Copyright 2017 © Troels Gravesen

Update 2021->

The EAR 912 phono-, line-stage is the latest addition to my system and was bought after auditioning the amp at the Munich High-End Show. One thing that led me to consider an alternative to my current WOT-Grail front end was the use of coils for RIAA equalisation, same as my current vdh Grail phono stage - and the fact the 912 would give me a whole range of conveniences I didn't have before, like double phono inputs for my now double tone-arm turntable, double balanced inputs to the line stage (my CD player), a mono button (something I sometimes miss), remote control (convenience) and not least reducing the number of "boxes" from four to one.
Like my current line stage it has double balanced out-put, something I'll be using more and more with digital DSP modules for running bass drivers.
The 912 has 14 dB gain, exactly the same as my current line stage. Nice! And it doesn't invert phase as my current pre-amp does. The phono section has a surprisingly 50-80 dB gain depending on settings - and they are all useful according to Stereophile test. And by the way, this amp was designed more than 12 years ago. I seems to stand the test of time.

Now, we don't - as in the Eighties - go to the local hifi store and borrow exotica for a week to make up our minds. We really did have a store here in town where you could borrow exotica like a Luxman tube power amp, Richard Sequerra speakers and QUAD electrostatics, etc. Today we read reviews and go to shows, and we take our chances when buying stuff and hope it will perform to our expectations. Not always the case!

I wasn't expecting the EAR 912 to perform better than my current set-up, maybe with a slightly different tonal flavour, going from a solid state phono stage to an all-tube/trannie device.

And I wasn't wrong after listening for a few hours - I thought... What surprised me the most was the gain. This preamp has loads of gain and I had a hard time believing the line-section was only 14 dB. Have to check with measurements...

What interested me the most was the quality of the phono section. I repeatedly swapped between the 912 phono stage and my vdh Grail via an auxiliary input. Over and over again, and I wasn't able to detect any significant difference. Maybe the 912 had a fraction of smoothness to the presentation, but it was so little I'm sure I wouldn't be able to tell which was which in a blind test. Phewww! Because I know the Grail is a phenomenal phono stage - so good I won't even part with it after the 912 has entered the rack.
Then after a good and long night's sleep, things started to unravel. Fatigue is thing we have to be aware of in auditioning equipment. And it's not just a matter of having been exposed to sound - or noise - during the day. There's a reason we fall asleep after 16 hours of activity, work, interaction with other people, problems that must be solved, etc. All leading to fatigue and inability to take in much more information. I usually listen  in the morning hours before being contaminated with news on how the Brits will tackle Brexit and other disturbing stuff.
Feel sure I'm very much aware of the power of having handed out a substantial amount of money and what it can do to our perception of things. If the 912 wasn't as good as or better than my current equipment it would have to go again.

Digging deeper into my record collection it was clear that I missed something from the 912. What also became clear was that this something was something I should miss. The 912 appears slightly darker and from many previous experiences, darker usually means less smear. Listening to individual instruments from some test LPs, it became clear that the 912 had a better tonal fidelity and that e.g. cymbals "missed" the minor - and I mean minor - sheen/brittleness of my former equipment. The same goes for the lot of instruments we can find in a symphonic orchestra and even choral music, the latter so troublesome. Synthesizers and electronic instruments are useless in evaluating quality of sound. We can never know what it should sound like. That's why we hear so much dreadful pling-plong music at hifi shows, so we can't have any reference, and it also sounds good on most systems.
It's strange how some forms of colouration can add to our positive perception of sound and when it's gone, we miss it. We get used to things. That's the key to "burn-in". "Burn-in" = "getting used to". That's why so many manufacturers always advise some hours of burn-in, to make people happy about their purchase. Sometimes hundreds of hours! It's nonsense! Burn-in is something that happens in our brain. I know this is highly controversial, but please don't respond. I wish everyone happy in their beliefs.

Looking into the 912 we see something not up to the high standards of current Chinese manufacturing, rather some British handwork. Not particularly nice, but effective. The sonic quality of this unit is kind of a smack in the face to hard-wired circuits, silver wires, gold plated teflon tube sockets and all sorts of woodoo-BS. Identify the real problems and solve them. Opponents may argue what it could have been, if... The thing is that nobody builds two identical pre-amps, one hard-wired, one circuit board, ets., and compare the two. I can't help liking the 912 because it is so free of any snake-oil, so common in hifi these days.

