Our thoughts on the Exception SE Preamp
John Tucker’s Exemplar Exception SE 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 label, a large volume knob with small push buttons for on/off, muting, and input selection – five line inputs and one AV pass through.
The unit includes a 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 Exemplar exception SE preamp needs about 100 to 150 hours of burn in. Most of my listening so far has been with vinyl, but my comments also apply to CD’s and high res digital files.
The sound is superb. Wide band, low distortion as expected, but the Exception SE line stage preamp exhibits none of the overblown warmth of some tube preamps, nor is it clinically precise. 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. 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.”
This review was written a few years ago. Since then we have done head to head comparisons with several other preamps, some in the 20K price range. This preamp is truly one of the best values in all of audio. If you are looking for some thing that is clean and devoid of coloration, detailed, yet not sterile, dynamic, musical with big sound stage, you really owe it to yourself to audition this preamp.
Choice Audio will offer 10 day free trials on this unit if you do not have a dealer near you. We just ask that you pay the shipping back to us if you decide you don't like it.
Exemplar Preamp Specifications:
• Controls: Volume, Power, Mute, Input select
• Beautiful Remote Control
• Outputs: RCA x 2
• Inputs: RCA x 5 & Home Theater Bypass x 1 - if requested
• Output Impedance: 133 ohm
• Frequency Response: 50 kHz
• Signal to Noise: >90dB
• Tubes: 6922 family
Exemplar Exception SE Reviews