Egg-Shell Prestige PS5
Careful readers of StereoLife should already know the equipment of Encore Seven company, makers of the Egg-Shell Prestige PS5 phono preamplifier. Encore Seven is not only known because of their tube amplifiers, but also other activities connected with music. What emerges from the information on their website is an image of a young, but very dynamic company whose actions aren't limited to the production of audio gear, yet this part is certainly the most important one.
The equipment includes stylish vacuum tube amplifiers signed with Egg-Shell brand and a logo of a tube drawn in a slightly grotesque way. The PS5 is the only phono preamplifier among the products offered by the Polish company. It belongs to the highest Prestige series, so the expectations regarding its sound and appearances were high from the start. On their website, the makers of Prestige PS5 say that their main objectives are visual individuality and very good sound quality. As far as the first aspect can be roughly assessed just by looking at all the photos and videos presented on the web, when it comes to the quality of sound nothing can be said before we actually connect the device to our system. One has to try and hear what the given model has to offer.
Design and functionality
When the phono stage was delivered to me, I immediately decided to check the contents of the packaging. To be honest, there's not much to find here except the device itself - just a user manual and a few pieces of styrofoam. There weren't any accessories, any cables, not even the simplest power cable. It's rather a shame, because though I didn't expect hi-end interconnect cables, a basic mains cable should be included in the box.
Reading the user manual I found out that the contents of the packaging may vary not only depending on the model, but also on a particular copy containing the same model of a device. As it turns out, it all depends on an individual order. Among the accessories that may be included in the set you will find power cables, additional tubes, extra fuses and gloves. In the documentation we will find the preamp's technical parameters, how it should be connected, first start-up guidance and a description of the tubes - ECC81 and ECC83 made by Electro-Harmonix.
Time to go to the heart of the program, that is to the preamplifier itself. It's design is very characteristic and it's all because of Woodwind type casing which is an original project of Encore Seven. Its shape refers to audio design of the 1960s which can appeal to some people, but not necessarily all of them. I must admit that I couldn't get used to this type of design at first, but my wife was delighted, so in some of the cases, where WAF plays a significant role at the moment of choice, it may be an additional point during the purchase of equipment.
The device itself is quite heavy and is a bit smaller than a standard integrated tube amplifier. The front panel is a glass pane with the company's logo and a red LED informing that the device is powered on. Behind the pane we can see five tubes placed in a classic way, that is vertically. I integrated Egg-Shell amplifiers you'll find V-shaped tubes which is rather clever, but here there was no need to mount them at an angle. The chassis is chromed from the inside which looks brilliant. The tubes reflect in all surfaces which, I must admit, catches the eye at evening listening sessions. The sides are made of MDF boards and in the reviewed model the whole external casing was painted white.
What's interesting, the upper cover is removable, which according to the manufacturer is meant to enhance the beauty of the tube construction. The whole device stands on quite high and narrow feet. The rear wall contains all the necessary connections. From the left there is a fuse socket, power switch and socket for connecting the mains cable and two pairs of RCA input and output sockets. On the right we have a socked for fixing earth connection. It's exactly the same as loudspeaker terminals you will normally find in integrated amplifiers, so it's quite easy to screw a cable here, especially if it's ended with a banana or spade plug.
Writing about the external features of Prestige PS5 it's worth to mention that the manufacturer offers a wide range of possibilities of constructing a unique, customized version of the device. The choice includes both the color of the casing and the shape of ventilation holes in the upper cover. Additionally, one can request any monochromatic image on the cover and on the glass. If you like, you can also have a photo printed on the front panel. There is no denying that thanks to these endeavors we can order the equipment that will really be exclusive, especially that the level of workmanship is very high.
As far as solid state equipment can reach the maximum of its possibilities already after several minutes, in case of tube amplifiers it can last even an hour or so. In addition, one has to add the burn-in time of a new device, because the Egg-Shell PS5 came to our office all fresh and smelling new. At first I connected the preamp to my speaker system with the AVID Ingenium turntable with Nagaoka MP-110 phono cartridge as a source. Then the signal went through the phono stage to the Audiolab 8200A integrated amplifier driving Pylon Audio Sapphire 31 loudspeakers.
This set was playing for two days in the background and I struggled to do anything else than listening to music. I must admit, it was really hard. Finally I sat on the sofa with a book, turned on Jarre's "Oxygene" album and wanted to focus on my reading. Though the story was interesting, my eyes again and again run in the direction of Egg-Shell and ears ordered me to listen to all that the new element of the system had to offer. After all I have known the album for years, but yet the way of its presentation by Encore Seven's preamp departed from all that I heard so far.
