To Garret Hongo,
I really enjoyed your review of the EAR 890! I am in the process of building a system around my Quad ESL-2805s, which have, as you know, unique requirements because of their low 86dB sensitivity and variable impedance.
I have absolutely fallen for the Shindo sound and will be purchasing a Shindo Masseto reamp. However, the Shindo amps are poorly matched with the Quads. I was intrigued by the EAR 890 amp as well as the newer Audio Research Reference 75 amp.
I really respect your opinion and wonder if it were your system, what tube amp would you pick from all you have reviewed (preferably in the $5k-$10k range) for the Quad ESL-2805/Shindo combination? Thanks for your time.
Thanks for the good word on the EAR 890 review. Always nice to hear a review of mine has been helpful.
I am familiar with the Shindo preamp sound, having had the Monbrison in my system some years ago and I once visited Pitch Perfect Audio (a Shindo dealer) in San Francisco. I admire the approach and the sound. That said, I know what you mean about Shindo amps, generally of lower power, not being a match with your Quad ESL-2805 speakers given their low sensitivity (86dB) and large impedance swings.
Except for a few listening sessions, I'm not that familiar with the Quad world myself. But I can say what I've observed in my limited experience is that the appropriate matching amp depends upon which type of Quad speaker you have -- whether based on the old ESL-57 (drivable with low power) or ESL-63 (more power hungry). As the ESL-2805 is derived from the ESL-63, I'd say an amp of at least 50Wpc or more is necessary. Given the EAR 890 outputs 70Wpc, that would seem an adequate amount of power. I asked Dan Meinwald of EAR USA about this and he feels confident that the EAR 890 would do fine with the Quad ESL-2805s. You might also note that the Quad II-eighty monoblock tube amp was designed by EAR engineer Tim de Paravicini and outputs 80W -- so the 10W output difference between a pair of Quad II-eighty monos and the EAR 890 seems minor. All of this is to say that the EAR 890 should do fine with the ESL-2805s.
As for the ARC Reference 75, it's fully balanced (all stages -- input, gain/drive, and output -- are fully balanced) and has only balanced inputs, designed to work with preamps and sources with balanced outputs. As Shindo preamps are single-ended only, the two lines are incompatible. Furthermore, I would advise against using XLR/RCA adapters or RCA-to-XLR interconnects. Shindo amps and preamps are designed to work single-ended, whereas ARC's amplification is designed to work balanced. Defeating their designed connections and combining them via adapters or RCA-to-XLR interconnects would not only be asking for trouble, but would also work against their design principles, compromising the sound of each.
If you'd like to consider an intriguing alternative to the EAR 890, you could look at the new Convergent Audio Technology JL5 stereo amp (100Wpc). Like the ARC Reference 75, it uses the new KT120 tube, but runs eight of them in triode mode and is single ended. About to be released, the retail price will run between $10,000 and $12,000.
Finally, as an overall observation, I think the EAR 890 sound is more in keeping with the Shindo sound, of a sonic character more similar than different, frankly, whereas the ARC sound is much less so -- oriented as it has been toward higher resolution more than richness in the midrange, a trait shared by both EAR and Shindo. However, I have also heard that the new Reference 75 sounds richer in the midrange than previous ARC amps. If your heart is set on the 75, I'd get an ARC preamp to match with it. . . . Garrett Hongo