EAR Paravicini M100A/312 Tube Amp Reviewed

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Before reading this, note that I am not ascribing these qualities to Tim as a person. I would hardly call him a 'control freak', even though the bass and drum sounds he favours are so stage-managed as to suggest a martinet with a whip standing over a battered and bleeding Jack Bruce. In my experience, the TdP sound is bold, up-front, dynamic and - to use modern parlance - kick ass. The sound is never shy, never lacking confidence and always close to the edge. If this combination were a car, it would be a TVR, not a Lexus. It is the kind of system which imparts excitement to almost everything - although that would be impossible to do to works by Andrew Lloyd Webber - and, as a result, calls for a red-blooded listener.

Everything about the sound of the combination is big and bold, a bottle of Brunello amidst a case of Evian, with sound so vivid that it can only be likened - sonically - to Decca cartridges, classic Lowther horns, dual-concentric Tannoys. While the M100A is capable of delicacy, if not quite the sublime finesse of the partnering 312, it almost begs to be fed a diet of huge works. It's as if to use it with chamber music would be to waste it, like pouring that Brunello into a casserole.

If the lower registers - the tight and dry bass, the bottomless extension - are as predictable as two-decades-plus of Tim's designs would suggest, then the rest is something of a surprise. While the top end is easily excited to near edginess, one suspects that it is the 312/M100A combination stretching the speakers and cables to their limits, rather than the amplifiers themselves misbehaving. Yes, there is a constant sense of a pending eruption, but it never arrives. I suppose it's as close as audio gets to a ride on EuroDisney's Space Mountain. You think you're gonna go off the rails, but you don't.

If ever a system begged to be fed the Kodo drummers, this is it. The Yoshinos portrayed them with all their power, all their mass, all of their impact. Conversely, a session with the Persuasions - unamplified voices - proved just as rewarding because the scale, the three-dimensional layering and therefore the sheer presence overcame a slight loss of textures in the deepest voices.

At no point was I bored using the 312/M100A combination, and I found myself actually looking forward to the listening periods, to the looks on friends' faces. And each face produced a rictus upon being told that the 312 cost 10,000 and a pair of M100As would set you back 20,000. This, of course, is loony tunes money, almost enough to pay for a decent tourbillon, and the competition is so fierce at this rarefied level (lots of products/few customers) that it's a buyer's market. There are a lot of dandy amps out there for twenty big ones.

Hand on heart, I have to say that the departure of the 312 - which I adored to pieces - caused me a greater sense of loss than the M100As, but their absence, too, causes a lingering wistfulness. Quite what has happened, I don't know. I suspect it's like being reminded of one's youth as one enters one's decline; the temptation is quite clearly the hi-fi equivalent of those sad fiftysomethings who run out and buy Harley-Davidsons or Ducatis the instant they realise that they can no longer keep it up all night without the aid of Viagra or scaffolding. So maybe the 312/M100A is a young man's plaything, because it is most surely an invitation to bang head, listen loud, and leave the session drenched in sweat.

This is, unashamedly, the most butch combination I've heard in a long, long time. Alanis Morissette fans need not apply.

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EAR/Yoshino Ltd., Unit 9, Brook Road, Bicton Industrial Park, Kimbolton, Huntingdon Cambs PE29 0LR. Tel 01480 861834; FAX 01480 432006

It was with some concern that word reached me about the EAR M100A, prior to the amps even arriving Chez Kessler. Fair enough, Tim de Paravicini has antagonised the odd individual in the past, but to learn that some were attributing to the mighty M100A an output of only 10W before clipping struck me as particularly bizarre. Tim may be a lot of things, but a purveyor of gutless amps he is not. More to the point, I refuse to believe that any amplifier which can drive the Apogee Scintilla - in 1 ohm mode to some 102dB at 2m with no audible distortion - to be capable of yielding only 10W. And in normal listening with other speakers, the meters on the front of the amp were of little use, as I barely got them into the red, i.e. over an indicated 10W, because it was simply too loud for me.

Accuse me of lacking faith, but merely driving the 1 ohm/82dB Apogee, the 6 ohm/86dB Wharfedale Diamond 8.1, and the 8 ohm/85dB Spendor S3, plus original Quad ESLs, assorted LS3/5As and the Sonus Faber Guarneri to levels which nearly threatened their existence wasn't enough evidence. Even though a simple calculator and an SPL meter would prove the delivery of more than 10W, still I confronted Tim and had him bring along, when he collected the monsters, a slew of test equipment.

Tim duly arrived with an oscilloscope, signal generators, a 200W/8 ohm dummy load, a mouthful of names like 'Flume' and 'Neutrik' and fistfuls of cables, in full, mad-professor-from-Back-To-The-Future-Mode. Arms flailing, a dervish in full flight, he hooked it all up, twiddled with knobs, fed it some signal, cranked the loud button all the way around to Armageddon. The result? Before my very eyes, 107W before any TRACE of clipping. The lesson? Where there's smoke, there's not necessarily fire.

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