Eryk S Concept Red King Premium
Companies making audio equipment can be divided into those big ones, which produce relatively considerable amounts of generally likeable equipment and smaller ones - usually very specialized workshops whose products are often more original, distinctive and individual. Those smaller factories are the ones who create advanced amplifiers in individualized enclosures, speakers using extraordinary drivers or turntables shaped like works of art. Inventions like that are made for the music enthusiasts and connoisseurs. They are not mass-produced in giant factories. These items are made for those who generally appreciate such a sophisticated equipment, and sometimes they are personalized just for one client, who ordered speakers in a specific colour or with some modifications applied just in this one instance. Eryk S Concept is one of these manufacturers. Here, every device is unconventional, and almost every element of an amplifier or speaker deserves our attention. Is the new Red King Premium going to sound as well as it looks?
I have already had some experience with products, or rather masterpieces made by Eryk S Concept. I remember a few exceptionally well-made speakers and amplifiers which I saw at various audio shows. I have also attended a few listening sections and had a pleasure to meet Eryk Smólski - the founder of the company. As you can imagine, he is a very interesting person. From the beginning, I think he considers his work with audio equipment a great adventure. A way of expressing himself and making use of his creativity, knowledge and abilities, which he clearly has a lot. He treats amplifiers and speakers as music instruments. Those things are more than just drivers, enclosures, transistors and transformers connected with some wires. It can be seen in each of his products - in its construction, materials, advanced and individual enclosures, even in the marketing materials. Eryk S Concept speakers have rectangular cabinets, but they are made form interesting materials and are using quite unique drivers. When it comes to finish colours, the only limitation is probably the imagination of the future owner. Red amplifiers or speakers with graphics on the side walls are nothing extraordinary here.
Design and functionality
Under the blanket of impressive design, the Red King Premium is a precisely made amplifier with the aim to achieve the most natural and addictive sound. If while looking on the photo you have an impression that this is just a nice toy - you are mistaken. You just need to take it into your hands, put it on a table and see some of its details. It will not take long to realize how much time has it taken to design such a magnificent product. The amplifier is well-built and weighs quite a lot, but even before the listening session started, its looks gave us much joy and excitement. Every single part of this machine is interesting. Beautiful sockets, massive stainless steel feet, panels finished in glossy white, center board in bird's eye maple, copper screws, golden rings around tube sockets, leather on the front, display hidden behind an acrylic plate... Even the main transformer's housing looks impressive. Red King Premium looks like a million dollars in electronics, but to my eyes it's still elegant and refined.
My guess is that this approach will have both its supporters and opponents. Some will say that the designer managed to bring out the best in tubes, while others will think that for some reason a tube amplifier can't look like this one, because it should be ugly like an old brazier. Surely the design would be more versatile if the amplifier was finished in a more neutral colour, with black panels and all metal parts in various shades of silver. But such version can also be ordered. Personalization of the amplifier is entirely possible in this case. And you don't have such opportunities when buying a mass-produced gear. You might think that every hi-end amplifier is special, just because of its price, but the truth is - it's just not, even if it costs a fortune. Just watch some photos and videos from the factories... Even some of the hi-end manufacturers deliver tons of boxes every day, and each of them is identical. Doesn't matter whether you buy McIntosh, Accuphase or Krell.
Since we already know that our amplifier looks great and is produced by a small company ready to meet the wishes of its customers, we automatically begin to wonder whether such a product will be really refined from the technical point of view. Usually it's a problem, but fortunately for the Red King Premium you can not complain about that. This amp seems to be well put together. Its creator notes that even after creating its general shape and choosing the right circuits, the fine-tuning of the amplifier took almost three years. Red King was originally created as a partner for the Ketsus speakers, but should not be considered only as an integral part of the system, which won't work with other speakers. Prior to the test, I asked Eryk Smólski to send us a full information about the Red King Premium, and his response clearly indicated that we are dealing with a very serious amplifier when it comes to technical issues. He used P2P, SMD and PCM mountings depending on the temperature, voltage and function of each circuit. The feet are made on CNC machines from stainless steel as additional silencers. A total of four transformers, two in the power supply ant two for the output, are all shielded. We also have very high-quality components here - Dale, WIMA, Rubycon, Nichicon Gold, Takamisawa... These should all be familiar to hi-end enthusiasts. The EL84 tubes are operating in PSE (Parallel Single-Ended) configuration. They are supplemented with 6N6P double triodes, which operate in SRPP (Series Regulated Push-Pull). The manufacturer says it is a configuration which aims at full control of tubes with minimal distortion. If we combine this with dual-mono construction and tubes which also have not been chosen at random, it is clear that the Red King Premium is more than just another interesting, stylish amplifier.
