Talk to Mitch Singerman, he is an expert at modifying the 834P. He will be able to give you some good advice on it. I believe his mods include Hovland caps and JJ tubes, among other things.
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I have a friend who has one.Compared it,by audiophile committee,with his Aesthetix(the lower priced model,about four thou)and is now looking around for quality NOS tubes,for it.It was far,and surprisingly,preferred to the Aesthetix.Any current,quality mods,would be a fine choice,should you keep yours.
I can understand the choice you and your listening friends made. I had a fully modified 834P when I bought my Aesthetix Rhea (used) and it was quite remarkable how well that little black box did when A/B'd against the Rhea. Especially for MM cartridges. I think it could use better step-ups for MC's.
BTW, Stltrains, Mitch did my modifications as well. He remarked that at that time it was the most extensive mods he had done to the 834P. I still have a little baggy with all of the resistors and caps he changed out. The best thing it has going for it is that the circuit is very simple. Many DIY'ers have built their own units with outboard, dual power supplies and such using that circuit.
My vote is the GCPH. I have had both the Ear 834P and now have the PS Audio GCPH. For me its hands down for the GCPH; better sound and better flexibility. My 834P seemed to lack depth relative to what I heard from the GCPH. The Ear was good but for my taste the GCPH is better.
I also appreciate the ability to use the GCPH gain control as a volume control and bypass the rest of my system for pure analog sound. Even when I did not bypass my system I appreciatted the GCPH and it wasn't even "broken in" yet.
My table is a SOTA Nova V vacuum, Origin Live Incognito arm, Shelter 90x cart. The GCPH fit quite nicely to this gear, offering plenty of easy adjustability depending upon what I wished to hear and as to how I wished to set my VTA according to the type of music I was into at the moment.
Just when I was getting happy with my phono preamp I found a good deal on a new Art Audio Vinyl One (tubes). The Vinyl One sells new for about 3 times what the GCPH does so it should and does sound better on my system. I like it better than both the other units mentioned although I probably did not give the GCPH a fair audition as it is not "broken in" yet with about 20 hours of play time on it. It goes up for sale as soon as I have a chance to post it. It's a disease this audiophile stuff.
Dan,I was not at the comparison,but was told about it,recently.I don't want to take anything away from the Aesthetix stuff,which has always sounded fine to me.
BTW--Just got(Friday)my cute little stylus pressure guage,we see advertised on Audiogon,these days.A few of my pals got it too,as I've mentioned,but I got to re-set my pal's arm with it.Truthfully,it is very accurate,and incredibly easy to use.We compared it to my friend's Winds guage,and it was "almost" exact.Close enough to not be a problem(actually within 6/100 gms).Who knows which guage is really the more accurate,so a good deal for 95 bucks.
My only concern is that it looks to be a bit cheaply made.I would have been glad to pay another fifty bucks,to have a higher quality plastic/fit and finish.The measuring tray is "tin" thin,but the owners manual actually claims that aspect,as some kind of selling point.Maybe it equates to more accuracy.Of course if it lasts as long as I hope,than my criticisms are moot!!
after having the 834p in my system for the weekend there great differences between the two, the 834p is super quite, has the tube blum, great mids, no problem driving my dynavector 20xl, and a real pleasure to sit down and listen for hours, the gcph is great at imaging and is a little nosier, it is also a easy listening piece, its going to be a tough choice, and like you said sit audio is one fun hobby, and a terrible disease but our ears love it, we have so many choices and to little time,
If the two units are that close now I can assure you that moding the 834p will take it way beyond where it is now. There are actually several sources for mods. There was a thread not too long ago on the topic of modding the 834p, so do a search and it should come up easily. One thing you might consider with either unit is how easily is it to change loading. An outboard step-up might just be the ticket and would probably be a good improvement over the stock trannies. BTW, is that the 834p model with or without the volume control?
SriSpeedy, thanks for the report back on the guage. That really sounds promising. I've got a few more months until I have analog again so I'll see if you have any trouble in the mean time. I hope I didn't come off as defensive in my comments about the Rhea/834p. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. These days I'm starting to rethink my approach to audio reproduction and wish I still had my little black box to do some experimenting with.
i sent the 834p to mitch singerman for his latest mod, should be getting it any time will report the difference in what the sound is like to the unmoded one, he advised 100 hrs of breakin, during the time the ear has been out and the ps gcph in i have given the gcph a good audition, will be putting one for sale here on audiogon after my choice is made,
what i think he meant was get 100 hrs on it and from then on take note of the difference in sound, also he sent some of his recommended tubes jj electronic ec83s, before i try them i have my telefunkens in for breakin, i have to admit that i really like what the tubed 834 sounds like in my system, after only about 10 hrs,
for isolation mitchs recommdation is vibrapods which i had and was not using, so i put 3s with the cones and bigger bearings and thay made for a sweet improvement, i have some pieces of granite on top for some added weight, i am using a ps audio extream plus a/c cord, and now that i am putting the hours on the moded 834, i am playing all of my favorite lps and loving it, when i have a sit down i play lps, when not thats when the cds get played, to me there is no doubt lp play back is the best musical front end,
I have heard about using the sst on the pins. Just be careful to put it only where you want it, it is very conductive.
As for dampener, check out Herbies.
I was skeptical, but they do work and Steve is a great person to deal with. YOu can trust his recommendation.
I think the new issue JJ Tesla is a very good tube. Also the new Tung Sol and Sovtek LPS. None are more than $20 and probably less. Just get them selected for low noise. I don't think it is necessary to pay for matching with the 834P, but I could be wrong here. IME it really doesn't pay to spend big dollars on rare NOS tubes unless you have really deep pockets or some special vintage equipment.