Mike Wright, The StereoTimes concluded:
“…this vacuum tube-based unit is a combination of looks, build quality and sonic enjoyment that I could not, in good conscious, bypass. The clear acrylic top allows you to peer inside and smile at how well it’s built and show off for your friends, and of course, sonically, it makes music quite enjoyable. The biggest secret yet lays hidden deep inside of this preamp, beyond the visage of the human eye. Once you replace the stock tubes with NOS tubes, the performance escalates to a higher level and gives the Eclipse the ability to perform at a much higher level, comparable to preamps costing two to three times its cost. Using NOS tubes, the performance at the frequency extremes becomes noticeably better and the midrange becomes eerily life-like. It’s a good preamp with stock tubes that becomes an exceptional one using NOS tubes…“
Ken Kessler for Ultimate Audio concluded:
„…it was easy to fall in love with the AudioValve pair (Eclipse pre-amp and Challenger mono-blocks), even the baroque styling; it was like looking at a gigantic Montblanc pen. The Eklipse impressed me because of its authoritative performance, openness, ergonomics and build quality. The Challengers? Deceptive they are, like U-boats. Small footprint, not too heavy for a 6-valve amp with huge transformers – yet they drive any bad without complaint, maintaining their composure at all times. Yeah, 1 could live with these without complaint…“
Robert Reina, Stereophile concluded:
„…this preamp is a tube rollers dream. Depending on what your sonic tastes are will determine which tubes you will want to use in your Eclipse. While you may like the sound of the Eclipse with the stock Harmonix tubes, in my humble opinion, NOS tubes like the RCA Clear Top take its performance to a higher level. Highly recommended!“
Art Dudley, Stereophile concluded:
„…for the past several weeks, the Audio Valve Eclipse has been a joy: fun to audition, fun to look at, even fun to deoxidize. Visitors have noticed its styling, too, and praised it for looking less dour than most: for looking both modern and retro in one neat stroke…the Eclipse competes in a tightly run race, but does so gamely: Other choices offer different combinations of strengths, some of which will suit you more than others, but the Eclipse isn’t shamed by any of them. In fact, to the listener who prizes musical drama above all else, the superbly crafted Eclipse could be seen as the only choice. Reasonably. A lovely product, and a decent value for the money: The Eclipse has me wondering what Audio Valve’s power amplifiers sound like…“
„..now, this preamp is like nothing I have ever heard. And I used to be an assistant in a company here in Perth that made possibly the world’s best solid state preamp back in the late seventies. This preamp (known as HSA) consistently beat all preamps that it went up against, even the Mark Levinson. The point is that I do have a very good ear, and I have never heard a system that could beat the old HSA. Many can now, but none as well as your Eklipse…“
„…the detail is stunning. With the clarity of my Soundlab M1 electrostatics and the explosive power of the Sanders Sounds ESL monoblock amplifiers the sound is electrifying! Bass – I had started to doubt that the Soundlabs had any bass – WOW the bass now is amazing!!!! Guitar strings and piano are stunning but then a voice comes in and the singer is standing in the room – fantastic!“
„…once again – thank you for designing and building such a wonderful instrument. The design and build quality are stunning but it is the sound quality that is on a different level to anything that I have ever heard. Thank you for this gift of sound…“
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The very first thing I did as I carefully peeled away the protective covering after lifting the Eclipse out of its carton was whisper and astonished “Wow”. The pre-amp is gorgeous to look at! An absolutely stunning mixture of Art Deco architectural loveliness and German hi-tech precision. It has a see-through perspex top and is gently internally illuminated with a couple of red LEDs when in operation. You just have to see it, photos really do not do it justice.
AudioValve have been around for quite a while and have earned a reputation for making good sounding valve-based equipment with salon-level visual appearance. The current product range encompasses 14 different models of valve amplification, from headphone amps to pre and power amps, and integrateds.
The Eclipse (or Eklipse as it is called in German speaking areas) is a valve (tube)-based remote controlled pre-amplifier. The review sample had “Eclipse” on its faceplate.
