Still Audio EL84 Integrated Amplifier - my initial impressions

Hi everyone,

I've had the new Still Audio EL84 Integrated Amplifier ($2895USD + shipping) for about a week, and I just thought I'd share my initial impressions.  I learned about the amp from the review in Postive Feedback.  After reading through Still Audio's website I contacted Mark Still.  He was very quick to respond, even though it was a day or two after Christmas.  From that initial email exchange, I've found him to be very attentive and helpful.  

The integrated amp puts out 10wpc using a total of 4 EL84 output tubes.  The unit is tube rectified (EZ34/5AR4) and has two 12AU7s in the input stage.  Mark calls this a "bookshelf amplifier," and it most certainly would fit on a bookshelf due to its dimensions - about 18" in width but only 6.5" in depth.  The front panel has a volume knob and an input selector, and the back panel has the IEC and fuse holder, three RCA inputs, and speaker taps for 4ohm, 8ohm, and 16ohm speakers.  There is a small remote control for the volume.  

The entire unit is very solid and looks like a more expensive component.  The RCA input jacks are excellent the best I've come across.  I find the speaker connectors very easy to tighten by hand.  They seem to stay put as you tighten them.  There is no release of tension when you take your hand off the connector.  The remote works well in providing small volume adjustments.  There is a nice touch that a small red or green light on the amp indicates whether the volume is increasing (red) or decreasing (green) when using the remote.  When adjusting the volume slightly between songs or during a quiet passage, it's very convenient to know whether the amp has gotten the signal from the remote.  

I am still looking for speakers to go with this amp.  As a temporary solution I'm using a pair of Klipsch RP-106Ms, and the sound is very pleasing - smooth and easy to listen to with good dynamics and plenty of volume in my smaller room (13x16ft.).  I never need to raise the volume knob past halfway (even though there is a lot more clean volume to be had beyond that point).  

I will post a more comprehensive review once I upgrade my speakers and give the amp some time to break in.  For now, though, I'm extremely pleased with it! 

Happy New Year!

p.s.  My system is analog only - Acoustic Signature Wow XL turntable and Avid Pellar phono stage.
Very cool! Looking forward to hearing more of what you hear! best wishes.
Scott, happy new year and congrats on your wonderful new amp! Thanks for introducing us to it, I wasn't aware of it but I like the review and the design approach. Very keen to hear how it sounds after you break it in (I'd love to hear it on my Devore's!). Lately there have been Devore 3XLs for sale here for under $2k that would probably be a good match if/when you determine you want to make a switch. All the best,Ron
 I appreciate your particular attention to detail concerning the aesthetic features of this unit. The speaker post tightening may be due to the the thread pitch, as it is tightened a certain pitch of the thread will hold, much as in the pitch of plumbing thread. Funny how such a little thing will make a difference. Of course, I wonder with some remotes if my 'message' is reaching the device, so an indication from the amp is a small but good feature as well.  Aside from those notes, I would guess that attention to such detail will continue throughout the design process and end up at the output of the amp as well.
I am still enjoying the Still amp immensely.  It has a very transparent sound, and the noise floor is non-existent.  I usually have a lot of noise in my system due to living in an older apartment complex - poor quality wiring and shared power with college kids who have wireless routers, computers, video games, etc.  The fact that this amp is almost silent through my speakers with the volume pot all the way open is remarkable.  

I really have nothing critical to say about the amp.  It's just a fantastic unit in every way.  My conundrum now is that the Contrast Audio speakers have settled in quite well, but the 10wpc of the Still Audio amp is not quite enough.  I can play music with peaks of about 75 db, and everything sounds rich and beautiful.  Beyond that, though, the sound starts to thin out quite a bit.  The bass is also somewhat limited due to the speaker-amp pairing.  I swapped in a 22wpc Audioengine desktop amp, and the bass depth and impact was significantly better.   The Audioengine amp certainly doesn't have the refinement or the transparency of the Still EL84, but the qualities I like about the speakers are still there.

So, I'm torn between shopping for very efficient speakers or a more powerful tube amp.  I believe that I underestimated how efficient speakers need to work well with a 10 watt amp.  And since I can't have large floor standing speakers, I'm even more limited by the number of speakers available to me.  

Will keep you posted on my journey, but I will say that the Still EL84 is a ridiculously good value, and a long-term solution for anyone with the appropriate speakers.  And Mark Still mentioned that he's working on a tube phono stage - I have to imagine the combo would be an endgame system for most people.

All the best, Scott
Dear Scott,

A couple of suggestions. 

First, reach out to the the company to see if the 5ar4 rectifier position would accept and/benefit by substituting a 5u4gb. All depends on his design but it seems your amp was possibly tubed for smoothness. For an inexpensive alternative you may consider some el84 or 12au7 tubes known for dynamics and impact. 

