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EAR MC4 Step Up Transformer

06-28-2017 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 92

EAR MC4 Step Up Transformer

Back in the olden days, I owned an Ortofon MC30 Cartridge. It had output to low for my ARC SP3 to handle so I went looking for a step up transformer. I acquired the cool looking and flexible Ortofon T30 that did quite well. At $400 it was expensive as gear in 1977 goes, but it worked with minimum hum and etch. In fact, it worked until about five years ago when I had it restored and new Cardas connectors added by the famous Arian Jansen. It continues working today and gave me a good reference to compare to EAR MC4 Step Up Transformer. The 40 year old Ortofon sells used today for $900 while the MC4 sells for $2200 new. Step Up Transformers appear to be a terrific investment in audio-land.

Cartridges on hand include the Grado Statement 2 at 1mv output and the Kiseki PurpleHeart at .3mv output. I used my EAR tube 88PB Phono Stage, one input with internal step up, the other input with an MM amplification. I hooked the the MC 4 to the MM input.

For phono cables I used both the Jorma Origo and hot, new Kimber Select Phono Cable in silver. The Select is Kimber's best ever phono wire and is highly recommended. Turntable is the EAR DiscMaster with two Helius Omega tonearms. 

The EAR MC4 has four sets of impedance's with elegant access via a pair of RCA connectors for each value, two ground screw positions, and a single pair of RCA outputs. The look is premium all the way in chrome and black finishes. It is powered by the audio cables and requires no AC. Impedance's are marked 3, 6, 12, and 40 transformer ohms or about 35, 70, 150, and 500 ohms as we are accustomed to in active stages. 

I will go on record and state unequivocally that the step up transformer's quality of overall sound is dependent on the "recipe" used by the engineer and winder of the individual piece. You can measure the transformer's specs until your oscilloscope wears out and not know why a transformer sounds or does not sound a certain way. 

When a transformer is built to perfection, it boosts gain at all frequencies, mirrors its input to utter perfection, and adds no discernible artifacts not already in the original very tiny signal. Not many of these truly superb transformers are around these days as they are mostly mass produced to be electrically accurate, sound good enough, and be inexpensive. Most are made in China.

The Ortofon sounded excellent until the EAR arrived. Ice cold out of the box, the MC4 made the Ortofon sound etched, slightly distorted, non-linear, a touch bright on top, and reticent in the bass. Yikes, you never know what you are missing! Once run in for about 100 hours, the EAR was realistically musical in ways I can not really describe because, though it amplified like crazy, it sounded like nothing at all. This is the very first time I have tried to review audio gear that had no sound of its own. I even tried to imagine a bit of coloration or something to report, but came up empty eared.

Actually, the EAR sounded like the cables and cartridges in the circuit, but not a bit of its own voice. Once grounded, there was zero hum.

Interestingly, the EAR MC4 plus EAR 88PB using MM input may have been a bit more dynamic than the identical transformers built into the 88PB itself. Close call there, but there was no degradation using outboard transformers as long as I used identical cables.

I am not an expert when it comes to step up devices, but $2200 is on the high end of the price continuum. It does give you four choices which will cover any cartridge I can think of. Ortofon sells less expensive units, but with only one impedance choice each. Plus, the MC4 contains EAR factory wound Tim de Paravicini transformers with the house recipe of the audio gods, a touch of musical voodoo, years of trial and error, and secret ingredients all brought together for audiophiles only. I would not have it any other way. 


The EAR MC 4 is the step up transformer for the high-end connoisseur who wants and demands the very best. I could find nothing to criticize, no changes to make, and no quibbles to discuss. Not even broken in, the MC4 embarrassed my Ortofon transformer. I cannot possibly envision a better product or something that is more neutral, musical, or powerful than the MC4. Killer good! The EAR MC4 receives my highest recommendation and congratulations to Tim de Paravicini, both the King of Tubes and the King of Transformers!


Retail: $2200


Dan Meinwald

562.422.4747 (Pacific Time)

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