Review - eXception SE Linestage Preamplifier
John Tucker’s Exemplar eXception SE Line preamp is a truly remarkable achievement.
It incorporates solid engineering practice, excellent build quality and superb sound. Too many of today’s high end products offer dubious engineering, poor quality components, inept soldering and overblown case work.
John took the opposite approach; good solid engineering, quality components, excellent build quality and a solid design. The preamp includes relay switched inputs where unused inputs are terminated to reduce noise pick up, a simple elegant understated front panel with etched Exemplar logo, a large volume knob with small push buttons for on/off, muting, and input selection – five line inputs and one AV(home theater) pass through. The unit includes a very nice solid feeling remote control for on/off volume, input selection, muting and LED on/off functions. When first turned on the motorized ALPS volume control returns to minimum volume and the preamp is muted as indicted by a flashing red led, until it has stabilized. This takes a few seconds
The preamp needs about 100 to 150 hours of burn in. My audio dealer was kind enough to let me try an early production unit for a few weeks. Both this early sample as well as the one I now own needed this burn in.
Most of my listening so far has been with vinyl but my comments also apply to CDs and high res digital files. As an aside John will be modifying my Oppo BDP 105 in the near future.
The sound is superb. Wide band, low distortion as expected but the preamp exhibits none of the over blown warmth of some tube preamps nor does it have the clinical precision that mars some solid state preamps. The top end is very smooth and it maintains tight bass down at the low end. It is truly a musical sounding preamp.
The sound stage is amazing and I think the first thing you notice about the preamp. Actually, it hits you really hard and is not subtle. Amazing! In my system the speakers have vanished as point sources in the sound stage and the instruments are spread across in front of you. The space around the individual instruments jumps out. Listening to female vocals the singer is always placed precisely in front of the instrumentalists – where this localization is present on the recording. Mozart concertos come across as if the orchestra were 20 feet in front of you. On large scale pieces like Mahler’s symphonies the crescendos are handled superbly but the individual instruments can still be heard as distinct musical sources. Close your eyes and you can picture the piano in front of you on well recorded pieces. Violin solos let you hear all of the harmonics a good instrument will produce. On rock I have heard things that I did not know were on my record collection and it is a continuing joy to rediscover music I listened to 20 years ago.
The preamp is incredibly revealing but still makes less than ideal recording enjoyable. I don’t know how John managed to do this but it is true.
All in all I think my original comment sums it up. This is a truly remarkable achievement. Thank you John.