Second and more important, dont judge the amp performance on the contrast speakers. Those drivers they use are going to have a limited range regardless of their claims. Consider some well known speaker offerings...maybe Tekton, Omega, Ref 3a, Zu, Devore etc. you may also need to recognize that small bookshelves are not going to move alot of air and you need help from the room. Maybe something rear ported. Your room isnt terribly large and the 10 watts with the right speakers will run you out of the room. Also easy to drive speaker not just highly efficient speakers should be on the menu. Think about what you described “peaks of 75 db” which if you think about it, isnt even using 1 watt. Consider seriously that it is the speaker choice you have made and/or the room. Heck, i would wager that Harbeth compact 7’s would kill it in a room that size with bass you would be surprised by. Also, a wireless sub might be just what the room needs as well.

good luck.
@ghasley Thanks for the recommendations on tubes.  I guess my dilemma is that I very much like the Contrast Audio speakers and the Still EL84.  Trying the solid state amp showed me that the speakers have more than enough bass for my room.  

So, I'm torn between finding an amp to drive the speakers and finding speakers that will work well with the amp.   

I know that speakers can significantly change the sound of my system.  The experiment with the ss amp confirmed that a change in amplification doesn't alter the basic sonic character of the system that I like so much.

Ideally, I would try both combinations - a more efficient speaker with the Still amp, and a more powerful amp with the Contrast Audio speakers.

Keep y'all posted,Scott

I think what you need is a Pass XA30.5 or .8, depending on your budget. You’ll get the best of both worlds. Or keep the amp and consider 94+ dB speakers like Klipsch or Zu, etc. I’ve heard Klipsch Cornwalls with 8wpc SET amps and the bass was very satisfying.
Happy new year! You bought the El84 amp 😊 now do yourself a favor and speak with Louis at Omega. His speakers are so involving and transparent with low powered set amps, it's mind-blowing. 

I just spent a week demo with the Fritz Carbon 7SE driven by my 17wpc.EL84 Quad amp & can HIGHLY recommend this speaker for low power tubes..In my medium size treated room there was KILLER bass,liquid mids & sweet treble..Plenty of headroom they are so easy to drive..
@freediver Good timing - I have a pair of the Carbon 7SE mk.2 that I'm demoing right now.  The amp drives them fine, but my initial impressions is that the Carbons are extremely smooth, but compared to the Contrast Audio there is a lot of detail lost.  They aren't broken in yet, so I'm going to give them some time.  And I'm sure that my ears need to adjust to a new sound as well.  The Carbon 7s are quite enjoyable speakers, and the bass is very impressive.  Will keep y'all posted....
The audio quality of the EL84 when given a clean quality source and properly matched speakers is indeed remarkable.

I have the KEF LS50’s on 24“ stands and a small REL T-Zero sub.  It’s an incredible match for a small room.  The sitting area is 7-8ft from each speaker and the speakers are approximately 8 ft apart. My source to the EL84 is a Chord Qutest Streaming from a Small Green Computers SonicTransport for Roon. I am connecting the DAC via USB Curious Cable to Ethernet with a Sonore Microrendu.
rayrich01, what integrated or amp/pre combo are you using. Welcome to Audiogon.
"rayrich01, what integrated or amp/pre combo are you using" 

I think rayrich01 said he is using the Still Audio EL84.  

Hey rayrich, are you still there? :-)
I think rayrich referred to the el84 tube itself and not the still audio amp.

I run a LEBEN CS-300F which uses 4 EL84 variants (GE JAN-6197 video tube) to produce 15w into (almost) any impedance.

Barely tickling the volume knob, the little LEBEN can rock the neighbourhood on my KLIPSCH RP-160M (large) bookshelf speakers.  The RP-160M sound is first class and not at all bright and tizzy like the honky Klipsch horn speakers of yesteryear.

I've even had the 1.5w TRANSCENDENT SE-OTL drive the RP-160M at speech volumes - so 10w will be ample!

The RP-160M not only looks the part - but they can still be had new for silly low prices.  Great speakers that work in big and small rooms.

Should be a great match for the 10w STILL AUDIO EL84.

Don't give up on the EL84.  It - and its variants - are responsible for some of the most musical amps ever to grace the planet.  Even 300B users (like me) 2A3 and 45 tube aficionados have been converted - just ask Steve Deckert! (DECWARE)

I should also mention that I have had a load of experience with BLUMENSTEIN speakers and still own several sets of the excellent ORCAs.
The ORCAs will not give you the SPLs that you need - with any amp, regardless of power - but the BLUMENSTEIN TRITONs should be a perfect match with your STILL AUDIO EL84 amp.  The TRITONs go crazy loud and won't need a sub.
I believe that CLARK BLUMENSTEIN still runs a try-to-buy type program stateside, which should enable you to audition in your own home before making a final decision.
Beautifully hand-crafted, solid timber speakers that should be considered for a 10w + 10w rock-the-house outcome.
I have a EL84  Heathkit 151 completely rebuilt by Sam Audio in Canada.  It is the sweetest amp I have ever heard.  

It seems some folk (not me) have trouble finding a suitable speaker to allow the EL84 to sing and dance.

Which speakers are you using for your EL84 amp?