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August 2003
Superior Audio Audiophile Equipment Review

Emotive Audio Caeli-LE Single-Ended Amplifier
Fine... but does she do dishes and mow the lawn?
Review By Ian White
Click here to e-mail reviewer.

 

Emotive Audio Caeli-LE Tube Monoblock Amplifiers  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.

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 voltage dropping.

Emotive Audio Caeli-LE Tube Monoblock Amplifier 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 dent).

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 same time.

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 CL1440].

 

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.

 

Specifications
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

 

Company Information
Contact Info: Emotive Audio Designs
236 East Bishop Street
Bellefonte, PA 16823

Voice: (814) 355-0881
E-mail: emotivefred@hotmail.com 
Web site: www.emotiveaudio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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