Anode Acoustics EL84 Push-Pull Power Amp - Ownership experience from the beginning.

az9012

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Disclaimer : I am the first customer of the El84 power amp, paid for by myself. It retails for 85k. I am not being paid, influenced, or even asked to write this. It is completely according to my own accord. While this is a power amp, it can be made into an integrated version at an extra cost [I do not know the final cost].
This is not a review or a buying guide, this is just the retelling of the experience and what I feel about this. As always, YMMV :)

I had used all the headphone amps of AA and was thoroughly impressed so when I moved to stereo a year back I naturally gravitated to their equipment because of my very positive experience. I got their 12AU7 tube preamp and their 70W Class AB Power amp (retailed for 50k, now discontinued and replaced with their new SS monoblocks). I also had at the time, a heavily modded Quad 405 II (mods: dual mono psu, changed internal wiring, all caps including psu and signal caps upgraded) by Dada Electronics in Europe [they deal in restoring and modifying Quad equipment]. So I will naturally draw comparisons to the two.
I always wanted their flagship El34 monoblocks but it was out of my budget at 1.5L per pair. I was told by Nitin Ji, the owner of AA that a more affordable "little brother" to the EL34 can be built, this El84 power amp. Given my strong liking for their previous SEP #1 PCL82 tube headphone amplifier and its sound quality, I jumped the gun blind.

I have the Mission QX2 Mk2 set on 30" Sound Foundations Nexus stands, chain is Rotel CD11 Tribute CD Player --> AA 12AU7 Tube Preamp --> Quad 405 II, AA 70W Class AB Power Amp, AA EL84 Power Amp. The Mission QX2 MK2 may be an entry level priced speaker but the performance is anything but. It improves seemingly endlessly with better electronics, changing its overall character like a chameleon. It casts a wide and deep soundstage behind it, has stupendous bass extension and quality given its size and a very inviting and pleasant tone. I much prefer it over the much more expensive Focal Chora bookshelves that I heard recently at the dealer's demo room [granted it was being driven by the flagship Marantz AV Receiver and not a stereo integrated/separates]. It is nominally 4 ohms and has a reported sensitivity of 88dB [which if we're being honest is probably just 85dB given the trend of manufacturers' generosity while citing sensitivity ratings]. There doesn't seem to be an impedance vs phase angle graph out on the internet but there is a review on the internet where the reviewer measured it and found it to be around 5 ohms.

The El84 is a PP design dishing out ~12W per channel and is ideally meant for usage with 6 and 8 ohm speakers. Tube complement: -
Input Tube: 12AT7 X1 [from China], Driver Tube: Brimar 12AU7 x4, Output Tube: EL84 x4 [from Russia].
I will skip the details about the in-house wound OPTs, potting in resin of the trafos, P2P wiring etc as those details can be found from the manufacturer themselves. All I can say is that it is built like a tank and supremely heavy. It is definitely not cool having to move this unit around even at my age of 25.
In a perfect world, clearly the QX2 Mk2 is not the ideal speaker to be paired with this amp and I was legitimately concerned after placing the order. But then again, I remembered that my room is absolutely tiny at ~ 3m x 3m x 3m and I sit around 6ft away from the speakers. Room is carefully treated [still some left] and is close to a "dead" room which is what I like.

On receiving the amp and firing it up, I was taken aback by the level of transparency and power. Thick (with 3 C's), deep and juicy bass with so much detail and texture embedded in it. In some cases, rumbling the very foundations of the room. While the bass quality isn't as rigid and tight as some SS power amplifiers, it feels more natural and realistic sounding to me. Highs have air and shimmer for days, ever so slightly tilted towards the lusted "sweet" side. The midrange is a tad bit forward yet full bodied and very accurate in its tone. While I had the speakers placed ideally in the room and they had already disappeared with other amps, with the el84 the disappearance was near absolute. The soundstage 'started' notably further back and went on further back. If the speakers had vanished 98% with the other two amps, it had vanished 99.8% with this. Overall, this amp is on the neutral side, with some of the coloration that is expected off tube amps, namely slightly longer decay of instruments and a bit of added wetness to the sound. Do not expect a 'warm' or 'rolled off' and 'forgiving' sound off this. The coloration is only slight and if your recording is poor, it will make it clear. Neither are the decays extra-long, 'slowing' down the sound. It is agile and snappy. I guess this is what the "modern tube sound" is? To boil it down, the amp makes everything sound more real and yet present a microscopic view into the recording. Counterintuitive I know, but that's how I see it. I could use audiophile cliches all day but to set things more in pace, here are the following comparisons. I know Tubed gear shouldn't be pitted against solid state gear but that's what I had, and this was done just because I was curious. I am not here to give a buying guide.

