EAR 834P + Bent Audio Stepups = greatness?

I have an EAR 834P unmodified and am constantly reading how this amp is certainly one to be on the short list of anyone who wants a decent entry level phono. I have the deluxe version so it can handle low MC carts. When modified, many claim this unit is exceptional competing with units well past its price point. My question, if paired with exceptional step ups from Bent Audio, would the EAR perform in the same league as higher end units? The EAR has a very short signal path, is very simple so there shouldn't be much to lose from the cartridge to the main amp save for problems with the decent but not wonderful internal step ups. throwing in some of the world's best into the chain, would I see a world of difference or would money be better spent on a new phono outright? By that I mean, should I modify the unit and get the Mu's or would that $1600 or so paired with the 900-1000 I might get selling the EAR get me more on the used market?

Thank you in advance
If you get a nice sut that is well matched to your cartridge you can use it with any mm phono stage so if you want to move up from the ear you can take it with you. As an example I found the Bottle head seduction to be a major step up (over the 834) in my system using the same sut. The critical point being that the sut is well matched to your cartridge.
This is a great question that I am actually facing too. As I have narrowed my system down to a single source (vinyl playback), I will be selling my active linestage quite soon. The only pre-amplification I will be left with, after that sale, is my EAR 834p.

Do I sell it and go for a phono stage with an integrated volume control?

Do I keep it and run it into a passive volume control?

Do I use a step up, take it out of MC mode, mod it, and then run it into a passive volume control?

It looks like Bent audio has some wonderful options, but I cant help but thinking that I should try out the Placette volume control too. Fortunately I have some time for some of these decisions because my new turntable is still being built (a Garrard 301 w/ Dobbins plinth), but all will be here soon enough. BTW, the rest of my system is an EAR 861 amp into Quad ESL 57 speakers.

If you go with the Bent gear and the 834P combo, please update this thread with your findings. Good luck.
I had planned to do just that. My EAR is not my only phono pre and I had planned to sell it but instead, just for fun, I decided to do all of Thorsten's upgrades, including Romy's air capacitors. I always did really like the EAR. However, in audiophile terms, it could not stand up to my Loesch style FET phono front end. The rebuild made it reasonably competitive with anything I've heard - different from the Loesch but still very good.

All that to say: that I recently scored a set of S&B stepups (Copper) from a guy in Switzerland who was also offering a set of S&B's 600R LCR modules. (Not the 10K set that was recently here on Audiogon). Instead of rebuilding the EAR again with the S&B stepups, I decided to build Thorsten's LCR RIAA phono design with E810F and D3A. I will post it to my system soon.

I decided to build Thorsten's LCR RIAA phono design with E810F and D3A.
Please keep us posted, even on developments if possible. Good luck
Dear Zanth: I understand that you own over 1K Lp's and this means that you have a good investment on software.
You own a Michel/SME/Koetsu analog rig that tell me you really care about music sound quality reproduction.

At the same time ( with all respect to EAR and EAR owners. ) you own the 834P that almost destroy the cartridge signal integrity: it is heavy colored, noisy ( signal to noise ratio of 66db ), RIAA eq. deviation higher than 1 db, high output impedance, etc, etc, etc.

I think that you want to grow-up on the overall quality performance level when you hear LP's, right?, well if you want it then IMHO is that you forget about the 834P ( and up-grades to it ) or step-up transformers and goes for a real better phono stage with out step ups.
Btw, +++++ " if paired with exceptional step ups.... " +++++

IMHO there is no single " exeptional " SUT at any price/any design, the best step up is NO step up at all.

Like always my advise is that you put your money ( as much you can ) where it counts more: the phono stage, the reward is worth it.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I have read several of Raul's posts with great interest - even preserving his post about the best MM carts in my archive. I tried to open a dialog with him regarding his own phono pre some years back but he did not see fit to respond.

In this case, re the 834P, I must say that this is just his opinion. The 843P may have not worked in his system but that is no reason to slag it off once and for all. IIRC, someone responded to one of Raul's posts saying that Raul's choice of reference loudspeakers was rubbish - so to each his own. I was careful to report in my post above that my main phono is FET based, yet there are things about the XF step-up that I still like very much. I would be the last one to tell someone not to try something just because it didnt work for me - specs notwithstanding.

