What Hi-Fi (UK)
Electrocompaniet ECI 80D
The specialist Norwegian firm has supplied generous equipment levels and a sophisticated sound with this ‘entry-level’ integrated amp
It’s been more than a decade since we last reviewed anything from Norwegian company Electrocompaniet, so we aren’t quite sure what to expect from the ECI 80D integrated amplifier. As things turn out, and to our delight, it’s an impressively polished performer that’s brimming with useful features.
We can’t imagine too many occasions where this integrated amp will be caught short in a price-appropriate two-channel set-up. It has a good range of digital and analogue inputs, including a movingmagnet phono stage, multiple coaxials and opticals , as well as two-way Bluetooth in high-quality aptx HD form.
Those hard-wired digital connections will accept up to 24-bit/192khz PCM files, though the lack of a USB input means there’s no option of playing DSD or PCM files of higher sampling rates. We suspect that won’t be a major issue for most potential buyers.
As for outputs, there’s a basic set of multi-way speaker terminals, 6.3mm and 3.5mm headphone outs (inconveniently placed on the back) and a dedicated preamp connection for those who need more muscle than the ECI 80D delivers.
Electrocompaniet claims 80W per channel into an 8 ohm load. That output almost doubles to 150W per channel as the speaker impedance halves. That amounts to enough grunt to power most speakers to decent levels in all but the largest of rooms.
Quality and feel
The amplifier’s build quality is nice and solid, but perhaps lacks a little slickness compared with the best at this level. The ECI 80D feels like a good example of what it is – a product from a small-scale specialist manufacturer. We don’t feel so generous about the remote handset though; while admirably simple in operation, it feels cheap.
Any amplifier at this level deserves good-quality partners. We use our usual Naim ND555/555 PS DR music streamer for both analogue and digital signal feeds with a Technics Sl-1000r/goldring 2500 MM turntable package backing it up. We also use more price-compatible sources, in the form of the Clearaudio Concept Active MM record player and Cyrus’s CDI CD player.
The ECI 80D proves unfussy with speakers, producing consistent results across ATC’S SCM 50s, KEF’S LS50 Metas and Triangle’s Borea 08 floorstanders. We also use an iphone XS Max as a Bluetooth source and a pair of Beyerdynamic T1 Mk 2s to test the headphone output. Lastly, we use a pair of Bose 700 noise-cancelling headphones to try the Electrocompaniet’s Bluetooth transmission capabilities.
In use, this is a wonderfully capable amplifier for the money. It majors on delivering an open and spacious sound brimming with subtleties. Give it a low-key album such as Found Songs by Ólafur Arnalds and it shines, rendering nuanced soundscapes populated by expressive instruments and sounds. We’re impressed by the resolution on offer, and the way this amplifier organises all this information into a cohesive and musical whole.
Refinement with bite
It has a refined presentation that’s free of any unwarranted hard edges, yet there’s enough in the way of bite when the music demands. This is made clear when we switch to Holst’s Mars. We enjoy the
stereo imaging here – particularly the way the amp layers the sound and prevents instruments from sounding cluttered or as if they are struggling to be heard.
Larger-scale dynamic shifts are handled well, though if you switch to rivals such as the cheaper, purely analogue Naim Nait XS 2, you’ll notice that the ECI 80D doesn’t convey the same sense of muscularity and punch. Equally, the Electrocompaniet delivers a sense of insight and sophistication that the Naim struggles to generate, so it’s a case of swings and roundabouts, rather than one being notably better overall than the other.
Tonally, the ECI 80D sits on the slightly smooth and rich side of neutral, but not so much that it unduly affects the amplifier’s overall transparency, or smothers the sonic characteristics of individual recordings.
“Electrocompaniet has done an excellent job here.
The ECI 80D is a well specified amplifier in which all the key features work really well – and, in our experience, that’s a rare thing. Add sound quality that’s comparable to the best of its rivals and it’s quite clear that this amplifier is a terrific buy”
The fun factor
Playing Watch The Throne by Jay Z and Kanyé West through the digital inputs proves that the Electrocompaniet’s cultured presentation doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining and enthusiastic listen. While lacking the Naim’s rhythmic drive and attack, it still has enough in the way of power and punch to keep us listening. We love the way it conveys voices, and the way it communicates the passion and meaning behind the words so effectively. The DAC module on board here is broadly as good as the better standalone choices at around £600.
We’re pleased to report that the built-in moving-magnet phono stage is surprisingly capable too. Usually, such things sound like they’re a bit of an afterthought – a box-ticking exercise rather than something to really get excited about. It’s different here.
This phono module retains a good deal of the clarity of the line stages, and works well with everything from Bob Marley’s Exodus right the way through to Orff’s Carmina Burana. We’re similarly positive when we try the headphone outputs. The sonic character is just as engaging as through the speaker outputs, and that’s not as common as it should be.
The Bluetooth input supplies more good news. This is one of the best implementations we’ve heard in a product like this. While the wired inputs are our go-to choice for absolute performance, the ECI 80D’s Bluetooth sound is impressively effective.
Electrocompaniet has done an excellent job here. The ECI 80D is a well specified amplifier in which all the key features work really well – and, in our experience, that’s a rare thing. Add sound quality that’s comparable to the best of its rivals and it’s quite clear that this amplifier is a terrific buy.