Emotive Audio Caeli-LE Single-Ended Amplifier
Fine... but does she do
dishes and mow the lawn?
Review By Ian White
here to e-mail reviewer.
As the poor schlep from FedEx
helped me load the Caeli-LE into the trunk of my SUV, I could barely curb
my enthusiasm (sorry Larry). While I cannot complain about the quality of
equipment that I have been fortunate enough to review over the past few
years, I had never been given the opportunity to review something so
over-the-top before and I must confess that I was nervous about reviewing
a pair of amplifiers that run $20,995.
I know what you are all thinking.
"Is this guy as big a putz in real life as he sounds right now?"
"Hey moron, someone just delivered a Bentley in your driveway for
review so please don't be a bowl of chulent and drive it to Starbucks
because that would be insulting our intelligence."
"Ahhhh…Ian got kicked out of the house and is now living in a shed
with only his stereo and a power generator."
Well, two out of three might have an inkling of truth to them.
Just for the record…I wasn't kicked out of the house but tossed and it's
a really nice shed overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
One of the negative aspects of being a reviewer is that you often get
bombarded with nonsensical drivel from manufacturers (readers get off
easy) about how great their latest product is, how much better it is than
a competitor's, how it can drive any speaker load, and how they could not
charge a dollar less and "make money".
Fred Volz made none of those claims, other than it would "probably
sound pretty good with the real slim shady and Bela Fleck." When a
small manufacturer such as Emotive Audio decides to offer a statement
product such as the Caeli-LE, it does so with a great deal of risk. First,
just who the hell does this "Volz" character think he is that he
can charge $2,000 per watt and not get laughed out of the room by the
larger manufacturers? Second, what would posses someone to manufacture a
10 watt single-ended pair of monoblocks in such a soft economy? Finally,
why should I buy the Caeli-LE for $20,995 when there are alternatives out
there for less than $10,000?
1.) One very talented designer who apparently understands that high-end
audio gear needs to look beautiful aside from just sounding good.
2.) Balls and some form of dementia.
3.) As the owner of the Wavelength Duetto, the former owner of the Blue
Circle BC6, and long-term user of the Art Audio Diavolo, I can say without
any hesitation that the Emotive Caeli-LE are better and that one would
need one of the statement products produced by Gordon Rankin, Gilbert
Yeung, or Joe Fratus to make a fairer comparison.
I don't think that it is reasonable to expect that the $5,200 Duetto would
outperform the Caeli-LE, which are almost four times the price, and with a
few exceptions, it did not do so. The Duetto remains my personal reference
because it offers truly exceptional sound at price that I could afford. I
still contend that it wipes the floor with every solid-state amplifier
that I have ever heard, and most tube amplifiers, but that doesn't mean
that it is the best that there is. I could make the same argument for the
Art Audio PX-25, or Blue Circle BC6, but my ears tell me that the
statement products from either manufacturer are more musical, effortless
in the way that they make music come alive, and in the same category as
The Caeli-LE were conceived back in 1995, but its production was placed on
the back burner as Emotive Audio decided to focus on its line stage
pre-amplifiers (including the very revealing and musical Sira). From
Volz's perspective, there was an inherent danger in offering such a simple
circuit as a single-ended design without addressing a number of critical
areas. While the audio path is only part of the equation, Volz wanted to
build a power supply that would not only give the Caeli-LE enough power to
drive a larger variety of speakers, but properly address the electrical
needs of key components and help alleviate distortion that might
unwittingly contribute to the colorations that critics of single-ended
always point to as its Achilles heal.
During the design process, Volz discovered that a number of the methods
used to alleviate electrical conflicts in the Sira and Poeta
pre-amplifiers were applicable so he implemented them. One of the
solutions was to use LEDs to set bias points for the input and driver
tubes. This allowed him to set a specific, repeatable operating point with
a low impedance. The desire was to eliminate as much distortion as
possible as well as make the amplifier less noisy. The Caeli-LE also use
active loading instead of cathode and plate resistors, and the 300B power
tube is driven with a direct-drive, actively loaded cathode follower which
provides a low impedance drive to the grid of the 300B. After a great deal
of frustration, Volz discovered that the use of gas diodes provided a
sonically superior and rather unconventional solution to the issue of
From a parts perspective, the $20,995 Caeli-LE use custom hand wound
transformers made by Electraprint, Holco and Mills resistors, Black Gate
filter caps, Cardas RCA jacks and binding posts, and custom-made
polypropylene and tin foil coupling caps. While that may sound rather
ho-hum to the average audiophile, just wait until you try to lift one of
these amplifiers. Not only are the Caeli-LE deceptively heavy for their
size, but also they withstood being run over by a retreating Iraqi T-62
tank (okay, that's a lie... but I am willing to bet at least fifty bucks
that if you threw one really hard at the turret it would probably make a
The grenadillo wood finish is quite exquisite, but it is
the one-of-a-kind hand etched metal chassis artwork by Jacob-Rogers Art
Furniture that made me salivate. The photograph accompanying the review
does not even come close as far as revealing the detailed and intricate
patterns that were present on my review sample. The Caeli-LE are custom
pieces and after looking at the metal chassis, it is rather easy to
understand why you might have to wait more than a few weeks to get one.
