Review - eXception Integrated, Interconnects, & T105

I love the audio hobby and feel we are blessed to have such great audio gear to choose from and I am thankful that there are such great designers that make it happen.  However, I believe that the cost of staying in the hobby is becoming more and more difficult for average guys like me.  Some manufactures are pricing their audio gear ridiculously high, to the point that many audiophiles will simply be priced out of the hobby. To address my personal concerns I decided to conduct research in hopes of discovery designers/manufactures who were producing top-notch/high end gear that was also affordable in comparison to some of the well known expensive options. I read reviews, made calls and I also went to some high end audio shows going room to room taking notes. Importantly, I wanted audio gear that sounded musical and not edgy, sterile or fatiguing.  One of the companies I discovered while researching was Exemplar Audio.  The guy behind the curtain is John Tucker.  John is committed to designing audio gear that is true high end and “musical sounding.”  Price to performance is extremely good; in fact my experience has been that the audio gear I purchased from John will compete with the majority of the best offered in this hobby but for far less cost.

When I am auditioning equipment I use both vinyl and digital (to include cd’s and streaming through USB).  I use the same tracks to try to keep evaluations consistent.

Allison Krause - Stars, New Favorite, Ghost in this House (digital) Jimmy Buffet - He Went to Paris (digital) Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (vinyl and digital) Willie Nelson - Do Right Woman (vinyl and digital) Natalie Cole - I Wish You Love and Cry Me a River (digital) Cowboy Junkies - Trinity Sessions (cd) Waylon Jennings - various vinyl records and digital recordings Various artist - vinyl instrumental recordings

My first purchase from Exemplar Audio was the Exception integrated amplifier.  I have owned it for about a year or so and John has upgraded the preamplifier section recently.  The upgrade took it up another level, increasing overall fidelity.  The upgrade now is a part of the current production units.  As mentioned in a previous thread I have owned several separate pre-amplifiers to include: Parasound JC-2, First Sound MKIII, Coincident Line Stage and the Sanders pre-amp. All of the pre-amps were very top notch components but I have to say that the pre-amp section of the Exemplar Integrated is simply the most musical sounding of them all.  Using the above tracks I get beautiful musicality, deep, wide and open soundstage, deep controlled bass and a beautiful midrange.  The Exception integrated is the complete package and in the majority of the categories that are evaluated by audiophiles outperformed my previous high end separates (Bob Carver mono-blocks, PWD MKII, PWT Transport and various preamplifiers), (Ayon CD-5, Ayon Triton and various preamplifiers).  I went from having five separate components on my rack to two.  The cost of the Exception integrated is $5,499.00.   

My next purchase was an “upgrade” to my Oppo 105.  It is now the T105 (tube version) and I just love this component.  The stock Oppo 105 is a great value but IMHO not high end 2 channel audio.  The T105 like the stock version is a jack of all trades and represents one of the best ways to process blu ray movies, CD’s and file streaming.  John strips the analogue section completely out and creates an amazing audio player.  What have I compared it to?  I owned the Ayon CD-5 and the PWD MKII and neither hold a candle to it.  Now that is true value.  I have talked to many individuals who have compared the T105 to DACS costing more than twice as much and they state the T105 is as good or superior.  In fact, one dealer I talked to told me the only DAC he liked better at an audio show he attended was a MSB DAC selling for four times the price. The T105 is also a source so the bang for buck is phenomenal.  You see many of the upgraded Oppo 105’s at audio shows. Once again I want to state that the T105 is “musical sounding” and that is where is separates itself from many other highly regarded DACS.  Something that must be considered and I see occurring is the quick drop in resale value of some of the DACS out there such as the PWD MKII and Direct Stream.  Ayon constantly brings out a newer version of their gear and has raised their prices substantially.  They arrive with great fan fair but the bottom drops out in resale value and usually it does not take long to happen.  Cost of the T105 is $4750 which includes the Oppo 105. 

My latest purchase was John’s Exception interconnects.  John is always on the cutting edge of technology and has incorporated something new in the Exception cable line.  In doing so he has been able to create some remarkable cables but also priced them unbelievably low.  I describe their effect by saying they take the listener closer to the live event, a more you are there feel.  You truly get the sense of being in the studio as the event was being recorded.  Space and dimensionality is discerned. Voices are displayed beautifully and the realism is uncanny. Instruments sound real and have lots of air around them. The Exception cabling is the real deal, not the latest gimmick. It has taken a while for them to break in but worth the wait. They sell for a whopping $349 a pair.     

As an audiophile I am looking for the very best performance I can get and affordability.  I must emphasize the fact that I want gear that sounds musical.  Exemplar Audio makes the grade and will meet the needs of most audiophiles.  Highly recommended.

Kevin Meeks

Louisville, Kentucky