Electron Kinetics Eagle 2 power amplifier

When I first heard the Eagle 2 at the 1985 Winter CES I knew this amplifier was a winner. I was eager for a chance to get my hands on it, but I also knew that J. Gordon Holt was champing at the bit to do the same. So it came as both a surprise and a delight when ye Gracious Editor gave me first crack at the Eagle 2. I wasn't disappointed; the little Eagle more than lived up to expectations. It's not the best power amplifier I've ever heard, but it's damn good. It is, in fact, better than its big brother, the Eagle 7A, in significant ways; in view of the 2's reasonable price, that's saying a lot.

A quick glance at the Eagle 2's exterior leaves no doubt that your $895 has not been spent on fancy packaging. Not that the 2 is unattractive; the fascia is nicely finished and the case looks like it would win a run-in with anything short of a Mack truck. But the looks of the little Eagle are plain and uninspired. It's also quite small for a 120Wpc amplifier. When I pulled the cover, however, it became clear where priorities had been placed. Components are high quality, and packed tighter than a can of sardines. The transformer and power supply are massive, and the main circuitry can be conveniently accessed by dropping the back panel.

The overall sound is distinctly solid-state, but with a clean, smooth top end. In fact, the 2's HF performance is one of its strongest features: the highs are clean, clear, and well-extended, with a natural sense of air. Cymbals and brushed drums are nicely detailed, without excess sizzle, and the upper harmonics on violins and woodwinds are reproduced very well.

What makes the 2's HF performance so impressive for its price is a combination of speed and air usually found only on the very best amps. While the little Eagle's performance in these areas doesn't match a good tube amp or the BEL (the best solid-state amp I know of at the top end), it is at least in the same league with the best of the other solid-state amps. Based on the few times I've heard the Eagle 7, I'd say the 2 outperforms its larger sibling in the upper octaves.

The midrange is above average within the price class, but not the best I've heard in an under-$1000 amplifier. Despite sounding very fast and clean, there is some slurring at the beginning and end of notes; the 2 is not capable of revealing the nth degree of detail. Harmonic contrasts are good, but, again, not outstanding and no match for the Precision Fidelity M-8 (reviewed in Vol.7 No.7). The midrange has a mildly electronic character that makes it obvious you're listening to a solid-state amp. Although woodwinds and guitar sounded very good—the natural throaty character or twang of these instruments came right out—the midrange of percussion instruments and piano suffered from a lack of what Peter Moncrieff calls "intertransient silence."

The bass on the Eagle 2 is another strong point. I've always found the Eagle 7A a little too big in the midbass, though this trait works well with many speakers deficient in that area. On speakers with good bass performance, however, the 7A's sound is just too rich and warm. The 2's bass is both tight and well-balanced throughout the bottom three octaves. The mid and upper bass are also fast and tonally accurate, making it easy to distinguish different instruments in the bass line. In the very low bass, the little Eagle slows down a bit compared to the best solid-state amps, but still outperforms its competition in the price class, most of which just can't deliver much level in the lowest octave.

In addition to sounding good, the Eagle 2 also delivers power. I ran it on some very difficult speaker loads, none of which gave it the slightest problem; I suspect this amp could drive a brick wall. The 2 put out enormous amounts of power very quickly on transients, and drove any speakers I had to average levels much louder than I'd ever listen for any purpose other than testing (though at high volume levels the 2 did clip on some transients). Listening to the little Eagle with its 120Wpc rating made me suspect that the FCC's power ratings are virtually meaningless. It simply blows most other similarly rated amps in its price class right out of the water.

Soundstage and imaging are very good, but with an up- front presentation that sounds too aggressive on some systems. All amplifiers seem to work better with some speakers and preamps than others, but the quality of the 2's performance is more affected than most by the character of the system's other components.

I found it to be a wonderful partner for the Nova preamp and Alchemist IIIS cartridge, producing a sound with nice tonal and spatial balance. But with the Electrocompaniet Pre 1 and a low-output MC, the 2's sound was too aggressive, having a solid-state edge and being forward. This could be partially offset by adjusting the feedback controls on the Pre l's head-amp board, but the results never sounded quite right. Among preamps in the Eagle 2's price range, I found the Precision Fidelity C-8 to work well, but I wasn't particularly happy with the PS IVH/Eagle 2 combination.

The little Eagle sounded good with the Watkins WE-1, and even better with the Dayton Wright XAM-4. The latter combo was surprising since the XAM-4s place the soundstage slightly forward, usually sounding very good with amplifiers that are a little laid-back. ]GH reports outstanding results using the little Eagle with the MartinLogan Monoliths, and a friend whose ear I respect claims very good results with the Eagle 2 on the larger Apogees. With the Nova preamp and XAM-4s, the combination I found best, the sound was nicely balanced, with excellent imaging and a large soundstage placed slightly forward. The soundstage was both deep and wide, and extended well in front of the speakers without losing width.

Despite the flaws noted above, the Eagle 2 can sound outstanding when partnered with the right components. It chews up most other amps costing less than $1000 without breathing hard. In comparison to the Precision Fidelity M-8, another first-rate amp in the Eagle's price class, the Eagle has more muscle and better performance at the frequency extremes. The 2 also presents a larger, more three-dimensional soundstage, but does not stack up well against the M-8 in the midrange or in accuracy of harmonic detail—at least in most systems. Your particular musical tastes and associated equipment will determine the Eagle 2's suitability for you, but I preferred it in most applications. Because its sound varies more than most amps when used with different equipment, potential purchasers are well advised to hear the Eagle 2 in their own systems before the sale is final.—Steven W. Watkinson