::: ultra high end line pre amplifier :::
( look new updates for Eclipse - open TAP - UPDATE ! )
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..."
this picture shows you the excellent SNR of - 133 dB. The reason for this is the fact that the volume potentiometer
is not in the input of the amplifier, but in the middle of the circuit. So if you reduce the volume, you also reduce the background noise.
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!"
The three measurements below show you the typical spectacular low distortion behavior of Eclipse in %.
It starts at 98 Hz on the left with 0,082 & , 1000 Hz in the middle with 0,01 % and 10000 Hz on the right with 0,05 %.
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..."
Positive FEEDBACK:"..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..."
XLR1 – ( gain – 1,1 ) = 0,8 dB
XLR2 – ( gain – 2,1 ) = 6,4 dB
XLR3 – ( gain – 3,5 ) = 10,8 dB
AUX1 – ( gain – 1,1 ) = 0,8 dB
AUX2 – ( gain – 2,1 ) =6,4 dB
AUX3 – ( gain – 3,5 ) = 10,8 dB
AUX4 – ( gain – 4,1 ) = 12 dB
Eclipse can be operated alternatively manually or via a remote control
please examine the inputs for your needs. Also for sound quality examine the more sensitive inputs. new remote controls unit for all models, black or silver anodized, in a really heavy full metal aluminium case !
The test of the Stereofile via the eclipse is misleading in terms of the output resistance. Clients have brought to our attention and we want to correct the at this point.The output resistance of the Eclipse is 256 ohm. We have enclosed a copy as documentation of the calculation. We have the output capacitor in its capacity now quintupled, so that at low frequencies the output resistance is based. Please kindly note this. Becker
In 2017 we reduce the max. gain from ECLIPSE down to 14 dB. We register, that more and more sources spend high signal output levels and so its no nessesery to have a Eclipse basic gain from 26dB ! The overall characteristics of the amplifier have improved even more. The other inputs are accordingly less sensitive, they are attenuated. Anyone who is interested in updating his Eclipse, please get in touch with us, we will spend the pics what is to do for this modification update in Eclipse.
( read the complete test in the EKLIPSE sub directory folder - "test reviews" - Stereophile, issue August 2008 )
(Lire le test complet dans l`Eklipse sous-dossier "recensions de test - Stereophile, édition août 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
John Atkinson - Stereofile
The Eclipse was non-inverting; ie, it preserved absolute polarity.
The Eclipse could deliver very high output voltages with moderately low distortion. Fig.2 shows how the THD+noise percentage changes with output level into loads ranging from 1k ohm to 100k ohms. The downward slope of the traces below 1V or so in this graph results from the measurement being dominated by noise. The actual THD starts to rise out of the noise when the traces "bottom"; the fact that this occurs between 1V and 2V into the higher impedances—the highest voltage the preamp will be asked to deliver into a typical power amplifier—suggests that the Eclipse's gain architecture has been sensibly arranged. The preamp is obviously not comfortable driving the lowest impedance (top trace), but peculiarly, the Eclipse is most linear into 10k ohms (bottom) rather than the usual 100k ohms (middle).
NOTE by AudioValve: we replace the output condenser by a higher capacitor one as result for more stable signal in the low frequency range.
Fig.2 Audio Valve Eclipse, distortion (%) vs 1kHz output level into (from bottom to top at 2V): 100k, 10k, 5k, 1k ohms ( 1 k ohms nobody use ! ).
Plotting the THD+N percentage at an output level of 1V into a range of load impedances gave the graph shown in fig.3. Again, the preamplifier is most linear into 10k ohms (bottom trace), but also again, the Eclipse is uncomfortable driving a load as low as 1k ohm (top trace - uninteressting impedance ). However, the THD+N into 5k ohms (second trace from top) is not much worse than that into 100k ohms (third trace from top), suggesting that the preamp will be well behaved with real-world power amplifiers.
Fig.3 Audio Valve Eclipse, THD+N (%) vs frequency at 1V into (from bottom to top): 100k, 10k, 5k, 1k ohms. ( 1 k ohms nobody use ! ).
As is usually the case with single-ended tube preamplifiers, the distortion spectrum consists predominantly of the subjectively benign second harmonic (fig.4), at levels of –68dB (left) and –70dB (right). However, the right channel has more third, fourth, and fifth harmonic evident (red trace), although still at a low level in absolute terms. Intermodulation distortion was also relatively low (fig.5), with the difference component resulting from an equal mix of 19 and 20kHz tones lying at –73dB (0.023%). This was into a fairly low impedance; into 100k ohms, the difference component rose to –62dB (0.076%), though this is still low.
Fig.4 Audio Valve Eclipse, spectrum of 1kHz sinewave, DC–10kHz, at 1V into 8k ohms ( linear frequency scale ).