Nothing this beautiful could possibly be done overnight, even by a
machine. If Marc Chagall were still alive, would you pester him night and
day for the masterpiece that would eventually hang above your mantle for
your annoying and envious neighbors to salivate over?
Commandment #9 or #10:
Thou Shall Not Covet
Thy Neighbor's Chagall Or
Emotive Audio Caeli-LE
Something like that.
The tube compliment for the Caeli-LE includes a matched pair of Western
Electric 300Bs, NOS 5U4GB rectifier tubes, 0D3W gas regulator tubes, 0C3W
gas regulator tubes, 5687 twin triodes, and 7581A tetrodes. Emotive
carefully selects each tube and I never experienced any failures during
the three-month review process.
The Caeli-LE are self-biasing and it took less than five minutes with my
trusty Radio Shack meter to get both amps properly adjusted. If one of
Fred Volz's major design objectives was to create a dead silent amplifier,
he succeeded. Not only were the Caeli-LE extremely quiet, but also
seemingly unflappable and almost masochistic in how much they enjoyed
being tormented with intense sessions of polka, klezmer, and reggae.
So Did You Drove Or Did Ya Flu?
My Spendor SP2/3s are an extremely friendly load for most single-ended
amplifiers and they loved what the Caeli-LE brought to the table. After
letting the amplifiers settle in for a few days with a combination of FM
radio and techno, I dug deeply into my collection of narcissistic 90's
alternative music and cued up the vinyl version of the Smashing Pumpkins
Siamese Dream. As the opening guitar chops from "Cherub Rock"
and "Rocket" exploded out of the usually sedate SP2/3s, I
realized just how much more powerful the Caeli-LE were than either the
Wavelength Duetto or the Blue Circle BC6. The Art Audio Diavolo comes
close, but the Caeli-LE made a 89dB, boxy-sounding pair of British
bulldogs sound like a very efficient and open pair of single-driver
loudspeakers such as the Ocellia Kedros with the PHY KM30 coaxial drivers.
As easy as it was to be seduced by the power of the Caeli-LE monoblocks,
it was the silence between notes and clarity that really sold me on this
recording. Lesser quality amplifiers tend to veil the detail present on
this recording, but with the Caeli-LE, you hear every last note and the
air guitarist could barely sit still in his seat.
The Blue Circle BC6 infused this recording with warmth and authority in
the mids and upper bass, which would certainly be desirable if one were
using the amplifier with a speaker utilizing Fostex drivers, but on the
SP2/3s it came across as slightly congested. The Caeli-LE really let the
intensity and pace of the music shine through without sounding too
pristine or clinical.
One album does not make an amplifier, especially a $20,995 pair of
monoblocks, so out came the Green Day, Radiohead, and Cure in order to see
if the Caeli-LE could really get my juices flowing. From a tonal
perspective, the Emotive monoblocks certainly came across as accurate, but
I hesitate to call them analytical because they simply reproduced what I
fed them. Mike Dirnt's agile bass playing on Nimrod was meaty, taut, and
faster than I had ever heard it before. When I substituted the Wavelength
Duetto, I lost a little speed and some authority but I must confess that
the gap between the two amplifiers was not as large as I had expected.
When I listened to Robert Smith perform acoustic renditions of some of the
best drugs I ever tried as a teenager (the Cure combined with six or seven
Molson Golden on a Saturday night at a B'nai Brith dance was my escape
from a agitated suburban existence), I really liked how the Caeli-LE made
a rather overweight and slightly out-of-tune sounding alternative rock
star…sound like a rather overweight and slightly out-of-tune alternative
rock star. The Caeli-LE are unapologetically honest and musical at the
While it could very well be a sign of aging, but I am listening to a lot
more female vocalists and while I am thrilled to have Liz Phair back in my
listening room, as I really need someone sultry and seductive at the
moment, this is not normal behavior for me. Tori Amos' latest release is
somewhat lackluster, but Strange Little Girls [Atlantic 83486] still has a
few encouraging moments and the Caeli-LE were brilliant at reproducing
that sultry southern voice, as it moans and kvetches its way through the
various tracks. Having seen the voluptuous redhead in concert a few times
over the years (it used to be so lame being the old guy), I have learned
to appreciate her a great deal more. The lady is a far cry from any of the
truly great vocalists such as Dinah Washington or Ella Fitzgerald, but she
is capable of making the hairs on the back of my neck stand every once in
awhile. With the Caeli-LE, a standing ovation was the norm.
