Sunday, March 9, 2014

Carot One Ernestolo TA2024 T amp with tube preamplifier

I've had the Ernestolo amp for over 3 months now, and I can say it's now my current favorite T-amp. It's a beautiful looking jewel of an amp, and non hifi people compliment me on it's looks. It sounds even better than it looks with the focused, coherent, and punchy sound the TA2024 chip provides. It sounds even better than the typical TA2024 amp though, because the Ernestolo feeds the TA2024 from a tube preamplifier that is built into the same chassis.
The case design makes the separate nature of the the amp and preamp apparent. There is a clear "hole" in the chassis between the amp and the preamp. The amp and preamp are completely separate devices and each have their own power and audio connections. There are pluses and minuses of this design, so let's start with the pluses. This is one hot 15 watt amp! One of the biggest disadvantages of the Tripath TA2024 is its low power. The preamp of the Ernestolo feeds the amplifier a very loud signal, so this amplifier plays louder than you would expect. Louder even than my TA2021 25 watt T-amp. You would probably be happy with this amp connected to speakers with only average sensitivity, though I haven't tried it with any speakers other than my Axiom M3 speakers which are fairly sensitive at 93 db. The resulting sound is fantastic, and I'm very happy with the setup. It has a very small footprint, smaller even than my other T-amps.
The small footprint of the unit coupled with the fact that this is actually two devices mean the backpanel is cramped and cluttered. The preamplifier isn't connected to the T-amp internally, there is a small black 1/8" to 1/8" jumper that makes the connection. The power supply uses a splitter to connect to the barrel power sockets on both devices. With banana speaker plugs and an RCA audio patch cord connected to the back, you really can't reach the rear mounted amplifier power switch with out picking the amp up.
You might be tempted to just leave the amp on all the time, but you'll be rewarded with a very loud pop when you use the front mounted volume control to turn on the preamplifier. The instructions that come with the Ernestolo are very specific. Turn the preamplifier on first, then turn on the power amplifier. Neither has a "soft start," so even if you are following the directions you'll hear a clear pop as you turn on the device. The front mounted volume control has a great feel, and has a clear indent to turn the power to the preamp off. Also on the front is an 1/8" headphone jack and an 1/8" input which overrides the reat RCA inputs.

The preamp is a low voltage design (probably what is referred to as "starved plate") that barely makes the tube glow. For visual appeal, there is a very pleasant blue led to light the tube. I got my Ernestolo for $300 on amazon.com. That's significantly more than I've paided for my previous T-amps. Still, it's cheap by audiophile standards, and competitive for a (presumably) Chinese manufactured tube amp. The Ernestolo sounds an order of magnitude better than the Qinpu A-3 for example, and it's only $100 more expensive. If you can live with the cramped and cluttered back panel connections, the fussy powering sequence and in the inevitable pop when you turn it on, you'll be pleased with the sound of the Ernestolo.

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