E.A.T. Prelude Turntable Review
European Audio Team is a high-end brand, but this turntable promises music for the masses. Mark Gusew takes it for a spin…
European Audio Team (E.A.T.)
AUD $1,899 RRP
Hi-fi is a man's world – or at least it was until the indefatigable Jozefína Lichtenegger arrived on the scene. In her long and distinguished career in audio, she has run a successful vacuum tube manufacturing company, and latterly a premium turntable brand. As CEO of European Audio Team, she has overseen the rise of this respected maker of high-quality vinyl spinners, tonearms and cartridges – and other such goodies.
Based in Vienna, Austria, E.A.T specialises in high-quality vinyl replay equipment, so the AUD $1,899 RRP Prelude is very much entry-level territory for the brand, encroaching on Pro-Ject and Rega sales. Actually, I think it looks classier and more upmarket than both; for example, the plinth is made of 18mm high-density MDF and is beautifully finished with eight layers of piano black gloss lacquer. Manufacturers don't often use this sort of finish because of its inherent cost. I spoke to Jozefína when she was in Melbourne a few weeks ago, and she explained that the deck sports several components also not usually seen at this price point.
There is certainly no evidence that this compact (415x130x335mm) but sturdy (5.5kg) turntable is built down to a price – for example, its base is more dense than most rivals, and the DC motor is freestanding, reducing vibration and noise levels. A polished stainless steel bearing sits in a soft bronze bushing; it's super-quiet and smooth when rotating, and I found that with the belt disconnected it continues to spin for over two minutes before coming to a stop.
The Prelude's platter is a single piece of aluminium/magnesium alloy that has been polished on the outside circumference, where the belt rotates, with a stainless steel spindle inserted at its centre. On the underside is a deep recess filled with thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) damping material, designed to minimise resonance. As a result, tapping the platter results in a reassuringly dull thud, rather than a high pitched ring. As well as being impressively quiet, it also feels heavier than the platters of various rival decks at this price point.
The tonearm has an effective length of 230mm, which is fairly typical at this price. Its 8g (quoted) effective mass is lower than most though and makes it best suited to higher compliance moving magnet cartridges. The one-piece tapered armtube includes the headshell and is made of carbon fibre for lightness and strength. E.A.T specifies a Cardan bearing in the horizontal axis, and hardened tips sitting in a zircon bowl with Japanese ABEC7 ball races for the vertical axis. The result is a free moving arm that feels silky to hand-cue. A robust polished aluminium bearing block is fitted, and the counterweight is the familiar screw-dial type that's TPE damped to aid resonance dissipation.
Bias is applied via E.A.T's preferred weight and pulley system, obviating the need for an internal spring, which some believe is deleterious to the sound. The Prelude's tonearm is designed to take cartridges from 6 to 12g in weight, and tracks them up to 3g. A wide variety of adjustments is offered, including VTA/SRA, VTF, azimuth, anti-skate, overhang, and offset angle alignment. The deck comes fitted and correctly aligned with an Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge; this is a well-liked mid-price design that ideally matches the low effective mass of the tonearm.
The turntable's main motor control switch is tucked away on the underside, slightly to the left of centre, so is easy to find and use – and also stops finger-marks on the pristine gloss black surface of the plinth. A small 15 volt DC power pack feeds the motor, again with the connection underneath the plinth. To the rear of the plinth is a phono connection block, which takes the high-quality RCA cable that comes supplied. I like the use of three, not four, conical feet to support the deck – this arrangement makes levelling easy. These also provide the turntable's basic vibration isolation package, by virtue of their use of TPE and also the tapered shape.
One of the benefits of relatively simple, non-sprung turntables such as this, is the ease of assembly – and the Prelude is no exception. The manual is good, and the respective pieces all fit together easily enough. Of course, the pre-aligned cartridge is a significant bonus, as this is invariably the most fiddly part of getting a turntable going. Once the review deck was out of the box, assembled, levelled and sitting on my SolidSteel equipment rack, the overwhelming feeling was of simple elegance, classic timeless design, and understated beauty.
The Prelude gets up to its correct operating speed within one full revolution, so the motor has a decent amount of torque. Using a strobe disc, I confirmed that the speed calibration was spot on, and consistent. The deck comes with a heavy and high-quality acrylic dust cover, which I initially removed because as a rule, this tends to give better sound. In this instance, however, I refitted it after doing some A-B testing and kept it in situ. The new cartridge was given a few hours to run in, after which it smoothed out and toughened up in the bass. .
This is an excellent sounding turntable at the price, with an open, spacious, detailed and musical sound. Crucially for a relatively inexpensive deck, it showed no obvious weak points to let the side down, so to speak. The result was an enjoyably sophisticated sound that was never less than fun across all the musical genres that I played.
Given that the Prelude's design hails from Vienna – a city of music and culture where Mozart lived for most of his short adult life – it seemed fitting to play the third movement of his Serenade for Winds K.361, by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Neville Marriner. I was struck by this turntable's fine, natural tonality. The music sounded beautiful, especially the wind instruments. The E.A.T did a good job of separating solo oboe, clarinet and basset horn, putting each instrument into its own space, easily distinguished from one another. Instrumental timbre was neutral and uncoloured, giving a distinct and realistic feel to all individual members of the orchestra.
This deck also demonstrated fine handling of dynamics. The Abduction from the Seraglio had the orchestra at full tilt, with strings, brass, deep timpani drums, male and female chorus singing at full voice in German with many crescendos. Throughout the track, despite the attempts of the orchestra to drown it out, a triangle can be easily recognised and followed, such is the resolution and organisation of this turntable. It doesn't get confused or overwhelmed but plays cleanly and resolves detail. Here's where a well-designed turntable really shows its mettle.
The handling of rhythms was also top-tier for a vinyl-spinner of this price, as Kraftwerk's techno classic The Robots showed. My original UK pressing sounded fresh and dynamic, the Prelude stepping out of the way to let the music's scalpel-like precision to show through. The music was metronomically accurate, yet flowed engagingly. Bass punched cleanly with good definition, with each synth riff sounding clean, expressive and crisp. The bassline started and stopped quickly, with no overhang or audible bloat.
Soundstaging was no less enjoyable. Vinyl always seems to do something special spatially, and the EAT duly proved a pleasure to hear. The Kraftwerk track extended well beyond the outside edges of the loudspeakers, delivering a big, wide, deep spread of sound that was addictive. You've Always Got the Blues by Kate Ceberano and Wendy Matthews had me sitting before an immense soundstage, marvelling at the portrayal of depth in the room, the body and scale of the piano and the expert location of the vocals.
Ultimately the supplied Ortofon cartridge proved the deck's greatest limiting factor; it's an excellent affordable moving magnet cart, but the Prelude is capable of tracking better. Frequency extremes lacked the definition that a more expensive moving magnet cartridge can bring, even if the E.A.T managed to wring a hell of a lot out of the midband. Jozefína agrees with this view, but points out that the package is aimed at a specific price point, so compromises must be made. My other quibbles were also minor; the tonearm's finger-lift is small and fiddly in use, and the VTA adjustment is awkwardly placed.
European Audio Team's Prelude is a tour de force at this modest price point, offering a great first step up the audiophile vinyl ladder. It's well built and finished at the price, cleverly engineered and comes with an excellent starter cartridge that fits the tonearm like a glove. Importantly, it's also relatively easy to set up and use, allowing you to experience the joys of black plastic without tears. As such, it's a worthy recipient of StereoNET's Silver Applause Award. Glückwunsch, Jozefína!
For more information, visit European Audio Team.
Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early ’80s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now splits his time between professional reviewing and AV consultancy.