It has 7 stereo RCA inputs, 2 pairs of RCA outputs and 1 pair of XLR outputs.
The front panel sports and output selector (including mute), source selector, volume control and, quite unusually, a balance control.
I decided to perform this review with the pre-amp valves in stock form; four Electro-Harmonix 12AU7A. The audiophile world is practically awash in tube-rolling options, and undoubtedly the overall flavour and presentation of the Eclipse pre-amp can be substantially modified by inserting your own choice of valves. Which in a way makes this review something of a snapshot of a moving target, but hey ho, that’s part of the fun of valve based kit, I guess!
According to Steve Dorian, of the UK distributor Audioelec, “The Eclipse is a “tube rollers” dream. Depending on what your sonic tastes are will determine which tubes you will want to use in the Eklipse. While you may like the sound of the Eklipse with the stock Harmonix tubes, in my opinion, NOS tubes like the RCA Clear Top take its performance to a higher level.“
Yep, based on my experience of other valve pre-amps, I can well believe that. And I would certainly encourage Eclipse owners to try a few alternatives to see how the sonic standard can be raised further from the excellent performance already available with the ElectroHarmonix valves.
The Sound in Eclipse
This is a very fine sounding pre-amp – there’s an immediate feeling of rightness and a wonderful sense of dynamic ebb and flow. I knew I was going to enjoy this review from the off.
Overall tonality is pretty much spot on, I think. A genuinely full-range sound, from the generous (but not too generous!) bass thru a very palpable midrange to a smoothly extended treble which gets vocal sibilance (a difficult challenge) just right.
Vocals have more individuality and character than I often hear, with excellent articulation and clarity, and sheer in-the-room presence. There’s a rich tonal texture conveyed in voices that make them seem more real than usual with the Eclipse. Very nice indeed.
Bass is deep, textured, controlled, powerful and vibrant. It really is impressive. I’m tempted to characterise it as solid state bass done right! Those listeners who prefer some valvey bloomy loveliness to the lower frequencies may well be disappointed by this valve pre-amp, but my own view is that the Eclipse is far more realistic in its portrayal of lower frequencies than that.
There is an impressive lucidity in complex, multi-strand music. Nothing seems to phase it, music is just presented clearly and without confusion no matter how ‘busy’ it gets. I was very impressed by this, all too often the musical plot is lost as the going gets going, not so with this pre-amp.
Despite the eulogy of praise so far presented in this review, its imaging ability is, quite possibly, where the Eclipse pleases me most. There’s a wholeness to the soundstage, a sense of immersion in the recording space that really encourages involvement in the musical experience. There’s a ‘you are there’ feel to the presentation that really tops off an already impressive performance.
The one area that I have any real reservation about is in the ultimate resolution of detail. Leading edges of transients are slightly smoothed over, a little of the ‘spang’ of plucked strings, for example, is lost; rapid runs become just slightly homogenised and run together. The feeling of musical immediacy is reduced compared to some amps, you may feel that you are seated a little further back from the musicians than with some components. I know that some listeners will like this aspect of the Eclipse’s presentation, those who enjoy a slightly laidback and less intrusive presentation. Others, like me, would prefer to feel they are closer to the action.
I often find it illuminating to try and come up with a single word which encapsulates a hifi component’s nature, a word that instantly conveys my emotional response to its sound. For the Eclipse I think that word would be “vibrant”.
There’s a warm-up period of about a minute after switch-on before the Eclipse becomes operational.
The remote control of volume is nicely slow in operation but not too slow, you are unlikely to get whisked to unexpectedly high volumes by the careless press of a button.
But the manically flashing red light indicating remote operation is a bit distracting! – personally, I’d cover this with a small piece of black insulating tape.
An unusual feature of the Eclipse is its ability to clean and deoxidize the internal relays’ contacts. An amazing racket of clicking switches results when this feature is selected – it’s quite worrying when you first do this. And there is a firm recommendation in the user manual to turn your power amp OFF when using this function – I suggest you follow this recommendation!