AA EL84 vs Quad 405 II [100W per channel into 8ohms]
The quad is a heavily polite sounding amplifier. It brushes out any and almost all imperfections in the recording, making even something as harsh as Some Girls by Rolling Stones or Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins sound appetizing. It had weak bass for my liking, and it sounded veiled. In the long run, everything sounded like thick whipped cream which was too much of a good thing in the long run. The EL84 is totally opposite to this, it is much more resolving from top to bottom, bass extension and quality is substantially better, more shimmer and life to the sound up top and is a more engaging listen even though it won't save the trashiest of recordings like the Quad does. One aspect in which the Quad edges out is in soundstage depth, but by a small margin. But I was definitely not prepared to live with the rest of the trade-offs it brought to the table in the sound department. Looks like the soundstage depth of the Quad came at a heavy price. Did I mention the Quad heats up like a furnace? In many situations I was genuinely alarmed, I couldn't keep my hand on the top of the heatsink for more than 6-7s. The major hotspot was the region where the transistors were mounted. I always felt that the chassis for the 405 was too compact for its own good and needed bigger heatsinks. The EL84 also gets hot but that is expected of tube power amps unlike the Quad which doesn't run in Class A as far as I know [I think it was Class B, but don't quote me on this].

AA EL84 vs AA 70w Class AB Power Amp [70W per channel into 4ohms, over 35W per channel into 8 ohms]
The 70w is the most uncolored of the bunch, very, very uncolored. And this was when paired with a tube preamp as well. It is biased into Class A for the first 20W after which it drifts into Class AB. It seemed to have the cliched character that reviewers use when describing really uncolored gear - "it takes the signal and amplifies it". But nothing is truly ever uncolored, and on extended listening over the months I found that the bass was slightly boosted and once or twice I may have found a hint of hardness around the joints. The overall presentation was so uncolored that some would find it to be bland. Compared to the El84, the 70w indeed had deeper bass but when it comes to balance in quantity, I prefer the El84. And when it comes to bass quality, the El84 is very substantially higher class, almost on a different league. The punch, speed and detail present in the upper bass of the EL84 really shames the 70w. But hey, you get what you pay for. The 70w is much cheaper than the El84 and falls under a different category of amplifiers. The midrange is more fleshed out and forward compared to the linear presentation of the 70W. The 70w remained cool or mildly warm no matter what kind of music I played or for how long. Even after 4 hours of loud listening it was just a bit hotter than "warm". As cool as a champ, thanks to the giant heatsinks and the big, vented chassis.

It's funny that I got the best bass performance out of the lowest powered amplifier, getting progressively inferior as I got up higher in wattage.
I have henceforth sold both the other power amplifiers and retained only the EL84 power amp because that's what I like the most of course. Maybe in the future I will upgrade to a high sensitivity & higher impedance speaker, some of the Tannoys refuse to leave my mind :)

Some cons?
One must realize that this is still a low powered amplifier. If you have a bigger room and sit farther away from the speakers or like to play concert level loud, strong care needs to be taken when choosing speakers. I can get away with all of that given my small room and my distance from the speakers.
Also, one needs to take care of proper cooling as is the case with tube power amps, especially the power transformer. I haven't fitted an AC in my room yet and the room is hot by nature [as windows are closed and curtains drawn when listening], I have clamped a tiny USB fan blowing air directly over the power trafo enclosure. And as is expected of tube power amps, it does get hot but nothing alarming, even after 4 hours of continuous long and loud listening sessions with complex music.

Attached are some photos.
 

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Great review, long overdue for this brand.

It can benefit a lot with speakers like rethm bhaava Or the Zu Audio that's on sale with audio co.
 
Great review, long overdue for this brand.

It can benefit a lot with speakers like rethm bhaava Or the Zu Audio that's on sale with audio co.

