Einstein Turntable's Choice vs EAR 834P + MC4


I have been contemplating a phono stage upgrade from my EAR 834P and MC4 transformer, and have compared it to a couple of highly rated phono stages. My 834P is un-modded, apart from using JJ 12AX7 tubes. The MC4 step up is a major upgrade over the internal transformers, but effectively doubles the price of the 834P. I am using it with a Nottingham Ace Spacedeck, Micro Seiki MA505 arm and Koetsu Rosewood cartridge.

A few weeks ago I borrowed a Tom Evans GrooveX, which had adjustable loading and capacitance. This is a very highly regarded phono stage but I found it severely disappointing. While it was extremely quiet and tonally neutral, it lacked real dynamics. Guitar strings, cymbals, drums all lacked that speed and snap that vinyl does so much better than CD. While initially impressive, I gladly returned the Groove after a few days.

Over the last few days I have been listening to the Einstein Turntable's Choice. This is about 50% more expensive than the 834P/MC4 combination and has been getting rave reviews, regarded as comparable with some of the best phono stages at any price. It comes with a number of different impedance plugs so that it can be matched with any cartridge.

The Einstein TT is much better than the Tom Evans stage. It produces dynamics as well as a rich, liquid sound, and is extremely quiet and resolving. This time the comparison with my 834P/MC4 was not all in the EAR's favour. The EAR phono now sounded a little noisier, with a little more hash and grain, while the Einstein sounded smooth, quiet and liquid. I was almost ready to order the Einstein.

However, again I had some subtle misgivings, which I couldn't quite put my finger on. So I made some 24/96 digital recordings of both and switched back and forth between the files. The Einstein is dynamic, but I felt that the EAR - despite being a tube design - was just a touch faster and more rhythmic. The Einstein is also darker sounding (the 834P has a reputation for sounding dark, but the MC4 brightens it up considerably), and its "liquid" sound was just a little overdone - I normally like a smooth, liquid sound, but here it seemed as if all the intruments were connected in one "flow". The 834P/MC4 gave instruments their own space and a better defined sense of texture, even if the Einstein had better resolution and was quieter.

At the end of the day I preferred the EAR 834P and MC4 step up. The Einstein Turntable's Choice is an excellent phono stage and I could easily live with it. But I felt that the EAR combination was, for me, more musical. Obviously, this is a personal view and other people will have a different take.

I guess it also goes to show that the 834P is a remarkable design at its price. Even in stock form it sounds truly excellent (although it has a few detractors). Add a great transformer, such as the EAR MC4 and it is comparable with phono stages costing a lot more, and may even be preferable, depending on your tastes. Rather than looking for a new phono stage, I am now planning to have my 834P modified by upgrading the capacitors and resistors - hopefully this will increase its resolution and reduce its slight amount of grain, to the point where it is much better than the competition.

Again, this comparison was made using my equipment, my ears and my preferences, and should not be taken as definitive. Nevertheless, I hope it may be a useful data point for anyone contemplating buying any of the phono stages mentioned above.
rossb
Interesting, a friend who borrowed my Einstein and did the same comparison bought an Einstein. The Einstein benefits from being fully broken in and from left on continuously. Likewise the choice of power cord is extremely important. The one supplied with the unit is somewhat better than most stock cords but severely limits the performance of the unit. Likeise, the unit benefits from isolation. Two hard footers combined with one more compliant footer under the separate power supply is much better than the stock excuses for feet. Placing three Walker lead pucks on the top of the power supply also yields audible improvements. The Einstein when properly tweaked is superb, at least to my ears.
I agreed that the Einstein phono stage benefits from premium after market power cord. But I would think a well-designed component shouldn't need so many tweaks to sound its best. Additionally, it will be a challenge to A/B components with so many variables thrown into the mix. But all in all, the Einstein is a great phono stage.
The BIG $$$ Einstein should sound better than the EAR sitting on a garbage can.

