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
Click to view my Virtual System
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.