Short review: Eastern Electric Avant
This is after 2 weeks of impressions, so it's still breaking in.
I needed a new pre amp to replace my Krell HTS7.1 pre/pro (long story short, had to combine the 2-ch and HT in our old home, but with a move, I now have them separated again) and since my Mark Levinson ML334 sounds the best with balanced input, I wanted a pre amp that offered that. In years past, I had an EE MiniMax and was very happy with that one. It is truly a few pure sounding pre amp.
Ok, so back to the EE Avant. I kind of took a chance on this one based upon my experience with the MiniMax, hoping that it would be as least as good. It's not... it's by magnitudes better in every single parameter! Going from a solid state pre amp like the Krell to a tube pre amp, I expected that I would give up some bass definition and depth. Oh was I ever wrong. The Avant is not only digging as deep as the Krell, but adds that undefinable organic feel. Kind of "that's really good bass" in the Krell to "that bass player is amazing" in the Avant.
Being a full function tube pre amp, I was hoping that it would offer that liquidity that tubes are known for in the midrange. And what can I say except that it's there in spades.
We attend a fair bit of classical concerts (including many chamber music recitals) so I'm very familiar with exactly how a good solo violin is supposed to sound like. Certain pieces of equipment can over emphasis the upper frequencies of a violin making it sound sharp and metallic. The Avant is the opposite of that, crystal clear, but extremely organic.
The soundstage is about as wide and deep as I have ever heard from any pre amp in my system; what I didn't expect is how tall the soundstage could be! Honestly never thought about it until the Avant shocked me. Well recorded music was all of a sudden 3 dimensional. Not only width and depth and everything else in a concentrated plane, but different heights.
Now, do not think this is a classical music only pre amp. It kicks BUTT with Led Zepplin, Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" has all the weight and impact of exactly that, the sledgehammer. Melody Gardot's silky and emotional voice makes me just smile and relax, completely understand the EMTIONS, not just listening to the components making up the music. And Charles Bradley (and if you haven't heard him, look him up, amazing soul artist) moves any- and everyone with his passion. Interestingly, the recording quality of the Charles Bradley record "No time for dreaming" is mediocre and that always annoyed me in the past, but with the Avant, I tend to forget that and get drawn in to PASSION and raw emotions of the soul singer.
If I would sum up the impressions of the Avant in a single word, it would be organic. I find myself listening to the performances much more than before, I think I tended to listen to the details of the music before. That doesn't mean that the Avant hides the details, but rather that they are there, but in perfect balance in a clear acoustic space.
Bill from Morningstar audio is a true gentleman and a real pleasure not only to do business with, but simply to talk to. To have a human being that honestly care about the customer is refreshing. It's not about "sell something today" with Morningstar, it's about making a connection with someone that also happens to be a customer. Bill will go to great lengths to make sure that you are happy today, tomorrow and years from now. Refreshing and reinsuring!
So is the Avant perfect? No, I have heard better pre amps, but none that I could afford, and only by small margins and none that is better at everything. It does have some quirks. Upon start up, it defaults to the RCA1 input. My CD is connected to the balanced input, but that's a simple press of the button on the very nice full metal remote. Here's a sign that it's a small manufacturer... the screen print on the remote has the button marked for the balanced input as "XRL", yes spell check would be good before screen printing the remote. But in the scope of things, this is not a very expensive pre amp and the sound is amazing, the function is very good, so if the only nitpick I can find is the screen print on the remote, well I can live with that. Happily. For many year.