If the big man in the sky came down in the morning and offered me the
voice of someone deceased, I would beg for Sam Cooke's voice. While it was
my decision to move from downtown Chicago to the boring wasteland known as
"Rockville", I must confess that I miss the soul of that great
city and the music that it has produced over the years. Sam Cooke helped
me survive the "nightmare" that was Chicago for a period of time
and his heavenly voice sounded so sublime through the Caeli-LEs. What I
have discovered over the years is that many amplifiers do an adequate job
of recreating the temporary illusion that a live human being is singing in
your room, but very few can nail it down on a more permanent basis. The
Duetto certainly does it. The BC6 does it for a few songs before bowing
out, but the Caeli-LE hit that triple Lutz and never even flinch, not even
with Tonya Harding waiting in the wings with that pipe.
For Those About To Rock...
Needless to say, I was extremely impressed with the Caeli-LE after a few
months of intense abuse. They refused to muck up the sound with that
"midrange" coloration that is common among 300B-based
single-ended amplifiers, they refused to sound slow or in desperate need
of an espresso, and they never made a rude burp or fart in my listening
room at any time. That being said, my Spendor SP2/3s are not exactly
"state-of-the-art" loudspeakers, so I asked around and managed
to set-up the Caeli-LE with a number of more appropriate loudspeakers
because I wanted to hear what truly lurked beneath the metal of the Caeli-LE.
Call me a lucky bastard if you want, but my reference system for two
consecutive days consisted of the Emotive Sira pre-amplifier, Emotive
Caeli-LE monoblock amplifiers, Audio Note DAC 5 Signature, Verdier La
Platine/Moerch DP-6/Jan Allaerts MC1B, Cary CD transport, Cary phono
pre-amplifier, and a pair of Spendor SP100s and SAP J-2001s. Eat your
heart out HP!
The behemoth Spendors need to be tri-wired if you want to hear them at
their absolute best, so after some fancy dancing with some uncooperative
cables, I connected the Caeli-LE and very carefully lowered the Allaerts
cartridge onto a beautiful copy of Mingus' Mingus Dynasty [Columbia
Just Kill Me Now
The SP100s still sound like a boxy pair of British loudspeakers, but their
ability to recreate the true size of an instrument is downright
frightening. If you value scale and presence in a speaker, these are
beyond phenomenal. The richness of vocals was also a major strength of
this combination and its rare to hear a good jazz vocalist sound so
immediate and powerful out of this type of loudspeaker. The SP100s may be
slightly obese but they have it where it counts.
When I switched to the SAP J-2001s, which utilize a horn (midrange),
alnico super-tweeter, and 12" woofer, I was shocked at the tautness
and solidity of the bass with only ten watts. The listening room was 30' x
13' x 8' (approximate) and when I cued up "Lose Yourself" from
the 8 Mile soundtrack, I was simply dumbfounded by the authority of the
system. The tonal balance of the SAPs is a tad forward for my taste, but
the bass was rock solid and very quick.
The Bottom Line
With the Caeli-LE, is that with the exception of a
slightly forward sounding presentation, which is very dependant on the
nature of the sources and pre-amplifier, it is one of the few products
that I have ever heard that truly justifies such an outlandish price. The
construction quality is about as good as it gets, it works without turning
into a blowtorch at 3 in the morning, and you would be hard pressed to
find any serious faults with its sound quality. The price tag is slightly
depressing for those of us who will never be able to afford such a
magnificent combination of industrial art and soul, but I am grateful that
I had the chance to listen to it.
Apparently, it does do windows if you ask nicely.
Power: 10 Watts
Impedance: 4, 8, 16 Ohms (need to specify when ordering)
Input Impedance: 470 kOhms
Input Sensitivity: 0.4 Volts
Finish: Grenadillo wood and nickel plated metal
Price: $20,995 per pair
Contact Info: Emotive Audio Designs
236 East Bishop Street
Bellefonte, PA 16823
Voice: (814) 355-0881
Web site: www.emotiveaudio.com