The very first thing I did as I carefully peeled away the protective covering after lifting the Eclipse out of its carton was whisper and astonished “Wow”. The pre-amp is gorgeous to look at! An absolutely stunning mixture of Art Deco architectural loveliness and German hi-tech precision. It has a see-through perspex top and is gently internally illuminated with a couple of red LEDs when in operation. You just have to see it, photos really do not do it justice.
AudioValve have been around for quite a while and have earned a reputation for making good sounding valve-based equipment with salon-level visual appearance. The current product range encompasses 14 different models of valve amplification, from headphone amps to pre and power amps, and integrateds.
The Eclipse (or Eklipse as it is called in German speaking areas) is a valve (tube)-based remote controlled pre-amplifier. The review sample had “Eclipse” on its faceplate.
It has 7 stereo RCA inputs, 2 pairs of RCA outputs and 1 pair of XLR outputs.
The front panel sports and output selector (including mute), source selector, volume control and, quite unusually, a balance control.
I decided to perform this review with the pre-amp valves in stock form; four Electro-Harmonix 12AU7A. The audiophile world is practically awash in tube-rolling options, and undoubtedly the overall flavour and presentation of the Eclipse pre-amp can be substantially modified by inserting your own choice of valves. Which in a way makes this review something of a snapshot of a moving target, but hey ho, that’s part of the fun of valve based kit, I guess!
According to Steve Dorian, of the UK distributor Audioelec, “The Eclipse is a “tube rollers” dream. Depending on what your sonic tastes are will determine which tubes you will want to use in the Eklipse. While you may like the sound of the Eklipse with the stock Harmonix tubes, in my opinion, NOS tubes like the RCA Clear Top take its performance to a higher level.“
Yep, based on my experience of other valve pre-amps, I can well believe that. And I would certainly encourage Eclipse owners to try a few alternatives to see how the sonic standard can be raised further from the excellent performance already available with the ElectroHarmonix valves.
The Sound in Eclipse
This is a very fine sounding pre-amp – there’s an immediate feeling of rightness and a wonderful sense of dynamic ebb and flow. I knew I was going to enjoy this review from the off.
Overall tonality is pretty much spot on, I think. A genuinely full-range sound, from the generous (but not too generous!) bass thru a very palpable midrange to a smoothly extended treble which gets vocal sibilance (a difficult challenge) just right.
Vocals have more individuality and character than I often hear, with excellent articulation and clarity, and sheer in-the-room presence. There’s a rich tonal texture conveyed in voices that make them seem more real than usual with the Eclipse. Very nice indeed.
Bass is deep, textured, controlled, powerful and vibrant. It really is impressive. I’m tempted to characterise it as solid state bass done right! Those listeners who prefer some valvey bloomy loveliness to the lower frequencies may well be disappointed by this valve pre-amp, but my own view is that the Eclipse is far more realistic in its portrayal of lower frequencies than that.
There is an impressive lucidity in complex, multi-strand music. Nothing seems to phase it, music is just presented clearly and without confusion no matter how ‘busy’ it gets. I was very impressed by this, all too often the musical plot is lost as the going gets going, not so with this pre-amp.
Despite the eulogy of praise so far presented in this review, its imaging ability is, quite possibly, where the Eclipse pleases me most. There’s a wholeness to the soundstage, a sense of immersion in the recording space that really encourages involvement in the musical experience. There’s a ‘you are there’ feel to the presentation that really tops off an already impressive performance.
The one area that I have any real reservation about is in the ultimate resolution of detail. Leading edges of transients are slightly smoothed over, a little of the ‘spang’ of plucked strings, for example, is lost; rapid runs become just slightly homogenised and run together. The feeling of musical immediacy is reduced compared to some amps, you may feel that you are seated a little further back from the musicians than with some components. I know that some listeners will like this aspect of the Eclipse’s presentation, those who enjoy a slightly laidback and less intrusive presentation. Others, like me, would prefer to feel they are closer to the action.
I often find it illuminating to try and come up with a single word which encapsulates a hifi component’s nature, a word that instantly conveys my emotional response to its sound. For the Eclipse I think that word would be “vibrant”.
The remote control of volume is nicely slow in operation but not too slow, you are unlikely to get whisked to unexpectedly high volumes by the careless press of a button.
But the manically flashing red light indicating remote operation is a bit distracting! – personally, I’d cover this with a small piece of black insulating tape.
An unusual feature of the Eclipse is its ability to clean and deoxidize the internal relays’ contacts. An amazing racket of clicking switches results when this feature is selected – it’s quite worrying when you first do this. And there is a firm recommendation in the user manual to turn your power amp OFF when using this function – I suggest you follow this recommendation!
Tube hiss / valve noise? Nope, I never heard any. OK, if I turned up the volume toward full there was a faint tracery of hiss – but the volume level would have been insanely, ridiculously, speaker-destroyingly loud – I can’t believe that anyone would ever have an issue with this.
Value for money
This strikes me as being reasonable, not one of the world’s great bargains, but you get what you pay for. Current UK pricing is £3,700, for which you obtain wonderful appearance (subject of course to personal taste), superb build quality and genuine high end sound. My feeling is that you pay a bit extra for the visual design aspects, but that seems fair enough to me and will be an important aspect for many buyers at this price level.
Despite the slight shortcomings heard in ultimate resolution, I can imagine many music lovers falling in love with the Eclipse pre-amp. You can count me as one of their number! It really is a musically rewarding and engrossing pre-amp.
So the Audio Valve Eclipse pre-amp is recommended! – for its musical palpability and sense of involvement, and yes, the vibrancy of the presentation. If you want the ultimate in resolution and micro-detail I would suggest you may want to look elsewhere, although you may have to sacrifice other aspects in which the Eclipse excels if you do so!
Build Quality – 9/10
Sound Quality – 8/10
Value for money – 8/10
Overall – 8.3/10
Price when reviewed – £3700
Recommended for its musical palpability, sense of involvement and the vibrancy of the presentation
Author – Jerry Jacobs
Equipment used: MBL 116F speakers, Williams Audio 200wpc class D power amp, Technics SL-P1200 CD player or Pioneer DV717 CD transport & Jolida FX3 DAC.