Gregm - I am only about 2 weeks away, I'll make sure to report...

Dear Mike: I don't like the people that give " facts " that are false like the ones you posted.

Here is what you ask me ( by email ) on 03-03-2006:

+++++ " I have been following the thread about your preamp. Mostly, I am curious about your implementation (schematic)........" +++++

and here is what I answer you on 03-06-2006:

+++++ " Dear Mike: Tks to your interest on my phonopreamp. I can't give you the schematics, as a fact we are in the process to get 4-5 patents about.

If you really liked I can send info about and I can build one unit for you. " +++++

I don't want to follow this dialogue with you: I don't like a lying like you. Period.

Regards and enjoy the music.

Looking at your cartridge I would have to say that the Koestu and EAR 834P deluxe is not a great match. This is mostly that the koestsu likes to see a low impedance and the 40ohm tap in the 834P is a little high for the Koestu.

The 834P is a wonderful musical phono stage, so take what Raul says with a grain of salt. If it sounds good in your system, it is good - period.

I own the rosewood and it does not gel very well with my 834P.

Have you considered the EAR MC-4?? This has 4 taps to virtually have all sonic options covered. Art Dudley gave it a rave review in Stereophile.
I do not think the Bent is being manufactured at the moment.

Also the 834P works very well with twaeking of tubes. I have 1 mullard in mine and it transformed the sound.
Hi Zanath,

Try this ..... Switch the EAR phonostage to MM then connect your Koetsu direct to MM setting... The gain should be sufficient ... If this works... don't think you be thinking of any SUT soon...

I'm running my Urushi direct to the my EAR 834... and I got sold off my Billington's trannies... All the best
Dear Downunder: IMHO and with all my respect: The fact that you and other people like to hear a heavy colored and distorted audio item does not means is " right ".

Regards and enjoy the music.
Agree with Raul.

The 834P, modded, upgraded, or tube rolled has always sounded sluggish to me.

It would not be on my short list of phono preamps at any price.
Eastern Electric MiniMax blows EAR834p out of the water. For the record, I don't own the MiniMax because it is not even good enough for me.
Thank you Raul, you are right I am a terrible liar :) I recall it took more than one email from me to elicit that response from you (which I admit I dont really remember).

So, has your incredible patented phono hit the street as a commercial product?

Mike (generally truthful :)

NO offense meant, but I think you should back off on Raul's full function preamp. I have heard it, seen it, felt it, over a year an a half ago and I understand that there have been some improvements made as Raul and Jose keep working on it. It is an extremely viable product and I have no hesitation to say that it is probably one of the best, if not the best, SS units available today. I don't blame Raul one bit for not wanting to give you or anyone else what he and Jose have been working hard on for many years. There are many other areas in this hobby that I disagree with Raul on, but this is not one of them.

And I agree with Raul's and Audiofeil's assessments of the 834P. I owned one, did all the mods, rolled in some tubes, etc. I did sound better, but still kind of warm and fuzzy. But let's be fair, the 834P is at best an entry level phono stage. So I would say no, putting a set of Bent Mu stepups in front of it is not going to change how the EAR sounds. But these are some of the best stepups around so they can be used with many phono stages.
Where is there more information on Raul's phono stage? I'm pretty happy with my modded GCPH but I'm always on the lookout for a great phono stage at a reasonable (under $5000) price.
$5 grand? Forget it, it is out of your league. :-)
Ok, I'll give this one more shot, because I not doing anything else at the moment :)

I have no doubt that Raul's phono is the greatest thing since sliced bread - I never said it wasn’t. In fact some of Raul’s technical claims sounded interesting enough that I asked about them out of curiosity. As I remember it, his initial post sounded as though he was interested in discussing technical information, as many people do on these forums. Again, IIRC, he invited people to correspond with him and then didn’t answer my initial query.

I can respect that he is withholding his intellectual property, but to ask someone to buy an expensive phono stage, unheard, from someone who is unknown outside of a few posts on Audiogon is worse than facetious, its practically an insult. "I'll tell you where this fabulous bridge is located in Brooklyn - if you promise to buy it from me", LOL.