Fig.5 Audio Valve Eclipse, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–24kHz, 19+20kHz at 1V peak into 8k ohms ( linear frequency scale ).
Provided it is used with power amplifiers having an input impedance of at least 30k ohms, the Audio Valve Eclipse measures well for a tube design, with its performance optimized for real-world conditions. John Atkinson
Clichés abound when it comes to German manufacturing, and they’re clichés because they’re true. From Braun shavers to Leica cameras, there’s a consistency, durability and desirability which maybe only the Swiss can match. (Hell, they don’t call the Swiss “mountain Krauts” for nothing.) The AudioValve components, though, reflect a different sort of Teutonics, and it’s neither cars nor cameras which they mirror.
A colleague of mine – a Swiss-trained watchmaker, with a passion for Nagra and Revox open-reel tape decks – pointed out to me that there was a peculiar “Germanness” to the latest field of endeavor at which they excel: the manufacture of high-end wristwatches, previously the sole preserve of the Swiss. Not being a watchmaker myself, I can’t claim that I knew what he was talking about when he simply looked at a photo of a new Lange & Söhne watch and said, without prompting, “How very German it is.” He then went onto describe a heaviness to the case, design frills which were purely decorative rather than unremittingly functional – hardly what I expected him to say when “Germanness” to me means the Bauhaus cleanliness of the Audi TT or the pure functionality of a Leica M6. But he was right, and he showed it to me in other German watches. Now I see it all over the AudioValve Eclipse pre-amplifier and Challenger monoblock power amps.
Thus, you can forget the “regular” German gear you know. These pieces have nothing in common with the Munich Airport look of ClearAudio turntables, all chrome and glass, nor do they serve as tube equivalents of the uber-high tech sleekness of Burmester designs. If anything, AudioValve’s look is a throwback to the Weimar Republic. Prussian helmets, handlebar moustaches – subtle it is not. The Eclipse, though a thoroughly modern pre-amp, looks like it was designed by someone who apprenticed at Maybach.
Open the wooden packing crate, and the first thing you notice is that this just may be the heaviest two-channel pre-amp on the market. Unless my bathroom scales are off, the Eclipse weighs a serious 33lb. And yet it only occupies a space of 16.5×12.25x5in (WDH). As the see-through, 3/8in thick plexiglass top plate shows you, this all-tube design is so tidy that there’s a lot of free space within – so what contributes to the weight?
Externally, the Eclipse is not subtle. Four massive, gilded knobs fill the front panel, one each for output select, source select, volume and balance. Below the first two are arrays of colored LEDs to show you which output and source were selected, the first set also flashing during warm-up. Additionally, the source and output selectors have positive detents and the silkiest, sexiest action of any rotary controls I’ve ever used.
At the extreme right are the on/off switch and a sensor for the remote (not supplied with the review sample, but operating all functions including stand-by and mute). So far, so solid, the case itself consisting of glossy metal panels made from laser-cut 5mm sheet steel, used for both structural integrity and to assist in AudioValve’s drive for a pre-amp immune to RFI and unwanted noise. Confirmation was instant: this is one seriously quiet pre-amp. The side panels slot into a chunky extrusion at each corner, each fitted at the bottom with a large gold foot. Another nifty detail? Each foot has a soft insert, like the non-wiry part of a Velcro strip, to ensure that no shelf is damaged. At the back are more military-grade fittings, including an IEC three-pin AC mains input, a pair of XLR balanced outputs, and 10 pairs of sturdy gold phono sockets for outputs 1, 2, tape, and seven inputs marked tape, tuner, Aux 1, 2, 3, and CD 1 and 2.
Looking through the slotted lid, its openings directly above the four 6189/ECC82 tubes, you see one of the main contributors to the unit’s mass: a huge, shielded 100W toroidal transformer, which looks big enough to feed a power amp, let alone a line level pre-amp. The entire circuit and all components reside on a double-sided mother board which fills the base of the unit; obsessives will probably not get around to using the Eklipse for some hours after unpacking because the vista takes in the sort of designer ingredients which cause swoons and will distract them from their original purpose. Everything is mounted with immaculate precision and care; the bank of sockets as seen from the inside is nothing short of inspiring.
Dual-mono construction marks this product, the right and the left channel each enjoying its own power supplies for heat and plate voltage. The seven high level inputs offer different input sensitivities and different input impedances, but – as the new, English owners manual wasn’t ready – I stuck with the CD inputs. Every input is switched by a relay, and the Eklipse features something I’ve never seen before: move to Position 9 on the source selector and you activate the relay self-cleaning function. I did it by accident at first, not knowing it was there, and the flashing lights and machine-gun noises nearly gave me a heart-attack. Designer Helmut Becker recommends its use once a month, so hygiene fanatics – rejoice! (Practical jokers might also use it on unwary friends, just to scare them.)