Great review, long overdue for this brand.

It can benefit a lot with speakers like rethm bhaava Or the Zu Audio that's on sale with audio co.
Yeah they're quite underrated. But their stuff are really good, been a customer for a long time.
Yes indeed, eyeing dual concentric models specially to get rid of the "head in the vice" sweet spot range of the QX2. I'm really sensitive to that.
 
What a great review, although I am not a fan of tubes, i really enjoyed your write-up and could visualize the honesty and authenticity of the experience. The EL84 tube is never spoken about much in audiophile circles but it is perhaps the most famous and most widly used output tube ever (across multiple audio applications from audio amps to radios to guitar amps, etc) and a great sounding little one, that too.
 
Yes indeed, overshadowed by its bigger brother the EL34. I haven't had the chance to hear a proper EL34 power amp yet, but some people say that EL34 cannot replicate or improve upon what the EL84 does [agility, refinedness etc], of course taking into consideration that it's the circuit design that mostly governs the final sound.
 
Disclaimer : I am the first customer of the El84 power amp, paid for by myself. It retails for 85k. I am not being paid, influenced, or even asked to write this. It is completely according to my own accord. While this is a power amp, it can be made into an integrated version at an extra cost [I do not know the final cost].
This is not a review or a buying guide, this is just the retelling of the experience and what I feel about this. As always, YMMV :)

I had used all the headphone amps of AA and was thoroughly impressed so when I moved to stereo a year back I naturally gravitated to their equipment because of my very positive experience. I got their 12AU7 tube preamp and their 70W Class AB Power amp (retailed for 50k, now discontinued and replaced with their new SS monoblocks). I also had at the time, a heavily modded Quad 405 II (mods: dual mono psu, changed internal wiring, all caps including psu and signal caps upgraded) by Dada Electronics in Europe [they deal in restoring and modifying Quad equipment]. So I will naturally draw comparisons to the two.
I always wanted their flagship El34 monoblocks but it was out of my budget at 1.5L per pair. I was told by Nitin Ji, the owner of AA that a more affordable "little brother" to the EL34 can be built, this El84 power amp. Given my strong liking for their previous SEP #1 PCL82 tube headphone amplifier and its sound quality, I jumped the gun blind.

I have the Mission QX2 Mk2 set on 30" Sound Foundations Nexus stands, chain is Rotel CD11 Tribute CD Player --> AA 12AU7 Tube Preamp --> Quad 405 II, AA 70W Class AB Power Amp, AA EL84 Power Amp. The Mission QX2 MK2 may be an entry level priced speaker but the performance is anything but. It improves seemingly endlessly with better electronics, changing its overall character like a chameleon. It casts a wide and deep soundstage behind it, has stupendous bass extension and quality given its size and a very inviting and pleasant tone. I much prefer it over the much more expensive Focal Chora bookshelves that I heard recently at the dealer's demo room [granted it was being driven by the flagship Marantz AV Receiver and not a stereo integrated/separates]. It is nominally 4 ohms and has a reported sensitivity of 88dB [which if we're being honest is probably just 85dB given the trend of manufacturers' generosity while citing sensitivity ratings]. There doesn't seem to be an impedance vs phase angle graph out on the internet but there is a review on the internet where the reviewer measured it and found it to be around 5 ohms.

The El84 is a PP design dishing out ~12W per channel and is ideally meant for usage with 6 and 8 ohm speakers. Tube complement: -
Input Tube: 12AT7 X1 [from China], Driver Tube: Brimar 12AU7 x4, Output Tube: EL84 x4 [from Russia].
I will skip the details about the in-house wound OPTs, potting in resin of the trafos, P2P wiring etc as those details can be found from the manufacturer themselves. All I can say is that it is built like a tank and supremely heavy. It is definitely not cool having to move this unit around even at my age of 25.
In a perfect world, clearly the QX2 Mk2 is not the ideal speaker to be paired with this amp and I was legitimately concerned after placing the order. But then again, I remembered that my room is absolutely tiny at ~ 3m x 3m x 3m and I sit around 6ft away from the speakers. Room is carefully treated [still some left] and is close to a "dead" room which is what I like.