Tube hiss / valve noise? Nope, I never heard any. OK, if I turned up the volume toward full there was a faint tracery of hiss – but the volume level would have been insanely, ridiculously, speaker-destroyingly loud – I can’t believe that anyone would ever have an issue with this.
Value for money
This strikes me as being reasonable, not one of the world’s great bargains, but you get what you pay for. Current UK pricing is £3,700, for which you obtain wonderful appearance (subject of course to personal taste), superb build quality and genuine high end sound. My feeling is that you pay a bit extra for the visual design aspects, but that seems fair enough to me and will be an important aspect for many buyers at this price level.
Despite the slight shortcomings heard in ultimate resolution, I can imagine many music lovers falling in love with the Eclipse pre-amp. You can count me as one of their number! It really is a musically rewarding and engrossing pre-amp.
So the Audio Valve Eclipse pre-amp is recommended! – for its musical palpability and sense of involvement, and yes, the vibrancy of the presentation. If you want the ultimate in resolution and micro-detail I would suggest you may want to look elsewhere, although you may have to sacrifice other aspects in which the Eclipse excels if you do so!
Author – Jerry Jacobs
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Audio Valve Eclipse preamplifier Robert J. Reina, June 2008
Robert J. Reina wrote about the Audio Valve Eclipse preamplifier in June 2008 (Vol.31 No.6):
I was excited when I heard that Art Dudley was going to review the Eclipse line preamplifier from German manufacturer Audio Valve (Stereophile, August 2007). I have owned the preamp for four years now and have enjoyed every minute of it. But I wondered what Art might say about it. To my ears, the Eclipse was detailed and dynamic, but had no sound of its own—no coloration, no sonic signature. How could AD stretch that into an entire review and make it informative and entertaining? I then thought that AD is such a talented writer that he can spend an entire article discussing cole slaw and make it informative and entertaining. (Come to think of it, I think he already has.) Anyway, John Atkinson was amenable to my suggestion that I add my two cents to Artie’s spot-on review.
When I think of the Eclipse ($4200), I think of Audio Research Corporation, for several reasons. First, in his review of the Parasound Halo JC 2 line preamp (March 2008), JA discussed his old Audio Research SP10 and how neutral that component is. Neutral is the first word that comes to mind when I think of the Eclipse. I also think of the last great preamp that visited my house prior to the Eclipse, the Audio Research Reference 3. I loved that preamp as well, but when I bought the Eclipse, I thought it reminded me of a more neutral, more dynamic Reference 3. Finally, I recently spent quite a bit of time comparing ARC’s Reference 3 with the Eclipse (see Follow-Up, June 2007, Vol.30 No.6). But the Eclipse is much more than a „poor man’s“ ARC.
For my discourse on the Eclipse, I mined some of my favorite LPs, using the Vendetta phono stage. The Eclipse loved well-recorded vocal discs. The original UK pressing of the Beatles‘ first album, Please Please Me (LP, Parlophone PCS3042), sonically the band’s best recording (except for Love, of course), let the Eclipse strut its stuff. Lennon’s note-for-note cover of Arthur Alexander’s „Anna (Go to Him)“ betters the original, and has the most powerful vocal Lennon ever recorded with the group. His silky yet stressful and pleading voice was holographic through the Eclipse, vibrant and bathed in the warm light of studio reverb. On „I Saw Her Standing There“ (the best punk-rock tune ever written), the interplay of Lennon’s rhythm guitar with Paul McCartney’s melodic bass line and Ringo Starr’s chunking, churning rhythms demonstrated that the Elipse’s capabilities of dynamic and transient articulation were beyond reproach. The sound was completely coherent, every transient attack in the right spot at the right time, with no sharpness, blunting, dullness, or sluggishness.
When I listened to „Gloria’s Step,“ from Bill Evans‘ Live at the Village Vanguard Featuring Scott La Faro (LP, Riverside/Acoustic Sounds 9376), the Eclipse’s sonic signature (or lack thereof)—its open, detailed, uncolored midrange and high frequencies—rendered Evans’s piano as delicate, silky, rich, and intimate. The title track of Miles Davis‘ Seven Steps to Heaven (LP, Columbia C12051) presented Davis‘ trumpet as vibrant, burnished, golden tones with requisite bite, and Tony Williams‘ drum solo on the title track highlighted the Eclipse’s ability to capture every cymbal and snare-drum transient naturally and in the pocket.
