On or Off?

On or Off?

Written by Dan Schwartz

Should you leave your hi-fi gear on or turn it off?

Everybody knows, of course: if it’s solid-state, leave it on. If it’s tube, shut it off.

A couple weeks ago, in my queue on the YouTubes, up popped a vid starring Mr. McGowan, in which he supported that truism. Naturally! Of course!

But: au contraire, mon frère. Please allow me to beg to differ.

As really committed readers might remember, for roughly 25 years,

I used a system in which the anchor points were an EAR G88 preamp and a pair of Richard Brown’s BEL 1001 Mk. Something mono amplifiers – they started at Mk. II and evolved to somewhere beyond IV, over the years I owned them.


Dan Schwartz’s BEL 1001 mono power amplifiers.


The EAR G88 was an absolutely mind-blowingly sublime preamp that was pure-tube – and I very rarely turned it off. Unless we were leaving the house for a few days at a minimum, it was on 24 hours a day. In 25 years it had two tube changes. And that was only because I was trying to be a good housekeeper; I never heard the sound deteriorate, and I didn’t hear a substantial improvement with a new set.

In hindsight, I left the G88 on at the suggestion of its designer/maker, Tim de Paravicini. There’s something he knew about tubes and their operating characteristics.

The BELs, on the other hand: leave ‘em on, right? After all, they’re solid-state amps; it’s obvious.

No. Not so obvious.

Richard Brown insisted they go off every day. “Pshaw,” said I – as a reviewer for The Absolute Sound, I KNEW best. And so I left them on – for maybe three or four months. Then, just out of a sort of idle curiosity, I decided to test myself (and Richard’s thinking).

Well, whaddaya know? I was dead fricking wrong.

EAR 509 power amplifier. EAR 509 power amplifier.

When turned off and then back on, the sound was harmonically richer, more – wait for it – tube-like. Irony, huh? The sound emerged from a quiet background either way but was more 3-dimensional, more life-like when the amps had been turned off.

Solid-state turned off every day, tubes left on in perpetuity. Geez, these designers and their eccentricities…

BTW – I’ve told this tale in these pages, but I’ll tell it again. Dan Meinwald, the importer of EAR, is a good friend of 30 years, and a long time back, he brought over a pair of EAR 509 amplifiers for comparison with the 1001s. He thought the EARs were better across the board. But while I thought that the EARs made the presentation of classical music more genuine, for rock and jazz, the BELs had the edge.


Header image courtesy of Pixabay.com/Pete Linforth.

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