On receiving the amp and firing it up, I was taken aback by the level of transparency and power. Thick (with 3 C's), deep and juicy bass with so much detail and texture embedded in it. In some cases, rumbling the very foundations of the room. While the bass quality isn't as rigid and tight as some SS power amplifiers, it feels more natural and realistic sounding to me. Highs have air and shimmer for days, ever so slightly tilted towards the lusted "sweet" side. The midrange is a tad bit forward yet full bodied and very accurate in its tone. While I had the speakers placed ideally in the room and they had already disappeared with other amps, with the el84 the disappearance was near absolute. The soundstage 'started' notably further back and went on further back. If the speakers had vanished 98% with the other two amps, it had vanished 99.8% with this. Overall, this amp is on the neutral side, with some of the coloration that is expected off tube amps, namely slightly longer decay of instruments and a bit of added wetness to the sound. Do not expect a 'warm' or 'rolled off' and 'forgiving' sound off this. The coloration is only slight and if your recording is poor, it will make it clear. Neither are the decays extra-long, 'slowing' down the sound. It is agile and snappy. I guess this is what the "modern tube sound" is? To boil it down, the amp makes everything sound more real and yet present a microscopic view into the recording. Counterintuitive I know, but that's how I see it. I could use audiophile cliches all day but to set things more in pace, here are the following comparisons. I know Tubed gear shouldn't be pitted against solid state gear but that's what I had, and this was done just because I was curious. I am not here to give a buying guide.

AA EL84 vs Quad 405 II [100W per channel into 8ohms]
The quad is a heavily polite sounding amplifier. It brushes out any and almost all imperfections in the recording, making even something as harsh as Some Girls by Rolling Stones or Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins sound appetizing. It had weak bass for my liking, and it sounded veiled. In the long run, everything sounded like thick whipped cream which was too much of a good thing in the long run. The EL84 is totally opposite to this, it is much more resolving from top to bottom, bass extension and quality is substantially better, more shimmer and life to the sound up top and is a more engaging listen even though it won't save the trashiest of recordings like the Quad does. One aspect in which the Quad edges out is in soundstage depth, but by a small margin. But I was definitely not prepared to live with the rest of the trade-offs it brought to the table in the sound department. Looks like the soundstage depth of the Quad came at a heavy price. Did I mention the Quad heats up like a furnace? In many situations I was genuinely alarmed, I couldn't keep my hand on the top of the heatsink for more than 6-7s. The major hotspot was the region where the transistors were mounted. I always felt that the chassis for the 405 was too compact for its own good and needed bigger heatsinks. The EL84 also gets hot but that is expected of tube power amps unlike the Quad which doesn't run in Class A as far as I know [I think it was Class B, but don't quote me on this].

AA EL84 vs AA 70w Class AB Power Amp [70W per channel into 4ohms, over 35W per channel into 8 ohms]
The 70w is the most uncolored of the bunch, very, very uncolored. And this was when paired with a tube preamp as well. It is biased into Class A for the first 20W after which it drifts into Class AB. It seemed to have the cliched character that reviewers use when describing really uncolored gear - "it takes the signal and amplifies it". But nothing is truly ever uncolored, and on extended listening over the months I found that the bass was slightly boosted and once or twice I may have found a hint of hardness around the joints. The overall presentation was so uncolored that some would find it to be bland. Compared to the El84, the 70w indeed had deeper bass but when it comes to balance in quantity, I prefer the El84. And when it comes to bass quality, the El84 is very substantially higher class, almost on a different league. The punch, speed and detail present in the upper bass of the EL84 really shames the 70w. But hey, you get what you pay for. The 70w is much cheaper than the El84 and falls under a different category of amplifiers. The midrange is more fleshed out and forward compared to the linear presentation of the 70W. The 70w remained cool or mildly warm no matter what kind of music I played or for how long. Even after 4 hours of loud listening it was just a bit hotter than "warm". As cool as a champ, thanks to the giant heatsinks and the big, vented chassis.

