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28.07.16
Electrocompaniet ECI-3 integrated amplifier

Glass, black and Gold

In some Hi-Fi apparatus, the design is like a visual key aimed at an immediate identification. At a first impact, that macroscopic DNA makes understand what is in front of us. Our memories tied to it start to line up. Not many brands can boast such feature, but I am sure that you have already some examples in your mind. Undoubtedly, the Classic Line by Electrocompaniet belongs to this small but noteworthy group.

The massive crystal front fascia, the golden knobs, the black chassis and its blue lights do not lie: we are close, industrially speaking, to the gorgeous fiords of Tau, Norway.

 

Would they never perform well these blessed transistors?

I will not answer this question, so won’t you. It is a tricky question.

Per Abrahamsen and Svein Erik Børja created Electrocompaniet in 1972 with a precise aim: starting from the studies made by the Finnish Dr. Matti Otala at the Tampere University of Technology together with Jan Lohstroh, the output would have been a transistor amplifier not inferior to the sound of the dear tube amplifiers.

The international success of the Two Channel Audio Power Amplifier, also called Otala amplifier, proved designers and managers right. At that time they coud do it!

During the years, Electrocompaniet has been pursuing with obstinacy this philosophy. I can remind the splendid progenitor of the ECI-3, object of this review, that ECI-1 that has broken many audiophile’s hearts!

Speaking of the Classic line series, on ReMusic’s pages, you can find the article about the preamplifier EC 4.8 by Roberto Fugito.

 

Technically speaking

In a period where the programmed obsolescence seems an ineluctable necessity, it is nice to bump into an amplifier that has been resisting for almost ten years in the catalogue of its manufacturer. Symptom of a rare design reliability and of the people’s favour. The opportunity of reviewing it on our pages allows us to say something about an object that represents a Hi-Fi classic.

The massive front panel offers a very simple operativeness: on/off button, four navigator buttons that, vertically, adjust the volume and, horizontally, select the six inputs. The CD input is balanced with four XLR connectors. Everything is signaled with blue lights that indicate the source of the signal and the position of the volume. There is also an infrared remote control. Outputs: two tape out, a RCA unbalanced preamp output, one balanced XLR and the clamps for the loudspeakers.

Components of top quality and an impeccable layout make of this integrated amplifier a great example of state-of-the-art electronics.

The Electrocompaniet ECI 3 is an amplifier completely coupled in DC, with a fully balanced structure. The control of the volume is motorized and the commutation of the inputs is servo assisted by relays. The power supply is well-finished, with a 550 V toroidal transformer in FFT (Floating Transformer Technology) configuration and a 40.000 μF filtering. The stated power into 8 ohms, that is 2 x 70 watts, seems prudential. The impression is that also with tough loudspeakers for low sensitivity and rotations of the load impedance, the current is never missing. The manufacturer states a stability in the supply until 0,5 ohms: a remarkable fact. Useless and boring recommendation: turn on the amp at least one hour before the listening session. The higher quality will repay you for your patience.

In medio stat virtus

It simply means that strength or virtue is found in the moderate position between – and above – the two extremes of any issue. This Latin locution suits to the performances of the ECI-3. The design philosophy and the technical realization aim to a balanced center where nothing is left to chance, where there is no hazard in any parameter. There are no deep drop to the underworld of the low frequencies as often happens with embarrassing sound jumble. The high frequencies are present and defined, never shrill and fatiguing or, worse, annoying. The real strength point are the mids. The detail is spectacular, one of the best for definition and naturalness. I have never had a good relation with the digital music, in particular with the CD format, but, if there is an amplification that, at least partially, has reconciled me with the 16 bits and 44,1 kHz, is this integrated amp itself. In its musical elaboration it can harmonize some typical lacks like the tonal artificiality of some instruments, piano in primis, and the harmonic deficiency in the voices. The best listening session are however with the analogue source, the turntable with a DIY phono stage. By the way, it is a pity the absence of a phono input in the ECI-3. I know. In the Classic Line, Electrocompaniet makes the ECP2, perfectly adaptable. But a classy integrated amp, IMHO, should have this possibility. Maybe the ECI-3, made when the revival of the vinyl was improbable if not impossible, has convinced the designer to do without it.

At this point, I have to define the amp “suitable” for some musical genres or customers. A tic starts in my eye and I feel some itch on my back. I think that the element inside an audio chain that has to be neutral is the amplifier! Sources, loudspeakers and environment already characterize the sound under the tonal aspect. Said that, I stress the good and sometimes optimum features of this amplifier that has to be in any case a reasoned choice.

 

Conclusions

I saw it, I listened to it, I fell in love with it. And I am not the only one. It deserves a place in the list of the amplifiers that, at least once in a lifetime, an audiophile must listen.

 

 

Selection of listened music

Bryce Dessner - St. Carolyn By The Sea, Jonny Greenwood - Suite From There Will Be Blood (LP-2014)

The Chemical Brothers - Born in the Echoes (CD-2015)

David Bowie - Blackstar (LP-2016)

Chris Cornell - Higher Truth (LP-2015)

Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Orchestral Spectaculars, Erich Kunzel (Telarc CD-2002)

Joe Jackson - Fast Forward (LP-2015)

Leonard Cohen - Popular Problems (HD Tracks 24/96 - 2014)

Roger Waters - Amused To Death (LP-2015)

Mumford & Sons - Wilder Mind (LP-2015)

Pearl Jam - Vitalogy (CD-1994)

 

 

SCHEME SUMMARY

top score ✳✳✳✳✳ ReMusic Sparks

 

Tone colour: ✳✳✳✳ | Natural, never tiring and with a bit of euphony that would not hurt.

Dynamics: ✳✳✳1/2 | Far from any artifice and special effect. You appreciate it in time.

Detail: ✳✳✳✳ | Excellent in the mid frequencies. On the whole, a high level.

Transparency: ✳✳✳✳ | It is like watching through a crystal: extremely transparent and without distortions but you feel its presence.

Rise time: ✳✳✳1/2 | A luxury sedan. You travel comfortable and safe, but when you step on the throttle, the response does not miss.

Image: ✳✳✳✳1/2| Extended and credible in all the spatial directions.

Manufacture: ✳✳✳✳1/2| Impeccable, worthy.

Price/quality ratio: ✳✳✳✳| Based on personal taste. For someone a real deal, for others it is better to look somewhere else.

 

 

Official technical specifications

All measurements are made at 120V/240V and 50Hz/60Hz

 

Preamplifier section          

Nominal Input impedance: 330kohm

Max. input level: > 10VRMS

Equivalent input noise:< 4µV

Input sensitivity for rated output (single): 0.6V

Input sensitivity for rated output (balanced): 0.3V

             

Amplifier section     

Output Impedance: (20Hz - 20kHz) < 0,01ohms

Max. peak current :> 60A

THD (measured at 1kHz half power,8W): < 0,005%

THD (measured at 1kHz -1dB 8W): < 0,006 %

Rated output power:

8ohms 2 x 70W

4ohms 2 x 120W

2ohms 2 x 160W

Power consumption (no load or signal): 70W

Dimensions: 483mm/19inches, 115mm/4.5inches, 410mm /16.1inches (WxHxD)

Weight: 2Kg / 26.4lbs.

 

Official Italian dealer: to Il Tempio Esoterico website

Official current price in Italy: 3,350.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Mauro Cittadini’s system

 

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