as reviewed by Sherman Hong, Larry Cox, Francisco Duran, and Carol Clark
My present setup remains an Accuphase DP-75 CD player, with an Accuphase P-550 amplifier, connected by Acrotec 6N-2030 balanced interconnects and 8N-1080 speaker cable to ProAc Response 3.5 speakers. Each electronic component sits on a Black Diamond Racing "Shelf" and BDR cones with Bright Star Little Rocks on top, and is connected by LAT power cables into Power Wedge models 116, 112, and PE-1. During evaluation of the Kora (which has RCA inputs and balanced outputs), Acrotec 6N-2050 linked the DP-75 to the preamplifier, which was connected to the P-550 with my normal Acrotec 6N-2030 balanced cables.
The Kora Eclipse is a full-featured preamplifier of striking appearance, possessing a black insert with luminous lights embedded in an elegant chrome facade. A detached, mammoth power supply connects to the main chassis via computer-type receptacles, and a simple plastic remote control supplies on/off, volume, mute, and input controls. Inside, the main board is an aluminum epoxy type. Three 6922 tubes plug into pin attachments directly soldered to the board. Finally, the RCA connectors attach to a long piece of plastic that recesses within the main chassis. The RCA connectors are a kind I am not familiar with, and are unlike the typical bolt-on female RCA fasteners. At present, I'm still deciding on a turntable setup, therefore this appraisal pertains solely to the CD line-level input.
The Eclipse added its tube signature to the sound of my system. In Darker Dear Heart, Holly Cole sounded seductive, as the edges of her voice became visible and more rounded. The typical tube mixture of noise and warmth was missing, and a deeper, more luscious, yet less wide midrange appeared. Banjo on the Cole disc was brilliant, drums improved in body, and dynamic contrasts were well-proportioned. Nevertheless, instrument separation diminished, and the tautness and detail of my usual setup disappeared. Piano sounded natural and relaxed, but imaging was inexact.
Enhancement of the sense of hall space was evident in an easy-going presentation of Edvard Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3 in C. Minor, on VRDS CD Drive Mechanism Demonstration disc by Teac, Esoteric, and Tannoy. The initial violin and piano volleys softened. Musical notes became more full, akin to a halogen bulb as opposed to a florescent fixture. Violin strings were smooth and silky, comparable to a cafe con crema, accompanied by a savory mellowing of the piano analogous to velvety ice cream. Bow strokes and piano keys were effortlessly apparent and detailed, yet restrictive, ambivalent, and less resounding, as if the performers were tired. Minute details were exemplary, as the violinist's breathing was precisely audible alongside the sound of birds chirping in the surroundings. Still, a silky veil imposed itself on all recordings.
My system was significantly sweeter and more "bloomy" with
the Kora in place. Atypical of tube equipment, the Eclipse did not significantly alter the
tonal balance. I'm uncertain whether the drawbacks Ive noted were the responsibility
of the Kora, or were due to the additional required accoutrements (cables, power cords,
etc., not to mention the preamp itself). With a retail price of slightly over $5000, many
rivals come to mind, although many of the Koras competitors lack the features and
remote control capability of the Eclipse. The Koras performance and versatility
qualify it to stand proudly amongst its peers.
Philippe Nonet, a brilliant professor of law and sociology at U.C. Berkeley, said that stereotypes aren't necessarily bad things, that they exist because they have a tendency to be true. Two major problems with stereotypes (there are more, of course) are: (1) that they reflect the perception of past conduct, and (2), a more important problem, is that people may exhibit some of the attributes of a particular stereotype, but rarely all or even most of them. Please save your letters on offensive sexual, racial, or other stereotypes. I'm not supporting racism, sexism or any other "ism." That said, I have to eat my words about tube electronics having "flabby" bottom ends. The French-made Kora Eclipse preamplifier exhibited the deepest, tightest bottom end of ANY preamp in my system. Some tube gear has a fat, ill-defined bottom end, but the Kora does not. This little monster, not inexpensive at $5495, defines pace, and has a bottom end that is tight, driven, and just plain awesome.