Can the 834 and get the 324.

You will never get your money back on the 834 mod.

Kill the JJ tubes.
Consider spending a (relatively) few $ having your 834P modified. Mitch Sunger does great work and is an EAR factory service rep. This move may save you big $ in the long run.
Unfortunately, even well designed components benefit from some after market tweaking, particularly with respect to power cords and isolation. I think that part of the problem is that each system is different, particularly in terms of how polluted the electrical service is and how subject to voltage fluctuations. The TT's Choice is at around $3500 on the used market a real value in terms of potential performance and worth the effort to optomize its performance. The Choice also seems to hold its value on the used market and is easily resaleable.
Dear Rossb: +++++ " Again, this comparison was made using my equipment, my ears and my preferences... " +++++

almost everything is system/ears/priorities dependent when we are comparing audio items.

I heard the Enstein in three different systems ( one of that system was the great one at Fcrowder place. ) and the EAR too and IMHO the Einstein is way better that the EAR: has a better tonal balance ( top to bottom ), neutral/less colorations, lower noise/distortions, very good at both frequency extremes ( better than the EAR ), is fast on transients, has no SUT , etc, et. Is it the best out there? certainly not but is very good.

IMHO your EAR combination is highly colored and its overall frequency response/distortions/noise/RIAA accuracy/channel balance against the Einstein is truly bad.

The " liquid " sound that you are hearing through the EAR combination is real and heavy distortions due to the own EAR design, the additional MC4 and additional cable and connectors .

Yes, you like all those EAR distortions/colorations and this is what it matters more because you are the one that must live with it but IMHO the Einstein put you near to the recording where the EAR combination put you far away from the recording.

+++++ " Nevertheless, I hope it may be a useful data point for anyone contemplating buying any of the phono stages mentioned above. " +++++

IMHO I don't think seriously ( with all respect ) that your comparison really could help to almost any one to make a choice in favor of the EAR over the Einstein but I can be wrong.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
I once had, in addition to my EAR 834p, a far more expensive phono stage in my system. I don't have it anymore. The EAR was better. Ignore those who say "shame on you" for living with all those "colorations". These are the people who would have told Stevie Ray Vaughn, who was picky about the tubes he used in his guitar amps, that solid-state measures better and produces less coloration. The artists add their colorations, the recording engineers and mastering engineers add theirs, and we add ours. If we don't add our own colorations with our gear (impossible), or add less (subjective), we still end up with something that doesn't sound much like the original performance. In the end, what you like the best IS the best.

Cheers.
>>Yes, you like all those EAR distortions/colorations and this is what it matters more because you are the one that must live with it but IMHO the Einstein put you near to the recording where the EAR combination put you far away from the recording.<<

I won't respond to Raul's post in detail. Others can form their own view on these differing opinions. However, I will respond to this one comment about the Einstein putting you closer to the recording while the EAR puts you far awar.

I own a few Chesky LPs, and I also own the CD versions of those LPs. Recently, I have also downloaded the 24/96 digital versions of those recordings from HD Tracks. While digital recordings are not always a good guide because their mastering is not always ideal, this is not the case with the Chesky recordings, whose mastering in both digital and LP versions is always excellent.

In terms of things like tonality, spatial information and instrumental texture, the EAR 834P/MC4 sounds a lot closer to the digital versions - especially the 24/96 versions - than the Einstein (while also adding a certain indefinable "analog" realness). The same LP played through the Einstein sounds a little different to the digital versions - darker, with less tonal variation, instruments having less separation, a little more liquid. The differences are subtle, and the Einstein is still undoubtedly very good, but it renders music in an audibly different way to the digital versions. Draw from this whatever conclusion you like.
I have heard the Einstein in my system and it is a very nice sounding SS unit. I thought it was a little too intense sounding and has no magic - hard to explain easy to know when you hear it. While that was quite exciting it also got a little tiring after a while.