It's funny that I got the best bass performance out of the lowest powered amplifier, getting progressively inferior as I got up higher in wattage.
I have henceforth sold both the other power amplifiers and retained only the EL84 power amp because that's what I like the most of course. Maybe in the future I will upgrade to a high sensitivity & higher impedance speaker, some of the Tannoys refuse to leave my mind :)

Some cons?
One must realize that this is still a low powered amplifier. If you have a bigger room and sit farther away from the speakers or like to play concert level loud, strong care needs to be taken when choosing speakers. I can get away with all of that given my small room and my distance from the speakers.
Also, one needs to take care of proper cooling as is the case with tube power amps, especially the power transformer. I haven't fitted an AC in my room yet and the room is hot by nature [as windows are closed and curtains drawn when listening], I have clamped a tiny USB fan blowing air directly over the power trafo enclosure. And as is expected of tube power amps, it does get hot but nothing alarming, even after 4 hours of continuous long and loud listening sessions with complex music.

Attached are some photos.
Excellent review :)

Really happy to know that you are pleased with the amp. Wishing you years of happy listening ahead :)
 
Great Review! And very much needed as well. I had the pleasure of auditioning Mr Nitins creations (El 84s amp) at his residence and I can relate to what you mentioned. I was also looking to purchase his No 1 HP amp. Unfortunately for me, things did not work out well on personal front and hence have postponed till times get better.
Enjoy your gear sir!
 
Great Review! And very much needed as well. I had the pleasure of auditioning Mr Nitins creations (El 84s amp) at his residence and I can relate to what you mentioned. I was also looking to purchase his No 1 HP amp. Unfortunately for me, things did not work out well on personal front and hence have postponed till times get better.
Enjoy your gear sir!
I had the #1 HP amp for more than a year. Honestly one can retire with it forever happily. I would have done the same if not for moving to stereo (had to sell my hp gear to fund my stereo gear).

Dynaco ST35 is EL84 PP. Dynaco ST70 is EL34 PP. ST35 still preferable for its midrange quality.

Midrange of EL84 PP is magic. EL84 is considered “Queen” of small bottles.

Read up on Eico HF81. It has a cult following. Owners of Tube 45 SET amps still dream about it.
The smaller Leben integrated is also EL84 PP if i remember correctly. Although it has a lot more functions added to it unlike the purist kind. A friend of mine has it. I'll go hear it someday 🙂
 
@az9012
I’m going to sound like an old fart but, at your age, I didn’t have a clue about tubes. My friends and I worshipped at the altar of brute solid state power. We idolized the beasts from Mark Levinson, Krell, Carver, et al. We sniggered at anything rated below 100w rms. Oh what fools we were!
Your wonderfully articulate review clearly reveals your keen ear for the subtleties of tube sound. I’m really curious to know how you discovered the magic of those glowing bottles for yourself :)
As @yogibear has mentioned, the EL84 is a wonderful tube. And they often seem to end up inside some really expensive gear. I’ve heard the Audio Note Oto in its single ended avatar and it sounded gorgeous. At 85k, the Anode amp sounds like an absolute bargain.
Do keep us updated as you progress on your tube journey. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you.
Happy listening!
 
@az9012
I’m going to sound like an old fart but, at your age, I didn’t have a clue about tubes. My friends and I worshipped at the altar of brute solid state power. We idolized the beasts from Mark Levinson, Krell, Carver, et al. We sniggered at anything rated below 100w rms. Oh what fools we were!
Your wonderfully articulate review clearly reveals your keen ear for the subtleties of tube sound. I’m really curious to know how you discovered the magic of those glowing bottles for yourself :)
As @yogibear has mentioned, the EL84 is a wonderful tube. And they often seem to end up inside some really expensive gear. I’ve heard the Audio Note Oto in its single ended avatar and it sounded gorgeous. At 85k, the Anode amp sounds like an absolute bargain.
Do keep us updated as you progress on your tube journey. I’m looking forward to hearing more from you.
Happy listening!
I was heavily invested in headphone amps a few years back and had used different tube amps. Most of them were from China and were subpar when it came to sound quality, and for some reason people in the headphone community think tube amps = OTL amps which is strange to me, I really didn't like any of the OTL amps I tried, heavily flawed. Thankfully I came across some good tube amps and all of them were OPT based, high levels of transparency and made properly. That's when I got addicted to the "high end" tube sound, not the overly goo-ey and mushy bharta that those cheap tube amps produce. I settled happily with the PCL82 based amp from AA because at 65k it was the biggest bargain in front of my eyes. I seem to favor tube amps all the time, even though I have nothing against SS. But yeah, those brutish amps seem a bit overkill for me.
 
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