A wonderful amp with the right speakers; a critical consideration for recommending this amp.
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I have the 859 and it is wonderful with the right speakers, as noted by Pubul57. The speakers have to be VERY sensitive I find (personally, I would say 98db or better).
The 859 is the precursor to the 869. There is an extra tube in the preamp section of the 869 which gives it a little more power (15W instead of 13.5W of the 859). Apparently the output transformer was slightly modified as well, and the 869 has the function of being able to bypass the pre-amp stage and use it only as a power amp (which the 859 cannot do).
Contrary to the above I will state that suitable speakers need not be exceedingly sensitive at all, although as with ANY low powered amp, it is usually always a bonus.
I have used this amp with many speakers including: Martin Logan esl's (~87dB) with stunning results, completely to the astonishment of all present, had great results with Gale 401's (86dB) which historically require Krell levels of current delivery, Meadowlark Kestrel II's (~89dB) and Quad 57's (~86dB) both of which sound excellent.
The worst combination was with Tannoy DMT 15 II which have a claimed 98dB sensitivity !
I've also used these in recording studios and they really need some serious grunt to control the huge heavy cone, with the 859/69 bass was almost non existent.
Search my posts on this remarkable amp, I've written several things pertaining to it.
Although Tim told me there was a marginal difference between the 859 and 869, when I upgraded my 859 to the 869 board, I also made some key power supply and coupling cap mods which vastly increased the performance gap between between the two (again check my posts), when tweaked this amp is right up there with the best of the best and I personally think that its soul sister which truly lets you get into the aural "Twilight Zone" is the Quad 57 !
These two are a match made in heaven and not surprisingly as Tim used the Quads as a reference point in the amps design.
Coolhand, I will perhaps try my EAR 859 again with my speakers. When I had it in with my Martin Logan ESLs (89db I think) the mids were great, and the bass was mushy. When I have the 859 hooked up to my current horns (which get their bass from dynamic woofers), again the midrange is magical and the bass is OK, until one listens to something which better matches the bass requirements (perhaps the impedance is lower than I think it is). Throwing a lot more power (and in my case, all I have now is A LOT more power), at them is far better, as if the right bass makes the mids and highs better.
However, none of this should take away from the fabulous qualities of EAR amplification as long as the amp/speaker pair match. I love the amp dearly, and think that used the 859 is one of the bargains out there; I can strongly recommend them IF the amp/speaker match is good.