Each channel uses a pair of tubes, the first for gain and the second for the output driver for low (300 ohm) output impedance. AudioValve chose the ECC82 because they feel it can’t be overdriven. A nice touch for anachrophiles is the use of NOS (new old stock), 40-year-old resistors, chosen for their sonics and stability.* There’s no feedback in the output driver stage, so the company feels that cables will have “no influence on the preamp in this sector.” Suffice it to say, the system did seem immune to cable vagaries, but I stuck with Siltech for the entire listening period; I believe that US editions use Siltech internally.
Clearly an obvious pairing for the Eclipse is the Challenger, a parallel push-pull design with some decidedly interesting details. As with all of the AudioValve electronics, the unit features the company’s patented automatic biasing system, called the Automatic Bias Regulator (ABR), which leads to some fascinating possibilities. Each Challenger has two power tube banks with three tubes per side, for six tubes in total per monoblock. Furthermore, each bank of tubes has its own completely separate power supply, with both banks are connected “anti-parallel” above the transformer.
According to AudioValve, “This principle turns out to offer a very high internal damping, and the big advantage of this is that you don’t use the dynamic of the curve of the tubes; instead the cathode immediately follows the signal of each power tube. So the sound of the Challenger is independent from the characteristics of the tube’s curve.” This results in a series of different wattages for the Challenger according to tube type. The user can install any octal-base beam power pentode compatible with EL34, 6550, or KT88 and so on. (The driver section contains two ECC82s and one ECC83, which shouldn’t be changed for other tube values.)
Think about it: the units come with a dozen of the latest Sovtek EL34s, but anyone lucky enough to have a dozen NOS Gold Lion KT88s, primo vintage EL34s, RCA 6550s or even Gold Lion KT77s can really go to town. Depending on the tubes you select, the amplifiers will deliver between 110W and 140W. The most I could muster for alternatives was eight KT88s and four KT77s, so I had to stick with the supplied tubes, but I can just imagine what the Challenger would sound like with original M-O Valve glassware.
Remember: with the Challenger there is no need to adjust the bias, because this is handled by the circuit. Next to each tube is a red LED which glows in stand-by mode, shutting down when the standby switch is set to “on”. Should a tube ever veer from its correct operating range, the LED glows, telling the user to replace it. As it only takes a minute to remove the plexiglass lid, tube changing is a breeze.
Each Challenger measures 8.5x17x10in (WDH) and weighs 55lb. Here, too, we see massive construction, with laser-cut, slotted metal sides, a metal cylinder at each corner with slots for the side panels, and the aforementioned plexiglass top held, like the Eclipse’s, by large finger-releasable screws. The front has the on-off and standby rocker switches with blue LEDs to indicate status, while the primary mains switch is situated at the back, along with an RCA phono input, an XLR balanced input, and two pairs of WBT binding posts to allow matching for 4, 6 and 8 ohm speaker loads.
Should you disassemble a Challenger, you’ll note the cleverness which produced such a compact amplifier. Just as Mercedes A-Class was designed to be tall and narrow, using the normally wasted space under the passengers’ seats for assorted chores, so, too, does AudioValve utilize space in layers. The main PCB is positioned roughly half-way up, and it contains all of the tubes, the regulation, the capacitors – pretty much everything bar the power supply. That’s positioned below, the massive transformers shielded from the circuitry above. And there’s ventilation everywhere, so the Challenger, though running hot, seems to cooler than I’d expect of an amplifier bearing a half-dozen 6550s.
With the Krell KPS25sc still around (I’m in no rush for it to be collected), I used that as my primary source. I did, though, run the gamut with speakers, the selection including Spendor LS3/5As, which need hardly any power to reach their limits, Wilson WATT Puppy 6, Quad ESLs (57 and 63) and a quick burst through the Apogee Scintillas of the 1 ohm variety.
Not being a savage, I tried the Apogees just to see if the AudioValve amplifier would drive them; previously, the only tube amps I used with my Apogees which didn’t burst into flames or merely expire were the late, lamented Beard P100 monoblocks. The Challenger certainly provided enough juice to allow the Scintillas to work adequately in my 12x18ft room, at my preferred and admittedly soft levels, but this was just for a laugh. But I thought you should know, in case you’re a sadist. I don’t really recommend it – for 1 ohm loads, I stick with Krell and the like – but it is an interesting litmus test with possibly costly results.
Back with the Wilsons, it just was not what I expected. Previous experience with Teutonic tube amps – I’d just reviewed an Octave pre-amp for a British magazine, and have also used Klimo, Kebschull, and others – led me to conclude that German designers want their tube amps to behave with the etiquette associated with transistors: cool, clean, tight, analytical, with just a hint of tube-ness. Clearly, Herr Becker prefers warmth, a sound more zaftig than the others, more Brunhilde than Claudia Schiffer.