The EAR 834P deluxe is the superior music playing device, however I will admit it is coloured. Please add one or two Mullard 12ax7/cv4004's and this will relax the forwardness and remove most of the grain.
BTW one of my cartridges is the Rosewood and that sounds terrible with the standard 834P deluxe - I assume that the adjustable taps on the MC4 enables you to dial in the right load for the cartridge to see.

I have not heard the MC4(but I want to), however I have heard the 88PB( which would have similar or better transformer than MC4) and that retains the EAR analog musicality while adding better transparency, faster dynamics, more coherent top to bottom but at the same time less grain and more analog relaxing sound.

If I was in your shoes, I would trade the 834 on a 88PB and have a 2 input phono stage. You can then compare the MC stage with the MM + MC4 and see what you prefer. win win.

I totally agree with you that the EAR does make for better and more musical enjoyment compared to the Einstein IMO.
>>BTW one of my cartridges is the Rosewood and that sounds terrible with the standard 834P deluxe - I assume that the adjustable taps on the MC4 enables you to dial in the right load for the cartridge to see.<<

My experience was also that the Koetsu and 834P alone are not a good match, mostly because the loading of the internal transformer and the Rosewood are not a good match, and the internal transformer is of only average quality. Also, the 834P on its own is a little dark sounding, which is not ideal with the Koetsu which also has this quality. However, the MC4 transforms the sound of the 834P completely, partly because of the more accurate impedance matching but also because, aside from being a much better quality transformer, it also removes a lot of the dark colorations from the 834P.

However, I will have to look into the 88PB - this is not something I had previously considered, so thanks for the suggestion.
Downunder and I are on the same frequency regarding the musicality of the EAR 88P, which by the way offers excellent dynamics and imaging as well. He has auditioned the 88PB. I own one, and right out of the box I very much liked its sound. Also, I was able to directly compare a Mitch Singerman modded 88PB with the stock unit. In my opinion, the stock unit sounded more musical even before I started burning it in. Despite the impression the modded unit may have sounded a touch more neutral it was just not as involving to me, having seemingly lost some of the magic the stock unit exhibited. Incidentally, regarding so called neutrality, I must emphasize this characteristic does not necessarily or always make for a more enjoyable listening experience. Prior to acquiring the EAR 88PB I owned and/or auditioned some extremely fine preamps with the phono stage but none, to my ears, singularly gave me the combination of qualities I had been listening for and which I found in the 88PB. If I were you, I would see if I could get my hands on a modded 834P before rushing into taking some of the insides out of your stock unit. A mod does not automatically guarantee an upgrade in satisfaction. Good luck.
" My experience was also that the Koetsu and 834P alone are not a good match, mostly because the loading of the internal transformer and the Rosewood are not a good match, and the internal transformer is of only average quality."

Nice to see you heard the same thing with the standard 834P.

88PB is a different musical animal, however only has two internal load changes, 3 and 40ohms from memory (I am sure Opus88 can advise) - so the MC4 does offer a bit more flexibility. I believe they are the same transformers, which are the same as the big 912 pre amp/phono.

What out for the wrath of Raul - he does not like SUT's at all :-)
In reference to Downunder's reply, yes, there is a switch inside the 88PB which can be set to 4 or 40 ohms. Based on my direct experience as well as my communication with Jerry Siegel at 10 Audio (see his excellent online site where he reviews the 88PB as well as other components) and Dan Meinwald, importer for EAR, the 4 ohm setting nicely handles cartridges in the 4 to 100 ohm range, while the 40 ohm setting can accommodate cartridges from 100 to at least 500 ohms. For higher values from roughly 1K ohms on up, one can use loading plugs with the soldered in resistors. I use a variable resistor which allows me to tune the load as high as 10K ohms, which by the way, gives me what I hear as a fuller, more musical sound than much lower loads with my Dynavector XV-1S.
Dear Rossb: As I told you the important subject is what you like because is you who are hearing it and are your music sound reproduction priorities that are different from mines.

