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exemplar exception SE preamp


Exemplar Exception SE Preamp

Designed by John Tucker, this hand-crafted tube preamp is the culmination of 12 years of design refinements. It features innovative, high performance power and control circuitry, resulting in low noise and sonic purity. An eclectic mix of solid state and tube components, the Exception SE enjoys the best of both worlds. The Exemplar Exception SE Preamp has neither the excessively warm overtones of some tube preamps, nor the clinical coldness that is exhibited by many solid state components.

The sound is superb. The top end is very smooth and there is tight bass down at the low end. Truly a musical sounding preamp. A first listen draws attention to the impressive sound stage. Each instrument can be individually pinpointed. The Exception SE is very revealing, but still those less than ideal recordings are enjoyable. Definitely worth an audition!

Review By Gary S. Choice Audio, Inc Consultant:

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 over blown 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 CDs and high res digital files. As an aside John will be modifying my Oppo BDP 105 in the near future.

The sound is superb. Wide band, low distortion as expected but the Exception SE line stage preamp exhibits none of the over blown 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.

Addendum 5/30/2014

Choice Audio recently acquired Magico Speakers, both the S1 and S5 models.  Magico Speakers are known to be very accurate and revealing speakers made today.  We can say without a doubt, the exemplar exception SE line stage gets even better when hooked up to the Magicos.  Folks, this is a very good preamp and it mates well with both solid state and tube amplifiers.


Controls: Volume, Power, Mute, Input select

Beautiful Remote Control

Outputs: RCA x 2

Inputs: RCA x 5 & Home Theater Bypass x 1

Output Impedance: 133 ohm

Frequency Response: 50 kHz

Signal to Noise: >90dB

Tubes: 6922 family

MSLP: $4,250