Now I am called a big liar and bad guy because I did not remember the entire exchange from two years ago - and of course, because I have disagreed with Emperor Raul, King of the MM about the 839. My feelings, they are hurting (ieee).

Dan-ed, I am interested, for my own edification: You said you did ALL of the mods to the 839. Does this mean that you completely rebuilt the PS, changed all or most of the power, signal and bypass caps as well as most of the resistors? BTW, such a mod will not fit in the original box. Did you try the recommended circuit changes, including the removal of the horrible MM/MC switch and volume pot? Did you try the tuning caps in the RIAA? – they are a very interesting addition. I am interested to know if you did all of this and still think that the 839 is “entry level”?

Just so everyone is on the same page here: Adding used stepups to an 839 that someone already owns will generally cost less than $1000. The original poster asks if adding better step ups will make the EAR competitive with "higher end units"? He did not ask if it would make the EAR as good as $10K+ state-of the art units like Bolder or Walker's Reference or even the RAULOTRON. (There Raul, I have patented your name – what will you do now??? HAHAHAHAH!!!)

I agree to disagree - some people think the modified 839 is great - I say above that it is not my #1 phono and I decided not to modify it further. What is there to argue about? I do greatly disagree with the pose that it is not worth bothering with because it is not state of the art – which seems to be the point that some are making above.

Your post above confuses me. Are you saying that $5000 won't come close to buying Raul's phono stage? What would the price be? Do you know? What do you mean by "out of your league"? I'm just curious about what he's come up with. I don't consider myself worthy of owning one or anything.
Sonofjim, my comments were based on what I thought was your budget. I don't know exactly what Raul and Jose are selling the Essential for, but it is well north of $10K. Well north.
Sorry, I didn't mean you weren't somehow good enough to own it.
$10K and significantly less buys some of the best phono stages in the world.

Lots of choices from established manufacturers with a proven history.

Saving you from the worry/hassle of reliability, service, and resale issues.
Thanks for the responses guys. I think I will take your advice and instead of modifying and then buying step ups, I'll just save up and get another phono in the future.

My Koetsu has since been laid to rest (I'll retip in the future) and am presently using a Grado Statement Statement.
From everything I have read and heard, the performance of step up transformers (SUTs) are VERY cartridge dependent. I have heard some very good ones, but if they work well with the cart you have now, its not clear if they will work with the cart you have X years from now. Performance is also highly sensitive to cart loading and so any SUT that could potentially be matched with more than cart should have easily adjustable and infinitely variable (i.e., not confined to discrete steps) resistance. YMMV.
Mgreene, we seem to have a disconnect. My comments were directed to the 834P that the OP asked about. He asked if the MUs added to the 834P would equal "greatness". Well, ok, that is subjective. IMO and IME, my answer is still no. You seem to want to talk about the 839, but I'm assuming you mean the 834.

I could go to the trouble of designing an external PSU, splitting the circuit farther into two separate channels, etc., but it would no longer be an 834P. BTW, mine was not a deluxe model so it did not have the volume pot.
Yes, Dan that was my point - and a very clever answer BTW :) Once all, as in ALL, the mods are made, it is no longer the "834P" it is a new circuit based on the 834P. All of my comments about the 834P were plainly and explicitly based on the fully modified circuit.

Your pal Raul said, to quote: "... forget about the 834P ( and up-grades to it )". An extremely broad statement which you echoed by saying that you had tried ALL the mods, when you plainly had not.

Mgreene, I hope you enjoy your 834 for many year to come.
Thank you very much, I appreciate your politeness (really).

I hope no one was offended by my subtle Patent and Trademark humor :)

Zanth, a 834P can be made to sound great. The question is, do you have the skills or know who to hire with said skills to do the mods to make it sound great?

09-23-08: Mgreene Once all, as in ALL, the mods are made, it is no longer the "834P" it is a new circuit based on the 834P.

Agreed, there is no such thing as "all the mods". Modifying, changing and enhancing any circuit is without bounds – one can literally turn a Chevy into a space shuttle when it comes to discrete component electronics.

However, debating the merit of such a piece is rather pointless though. Each unit will be largely unique, and as such unheard by most. You'll only end up comparing apples to oranges.

