EAR 834P phono preamplifier Michael Fremer on the EAR
I've been meaning to review this Tim de Paravicini design for years. Finally, egged on by readers, here goes.
Double your money and more than double your pleasure with EAR's now venerable but still vital 834P, a three-tube (12AX7) moving-magnet stage that also has, for moving-coil use, a pair of step-up transformers (3–50 ohms) available at the push of button. The 834P in basic black will set you back $995; the chrome Deluxe version costs $1295 (I've seen it discounted to $995).However, I can't guarantee that these prices will be current by the time you read this; the dollar has been plunging of late. It will be difficult for importers to hold the line on prices.
You can run any cartridge you like into the 834P—its noise level is relatively low, with just a bit of "tube rush" well below normal signal level—but get to 0.25mV and you're pushing your luck. But there was no problem with MM or high-output MC cartridges, of course. I had great results with newer low/medium-output cartridges such as the Lyra Titan and Transfiguration W.
The 834P's sound was absolutely gorgeous in the midband, with a touch of "golden glow," and an overall spaciousness and enticing musical wholeness that let me sit back and get lost in whatever was spinning on my turntable. Apparently you can swap sonic flavors by changing the frontmost of the three tubes, but Stereophile's policy is for its reviewers to review what they get. Besides, the stock sound was so satisfying that I kept the 834P cranking for well over a week without pain.
The 834P's bottom-end delivery was well extended though a bit loose, if only slightly so. If you're using small two-way speakers whose midbass hasn't been bumped up, it could be ideal, but even in a full-range system, I didn't find the bass blubbery or overripe—in fact, it had a believable physicality that could make me think solid-state bass sounds a bit too tight and overwound. The 834P's high-frequency extension and transient performance perfectly balanced its bottom: not sharp and etched, of course, but not soft or overly romantic, either. You'll need to have the ideal cartridge to optimally balance the 834P's virtues—a slightly sharp, fast-sounding cartridge should really get this thing singing.
Do you want a big, expansive soundstage populated by lush, full-sounding images? A rich picture you can sink your ears into without feeling as if a velvet cloth is muting cold pleasures on top? The 834P will give you that. As much as anything, what you're buying is the design expertise of Tim de Paravicini, whose experience and knowledge in building very expensive products has now resulted in one of the best-balanced, highest-performing, under-$1000 hi-fi components I've heard.—Michael Fremer