The Eclipse exhibits some of the good and bad qualities of high end gear, but also points to where the high end should be going. Like the good stuff, the Eclipse sounds wonderful, though it does have a downsideits controls. If you lose the Eclipse's remote controls (yes, it comes with two, count em, two remotes), you will not be able to listen to this preamp. The unit starts up in a mute mode, but the only way to turn the mute off is via the remote control. This is something Kora should rectify. If you keep track of the remote, you will find it a pleasure to use. It fits nicely in your hand, with a slight wave to its shape, rather than the omnipresent, rectangular "chunk of something" remote. The remote wants to be pointed fairly closely to the infrared sensor, but you needn't be terribly precise for it to work.
I really liked the remote. The ability to sit back like Archie Bunker, making minute changes in volume, muting the sound when a call came, or switching from one component to another was just a joy. But remote-controlled changes in volume are more than just fun. It means that you can pick the volume you'd like at the listening position, instead of guessing at the correct setting from the preamp. Picking exactly the right volume for a piece of music will increase your enjoymentI was surprised how much I valued it.
The Eclipse has inputs for CD, video, a tuner, tape, mc & mm phono, as well as a video processor loop (I didn't test this out, but it could be interesting), as well as the mute and volume controls. The preamp is what I'd call "typically French"; sonically and visually it immediately projects a sense of flair. It is beautiful, not so much for its sound, but as a piece of sculpture. Non-audiophile friends familiar with my audio systems for the past five or six years remarked for the first time that a component was beautiful to look at, even before remarking on its sound. The front is polished stainless steel that looks almost like chrome. Fit and finish are of the highest quality. Kora's West Coast rep tells me that Kora has been in the audio business for about 8 years, but started about 12 years ago in the aviation industry, building transformers and power supplies.
Ergonomics aside, it is the Eclipse's sonic performance that deserves your attention. This is a tube preamp that doesn't sound like a tube preamp. Instead of being a bit thick, rounded, and rolled off, this pup moves through music like a lithe animal, with transients having a distinct start and stop. The top end is extended, although not stratospherically so. Also unlike many tube products, the imaging is merely good, not great. When the source allowed, however, the speakers disappeared. For those who have heard YBA gear, it is similar in sound, although the Eclipse is a bit more palpable and goes deeper than either the Integre integrated amp or the 2A preamp. There is something about its "French" presentation which required me to rethink the correct reproduction of timbre. On song after song, the presentation was lightweight, but not thin or strident, and there certainly wasn't an absence of bass. On Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle's What's New, strings were not as lush as I've heard, although they distinctly sounded like strings, with the appropriate amount of vibrato and sweep.
The first time I heard What's New was at a Stereophile show in Los Angeles, through Ensemble's excellent analog gear. It was so wonderfully lush and emotionally moving that I returned to the room to hear the same song again. It was so wonderful I hunted down the LP. Through many iterations of my system, I have enjoyed this album as a rather lush display of strings. My recollection is that the Ensemble equipment sounded substantially more lush than my system with the Eclipse. In fact, the Eclipse's replay of What's New was substantially different than it has been with virtually every other preamp in my system. It conveyed a sense of rightness that seemed "accurate." There was a palpable sense of rosin on a bow, as well as a swelling of emotion. Whichever is correct, the Eclipse made What's New sound new but very real to me, albeit different than the AI, an E.A.R. 834L I borrowed, or any other preamp save the YBA. You should conjure up the sound of great, gorgeous solid state gear, but with more palpability. Normally, for a tube fiend like myself, comparing tubes to solid state would be the death knell of a solid state component. Here, however, it did not. The Kora goes beyond euphonic coloration and into "realistic" replay of music.
The opening track on Fiona Apple's new CD has real slam with the Eclipse, making the Audible Illusions sound slower, fatter, and grainier. The sound pushed on my chest and throat more than any other preamp Ive heard in my room. I have really loved the occasional lushness of preamps, including mine, but the Eclipse invited me to rethink what is correct. Also, if lushness is accompanied by a "slower" sound, can I accept that compromise, or do I opt for a slimmer, less lush sound with more pace? I want pace, but I don't want to have to surrender to a lean sound. With the Eclipse I wouldn't, but would get a presentation that is different sounding, but which conjures up images of the real events.
Back to the bass. Tracks with a substantial bottom end, like "Oh, Yeah!" by Yello, were awesome and realistic sounding. Primus' "My Name is Mud" on Pork Soda is not music, but it is a fun test of bottom end. The Eclipse was just thunderous, and at nearly insane levels. It was like having twenty minutes of carte blanche in a candy store. The Eclipse "rocks," as they say: "Jamie's Crying" from Van Halen has an awesome and full sounding bottom end, and pulled my butt off the chair for a brief but exciting "air guitar" moment. The Eclipse Kora easily and completely described bass instruments, without swamping the upper bass and midrange frequencies.