That's true to a certain degree Paul, re apples and oranges; but Thorsten's list of mods is somewhat definitive. Afterwards you have a generic hi-end realization of the EAR circuit, somewhat akin to the way that 60's manufacturers made their own versions of the RCA manual RIAA circuit.

When the original poster asked about changing out the stepups, I assumed that he either had the skills to do so or was willing to have it done.

BTW: anyone thinking of applying ALL the mods, I think it would be easier to build from the circuit from scratch than work from the EAR board as I did.

I am an EAR 834P and am contemplating the same move. I have a nice power cord, tubes, and isolation, but no mods yet. Candidly, I'm surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the Bent Audio Step up, which has been absolutely raved about by Arthur Salvadore. If this combo is so ill-considered, I would be very interested in what folks would suggest in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Any advice would be appreciated. Has anyone on this forum actually tried the Bent Audio step up with a relatively affordable phono stage, like the EAR 834P? Also, the new Bent Audio step up could be a step forward? Thanks! Mark
Now lack of enthusiasm for the Bent Mu here. I don't own a stepup now because I don't need one. But I have heard how good the original MU sounds when setup well and they don't come around very often on the used market. I know John Chapman has been working a long time to get the new version right. I have seriously considered buying a pair if I get some extra cash.
I bought my 834p with the idea that I was going to butcher it up when ever I felt like it. After 5 or 6 time under the hood, I think sounds better with every change. After all the mods, I added the ZYX phono pre preamp ccp-1. This seems to be the icing on the cake.

Hi Mark, some people philosophically dislike stepup transformers.

I was semi-convinced myself, some years ago when I went to a Loesch style front end = FET step up/tube/RIAA/tube as an upgrade from the a lightly modified EAR. From reading here, and elsewhere, it seems that all transistor units are considered current SOTA - yet many folks have recently sold some of the above SOTA units in favor of Doshi's Alaap - which has tubes and a SS fron end.

Although I considerd the Loesch marginally better in all "audiophile" parameters, I missed something I was getting from even the cheap XFs in the EAR. Note that some of what I missed is often referred to as phase artifacts by those who have decided to dislike XFs.

Distortion artifacts or not, I felt I lost some of the gestalt of faked/live sound - if that makes any sense. In other words, as a sometime musician, I know that stereo does not sound like real music - but has a "fake/real" sound of its own that I enjoy on its own merit.

I am looking forward to implementing the S&B stepups in my latest phono pre and compare it to the FET front end again. I think that any lack of current enthusiasm about the S&B stepups is based on the fact that they are no longer available to the DIY'er. If I could get a set of silver ones like Arthur's, at anything like a reasonable price, I would snap them up quickly.


Just because it has a FET stage doesn't mean it will sound good or sound the best or even sound better than stepups. There is a lot more to getting a FET gain stage to sound as good as a stepup than just building the circuit. However, if it is done right the benefits of not having to mess with minute changes in loading to get things sounding right and not having an extra set of cables in the mix is very much worth it sonically. And there is no chance of experiencing ringing from the transformers. In reality we have just exchanged one set of problems for another set of problems.

The circuit that the 834 is based on is pretty good. I have not studied the RIAA part in any detail. I'll leave that to others who obsess over that. But if one has the intention of maxing out a phono stage based on that circuit it makes much more sense to me to start from scratch. If you look you can find the circuit online and also some enhancements to the circuit. Why buy the unit, then buy more parts, etc. Why not just do the job right and by-pass starting with a product that was meant to meet a price point?
Thanks. Well, Dan, some folks, such as myself, who are not wealthy, benefit greatly from the opportunity to get a nice sounding preamp in stock from and later incrementally investing in improvements, as finances permit. Plus, I think the EAR 834p has a great, compact form factor and has a classy look, but that's just my opinion. Also, doesn't that Doshi Alaap costs $10K? Does Doshi make a less expensive unit, at $10K is just not feasible for me. I wouldn't expect EAR 834P + a few $ hundred for Mitch Singerman mods and, maybe a $1,200 Bent Audio Steup up to match a $10K preamp. What would the folks on this forum suggest as a comparably priced alternative to the EAR mod / Bent Audio combo? Thank you so much for your help. Mark
Dan you are right, making the FET/417A front end sound great is work - but not that hard. I had it measured and the RIAA cureve is extremely accurate. I'm sure Doshi has plenty to say on the matter, using the tubes he uses - I would assume that he has come up with a very clever implementation to get enough gain with 12AX/AT type tubes. I plan to hardwire the S&B XFs into my next project so an extra set of rcas is not an issue.

