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 two 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, so I took it to my CLIO for measurements. See below.

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 any electronic instrument is useless in evaluating quality of sound. We can never know what it should sound like. 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. It's nonsense! Burn-in is something that happens in our brains. 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, gold plated teflon tube sockets and all sorts of woodoo-BS so common in hifi. 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, and compare the two.

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.

 

 

 

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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 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.

 

Measurements
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