Male and female vocals were well portrayed, again with what seems to be a "French" style. Vibrato was present, but not as prominent as with other preamps, including my AI. Vocals seemed realistic. Linda Ronstadt's voice on What's New was well portrayed, though perhaps not as richly as I've come to believe is "correct." This is not to say that her tone changed, rather that a certain "syrupy" quality I have come to associate with her voice was not present. At no point, however, did her vocals ever become hard, or sibilant, or distorted in any of the ways which seem to be the purview of solid state equipment. Joe Williams' Every Night was palpable on LP, with Joe in my room, along with the just fantastic stand-up bass vibrating away like the real thing. Williams vocal resonance is more chesty than nasal, and the Kora Eclipse made him just a delight to hear.
Lyle Lovett sounded resonant and present in the room, as did Chris Isaac on San Francisco Days. The latter album images like a mother, creating the awesome and really enjoyable impression that the speakers were unrelated to the creation of music. Lovett's voice on Joshua Judges Ruth had that more-throaty-than-chesty quality that defines his voice, with a genuine sense of his vibrato. The top end was extended and airy, although not unusually or exceptionally so. Again there was plenty of detail, without graininess, hardness, or a hint of etching.
If I have a
complaint with the Eclipse, and I'm not sure I do, it was with its "lessness."
However, the Eclipse does so many things right that I am rethinking my position on that
subject. I don't know whether more or less lush is "correct," but as you listen
to the Eclipse, as you must, you will be confronted with that question. Because it sounds
so real, moves like music moves, and gets so many things "just right," you will
have that $64 question to deal withand the Kora Eclipse could be the answer!
In my review in our last issue of the Kora Titan tube amps (those gorgeous beasties), I mentioned that Id also received the matching preamp, the Eclipse. Here is another gorgeous product. The Eclipse retains the same beautiful styling as the rest of Koras line of separatesthat is, chrome and smoked glass, with minimal controls on the faceplate. This time, though, a full function remote is supplied to accommodate couch potatoes like me. The Eclipse has all the features you'd need in a full-function, two-channel preamplifier. Along with five inputs plus MM and MC phono, there's also a headphone jack, coax and balanced outputs, and an external power supply.
There's something to be said for the synergistic way products from the same manufacturer work together. This can be said of the Kora Titan/Eclipse combination. In my system, they brought the sound together. With my Classe CP60 preamp, the Titan amps sounded very clean, fast, and dynamic, with a holographic soundstage, but also slightly lean. There were times when I felt that the Kora/Classe combo held onto the ends of notes a little too long. At times, it seemed like you could see almost too far into the music. Switching to the Eclipse tightened things up. The music now became more full. Instruments and vocals took on more body, and what I can only describe as a "rightness." The trailing edges of transients now sounded less reverberant and spacey, replaced by a solid reproduction of the soundstage. The hall perspective was neither too forward nor too far back, but just right.
The Kora combo was not short of magic. The top end of this preamp is liquid and extended. The sound of a cymbal just seemed to float away in the air like a puff of smoke. Cymbal rides were smooth and tonally correct. Piano was sweet, but I felt it was harmonically right, with very good timbre. The midrange is usually the place for a tube product to shine, and the Eclipse didn't disappoint. Small vocal inflections are brought out well, and are clearly discernible. The way a singer will emphasize a certain word, or part of a word, and smooth over another part, can mean greater involvement with the music. This aspect of sound reproduction was handled very well with the Eclipse. I'm very sensitive to sibilance, which hardly ever seems to be properly reproduced in canned music. With the Kora I was spared this misery.
This preamp sounded very realistic in my system. I was thinking while listening that instruments sounded like real wood and steel instead of a synthetic reproduction. Horn sections also sounded very natural, with that burnished quality rarely heard through solid state preamps. When the band was cranking it up on Etta's Time After Time, I felt I was right there on stage with them. Horn solos sounded natural, and guitars had the body and speed associated with the live event.
