“Try this cheese”, said Stéphane Hautcoeur, CEO of EON Art, Canada. “It is called Epoisses. It is a soft cheese and it tastes even better with age. It is made in the village of Epoisses de Bourgogne, and obviously it goes well with Burgundy.”
Words and Photos by Richard Mak
Indeed it did, it almost increased the intensity of the 2002 Geyrey-Chambertin Petite Chapelle by two notches. But I thought it tasted even better with the 1998 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, which of course is one of my favorite wines of all time. But mid-evening we enjoyed another bottle of 2003 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo, and lost count after that. Stéphane Hautcoeur surely knows how to enjoy the finer things in life, and it is not the first time that I hit it off so well with somebody right from the start, almost like meeting an old friend from childhood days. Yet, it was only the second time which we have seen each other. We took our wine glasses and went back into the audio room and finished playing the Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet in its entirety.
The star of the evening is of course, EON Art’s Quark Integrated Amplifier, which Hautcoeur brought to my house after driving 18 hours directly from his hometown in Far East Northern Quebec. But the story began back in October of 2019 at the Toronto Audiofest, when I was lured into the Quark Audio room by the realistic sounds of a harp playing. Nothing sounded more like the real thing than this room, and lo and behold, there was a real harp playing! The stunningly beautiful Isabeau Corriveau, was playing songs on the backdrop of her new album Leap of Faith, which was being played simultaneously through the Quark system.
EON Art The Quark
I still remembered clearly the Corriveau’s version of “Scarobourgh Fair,” which drew me into the music as I sat down and listened to her play song after song until she had to take a break 30 minutes later. EON Art’s system sounded real and life like as you compare the real harp, and her real voice versus the vinyl playback of the same song. At the end I approached Hautcoeur and introduced myself. Instead of asking him to send the amplifier, I invited him to come to my house to enjoy wine and cheese together with the Quark Amplifier in my system. Two months later, Stéphane Hautcoeur came to visit me as promised.
The Quark from Stéphane Hautcoeur is a hybrid amplifier with a pre-amplifier section and a full tube power supply as well as a 208W/8 Ohm transistor amplifier section. In other words, it is basically a separate preamp and power amp in a single chassis.
The preamp feature four double triode (E88CC or 6922) and a pre-out connector. The volume control is a computer controlled transistor driven stepped attenuator, with discrete resistors for each volume level. The power supply for the preamplifier section is driven by two 6V6 tubes, and their corresponding regulator circuit based on a 12AX7, a 5AR4 and one 0B2 voltage regulator. The output of the preamplifier goes to an impedance matching and gain input stage for the amplifier section built with discrete components. The last stage of the amplifier utilizes a Class D output pair of transistors per channel that bring large power with less signature than regular A or AB topology.
The Quark can be used as a preamplifier, amplifier or integrated amplifier. It features a total of twelve independent power supplies and a large capacitance reserve. All the processors and control power supplies are filtered by medical grade components. Only high end audio capacitors (such as Clarity Caps or Dueland capacitors), are used along the signal path to minimize phase distortion. The Quark features eight printed circuit boards, each having up to eight layers of double thickness copper (70u).
In my setup, we used the Quark as two separate integrated amplifiers. From the source output, we use a RCA Y-splitter to send the same signal to the L and R input of the Quark. We then used left channel to power the high frequency input of the speaker, and the right channel to power the low frequency. Under this configuration, we were able to experience both the preamp and power amplifier of the Quark without using any of my pre and power amp equipment. The amplifiers are feeding approximately 350W into each input of the speakers.
First and foremost, the Quarks did not sound like 350W amplifiers. They sounded much more powerful that what they are. I have previously had other 400W amplifiers in my system such as the McIntosh MC402 or the Pass Labs XS350, and the Quark seems to have more muscle than both. They are not as powerful as my 2000W McIntosh MC2KWs, nor the vintage MC3500 x 4, but it certainly have enough power to drive the Peak Consult Dragon Legends to my full satisfaction without wanting more. I could have very well lived happily ever after with the Quarks!
The sonic signature reminds me of the Tenor Audio Line 1 and 175S Pre/Power combo, except the Tenor cost approximately five times more than the Quarks. The sound is transparent, open and unrestricted. It has the liveliness and immediacy of Lamm and Tenor amps, and it certainly sounds faster and more immediate than any of my McIntosh equipment. It is well demonstrated by the Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet directed by Maazel (DECCA SXL 6620-2), where the pace of the music goes from slow place end eventually picks up to an explosive bass drum ending on side one. The speed and pace of which certainly riveted us onto our seats with anticipation for the next explosive segment. The top extension reaches further than what was capable by my vintage MC3500 and the MC2KW, the mids less voluptuous. The bass drums doesn’t compare with the MC2KW, but then again very few amps do as they are 2000Ws, and the Quark only does 1/5 of that.
The Quark’s ability to convey human emotions is of utmost importance as I’ve had far too many ultra-dynamic sounding amplifiers paying through my audio room, only to check our early due to their lack of emotions. No the Quarks are not KONDOs, nor does it sound my McIntosh MC240. If you are looking for that voluptuous and sweeter than the real thing type of mid range, look elsewhere. Just like the Tenor or the LAMM, the Quark’s is more about realism, accuracy, and removing the veils which many amplifiers have. It is more truthful than colored, well demonstrated by Tom Jones’ Praise and Blame. On my MC3500 tube amps, Tom Jones’ voice is larger than real life, on the MC2KW they are more rounded, both amps exhibited a more pleasing sound with the sonic image edges slightly rounded out and smudged. On the Quark, Tom’s mouth and his figure hangs smaller and more proportionally to a real size, with sharper focus and finer lines. Never did it veer to become hard and cold sounding, losing the very crucial human emotions.
I also want to point out that the Quark did not share the usual “roundedness” and lack of details which I find common with a lot of Class D amplifiers. Regardless of what they claim, I find most class D to have a coarser sound than most Class A or Class AB amps, and I have yet to find a single Class D amp that I like. The Quark, is clearly an exception.
With only one weekend and approximately eight hours of combined listening time, I did not have enough time conduct a thorough review which normally takes me six months to do. But I believe I have enough insights to the Quark’s sonic qualities, and it is a very pleasant one.
The Quark carries a hefty ticket price of $52,497.00, especially dear for an integrated amplifier. In all my reviews, I always leave price justification for the reader to decide. Considering the amount of money Stéphane Hautcoeur have invested into the EON Art facility to produce these amplifiers, they certainly did not come from a run of the mill garage operation. EON Art currently has the largest and the most modern audio electronics laboratory in Canada at its Chandler facility, it is more than 3000 sq. ft.