped up instantly to pull the plug and spray a little bit of Halon on the culprit. But I digress.

A tube rolling dream

To make this perfectly clear, all of the PrimaLuna amps come from the factory sounding great. Kevin Deal is the undisputed Jedi master of vacuum tubes, and he takes great care to voice the tubes in your PrimaLuna. If you don’t want to fiddle, sit back and enjoy, these are the world’s easiest tube amplifiers to live with.

But if you’re that guy or gal that has to wring a bit more performance out of everything, consider the KT150 option in your HP. Out of the box, the HP delivers 70 watts per channel with EL-34s and 73 per channel with KT-88s. No big deal there, the KT88 choice is more of a tone control, but swapping to KT120s takes you up to 89 watts per channel and all the way to 96 watts per channel with KT150s!

However, a set of KT150s will set you back $800. As Patrick Starfish likes to say, “That’s crazy talk SpongeBob!” But who ever said big fun was cheap? It’s still cheaper than a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports for my BMW, and the way PrimaLuna runs their tubes, I guarantee you’ll go through about four $1500 sets of Michelins before you ever wear out those KT150s, so it’s a bargain. While I’m spending your money, grab a pair of super duper 12AU7s from Kevin to replace the two driver tubes too. You only live once.

Viva la difference

Some speakers responded to the upgrade more than others, and depending on your listening tastes, you may even prefer the EL-34s – they sound lovely. When driving my Graham LS5/9s, I honestly like the sweeter sound of the EL-34. That Adaptive Auto-Bias™ makes it a snap, just plug the new tubes in, push the bias switch on the right side of the amp and go. Best of all, considering how gently the PrimaLuna amplifiers are on tubes, should you have some mega-expensive NOS EL34s, they will last forever.

If you really like to rock out, that nearly 30 extra watts per channel does comes in handy. Recently I used the HP to break in a set of $45,000 Sonus faber Il Cremonese speakers and with the KT150s installed, this little (but heavy) $4,500 amplifier was giving the five-figure stuff a run for the money.  Where the HP equipped with EL-34s struggled a little bit to drive the massive MartinLogan Neolith speakers, just reviewed in issue 79, with the KT150s it was smooth sailing with plenty of headroom.

The biggest surprise and joy is driving the Quad 2812s with the HP/KT 150 combination. These ESLs don’t really need a lot of power to sing, however they do benefit from an amplifier with a lot of grip, and the HP is one of my favorite amplifiers for driving these speakers at any price. Swapping the KT150s felt like I added a pair of subwoofers to the Quads. The only time these speakers have demonstrated this kind of low-end grunt is when they are connected to the Pass Xs 300 monoblocks. ($85,000/pair) To get this kind of sound out of an amplifier just tipping the scale over five grand with a complete set of KT150s is unbelievable. In every other instance, the KT150s are a to-taste option, but if you are driving a set of Quads, the KT150 upgrade will change your worldview.

Am I crazy?

Probably. One of the most fun aspects of a PrimaLuna is the ease by which you can swap tubes, offering an almost infinite level of fine-tuning. This may drive some of you to insanity, but if you can approach this with a bit of prudence with a specific goal in mind, it’s exciting indeed.

Though spendy, keep the KT150 option in mind for your HP. Considering my original ProLogue went almost 9 years before I had to retube, this isn’t even a latte a week. Like I said earlier, it’s a bargain.

If you call Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio, to get a set for your HP, you won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended.