Review: Audio Valve Eklipse Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

I started a lengthy home auditioning process of highly regarded tube based active preamps, after spending three years of having two great sounding passive linestages in my system, Placette buffered & Bent Audio Tap TVC, that lead to a clear winner in the context of my system and personnal taste the Antique Sound Labs Flora EX DT. However, the Audio Valve Eklipse was on my list of preamps I really wanted to listen to, but I could not find a dealer that could arrange an audition at that time.

Well, recently the website Stereo Times had a review on the Eklipse and I saw that the reviewer, Mike Wright, had gotten his audition piece from Mike Kay of Audio Archon located in Libertyville, Illinois. I had never met Mike in person, but had over the last couple of years many delightful conversations with him dealing with all things in highend audio. So, when I called him and asked him why he had never mentioned that he carried the Audio Valve line in his salon, he retorted, "you never asked." I have been very lucky in that the numerous retailers that I have done business with, just a very few have been jackasses, have been stand up gentleman, helpful with their knowledge, and very honest to deal with. I knew that Mike was a good guy who knew highend audio before I auditioned and purchased the Eklipse from him, now he's way up on my list of great guys to do business with, he made everything easy and was a pleasure to work with. Thanks Mike.

Before, I get into the body of my review I want to mention that besides Mike Wright's online review of the Eklipse, Stereophile's reviewers Art Dudley and Robert J. Reina had given superlative reviews on this linestage with one gigantic flaw in my opinion, they only reviewed it with the stock 12AU7 Electro-Harmonix tubes! No offense to anybody, but these tubes sound like horsecrap. This would be like taking a world class high performance sports car and putting the worst gas possible along with cheapest junky tires and then taking it for a test ride. At least Mike Wright put in NOS RCA clear tops to see what this preamp could really sound like. Remember, even with the crap tubes Dudley and Reina thought the Eklipse was quite good, but they have no idea how good without the right tubes. So, my review is based on listening to the Eklipse with my all time favorite 12AU7 tubes, Ameperex longplate D-getter. These tubes just sound like music to me.

The Eklipse is built in Germany by a small family run company. Like my MBL transport and Accustic Arts DAC the German craftmenship and build quality is very apparent. This preamp weights over 41 pounds. I choose the silver face with chrome knobs because it matches my Pass Labs and Accustic Arts pieces. True eye candy. You also can get it with a black face with either brass or chrome knobs. I never get into technical details in my reviews, that you can get off the Audio Valve website or give Mike Kay a call.

On to the specifics regarding the sonic performance of the Eklipse:

1) The Eklipse produces an expansive soundstage in all directions with great accuracy. If the music was recorded in a large venue you hear it, if recorded in a small intimate club your there. It also creates very precise layering and location in the soundstage.

2) Since I mainly listen to acoustic jazz one of the most important factors for me to enjoy the music is natural timbres and harmonic richness. My old reference, the Flora, was wonderful in this area, so I can't say that the Eklipse is significantly better, but it's terrific in this very important sonic area.

3) The Eklipse has the lowest noise floor of any active preamp I have ever had in my system. Therefore, the clarity/transparency allows micro details to emerge more intact. I really noticed this on decay trails throughout the frequency spectrum and on cymbals and guitar strings.

4) The Eklipse produces the most agile/dynamic bass with great weight and impact that I ever had had in my system. This is one of the areas were the Eklipse really was significantly better then the Flora.

5)The other area were the Eklipse left the Flora as a second best was in overall micro and macro dynamics. This preamp offers a crispness and jump factor that is world class.

6)The Eklipse also has that quality that I call liquidity or the sense that the music just "floats" into the room with great easyness that allows you to relax and get into the emotions of the music in a very natural way. I experience my Pass Labs XA-100's in a very similar way.

Mike Wright stated in his review that with the NOS RCA tubes he and his friends liked the Eklipse better then the highly regarded Conrad-Johnson ACT2 series II preamp in his reference system. Robert J. Reina said in his review that after having another very highly regarded preamp, the Audio Research Ref 3, for a few months he was not disappointed to go back to his Eklipse in his system. Remember, Mr. Reina uses the stock horsecrap sounding tubes in his Eklipse, what would he have experienced with a great pair of NOS tubes!

I still think the my old reference, the Flora, is a great preamp, however my new reference is the Eklipse for the reasons I shared in my review. While not inexpensive at the retail price of $5,500.00, it's offers great bang for the buck and I believe will compete sonicly with much more expansive linestages.

Associated gear
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I spent most of last night listening to music through a new set of tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/ECC82 Mullard made military longplate
I spent most of last night listening to music through a different set of tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/Ecc82 Mullard military
I spent most of last night listening to music with new tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/ECC82 Mullard military grade longplate
I spent most of last night listening to music with new tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/ECC82 Mullard military grade longplate
I spent most of last night listening to music with new tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/ECC82 Mullard military grade longplate
I spent most of last night listening to music with new tubes in the Eklipse. These tubes are NOS CV491/ECC82 Mullard military grade longplate
Just spent most of last night listening to music through a different set of 12AU7 tubes in the Eklipse. This tubes are CV491/ECC82 Mullard made longplate
Just had over one of my dearest audiophile friends to hear how the system sounded with the Eklipse replacing my old linestage. After listening his first excited remark was, " this preamp has the greatest sense of image palpabilty I have ever heard. It was like I could feel the players in the room. Wow!" Of course its always pleasing if one of your trusted golden eared audiophile friends is thrilled with the sonic performance of your new piece of gear.

What he was calling palpability, is what I normally refer to as image density along with space/air between individual players in or on the soundstage. I did not mention this as clearly in my review as my dear friend did after the experience of hearing the system with the Eklipse. So, I wanted to share this information, which is another sonic virtue that the Eklipse has to offer among many others.
Just wanted to share that as the Eklipse gets more hours on it, to my surprize and pleasure, it has opened up in the area of macrodynamics across the entire sonic spectrum and especially so in the bottom end frequencies.

I use from the Telarc CD, Ray Brown- Producer's Choice, the cut Blue Monk that features the late great bassist Ray Brown along with two other master bass players, John Clayton and Christian Mcbride, for testing for low end extension, slam, speed, and natural timbres. Well, from the beginning the Eklipse was the best preamp in this area I have ever had in my system. Therefore, I'm kinda amazed that the bottom end has become even more fully fleshed-out with out losing accurate tone/pitch and speed. Yet, there is no loss of continuity from the upper bass and the rest of the sonic picture. There's no lower or higher bass "hump" that I have experienced with many other highly regarded preamps. The overall sonic prespective "hangs" from the same seamless sonic cloth with no discontinuity at all.
TJ, Art Shapiro mentioned in his review of the Eklipse some flaring up of the tubes during turn on. Have you also noticed this phenomenon? Do you think it is harmless to the tubes? What do you think of the CAT SL-1?

I found a rather indignant follow-up letter regarding the flareup issue brought up by Art Sharpiro.
Go to the bottom of the feedback url below and read for yourself ;-)
Anyway, I noticed that subsequent recent reviews of the Eklipse in other magazines like Stereophile, HifiNews and Stereotimes never did mention this issue, so it's either no longer there or a non-issue at all.
Chris, I have not noticed the "flaring up" of the 12AU7 tubes during turn on, however I rarely turn my preamp off anyways.

I have never had a CAT preamp in my system, but on a few occasions have heard different generations of the CAT in other systems and thought it was a very good sounding preamp. But, I never seriously auditioned one, regardless of the system.
Hello Teajay,
Great review of the Eklipse, it is indeed a great preamp, IMO. I was the friend that Mike Wright mentioned in his review, I've owned my Eklipse since 2000 and it's been my favorite eventhough I own other more expensive preamps also. It is an extraordinary preamp because not only does it sound great, it is also built like a tank and enjoys great support from Heike and Helmut in Germany. Mike Wright (MW) seriously considered buying the Eklipse but ultimately went with the ASR Emitter Integrated (a mind boggling piece of audio nirvana, if I ever heard one).
Historically, the Eklipse has been slighted by the ok reviews it's received here in the states. With the right tubes, it is simply one the best available low coloration, dynamic sounding preamps. I also preferred it to the CJ and other more expensive preamps MW had in his system at various times. I still believe that the key to its prowess lies in its ultra low noisefloor as with most great sounding gear.
Plelko, thanks for the kind words regarding my review of the Eklipse. Both Mike Kay and Mike Wright used your NOS RCA clear dome 12AU7 tubes to replace the stock tubes. I found that the the NOS Amperex long plates D-getter tubes were superior across the board to the RCA's and brought the performance of the Eklipse to a much higher level. So, what tubes do you use in your Eklipse and have you ever tried these Amperex tubes or others?
Hello Teajay,
I haven't used Amperex tubes in the Eklipse, I have a few cryoed tubes that I auditioned in the Eklipse and kept. My favorites are Siemens 12ax7s, but I also have the following that I also like on the Eklipse:

Telefunken 12ax7 SP
Telefunken 12ax7 RP
Valvo-Germany 12au7

All these tubes are cryoed and sound markedly different in the Eklipse but all offer incredible wide bandwidth performance that I crave. I feel that I should point out that the Eklipse does not require matched tubes because of its self biasing circuit, FWIW.
Hi Plelko, thanks for sharing regarding your tube rolling experience in the Eklipse. I'm a little surprized about using 12AX7s vs. 12AU7s, I did not know that they could be used in replace of each other in the Eklipse, or for that matter in any piece, because their gain level is so dramatically different. I thought they were incombatable with each other. Please educate me on this matter, unless you made a mistake and meant all 12AU7s, but I doubt you made a mistake on your post.

Would you be kind enough to share the rest of the gear in your system? I'm just very interested in how the Eklipse fits into the overall context of your system.
Hello Teajay,
The Eklipse has a self biasing system that automatically matches the level of all four tubes, I have used 12au7 and 12ax7 combinations before without a problem. I have several systems that I use in different combinations from time to time, I will PM the details to you later.
I have heard Teajay's Eklipse and all I can say is that TJ's system has never sounded better to me. When one popped up on the Gon this week my trusted friend told me that I needed to look at this advertisment quickly. Well I have one on the way. I was wondering if anyone else has tried different 12au7's than Teajay's Amperex longplates. I am having a difficult time time sourcing those tubes. Bob
Nice meeting you at RMAF. Your wife's voice is beautiful (I assume I have the right guy).'re the one that snagged this incredible A-gon deal? I looked later in the day and not a trace of the ad was there!! I assumed it was pulled for other reasons. Well done my man. Let us know how it sounds in your system.
You have the right person. It was great meeting you also Ted. I was very impressed with the SP Technology mini's at RMAF. The larger speakers (Revelations?)overpowered the room. I am hoping we can make a trip to the factory soon before winter with Teajay. I will pass on your comments to my wife. She is the process of singing more and more doing secular and nonsecular gigs.

Teajay alerted me that I had to look the ad. He tried to reach me twice. I don't know why the ad vanished after I agreed to buy the unit and sent funds. The dealer selling the unit has great feedback and the unit should be on the way. I had just heard TJ's unit with the Amperex long plates the day before! I was amazed how much better the preamp sounded with all Longplates in the unit. Bob
I have oftened used the very subjective terms "musicality" and "organic" in my GON reviews of pieces of equipment that offered something very special that allowed me to just relax and enjoy the music in a more natural way.

I really had this experience with the Accustic Arts Tube Hybrid DAC, the Pass Labs XA-100 monoblocks, and now with the Audio Valve Eklipse preamp. But, I have struggled with how to put this experience in an more objective/analytical set of semantics then just using the above stated terms.

Well, I want to give great credit to John Atkinson of Stereophile, who in the last edition was trying to describe what reviewers Micheal Fremer and Robert Reina meant when they used the terms "organic", "continuousness", and what I call "musicality", he really nailed the essence of these terms in my opinion.

I quote, "... I believe they are talking about the phenomenon: that quality in which no single aspect of the sound calls attention itself, but there is instead a seamless presentation in which the acoustic objects representing instruments and voices are naturally embedded within the whole while retaining their individuality, just as happens in real life. The whole is more then the sum of its parts; the music flows unimpeded by artifice."

Brilliant, on Mr. Atkinson's part, this much more conveys in an objective way, what I describe very subjectively as "musicality/organic" when trying to share what a specific piece of gear is doing in my system when I write my reviews.

Of all the preamps/linestages both passive and active, solid state or tube I have had in my system, the Eklipse offers more of this quality then any other linestage I have ever had in my system. I believe that pieces of gear that offer higher and higher aspects of this factor leads to a sense of relaxation and that the illusion of real music is being produced becomes more natural to the listner.
I just noticed that the website, The Stereo Times, recently came out with their "Most Wanted Components Awards" for 2008. No surprize that their reviewer Mike Wright put the Eklipse on this list for 2008, he loved it in his original review.

Mr.Wright, states the following regarding the Eklipse:

"This vacuum tube-based unit is a combination of looks, build quality and sonic enjoyment that I could not, in good conscious, bypass.

... Once you replace the stock tubes with NOS tubes the performance escalates to a higher level and gives the Eklipse the ability to perform at a much higher level, comparable to preamps costing two to three times its cost."

I think Mr. Wright sums up way I'm enjoying this preamp so much in my system wright now.
In the December issue of Stereophile, Robert J. Reina picked the Eklipse as one of the Editors' Choice 2008 products of the year.

Mr. Reina stated, "A neutral, detailed, liquid, and dynamic performer with solid-state-like, kick-slam bass whose performance rivals that of competitors triple its price."

As I stated in my review, Mr. Reina uses the stock tubes in the Eklipse and still comes to this conclusion! The Eklipse goes to another level of performance with the right NOS tubes, so it becomes even a more screaming deal then Mr. Reina states in his recommendation for this preamp.