Another classic flaw of this type of equipment is the functionality, and here Red King Premium positively surprised me again. The designer says that the ergonomics are just as important for him as the artistic design, workmanship and sound quality. So the amplifier doesn't require any set-up - no bias adjustment is needed, which automatically puts this model among user-friendly tube amps. But it is not the end of the story. We can control the amplifier via single knob which works as both volume control and source selector, depending on how you use it. You also get a remote control in the form of a plastic "card", with its underside lined with a soft cloth. Interestingly, the remote provides complete control over the device, including the activation of standby mode. But there are more good news. The Red King Premium comes standard with two RCA inputs, but the it can also be equipped with an integrated DAC with USB input, as well as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth 4.0 apt-X extension cards.
Cons? The first and most obvious one is the lack of a tube cover. For most audiophiles it's not a problem, but some would probably feel safer if there was any info on the manufacturer's website saying there is an option of installing an optional grill or something more tasteful. The second drawback is the small number of inputs and the lack of any analogue output. I understand that there's not much free space on the back of such a narrow device, but it would be nice to know that you can connect an active subwoofer to your amplifier. Also, if you dream about having a whole system from the same company, with an amplifier and CD player or streamer designed to match each other, Eryk S Concept doesn't have any dedicated source at the moment. In my opinion, the ideal solution would be to have something like a streamer of CD player looking like Pathos Digit for example. But then if you have a DAC, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity inside the amplifier itself, perhaps you are not going to need anything else.
After a few minutes of warm-up the Red King Premium presented a beautiful, audiophile sound which was full of charm, but also properly balanced, natural, transparent and very dynamic. Certainly not running away from the typical tube character, but it must be said it's all done with great sensitivity. As a result, we are not dealing with the sound which is just sweet, warm, creamy and has nothing else to show. It seems that the designer was very focused on extracting the best out of the tubes, preserving their advantages, but in such a way as to achieve great dynamics, vigour and clarity as well. It's nothing special to get a warm and romantic sound out of tubes, is it? Many audiophiles and electronic engineers say that if we stick to well-proven solutions, it is not hard at all. Eryk Smólski apparently decided to search for his own sound, and listening results indicate that the Red King Premium is more than a classic tube amplifier in a striking package. It offers an almost perfect balance between the typical advantages of tubes and transistors, that it simply can not be a coincidence. It manages to squeeze out a rich palette of colours and delicacy when dealing with minor nuances, while avoiding the drawbacks of classic tube amplifiers. Is this the effect of using EL84 tubes rather than the EL34, KT88 or 6550, their implementation in a Parallel Single-Ended, or perhaps patient selection of components used in the circuit? Probably what we can hear is the sum of all these actions.
The result is that the Red King Premium can be treated like any good amplifier - both in terms of system configuration, and the choice of music. Polish amplifier will show full, well-balanced and natural sound, which is not lacking either low, medium, or high frequencies. All subranges live together in harmony, and the consistency of the sound in the entire bandwidth is more than good. It's hard to find any flaws here, and the only deviation from the line is gentle withdrawal of 'subwoofer' frequencies followed by an equally mild exposure in the midrange. Actually, for a long time I wondered whether the lowest bass is actually lightly withdrawn, or maybe that impression stems from the sensational speed and control, even at the very beginning of the scale. Red King Premium is certainly not lacking bass, which does not change the fact that it's more concentrated on the rhythm, speed and saturation, and not the depth of this range. The same can be said of the slight exposure in the midrange. It's so delicate you wouldn't even notice it in a five-minute listening test. After some time, we begin to wonder whether the Red King Premium is concentrating on vocals a bit, or does it have something to do with the fact that some solid-state amplifiers tend to push the midrange back, knowing they can't offer anything special in this area? Sure, the Red King Premium is not a perfectly neutral amplifier, but its priorities are very 'audiophile'. This translates into a great listening pleasure, that does not end after five minutes. The longer you listen, the more satisfied you become with this sound. I got used to the small deviations of this amplifier very quickly. I needed just a couple of minutes for my brain to turn its own equalizer. Then I was left with just a pure pleasure of listening to my favourite music, which is never boring.
