Electrocompaniet ECI 5 MkII

Big and powerful, but calm and unfussed almost to a near-Buddhist extent

It’s certainly imposing, and its non-standard width of 470mm may require some thought about siting it, but then maybe that’s just indicative of the Electrocompaniet way of doing things – not by anyone else’s book. The company has a long history of being original, going back to the days in the 1970s, when its genesis lay in Matti Otala’s documenting of TID: Transient Intermodulation Distortion.

TID is now largely water under the bridge, component and design developments having ensured its demise as an issue in any decent audio amp, but Electrocompaniet continues to take an individual line on audio electronics and has a strong following as a result.

Control of the unit is individual, too. Volume is controlled by up and down buttons, not remarkable in itself but unique to Electrocompaniet in employing an internal potentiometer which can only be operated by electric motor. Input selection is electronic, the inputs running to two balanced and four unbalanced line inputs, of which the ‘HT’ one bypasses the volume control. Selection is indicated clearly by the particularly nice display. Components are mostly surface-mount but there are quite a few through-hole ones too, including, of course, the twin pairs of output transistors, mounted on an internal heatsink. Although that should cope with most day-to-day use, fans are also included to dump extra heat under very heavy driving.

Sound quality

It’s probably easiest to outline the listener for whom this amp won’t work wonders – anyone who likes their sounds fast and furious. It’s not the most laid-back amp ever, but it’s not far behind. But the ECI 5 is more than capable of following, for instance, the madder excesses of avant-garde jazz. What it won’t do is add any excitement of its own and so it can seem a little pipe-and-slippers in comparative demonstrations.

As our listeners found out, it does many good things very well, especially dynamics. Indeed, as one pointed out, it is outstandingly good at that particular feat, managing swings from very soft to very loud effortlessly and unfussily. In fact, the ECI 5 can reach a mighty climax without one having been directly conscious that one was approaching, even though volume might have been building for a minute or more.

That’s an admirable and desirable quality and it’s made only more attractive by the amp’s general sense of calm balance – tonal balance and also spatial, giving no undue preference to instruments or voices by pitch or placement within the image. What this all adds up to is beautifully graded and shaded sound that conveys heaps of information but never intrudes rudely on one’s consciousness. If you want to hear detail, it’s there. If you don’t, enjoy the big wash of sound. Bass is deep and clean, treble very sweet, and there’s a surprising amount of kick ready for heavily rhythmic music. We loved it, but we can still see why it won’t suit all tastes.

LIKE: Excellent tonal balance and a lovely way with detail
DISLIKE: Presentation can sometimes seem too much on the laid-back side for some
WE SAY: Admirable and none the less so for its slightly unusual character

DETAILS
Origin: Norway
Weight: 16kg
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 483x135x405mm
Features:
• Inputs: Two balanced line inputs
• Four unbalanced line inputs
• Record output
• Unbalanced preamp out
• Balanced preamp out
• Single speaker output
• Nominal output: 120 watts
Distributor: EC Distribution
Telephone: 020 8893 5835
Website: electrocompaniet.no