I know what you and other owners of that EAR are listening and there is no doubt ( from my standards/priorities. ) that even like a " entry " level is a faulty/distorted/colored audio items ( along the MC4) ( that can't do justice to the recording. ) and this is a fact that you or any one of the gentleman that already posted here can't argue against it, even exist a very detailed measures on it. Anyway enjoy it.

I respect you like it, fine for me.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
>>I know what you and other owners of that EAR are listening and there is no doubt ( from my standards/priorities. ) that even like a " entry " level is a faulty/distorted/colored audio items ( along the MC4) ( that can't do justice to the recording. ) and this is a fact that you or any one of the gentleman that already posted here can't argue against it, even exist a very detailed measures on it. Anyway enjoy it.<<

Raul, I'm struggling to understand what you are saying, and I appreciate that English is not your first language, but I will try to respond. I think even those who like the 834P acknowledge that it is not the quietest phono stage out there and, certainly using the stock transformers, is a little coloured. But to suggest that it "can't do justice to the recording" is patent nonsense. The fact that so many people regard this phono stage highly, even against much more expensive phono stages suggests that if there is one thing it can do, it is to do justice to the recording. Again, to suggest that this is a "fact" and that I and others on this thread "can't argue against it" is also nonsense. If you have "very detailed measures", please post them, but they will not alter this conclusion.

I should also add that this thread was not created to suggest that the 834P is the best phono stage there is, or is uniquely capable of reproducing music. Of course it isn't. This thread was created to compare the 834P (with MC4) with the Einstein phono stage. As I acknowledged in my first post above, the EAR is slightly noisy, grainy and hashy compared to others such as the Einstein, although I suspect from your comments that you barely read what I wrote, but jumped to conclusions about what you thought I was saying. You clearly have different musical priorities to mine, and that is of coure fine. But to suggest - and in such a condescending way - that yours are somehow better than mine, or that your preferences are objectively more valuable is ridiculous.

I have yet to hear any audio component at any price that does not provide an individual perspective on musical reproduction. Sometimes that perspective is in the form of tonal colourations, sometimes spatial effects, timing, decay or other differences. Even components which *measure* perfectly can *sound* completely unnatural, unrealistic or unsatisfying. I think everyone who has been involved in audio for a while understands this phenomenon very well.

Therefore, to suggest that there is only one correct way of reproducing music is not only completely wrong, it is contrary to our experience.

You believe that the Einstein phono stage is truer to the recording than the EAR phono stage. Well, it isn't. It may measure with less noise and distortion (and these are undoubtedly good things) but it has a unique colouration and presentation of its own, and this does not enable it to accurately produce the recording. You may prefer this presentation. I and others do not. That is the only fact.
Raul has, for me, an interesting perspective on music and sound reproduction. After having been a hobbyist for many years and modifying his own equipment, he became a manufacturer. This has allowed him to hear his product (preamp/phonostage) in many systems and to compare it with some of the best units available. He also has through his own listening developed an encyclopedic knowledge of turntables/tonearms and cartridges and how they interact. He has been a guest at my home on two different ocassions. Each time we spent many hours listening to vinyl on my Rockport, first with my Einstein/Einstein combination then with his own preamp. At the conclusion we discussed the pro's and con's of each. He was able to easily indentify on one ocassion that I had made a tube substitution and then forgotten to return the tube that I normally used which was a better choice. He was also able to identify room anomalies. He is a critical and discerning listener and is polite but honest in expressing what he hears. I think that what becomes clear from the posts is that the posters seem to have very different priorites with respect to playback. This difference could be characterized as solid state vs tube or perhaps more succinctly as Kodachrome vs Ektachrome for those of us who dable in photography. To my mind, the Einstein has lower noise, better detail and transparency, better image focus, better speed and better dynamicsand better controlled bass but at the expense of some warmth in the upper bass and lower mids. I will admit that I have heard a few phonostages that better certain aspectsd of the Einstein's performance but at a significantly higher price or with other trade-offs. I suspect that those of you who love the EAR would be in heaven with the top of the line Aesthetix phonostage. Again, it becomes a matter of priorities.
Dear Fcrowder: +++++ " Again, it becomes a matter of priorities. +++++ "