At no point was power ever an issue; according to AudioValve, the 6550 and KT88 endow the Challenger with 140W output, whereas the EL34 or KT77 deliver performance at the lower power limit. (Looking at the various tube tables I have to hand, this also suggests that AudioValve isn’t running the tubes too hard, either, because 23.3W from each 6550/KT88 and 18.3W from each EL34 are well within their capabilities.) Considering that I’d just been using 300W of Krell power on the Wilsons prior to the AudioValve’s arrival, it says much about the German tube amps that there appeared to be no sacrifices whatsoever in terms of dynamic qualities.
Abundant SPLs, exquisitely rapid changes from softest to loudest, crisp transients regardless of frequency: that’s the Germanic side of it, dealt with as a matter of course rather than as an over-riding signature. As expected, the AudioValves dealt with large works – yup, the Glory soundtrack – with ease. No compression, no clipping, no running out of steam. What tempers these seemingly solid-state virtues are the tube touches, and it’s here that we find one of those rare amps (like the big Audio Research and c-j models) which can convert tranny heads.
Without compromising any of the traits which make a tube amp the choice of many, AudioValve has instilled the sort of composure and control normally attributed to 150W-plus solid-state devices. The slam, the top-to-bottom control, the sheer mass – all are present. But so, too, are the deliriously tube-y qualities which keep me forever wedded to my old Quads and Radfords; in fact, the Challenger with EL34s sounds like a Radford STA25 on steroids. There’s a spatial spread which both suggests that your room has suddenly grown deeper and wider, along with a facility for helping speakers to disappear (assuming that, like most ESLs and most well-designed point sources, the speakers allow it). Here, the teensy LS3/5As proved most-blessed, because the AudioValve exploited the BBC design’s life-like mid-band and where’d-the-speaker-go? dispersion characteristics in a manner never dreamed of by the LS3/5A design team.
But 110W into a tiny two-way designed in ’75 isn’t exactly normal usage of a cutting edge tube design, so the serious listening involved the Wilsons. Most telling of all was the bottom end, which, while slightly less solid and tight than when derived from the Krell FPB300c, displayed none of the flubbing or looseness which the anti-tube brigade always uses as a get-out clause. And while you’d make no mistake that you’re hearing something other than a big Krell, the giveaway would not be the extension: the Challenger goes deep. I’d recently been revelling in the new Al Green package from Edsel in the UK, and Willie Mitchell productions always boast the sort of fluid bass which can embarrass a lot of systems. Well, stone me: these Germans have soul.
To try and separate the Eclipse form the Challenger, I swapped them around with the Krell equivalents. If there are any deficiencies in one being compensated for by the other, I couldn’t detect them. Both exhibited the same spatial characteristics, smoothness and detail retrieval. As the Eclipse proved ghostly quiet, with only the slightest hint of tube noise when ear is placed next to speaker, I was able to determine that the Challenger has a shade more of the low-level whoosh than the pre-amp. But I compared it to two other octal-base amplifiers I had handy – both champions in the quietness stake – and determined that it was the tubes rather than the Challenger per se.
For the curious, the other amplifiers used two and four valves per channel, 6550s and KT88s. While I didn’t have enough to re-tube the Challengers, as I said before, it did give me the opportunity to compare AudioValve’s Sovtek EL34s with Gold Lion KT-88s and unbranded 6550s. Power aside, the Russkies were slightly softer at the extremes and exhibited a trace less punch; conversely, they were richer in the midband and more vocals-friendly, as demonstrated by the lush “Rivers Of Babylon” on Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind and the Judds’ take of “Don’t Be Cruel”. Now I know that a dozen tubes of any sort is a serious investment, so I’m not suggesting profligate tube experimentation. But it sure is nice to know that you can convert the Challenger for either reasons of either economy or sound.
It was easy to fall in love with the AudioValve pair, even the baroque styling; it was like looking at a gigantic Montblanc pen. The Eclipse 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 load without complaint, maintaining their composure at all times. Yeah, I could live with these without complaint.
Unusually, given its country of origin, the AudioValve set-up suffers not the traditional German curse of being over-priced; forgive me, but it seems like a bargain. As one who utterly despises the manoeuvrings of European Community – the largest scam ever perpetrated on an entire continent – I am pleased to note that all currencies linked to the Euro, including the once mighty Deutschmark, have been devalued against the dollar. With the Euro tanking – just writing that gives me a woody! – a pair of Challengers sells for $7,900, while the Eclipse (with remote) costs only $3,490. These are the sort of prices you’d expect to pay for top-notch home-grown gear, let alone European imports, and if you told me to double them, I’d still think they were worth considering. Grab yours now, before the non-elected, corrupt scum in Brussels artificially shore up the benighted currency.
*I wonder how many Eclipses AudioValve can produce before they run out of these rare resistors…