Michael Fremer, September 2011
The enthusiasm of Bob Levi, president of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audiophile Society, for the EAR 324and, for that matter, for any component designed by Tim de Paravicinigot me to ask EAR importer Dan Meinwald for a review sample. Art Dudley had reviewed the EAR 324 for Stereophile, in July 2004. Please read Art's review of this accomplished phono preamp, which is still in productionthough its price has since risen a whopping $2500, from $3395 to $5895, and now, with the resurgence of analog (yay!), it has far more competition.
I concur with everything Art wrote seven years ago, though while the 324's tonal balance is still as remarkably neutral as he then described it, I think it emphasizes the leading edges of transients, much as Einstein Audio's Turntable's Choice does. This attractive quality produces clarity and coherence, not brightness or edge, but it's still a coloration, and it means that the EAR 324 won't be for everyoneany more than the Turntable's Choice is.
Like the Einstein, the EAR is remarkably quiet; unlike the Turntable's Choice, the EAR 324 provides great flexibility in loading, two independently adjustable inputs, and fully balanced outputssomething to compare with the Einstein's single moving-coil input and single-ended circuitry for about the same price. (A balanced version of the Einstein costs close to $10,000.) The Turntable's Choice offers 68dB of gain to the EAR 324's 72dB (using the built-in transformer); if you're using an ultralow-output cartridge, either preamp would probably have sufficient gain. Then again, for another $1400 or so you could get the hybrid Manley Labs Steelhead, which is still among my favorite pieces of audio gear, ever.
As a reliable reference an all-around quiet and neutral performer, and an "I'm done" product, the EAR 324 is still easy to recommend.Michael Fremer