I agree, that's all about.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Raul.
For downunder and Opus8:

I have just borrowed an 8PPB from a dealer for a demo, and will have it for about a week. First impressions are very impressive. It sounds very similar to the 834P but much quieter, with less grain and noise, and without the overblown bass. However, I notice that the sound changes quite markedly depending on the volume level - at low volume the sound becomes quite bright and there is a distinct loss of bass. As the volume knob is turned clockwise, there is a proportional increase in bass and the sound becomes warmer. At full volume the bass becomes almost as pronounced as with the 834P; at about 9 o'clock the sound is perfect. Sounds like an input/output impedance isue. Have you had a similar experience with the 88PB?

Also, the dealer was not able to give me the manual, so I am not sure whether I have it set at 4 ohms or 40ohms. I suspect from the extremely high gain that it is 4 ohms. Also, the internal jumper seems to be closer to the 4ohm position on the PCB than the 40 ohm position. Does this sound like it is correctly set to 4 ohms?
Rossb...I have not noticed or had the kind of experience you seem to be encountering with the 88PB (especially regarding brightness, which no one dislikes more than I do). My volume control is also usually set at around 9 o'clock with my Dynavector XV-1S cartridge, and as you've realized, this preamp has very low noise despite its potential for very high gain. Also, I have never owned or used a Koetsu cartridge, and therefore don't have a hint regarding its optimal loading. Of course, with the 88PB you are dealing with 7DJ8(or 6922/6DJ8)tubes as opposed to 12ax7s. I have used either the JJ Tesla 7DJ8s or Tungsram 7DJ8s with very good results. I currently favor the synergy provided by the Tungsrams. The stock tubes that come with the 88PB are fine, but in my opinion don't match the performance benefits of either of the others....You should be able to see the numbers 4 and 40 where the ohm jumper switch is located. Actually, there are two little switches side by side. Make sure BOTH of them together are either at 4 OR 40,(to the furthest extension at one end or the other). Incidentally, the output impedance of the 88PB is very low, 200 I believe. The input impedance of my Air Tight ATM-3 monoblocks, to which the 88PB is directly connected, is 100K ohms, and running my 4 meter pair of ics has presented no problems.
Checked. Output impedance of 88Pb is actually 60.
Thanks, Opus88, that is very helpful.
Rossb...Just checking to affirm: Since you did not receive a manual with the 88PB, are you also aware of the switch at the back which allows for either moving magnet or moving coil operation ? Incidentally, I have tried both formats with a higher output moving coil and found the sound (gain considerations notwithstanding) with the moving magnet stage, sans transformer, a bit tight and not quite as musical/free flowing as the sound from the moving coil stage WITH the transformer.
Thanks, yes I noticed the switch. I have been comparing the MC input with the MM input using the MC4. The internal transformer produes a slightly bigger, more open sound, while the MC4 is a little warmer, but smaller sounding, probably because of the 6 ohms loading for the MC4 rather than 4 ohms for the internal transformer. I'm not sure which I prefer.
You haven't mentioned what amp you're using. If you have tubes, and there are 12au7 and/or 12ax7 sockets in your amp, and if you're looking to get the warmth coupled with the "slightly bigger, more open sound" of the 88PB's transformer, you might try some combination of Mullards and/or Brimars. I'm getting wonderful reproduction in my system from them as they sit in my Air Tight amps.
I'm currently using Exposure solid state amps, which are about to be replaced by Audio Note tube amps which are in the process of being modified, although the preamp uses 6sn7 tubes. Thanks for the suggestions, though.