Finally, a few observations of a practical nature. Red King Premium is a device which turned out to be very pleasant to use, and the process of testing it in different configurations was pure fun. Very quickly I found a synergistic configuration with Audiovector SR3 Super speakers. If you want to find a good company for the Red King Premium, you can try some of the well-known tube-friendly manufacturers like Focal or Triangle, but nothing really stands in the way to try out other speakers, even if their sensitivity is not way above normal. In our listening room, the Red King Premium had no difficulties working with Pylon Audio Diamond 28 or PMC Twenty 5.24 speakers. With the latter, it showed fantastically addictive soundstage and bass, which in many respects will be hard to beat at this price. But... If you want a quick and easy solution, you have to remember that Eryk S Concept also makes loudspeakers, and the Red King Premium was originally designed for one of them - Ketsus. Reportedly, these two create a fully synergistic system. I haven't had a chance to check this out myself, but I believe it's true. Let's be honest - such a great amplifier should play with any good speakers.
Build quality and technical parameters
The amplifier we reviewed is an improved version of the Red King. The manufacturer optimized its dual power supply so that the Premium model has completely separated sections for left and right channel. The power supply has also been redesigned to make sure the device can work with different voltages around the world. In addition to the analog inputs on board, we have Bluetooth 4.0 and soon the amp will have a USB-DAC and Wi-Fi connectivity. Transformers have a double shielding made of copper and steel to minimize noise. The electronic circuit is made using point-to-point architecture, as well as PCB the SMD, which depends on the temperature and the function of each internal module. The internal components include Dale resistors, WIMA, Rubycon and Nichicon Gold capacitors and Takamisawa switches. EL84 tubes work in Parallel Single-Ended configuration, while 6N6P double triodes work in Series Regulated Push-Pull. The amplifier provides up to 12 watts per channel, which according to the manufacturer is enough to drive "normal" speakers, and at the same time minimize harmonic distortion. The connected speakers should have an impedance between 4 and 8 ohms.
Pylon Audio Diamond 28, Audiovector SR3 Super, Albedo HL 2.2, PMC Twenty 5.24, T+A E-Serie Music Player Balanced, Cardas Clear Reflection, Equilibrium Tune 33 Light, Enerr Tablette 6S, Enerr Symbol Hybrid, Solid Tech Radius Duo 3.
Red King Premium is certainly a very good, and in many ways even exceptional amplifier. At first glance, it is a brave and remarkable design that will appeal to one right away and discourage others. And like every original product, it's meant for people who will understand and fully accept the vision of its designer. The ability to order a copy made in accordance with our own taste is an additional incentive for all fans of unique items. The sound is a different story. Here the amplifier doesn't force us to accept it's own vision of music. It offers a pure, natural sound that combines a lovely tube warmth with speed, dynamics and purity of a great solid-state amp. It should convince any music lover, regardless of their hardware or musical preferences. To enjoy a wonderful musical sound you only need to take some time to find the right speakers for this amplifier, which is not a big problem to be honest. With a descent pair of speakers, the Red King Premium is able to deliver a truly beautiful sound.
Output power: 2 x 12 W
System type: Parallel Single-Ended
Output impedance: 4/8 Ω
Inputs: 2 x RCA, Bluetooth
Dimensions (H/W/D): 17/29/37 cm
Weight: 14 kg
Manufacturer: Eryk S Concept