The most interesting element of this sound was the stereo imaging. This can be heard virtually from the first minutes of listening, even when the amp is going through the running-in period. The soundstage is painted with three-dimensional palette of sounds delighting with its deepness. The book went aside and from this moment on I was just sitting and listening to music. Since Jarre has taken to liking with Egg-Shell, I didn't wait and turned on the "Equinoxe", the listening of which only confirmed my earlier sensations. Old, analogue electronic music from 1970s needs exactly such a musical, spatial transmission. What matters here are emotions, spiritual journey through immensity of synthetic sounds and the PS5 tube amp responded adequately to the challenge, showing the truth about this music.
Then I thought it would be good to listen to "In No Sense? Nonsense!" by Art of Noise. These were 1980s and the band was creating musical collages using the fragments of other pieces of music and extramusical sounds. Egg-Shell fitted in this convention nicely, showing - apart from the soundstage mentioned above - a very good separation of individual sounds. The music was energetic, natural and, what I just noticed with this album, each chord, each sound was perfectly finished and had its natural vibe.
Time to try the preamp with the headphones. Audiolab with Pylon Audio loudspeakers was replaced by Edgar SH-1 with Ultrasone PROLine 2500 headphones. In order to feel the difference in listening, I played the Art of Noise once again, which only supported my earlier listening impressions and then I switched to the "Sounds of the Universe" by Depeche Mode. And here I got an unpleasant surprise. I don't know why, but music lost all its energy and vigor. At a certain point I started to look at the turntable, wondering if something had happened with the speed, because music literally walked slowly upon my skull. Was it possible that faster, more dynamic music went beyond the possibilities of a tube amplifier? I decided to check it out and played "Triodante" by Armia, the classic of Polish punk. The dynamics returned, the sounds came back to order and the music was played with a desirable kick. "Well done you" - I thought looking at the PS5.
For the end of my listening session I prepared an album that until now was hard to listen to and it's not because of the music, but rather to a poor recording. It was "Eternal Movement" by Tides From Nebula. Anytime I tried to listen to this album, on various equipment, it all ended up with gnashing my teeth and an anger, wondering how it's possible to mangle the recording of such a nice music. Therefore, I think you will understand me, I thought that if Egg-Shell would rescue this record by some miracle, then I would be grateful to it till the end of my life. And I guess I would, because although certain flaws could be heard, the musical, tube approach of PS5 was able to disguise the drawbacks and bring the music out of these badly ordered sounds.
I have written so much about the sound of particular records that I have nearly forgotten to mention such details as bandwidth. Although the bass is nicely heard, it doesn't go down to the very bottom of hell. It's given a slight rounding, yet its diversity and coherence with the entire transmission are still strong. Midtones are brought slightly forwards, though not so much as to cause unpleasant hearing sensations. The band is enriched with interesting, vibrant high tones. Egg-Shell Prestige PS5 is a musical beast capable of bringing out all the best, even from the albums that aren't recorded so well. If you decide to listen to it, this amp will repay you with a beautifully presented, musical story.
Build quality and technical parameters
Egg-Shell Prestige PS5 is a tube phono stage with RIAA equalization designed for MM cartridges. It uses four ECC83 and one ECC81. The manufacturer applied tubes made by Electro-Harmonix and JJ Electronics as the best for this device. Encore Seven doesn't offer much information about this model, the description on the company's website is limited to basic technical data and some assurance about good dynamics and precision of the sound. The bandwidth starts at 30 Hz and goes up to 20 kHz. On the front we have a single LED indicating device's activity, while at the back we find the basic connections - power, input and output with a grounding socket in the form of a single speaker terminal.
The biggest problem of the device is the lack of any adjustments for a phono cartridge. Most phono stages, certainly at this price, are able to handle both MM and MC cartridges with a wide variety of parameters such as gain or impedance. Choosing the Egg-Shell, we have to make sure it will work properly with our cartridge. And if we want to replace it with a better one, we will be constrained by the parameters of the preamplifier. On the other hand, large tube phono stages cost more than the PS5. Apart from small boxes by Pro-Ject or Vincent with one tube, good preamps by VTL or Cary Audio cost around $3000. Egg-Shell is almost half the price, and apart from the lack of adjustments, there's nothing wrong with it at all.
AVID Ingenium, Nagaoka MP-110, Audiolab 8200A, Pylon Audio Sapphire 31, Edgar SH-1, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Techlink WiresXS.
At first I wasn't impressed by the looks of the Egg-Shell Prestige PS5. Well, there are different tastes and the Woodwind housing didn't fit my sense of aesthetics. Nevertheless, I must admit that the quality of this device is very high and the possibility of personalizing the looks can give a lot of fun to those who want to have unique and exceptional things. With the sound it was quite a different story. The PS5 impressed me practically from the first moment. It charmed me with its soundstage and musicality. I really had a lot of fun with this phono stage and I hope we'll meet again some day.
Suitable cartridges: MM
Frequency response: 30 Hz - 20 kHz
Input capacity: 200 pF
Output impedance: 47 kΩ
Manufacturer: Encore Seven