Mark, if you are willing to get your hands dirty, I would suggest building directly from Romy's final schematic and then selling your EAR when you are finished and satisfied. Not counting the stepups and NOS tubes, I'd bet that Romy's 834 version costs less than $300 in parts - definately less than $500. And most of that is in the power supply.

I understand what you are saying about incremental mods. I've done them myself and done them on the 834. The mods do help make it sound better, but not great. IMO, putting the MUs in front of the EAR is like putting a rose between your nose and a piece of Limberger cheese. You may smell a little of the rose, but I guarantee you will still smell the cheese. I'm not saying the EAR stinks, just making an analogy to help explain my point of view. I believe the MUs deserve more than the 834 is capable of.

The discussion here has, to my thinking, morphed a bit into to what extent is modifying the 834P worthwhile. I don't think it is worth modifying the 834P beyond the normal list of mods usually done to those units. If the goal is to go beyond, I suggest starting from scratch or get another phono stage.

What does the Alaap or the Essential have to do with anything in this thread? I never suggested to anyone in this thread that they should go out and buy one of these so I don't know why this is relevant.
A good alternative to the EAR with a step-up is the K&K SE phono stage.
making the FET/417A front end sound great is work - but not that hard

Maybe you should start traveling around the world giving demos of your work. Perhaps you can find a market for it.
Okay. Well, I had been looking closely at the upcoming Bent Audio unit. If not an 834P with normal mods, then what you would recommend to mostly smell just the roses? I've never heard of the K&K, but I'll look it up. Any other ideas would be welcome. Thanks! Mark
If you have the coin then don't pass on the MUs just because you may use them with the EAR for a while. As I said before, I'm considering buy a set myself even though I have no need for them. I've not spent time with one myself but I think Rccc's recommendation of the Bottlehead seduction should be seriously considered. (I do have 2 pairs of their SET amps, 2a3 and 300b.) K&K, also Hagerman Technologies. But, maybe even better, if you're thinking of getting the MUs why not ask John Chapman? He's probably got something good, but maybe not for future mods.
IIRC from my conversation with John he has used his MUs with the Hagerman Trumpet and the K&K SE kit.

The new Trumpet is a two box unit and with a great set of step-ups like the MUs should sound fantastic with MC cartridges (even with the much lower cost external K&K Lundahl step-up my Trumpet sounded very good with a Benz L2 cartridge). However, by the time you're done you'll be into it for roughly $3500. The K&K SE uses internal Lundahl step-ups and would run about $2500 (assembled by Kevin Carter).
The Hagerman Trumpet with the Mu SUT is a very good sounding MC phono rig, but...you will need to experiment significantly with resistance to find the right value for your cart AND it will be very sensitive to cabling, as the step up ratio, IMO also makes the cable sound like it is also stepped up in length. IOW, make sure you can keep the cable btwn the step up and the Trumpet as short as possible. Or at $3500, you are in the $ neighborhood of the ZYX Artisan phono stage that works just fine w a 0.25 mv LO MC cart, esp w a ZYX cart. When auditioned against the Doshi phonostage it held up well; w some compressing of the harmonics around the fundamental tone but otherwise very good at a fraction of the cost. If LP was my primary source, the Doshi would be the winner, but... Another option would be the ZYX pre-pre which is essentially an outboard solid state gain stage that goes btwn the TT outs and the phonostage ins.
Dan-ed, take a pill. I'm didn't mean to contradict you - I am just relating my DIY experience. I did not design my phono amp and made no claim to.

What I did was to implement an existing design (Thorsten Loesch's redesign of Arthur Loesch phono) and made it sound "great" to me. It was no more complicated than the application minor circuit and parts changes until I heard what I liked - a minor feat that I feel is well within the capabilities of any reasonablly intelligent stereo nut. I tons of online help - but the actual building and parts choices were mine.