It's really hard to write something sensible about two systems that are so much alike and yet, throw a slightly different palette of tonal colours to the sound - because the probably both do. We can never tell until we have the next thing that put our minds in doubt. I very much like what hear from the 912 and I like its versatility. True pro product.
I've used the Keith Jarrett Still Live before as one of my favourite recordings. Jack DeJonette's drum playing is out of this world. His use of snare and cymbals can be so subtle, yet with a captivating ability to support the piano, its flow and nyances. The 912 helps me getting closer to the live experience than anything else has done in my living room. This says it all.




Click most images below to view large

The 912 comes at a close to 14 kg weight due to a bunch of trannies and not least thanks for a sturdy cabinet and massive front panel.
Only thing I can point to is the all too smooth volume knob, it needs a pair of rubber O-rings to get a better grip.


This I like! Double balanced outputs, balanced input, two phono inputs, etc., etc. This baby does it all.
The extra SE line outputs can be used together with the balanced output for running a subwoofer should we need that. And it comes from a separate winding of the transformer. Nice!
I'll probably never use the tape-out/tape-in sockets. Although there was a lot of reel-to-reel tape in Munich, the range of recordings were certainly limited - and they were certainly expensive.

The bottom of the circuit board. A few wire jumpers here and there.
Those who believe a tube amp should be hard wired, try this.


The phono stage with its MC transformers and coils for riaa correction (tiny rectangular box, my guess) and relays for the various MC settings.
At the RIAA output two transformers handing over the signal to the line stage.


Here the line-stage. The interior is pretty much covered by two solid traverse panels fastened to the chassis and bottom/transformers via some solid rods making sure heavy transport doesn't damage the circuit board and loosen transformers. Below I have removed to support to get a full overview.
BTW: This unit doesn't come with PCC88, rather ECC88 tubes.


 Not enough interior? Get a Download 23 MB image



You pay an insane amount of money for this tiny remote.
The buttons need some rubber so you can feel them without looking. I'll add some rubber pads.

I had five of the expensive NOS Mullard E88CC tubes for test. Sounded shut in and with too much midrange. Not my cup of tea.

The 912 comes with a very smooth volume knob or my fingers are usually dry. On eBay I found a knob exactly the same size but with knurled surface. I used it for some time, but left it again. The surface was just too rough and the colour of aluminum not quite right. I know this is nitpicking, but I am very nitpicking when it comes to my tools and gear. They have to feel right, or I don't like it.
I ended up adding a small strip of rough adhesive tape, the kind of thing we can use on slippery stairs.


Discussing tweaking of the 912 with someone who should know about EAR products, it was suggested replacing the bottom panel with copper. Thus, one of my friends made me a 228.5 x 390 mm plate from 2 mm copper. 4 mm holes for the screws and M5 holes for the feet. Does this shielding, non-magnetic material improve sound? Hmm....maybe.


Up-date 2021:

I have been more than pleased the last three years with the EAR-912 and I never really thought I'd do any tweaking - and not knowing the schematics, I couldn't.
A helpful guy send me the schematics of the EAR912, dated 2004, but probably still valid. Thanks! It turned out there is indeed four coupling caps in the diagram. On his recommendation to be replaced by suitable copper foil caps. He had used Jupiter copper-foil/paper-wax - and knowing copper caps may more or less do the same with more or less character, I followed his example and bought 4 x 47 nF caps. He used 47 nF for the RIAA and 100 nF for the line stage to get an even lower cut-off. I bought 4 x 47 nF.
The original caps are 33 nF - probably - PP caps. They are blue and easy to detect on the images. I have encircled the caps above in one of the pictures.
Only regret is that I didn't order two more for my EAR-868PL, but some other time.

To cut a long story short, there is indeed even more to extract from the -912, more than I expected. Enhanced clarity, less hardness to instruments with high-frequency content, etc. All the usual aspects. Not a lot, because I could easily live with the -912 as-is, but significantly - and well worth the money spent.