Electrocompaniet is a company that has long made some of the most musical sounding class A amplifiers to be had. I was excited to get the chance to review their little class A phono preamp,
the ECP 1. It’s about as good looking as a small metal box can be with the nicely polished piece of acrylic for the front. It uses its own wall-wart for a power supply, and there is a warning in the instructions to be careful of placement or you might get hum, but I encountered no problem. Not even when setting it directly behind the transformers in my Shindo preamp. Gain is switchable from MM or MC cartridges, and there are no provisions for different loading. Electrocompaniet says the ECP1 is designed to work well with different loads. The output design is a high class A that is based on discrete transistors and there are quite a few of them. It does run a little warm because of the class A operation.
Setup & Listening
I tried the ECP 1 with three different moving coil cartridges, a moving iron, a moving magnet, and a moving coil with a step up transformer into the ECP 1’s moving magnet input. I also tried it with my Shindo Masseto preamp, an Allnic linestage and an Allnic integrated amp. In every case installation and setup was straight forward, simple, and again I should mention I had no problem with hum at all.
Part of what makes the ECP 1 so simple to set up is that it has no choices for you to make other than to flip the MM or MC switch. At first, I thought this would be a major weakness, but all the cartridges I tried sounded quite good with the ECP 1. It did seem to have a way of working well with cartridges of different output and impedances. I was quite surprised that even with a cartridge with as low an output as the Benz Ebony TR that this phono stage was still dead quiet in my system.
This is the first time in quite a while that I have listened to a transistor phono preamp. I listened to it mainly through the Shindo Masseto’s tube line stage. First, I want to start by saying that the ECP 1 is a superb bargain, and there was never any doubting that it was a transistor and not a tube phono preamp. I mean that in both the good and the bad ways that transistor phono preamps sound. Let’s start with the good. That is to say it was incredibly quiet, very detailed, very quick, very extended in the frequency extremes, and powerful sounding. On the other hand, compared to a good tube phono preamp it exaggerates surface noise, not as good in timbre definition and decay. Having made those observations, it’s now time to get down to some specifics.
The ECP 1 demands that you start by talking about the bass. I promise you the first two things you will notice about it, is how quite it is and what deep, powerful the bass it can produce. Since the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, Rob Wasserman’s Duets has become one of my new favorite albums to use for equipment evaluation. Wasserman’s bass playing is superb as always and I find that the talents he performs with in the album were very well chosen for the music they perform. With the ECP 1, Wasseman’s bass was very fast and powerful. No, it does not have as much decay and air as tube phono amps costing five and ten times as much, but it goes deeper and has more air than most redbook digital.
The ECP 1 did an excellent job of reproducing the deep and powerful bass on Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances & Vocalise while preserving the scale of the woodwinds and the mass strings. This is the kind of bass you get from the very best digital gear. My system plays deeper and more powerful bass with the ECP 1 than with any phono preamp or phono stage I have used in my system. Add to this that the bass is quick and very tight and you have the kind of bass that can hit you right in the stomach. My only complaint with the bass is that it lacks air and decay compared to the Shindo Masseto preamp’s phono stage. Of course the Shindo Masseto cost about $10,000 more than the ECP 1.
The midrange is very quick and extremely detailed. The upper midrange has a nice sparkle and is quite clear. Overall transparency throughout the midrange is remarkable for a phono preamp at this price, and with a good moving coil the Electrocompaniet will outclass the very best redbook digital. The lower midrange is also quick, but a bit lean for the Teresonic Ingenium Silvers, but not too lean for the B&W 805S mini-monitors. Overall, the midrange is quite nice, but does not have the timbre, air, and texture of a first-rate tube unit.
The top-end goes up for what seems like forever. It has pretty sparkle and does not seem at all bright. Like the midrange the treble is very detailed, but it, too, is lacking the last word in timbre, air, and decay. Overall the treble is quite wonderful, especially at this price.
Pace Rhythm And Timing
This is an area where the ECP 1 preformed better than I had expected. The Electrocompaniet’s playback of Elvis is Back is where the little ECP 1 really shined. The speed and power on the cut ‘Fever’ was remarkable. The slam the bass had was startling. This is the kind of music that this phono preamp excels at.
No, it’s not quite as good as the very best tube units, but in this area it did outperform one tube phono preamp at this price point that I recently had in to listen to. As always, good PRaT makes for an altogether more musical and fun listening experience. This little phono preamp really surprised me at how tuneful it was.
Soundstage and Scale
In Wasserman and Jennifer Warnes’ version of “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” from the album Duets, Jennifer’s voice sounds clear and occupies nice space with the ECP 1. In the Rachmaninoff album, The ECP 1 allowed my system to produce a very big orchestral soundstage. I would call its soundstage downright expansive. It was very wide, well outside the boundaries of the speakers. Depth was also quite good. With the ECP 1 it was easy to hear the spatial cues in a recording and this enables it to image quite well. Its vertical soundstage was not poor, but not as good as the best. Scale was very good and quite convincing.
The ECP 1 is a very nice phono preamp at a very attractive price. I can imagine it really sounding great in a system with a Rega or Clearaudio turntable, a nice integrated amp, the ECP 1, and a pair of speakers something like the B&Ws I listen to it with. If you’re looking for a transistor phono stage I would put this one on my short list. Raising the stake for this affordable little phono stage from Electrocompaniet, I would surely be interested in hearing it with a great power supply and a little better flexibility. Is anyone out there listening?
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