Audion Sterling EL34 Valve Amplifier
Audion Sterling EL34
Since Audion started, back in 1987, they have stayed true to a simple guiding principle: to open the doorway into the world of high-end audio without forcing people to sacrifice their home or bank balance. This philosophy is as true today, as when they first started out.
The Sterling range was originally launched in 1987 and has exemplified their philosophy of excellent build quality, exceptional looks, and delicious tube sound at a price that the working man can afford. Now in it’s 5th generation Audion have released the Sterling EL34 Anniversary Edition to celebrate their 20th birthday.
The new Sterling EL34 Anniversary produces a level of performance that is radically superior to the previous designs. The Anniversary Edition is hard wired, employs larger transformers, uses superior quality audiophile components & uses the highly regarded EL34 valves. The hard wired amps follow Audion’s philosophy that simplicity is the key to a great sounding amplifier. The design of these amps is executed with a large dose of sound engineering and common sense. The Anniversary edition comes in a new a black aluminium chassis with chrome highlights.
Audion Sterling Reviews
“Even equipment commentators need systems that exist solely for their private enjoyment. Systems that are fenced off from critical ears, there to provide sounds during review downtime. The Audion EL34 Sterling Stereo Anniversary started its life in my life this way: this wasn’t intended as a review unit. (Ditto Zu Omen bookshelves). Instead, this commentary comes after six months’ gestation as this EL34-fuelled single-ender has stealthily crept from private listening system into review spaces. Now, words MUST spill.
Audion products are hand made to the most exacting standards. Eschewing the production line approach to manufacturing, one person makes each unit from start to finish. Holland is (by all accounts) obsessed with attention to detail. If something can’t be done to his standards, he buys in the equipment, puts himself through a gruelling learning process and does it himself. Consequently, more and more of the processes are now carried out in house. Case in point: Holland recently acquired a tube stamper so that he can Audion-brand his bottles. Unsurprisingly, Mr Holland is no fan of Chinese gear. He avoids using anything Chinese, all the way down to component level. Zut alors!
Jack Ladder’s mournful Hurtsville and Bright Eyes’ bleak Digital Ash In A Digital Urn. I’ve been spinning these guys relentlessly as it rains and rains and rains through the (2012) Sydney winter. The Audion breathers warm air into gloomy song spaces…between instruments to ensure they don’t collapse in on their bleak selves. The Audion pulls an optimistic glow against the cold (like the very best miserablism). Moreover, the Audion beautifies: it sweeps the soundstage canvas with long elegant brush strokes.
More seasoned audiophiles will know that good amplification – no matter the topology – has no sound of its own. Don’t expect the thick syrup or golden hues of sub-$1000 Chinese units. There is no sickly/heavy sauce here. Neither is there porridge bass. Who said tubes are no hopeless below the waist? (Fools!) This Audion is the healthiest of extra virgin olive oil: light, transparent, clean. And fast. It is unburdened by ponderous, labouring low frequencies or musical weight gain.
Its talents lie in 1. the ability to drive a wide range of loudspeakers and 2. the beautification of music.
For yours truly, it is with the Zu Omen bookshelves that the Audion EL34 finds its ideal mate. Never showing signs of bass sag or an inability to duke it out at higher SPLs, these 98db standmounts paint with rich, fast tonal colours and hugely expansive soundstaging.
The ultimate praise (here) for the Audion EL34 amplifier stems not from just from the above descriptors but from the amount of time it has spent mingling among review party guests. It hasn’t been subjected to the churn of new gear. I’ve not wanted for anything different. Not an amplifier for instant gratification but one for long-term satisfaction. A life partner. A trusty steed.
A few mates dropped by for pizza and beer last night. They know that I write about hi-fi but – music fans too – they apparently care little for good sound; one listens to Spotify through laptop speakers (shock, shock, horror). We got to talking about how much LCD Soundsystem sound like Talking Heads. Such a notion causes an internal double-grin within the bones of this music fan. With Audion warmed, onto the Rega RP1 went a fresh copy of This Is Happening. The RP1 might be the most basic of ‘tables but it still managed to recreate dutifully the in-the-gut kick of “Dance Yrself Clean”. The very same kick that I’d felt in the Zu room at the Newport Beach show two weekends prior. The synth line squelches, James Murphy yells and visiting friends are silenced. We sat dumbstruck/awestruck and two words fired: visceral, textural.” JOHN DARKO – DIGITAL AUDIO REVIEW
“The Sterling EL34 Anniversary stereo amp is a sixth-generation product. Not only has the chassis been changed considerably from the early steel variety, but the circuit design has changed as well, as has the topology of the output transformer. Many of the internal components are now being made specifically for Audion, which manufactures all the output transformers in house. Audion also prides itself on using components sourced from either Europe or the U.S. when possible, and is eager to maintain product quality and reliability. Where single points of failure have been found in the past, the circuits and/or parts have been over engineered or overspecified to avoid such problems in the future. There are no production lines at Audion. One person builds an amp from start to finish, as experience has shown that such an approach engenders more pride and care during the assembly process.
Audion today continues to adhere to a basic philosophy of making affordable esoteric high-end equipment available to everyone and not a select few with deep pockets. Graeme says that he personally prefers “a system that is non-fatiguing and musical to an extremely analytical system where you crane your ears to listen to what they are saying in the background of Jazz at the Pawnshop for example [or] where a guy on a mixing desk didn’t properly change a level or a drummer dropped a stick. Our high-end products will retrieve this info and more, admittedly, but I maintain that a good amplifier is not only transparent but musical and engaging and a pleasure to listen to for a whole evening and more. I believe our amps are primarily musical.
The Audion spent most of its time partnering the Zu Audio Omen Def (98dB sensitivity) and my Basszilla Platinum Mk2 (96dB sensitivity) speakers. In this high-sensitivity context, 12Wpc proved more than adequate headroom, and I might add that even in such a setting the noise floor was low enough to be unobtrusive. Soundstaging was 3-D with excellent depth perspective, though transparency was a bit lacking relative to far more expensive amplifiers. The subjective impression was of slightly recessed highs, which shifted the tonal balance towards the lower midrange. The result was a full-bodied authoritative presentation with a benign distortion spectrum that facilitated long-term listening enjoyment.
The Audion’s grasp of space and time was exceptional and never on better display than when it partnered with the Zu Audio Omen Def. The synergy of pure Class A and full-range drivers borders on the magical and made for a totally engaging emotional presentation. The Audion was not a detail champ; it did not plunge my ears deep into the mix, though it was able to retrieve far more low-level detail than other amps at its price point.
The Audion Sterling EL34 Anniversary Edition is a warm and dimensional-sounding amplifier with a potent lower midrange that does justice to the power range of an orchestra. It sang right out of the box and never misbehaved. Kudos to the Audion team for breathing new life into the venerable EL34 pentode. In my estimation, the Sterling EL34 represents a gift to music lovers everywhere. Highly recommended.”- DICK OLSHER – THE ABSOLUTE SOUND