Electrocompaniet Eci 5 Mk Ii (£2890)

The latest revisions to the big Norwegian increase its appeal

Electrocompaniet’s current Classic series looks forward as well as back, with products designed to be integrated into modern multichannel, multi-source systems.
   The ECI 5 MK II integrated amplifier looks pretty much the same as the previous ECI 5 model, [HFN Oct ’09]. But there are major internal changes, although Electrocompaniet emphasises that all its amplifiers are still ‘made in the TIM-free school based on the principles laid down in the works of Dr Otala and Dr Jan Lohstroh’.
   The changes in the new ECI 5 MK II seem to have been mainly intended to meet the demands of big modern speakers when driven to high levels with rock music. So it has ‘a more powerful output stage’ and a much bigger power supply to increase current capability. This uses a new 500VA transformer, with reservoir capacitance increased to 80,000μF. A new overload detection system dispenses with the previous output relay.
   From the user’s point of view, though, the most obvious change is in the display, which now indicates the source in very large characters, easily readable across a large room. With the system remote handset this can be dimmed, in four steps, but not completely turned off.
   Two of the six line inputs are balanced XLR pairs, labelled CD and Tuner, while the remaining unbalanced (RCA phono) inputs include a direct HT, or Home Theatre input, bypassing the volume control. When selected, this mutes for a few seconds as a precaution against accidental overload.
   It’s clearly intended that you use a CD player with balanced outputs. Otherwise, you will need to use the unbalanced-to-balanced adaptors provided. Apart from the Rec (tape) out, there are balanced and unbalanced Pre Out connections, so an additional power amplifier can be connected. Once set up, the ECI 5 MK II proved easy to use. Although a main power switch is on the front, it’s intended that in daily use you just switch off by using the remote’s Mute button. The remote’s up/down buttons gave a pleasantly precise control of volume, and responded quickly.

We got down to serious listening with the suitably-Scandinavian audiophile classic, Jazz At The Pawnshop [CD layer of Proprius PRSACD7879]. With this disc, the ever-fascinating audience noises can often tell you whether you’re going to like the sound or not, even before the music starts. In this case, we were thoroughly drawn into the club/pub atmosphere. And captivated by the music too.
   For more modern jazz with a Nordic connection, we put on Alive [Edition Records EDN1021] from Phronesis, the trio led by the great Danish bassist Jasper Høiby. The big sound of Høiby’s double-bass was fat and dominant but didn’t get out of control. The widely-spread sound of Ivo Neame’s piano had a bright clarity at the top end that stopped short of being brittle.
   Next we turned to Chesky chanteuse, Marta Gomez, and Entre Cada Palabra [JD301]. The ECI 5 MK II resolved the oftenproblematic heavy bass sound on the opening ‘Maria Mulata’. And its top-end clarity was highlighted here by the way the flute solo sprang convincingly from the acoustic. There’s a very dominant acoustic to be heard in Mitsuko Uchida’s Debussy Études [Philips 464 698-2]. From the velvety opening notes, you could feel the life in the acoustic, but the piano still kept its singing quality even as the percussive treble sounds audibly sent their echoes around and back. The Electro did exceptionally well on this material.

Electrocompaniet was the first to produce a commercial amplifier based on the precepts of Dr Matti Otala, and has largely stuck to them. With the beefed-up ECI 5 MK II, Electro strikes a good balance between traditional ‘subjectivist’ virtues and modern demands for high power and neutral sound. A fine-sounding, enjoyable product.

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Originally published in the Yearbook 2011