Eastern Electric M-88

Eastern Electric is a company that made some pretty amazing tube gear a while back, but is sadly no longer in business. I really like their products and have discussed them a few times before on these pages. I feel their gear was not only great looking and sounding, but was also quite a value as well. Eastern Electric was the brainchild of Alex Yeung, and they were designed and built in China but distributed in the US by Bill O’Connell. Eastern Electric Minimax components offered very clean designs, superb builds and a sound profile that I would characterize as open and free, but with solid roots and an extremely easy to listen to musicality. High transparency combined with musicality is a rare bird, but the Minimax stuff all seems to have it, and as a result I have kept their gear for a very long time. So far, I’ve owned two of the Minimax preamps, the second version of their Sabre DAC and now the mighty M-88 integrated amplifier. The preamps and DAC are now gone, but not before the arrival of the M-88. For the past 12 years there has never been a time when I did not own an Eastern Electric piece.

The M-88 was one of Eastern Electric’s biggest amplifiers, and it came out toward the end of the company’s run. A KT88 based amp, the M-88 makes 40 watts per channel and features 3 RCA inputs, a single balanced input, a preamp input that bypasses the unit’s own excellent preamp section, 4, 8, and 16 ohm speaker taps and a lovely smooth action volume control. Built backward in comparison to most modern tube amplifiers, this design seems to me to be sort of a throwback to the tubed receivers of the 60’s; the tubes are in the back and a user control panel is in the front. In this case the front is a large transformer cover, with a heavy duty plain and seamless front faceplate that elegantly seems to tell the world “I am solid and no nonsense.” With only a few simple and well labeled controls, here is an amp that unlike much of the gear I have used in my living room space, no one will have trouble understanding and operating. This one even has a remote control with a motorized volume control that elicited quite an uproar from my teenager, who loved the idea and was amazed our living room had finally entered the 21st century.

Our living room system sees daily mixed use as it broadcasts music throughout the house, currently powering huge 1970’s Bozak B-305 speakers that have the ability to throw life sized images at substantial sound levels. Here the M-88 replaced the Conrad Johnson CAV45 S2 that had been in play for a year or more. I spent a few days in direct back to back comparison, and both of these amps are really very good sounding, with the CAV 45 having a denser and thicker sound and the M-88 using the 16 ohm taps has a more immediate and in the room sound through the big Bozaks. Putting KT120 tubes in place of the KT88 results in a substantial thickening of the M-88 sound with bass energy that is quite authoritative and a feeling of another 20 watts. Ultimately I prefer the KT88 tubes in the M-88, but having both is nice!

As I get older and lazier I appreciate the simplicity of an integrated amp and this is certainly a good one. With the 3 inputs it runs my DAC, an LP turntable and a 78 turntable, with my rarely used Scott tuner at the ready ready but usually not hooked up. My unit, like all of them, is 10 or more years old now. But it has run daily for me with no problems whatsoever for almost a year now. Twice the selector has jumped to another input without warning, but our house might be haunted, so you never know. Otherwise this amp biases up easily and has not needed adjustment yet. 40 watts of KT88 is a lot of power and I would feel comfortable pairing this with just about any speaker that I know of. The M-88 pushes the Bozaks along without ever straining, and the 100 db/wm Lii 18 panels absolutely light up with this kind of power. The amp makes no noise at idle, it is perfectly quiet in operation.

This amplifier was a bargain when it was new, which ten years on makes them a real steal on the used market. This one does everything well and I don't really feel I am missing anything with the M-88 in place. 40 watts of tube power makes speaker choice almost limitless. As a huge fan of the small but mighty Minimax preamp, I think the M-88 has a lot of the little preamp’s sound character mated with a substantial powerful amplifier, a combination that I think makes it a clear winner. If you are in the market for a used tube integrated, this is one of the best I have owned to date. Highly recommended.

Strong clean lines. This amp doesn't really look like anything else out there.

The KT120 are big tubes!

Lots of expandability here.

Having 4, 8 and 16 ohm taps makes this one run optimally with almost any speaker. The 16 ohm taps come in handy with vintage speakers.

The bias procedure is very straightforward on the M-88. I set mine after receiving it, and each time after changing power tubes, and it holds steady for months.

Here is the M-88 at the heart of our living room audio system, controlling two turntables, a DAC and a Scott 350B FM tuner. The 16 ohm taps come in handy with the big Bozak B-305 speakers, and particularly with the KT120 in place, the bass response and in the room clarity from the Bozaks is quite impressive. This system as pictured is one of my favorite family room configurations so far; its so easy to use and sounds flat out amazing. I feel pretty lucky every time I fire it up and put on an LP!