The Classe fared very well against the Kora. The most noticeable differences were in the midrange, though even those differences were slight. Choosing between the two preamps might have more to do with taste than performance. One area where I felt the Classe bested the Eclipse was in the bass. The Eclipse's bass performance was not as powerful or extended, but it wasn't far off the mark, with bass notes having good pitch and definition. The Classe is slightly less sweet, and a bit more open sounding in the top end, although it has been accused of being rather dark. It has a slightly drier quality to its sound, compared to the Koras tube liquidity and warmth. The Classe has a pretty even tonal balance, and its pretty neutral, but its soundstaging, though again very good, is not as wide, layered, or dimensional as the Eclipses. Horns were not quite as round, "brassy," or natural as with the Kora. However, what you gain in midrange liquidity and naturalness with the Eclipse is offset by the frequency extension, at both ends of the spectrum, of the Classe. The Classe also has a deeper, more silent background. Neither preamps are slouches in any regard. Both units work well together with their respective company's partners.
There you have it: synergy. While I would be proud to own any of Koras products on their own, after hearing what they can do together, why not get greedy and go for the whole enchilada? In my system the Kora preamp was warm, sweet, and detailed, with liquid tube magic in spades. Its soundstage was three-dimensional and layered, and it presented the timbre of instruments as naturally as all get out. Its sweet enough to give you a musical pleasure ride, and articulate enough to rank in the top list of audiophile equipment in this world. Francisco Duran
Preamps are my "thing." I'm not sure why, but I'd rather review a preamp than just about anything else. This may be because I haven't been happy with our preamp until recently, with our acquisition of the Blue Circle BC3. I still like listening to preamps, though. It's amazing to me how drastically different they can make your system sound. I recently listened to the Kora Eclipse preamp. I can't begin to describe to you how this component is built, but I can describe how it sounded. Keep my biases in mind as you read this reviewI like a sound that is dynamic and in my face, I listen to mostly "pop" (for lack of a better word), and I want to be completely involved in the music.
To test the Eclipse, I used a CD that has been stuck in our transport for about a month nownot literally stuck, but it has been receiving extensive play from me. It's the latest release by Massive Attack, Mezzanine. The first time I listened to this disc with the Eclipse, it didn't sound right at all. The bass was overwhelming. The upper ranges sounded okay, but seemed to be dragged down into the bass. I thought I should try a recording I knew to be solidly in the midrange, so I played Dead Can Dances Toward The Within. Once again, the whole thing sounded like it was sliding into the basement. Then, Dave suggested that I was playing everything too loud. TOO LOUD?!?!?! How could that possibly be?
Fortunately, the Eclipse has a remote control. I tried everything over again at lower volumes. What a difference! Now Massive Attack sounded almost beautiful. I say "almost," because it's far from being a "beautiful" recording. It's full of darkness and smoke. Track 10, "Group Four," is a duet between Massive Attack's Robert "3D" Del Naja and the Cocteau Twin's Elizabeth Frazer. Frazers voice is right out front, and "3D" is singing in the background. With our BC3, it's easier to hear what he is saying. With the Eclipse, it just sounds like mumbling. There is a burst of sound right at the beginning of this song. With the BC3, it's easy to tell that this sound is actually voices, but with the Eclipse it sounds like noise.
After scouring our CD collection for "audiophile" worthy recordings to use to test this preamp, I selected This Mortal Coils It'll End In Tears. This is a project featuring different bands (including Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance), recorded in the early '80s by Ivo Watts Russell. I listened to "Song To The Siren" which features Elizabeth Frazer. It was beautiful, so delicate. I listened to more tracks on this CD, and all were equally involving. The problem was, they were almost too beautiful.
I guess the BC3 is more dynamic, hence it fits my bias. The Eclipse tends to have a very laid-back sound, which is probably why 3D's voice is hard to hear on the Massive Attack track. Itll End in Tears is a much simpler recording, just voice and guitar, and the guitar is meant to be subdued. With the more dynamic Massive Attack recording, the background information was harder to hear. Because Itll End in Tears is more of a "normal" recording, it sounded pretty good.
To sum it up, I'll use a simile I've used before. Listening to music with the Eclipse was like listening to a concert from way up in the balcony. I felt like I needed to lean way over the railing to hear the music. By contrast, the BC3 had me firmly planted on the stage, where I felt more involved with the music. Carol Clark
Kora Electronic Concept