The Eclipse is no silky, syrupy reproducer of tubey high frequencies—the highs were extended and natural on all recordings. The delicate guitar interplay between Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore on the intro to „Free City Rhymes,“ on Sonic Youth’s NYC Ghosts and Flowers (LP, Geffen 0069490550), were clean and shimmering, and the Audio Valve captured the silky consonant tension of the gentlemen’s unorthodox tunings.
As for well-recorded classical percussion, oh my God! Charles Wuorinen’s Ringing Changes for Percussion Ensemble (LP, Nonesuch H17263) is the acid test. The Eclipse captured every subtle dynamic inflection, from ppp to fff, on that recording’s wide, deep soundstage, as well as the acoustic of the recording venue. The long decay of the vibraphones and chimes seemed to extend to infinity, and each subtle, delicate piano inflection was easily discernible beneath the pompous timpani blasts. The lightning-fast piano transients at all volume levels in André Previn’s recording of Messiaen’s Turanga;îla Symphony (LP, EMI SLS 5117) were perfectly reproduced, and the subtle percussion along the back wall were undeterred by the bass-drum blasts, which shook the room without a hair of overhang.
Speaking of bass blasts, it’s time to discuss the Eclipse’s greatest strength. How many times have you read reviews of expensive tube preamps in which the reviewer raves about the bass performance, then ends with this slight caveat: „You can spend more money on a great solid-state preamp and get slightly tighter bass, but then you’d lose the tube magic,“ etc. Well, not with the Eclipse. The Audio Valve had everything else you’d want from a great tube preamp, as well as kick-ass, slammin‘, solid-state–like bass. On „Lord’s Tundra,“ from Dean Peer’s Ucross (LP, Jazz Planet JP 5002-1), the thundering lower-register pedal tones rumbled and shook the room without overhang, resonance, or any sense of coloration or attenuation of the low bass, as with his right hand Peer plucked bell-like upper-register harmonics that shimmered and sustained. From my notes: „unlimited dynamics.“
I like this preamp very much. I share Art Dudley’s enthusiasm for its brick-Scheisshaus construction quality, its point-to-point wiring, its glorious retro-modern look, and the fact that in the four years I’ve owned the beast, the only trouble it’s given me has been a single bad tube. (It runs on four Electro-Harmonix 12AU7s, which you can find cheaply at any Guitar Center store—it’s the same tube they use in Fender and Marshall guitar amps.)
Can the Audio Valve Eclipse be improved on? Sure—it might be possible to find a tube preamp that has a slightly wider, deeper soundstage, retrieves slightly more ambience, resolves a bit more detail, and has a slightly more extended bandwidth on top. I can think of two offhand, but both have prices in five figures. Probably the greatest praise I can heap on the Eclipse is that, after living with the stunning Audio Research Reference 3 for several months, and shaking my head at how that preamp did some things right that I’ve never heard any other audio component do, I was not disappointed when I replaced it with the Audio Valve Eclipse.
Finally, although the Eclipse’s price has risen in the four years since I bought my unit (that damn euro again), it’s still a bargain at $4200. I don’t understand why every tube-loving audiophile doesn’t own one.—Robert J. Reina
Michael Wright, The StereoTimes (01/2010) Most Wanted Component 2009:
„…hot on the heels of last year’s biggest surprise, the Audio Valve Eklipse, comes their new flagship preamplifier, the Conductor. To state it simply, the Conductor performs on another level from most preamplifiers that I have heard in my system. It’s a vacuum tube preamplifier that is detailed, fast, dynamic, and possesses bass power with extension and impact. The Conductor elevated the performance of every component I hooked up to it. Eklipse owners beware: The Conductor is not just a better version of the Eklipse, but instead, is a totally different animal that provides a higher level of the music enjoyment experience…“