Review: Joule Electra Marianne Electra Memorial Edition Tube preamp

Category: Preamps

I've been looking for a tube preamp to complement my Spectron mono-blocks for over a year. My top choices were the BAT REX, Audio Research Ref 3 and Conrad-Johnson ACT2. That was until I found out that Jud Barber at Joule Electra was developing a top-notch preamp. The Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp was developed in honor of the memory of Marianne Barber, who sadly passed away in 2007.

The Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp is based on the LA-150 MkII circuit. However, its signal path is coupled with Mundorf Gold/Silver/Oil and V caps Oil and Teflon capacitors. Internal signal wiring is designed specifically for this preamp by David Elrod of Elrod Power System. The gain stage is DC-biased with a pair of small batteries. Resistors are Vishay. The remote control offers volume and balance controls.

The power supply is fully dual mono with tube regulation (6EM7, dual triode) and 1200 mf of capacitance for each channel. Also the B+ voltage is supplied to the top 6350 (one for each channel) which acts as a constant current source. Thus the B+Source is fully decoupled from the signal path. My particular unit is the Marianne Electra Memorial Edition, 150ME , differing slightly from the 300ME  in the power supply and in the output stage. I  plan to upgrade it to full 300ME soon and then I will provide a follow up.

The first thing that hit me was how quiet this preamp was. I first turned it on and, with no signal passing through, I then turned the volume all the way up. There was no noise whatsoever with my ears up against the speakers. I thought something was wrong so I played some music and this preamp is simply utterly dead quiet. I just can't understand how a preamp that connects directly to the electrical grid and has tubes inside can be more quiet than a passive unit. My guess is that the gain stage being DC-biased by the small batteries has a lot to do with this golden silence . With this preamp, music does not come from a black background but from a black-hole. The sound explodes and decays with absolute and uncanny control.

Another lasting impression is how fast the sound is. I'll try to explain this using a cube and a teardrop object as a reference. To my ears, many audio devices that sound fast sound like a cube going fast. This means that the cube can go as fast as the teardrop object, but the cube does so with lots of artifacts around it. The tear drop object is fast and smooth at the same time with no artifacts. With the Marianne Electra Memorial Edition, sound comes out with the same smoothness and speed as a teardrop object effortlessly cutting through the wind. This preamp simply sounds as if there is little or no effort while processing the audio signal.

The most impressive aspect of this preamp's performance is how it defines a different form and space for each instrument. In the case of a drum for instance, this form and space changes according to the place the musician hits the drum. Whether it is at the center or toward the edge, it is easy to tell. This is something very easy to perceive from live music, but it easily gets lost in reproduced music. With live music, it is not difficult tell the form of each sound and the shape of the spaces formed in between instruments. This has a lot to do with the fact that most instruments are three-dimensional objects and that they tend to emanate sound in all directions. There is also to take into account the speed at which the sound waves propagate and decay. I became aware of these sound propagation characteristics after I first read The Film Sense by Sergei Eisenstein more than two decades ago.

In a live musical performance, it's practically impossible to disassociate the musician from the performance. In reproduced music, at times is sounds like a machine is producing the music. The Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp is capable of exhibiting all the nuances that make it to the recording. The fingers hitting the valves of a trumpet, the breathing of a singer while singing, the sound of the wake created by a hand hitting the drums, these are the nuances that make live music sound the way it does. I get to hear all these details through the The Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp. All these are qualities that are not easily associated with reproduced music, but they are just so easy to perceive from a live performance. The Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp presents music with all the good qualities of live music and without any of the artifacts of reproduced music.

I am absolutely stunned by the fact that this preamp can faithfully recreate the sound qualities of a live musical performance. I've been an audiophile since I was 7 or 8 years old. I grew up being exposed to live music on a regular basis and I still go to live performances a few times a month. I never thought it was possible for an audio gear to convey the soul and emotion of a live musical performance.   When I listen to a good recording, it really feels and sounds like live music. On a more esoteric note, with the Marianne Electra Memorial Edition preamp, it also feels like I'm listening to the mind of a genius.

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Ag insider logo xs@2xisanchez

Hello Isanchez,

When I first time heard the prototype (a number of months ago) we placed Mozart Requiem and I am rather mature if not old, nor sentimental for sure, person - I felt the tears were coming from my eyes. So at first I was ashamed a bit by showing emotional side of me but later on I understood (again and again) that the true music is all about emotions - you simple do not notice if high are silky or not, if bass is fleshed out etc.

So from that prospective our responses were both identical and yet different. My first reaction was purely emotional - "this is IT" and you could noted very specific details.

As former (failed to be honest) pianist I tried a number of times piano recordings. I believe its very difficult to record piano accurate - simply because I have reference discs less then fingers on my one hand. At any rate - when I started to listen, "analytically" should I say - it was the most accurate piano music representation I ever heard and its the highest compliment I can give. I could hear all the slightest details of this rather complex sound and I believe even to hear characteristic signature of Steinway & Son instruments of different eras - say early 20th century (1920's) versus middle (1950's) etc.

This preamp is the best I ever ever owned or auditioned and I owned REX by BAT, latest CAT preamps and auditioned all bunch of them like the latest ART by C-J and comparison...

Thank you
I am sadden to hear of Mariannes' passing. I knew her personally. She was a beautiful person and she will be dearly missed. She invited me to the showroom on several ocasions and never got to visit. My warmest thoughts go to the entire Barber Family to Jud and Joule Electra.

I understood (again and again) that the true music is all about emotions - you simple do not notice if high are silky or not, if bass is fleshed out etc.

That's great point. I deliberately didn't want to use many audiophile terms to express what I hear with this preamp because I don't ever remember going to a live performance and thinking if the highs are smooth or not, or if the bass is tight, etc. With this preamp, only the musicians and their music are left, so it's hard to describe this sound in pure audiophile terms.

After this preamp was added to my system, I no longer pay attention to the lows, mids and highs because they no longer call attention to themselves. I subconsciously find myself thinking about what qualities of the musical performance I like or don't like, just they way I do after a live performance.

I think this preamp is in a totally different realm and it compares much better with live music as a reference, which ultimately should be the goal for audiophiles.



I can imagine the improvement the Mundorfs and V-Caps make to a great preamp. I have a LA 100 MKIII I recently upgraded from the stock MIT's to Jantzen Superior Z caps, very nice improvement from an already excellent preamp. I would have liked to go with V-Caps but they were much too large to fit! Like to see how Jud fit them.
" I would have liked to go with V-Caps but they were much too large to fit! Like to see how Jud fit them "

Hello Sns,

You can go to Joule-Electra web site. Simon Thacher, formerly of Spectron Audio (and trained concert pianist himself) is working now with Jud and they completely changed the web site (I mean content not graphics) - see inside photos of LA-300ME

All The Best