Check out Steven's site here: http://www.izzy-wizzy.com/audio/preampnew.html to review a very interesting example of building and rebuilding a phono circuit to try to bring it to perfection. What Steven has done is exactly what commercial manufacturers do to create new iterations of their products. Many times this process is more about perspiration than inspiration.


Several folks around here use Stephen's C3a based phono pre with excellent results, though I've never heard one myself - he too utilizes the S&B SUT in his design wired at 1:20.

I have a pair of the copper S&B/Bent TX-103 SUTs and they are excellent - I used them for many years with fine results. However, comparing them with Kevin Carter's latest SUT offering, the Lundahl LL1931, there's little comparison (disclosure: I use the K&K maxxed-out phono preamp with the LL1931 built in). To my ear, the S&B SUT has a very slightly metallic byproduct in the upper midrange to lower treble, and tends to be just a wee bit ripe and fuzzy at around 150-200Hz (which makes for a pleasantly euphonic midbass). The Lundhal SUT connects to the music and has an immediacy and palpability that simply eludes most SUTs I've heard in comparison. They are extremely transparent in the higher frequencies and convey excellent power and purity throughout the spectrum. They take a LONG time to break in.

So, is this merely a matter of another set of connectors and a bit of wire between point A and B? Is it the difference in loading between the two SUTs (the S&B/Bent loads on the secondary, the Kevin's K&K/Lundhal on the primary). All food for thought. I would jump at the chance to try John's new Bent Audio SUT - he worked long and hard to find something comparable, if not better than the S&B. I also know he is including the option to load on either side of the transformer, which would be fun to experiment with.

There is no magic bullet with analog, or audio for that matter. Use whatever appeals to ear and soul - there is no right or wrong answer, merely shades of gray. Beyond all else, have fun. Good listening,


I appologize, I didn't mean to come off that way. I'm posting quickly between tasks at work (it is what keeps me sane )so sometimes my thoughts don't get fully formed.
Cheers Dan and Richard. I had heard that the Silk XFs were marginally better than the S&B's but the guy I bought from also had the RIAA modules in a package deal. The S&B are known to be able to take a little DC, making Thorsten's last public design possible.

Stephen's web is pretty facinating. I am using a version of his PS in my LCR RIAA.

Zanth, I ran across your thread about upgading the Ear (I have considered the same quandary and was doing research). The Ear 834P is lovely, for what it is, but the low-output Grados, fine cartridges that they are, are not moving coil designs. It was difficult to get a clear answer about this from Ear and particularly Grado, but Jim Hagerman, (despite a slight preference for transformers, when they are appropriate) understood the issues perfectly and made no bones about it: the low output Grado Statement (and Statement Reference) are incompatible with ALL moving coil stepups. The Grado design requires an active step-up stage. In a way, Raul was correct about this (but not so much, in social grace.) Hagerman Labs’ Piccolo (an active FET based design) into the Ear 934P MM input was a tremendous improvement over the internal Ear transformers (as well as Peerless 15095’s, which I tried). Since the alternatives were as to ditch the Grado or the EAR 834P at a loss, the Piccolo was well worth the relatively modest cost (much quieter than transformers, too). I would guess that almost any active “mc” step ups would be better with the low-output Grados than even the best transformers. IMO Grado should be more forthcoming about this in their marketing materials. Jim Hagerman, Ear’s distributor and Grado’s elderly factory expert were all nice, responsive and did their best to help me get to the bottom of this issue, but of the three, only Jim Hagerman really understood it and could give a clear answer – and he was right.
Thanks so much for your impressions and for the information regarding the Grado carts! I had no idea. Dang, this is going to make for some touch decision making. So the FET is the only option for best results? Not even something as flexible as the Steelhead? If I have to go solid state I think I may want to stay within the EAR family and save up for a while to get at the 324.

At least I have some information to go on and can work with the family of carts. Solid information, thank you very much.
Zanth, I do not own a Steelhead (I wish!), but it uses "autoformers" and is probably incompatible. Anyone with a Steelhead will surely get better cartridges than a Grado, anyway. I don't think you're limited to FET's, any active stepup should work. BTW, the EAR 324 uses transformers on the MC input, so it is probably not ideal for a Grado Statement Statement, either. The low-output Grados are just in a class of their own.