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Reviewer: Michael Lavorgna
Analog: Rega P3, Denon DL-103 cartridge, Auditorium 23 moving coil step up, Fi Yph phono stage
Digital: Audio Aero Capitole MKII
Preamp: Déjà Vu Audio, eXemplar Audio eXception II [on review], Tektron TK6J5 [in for review]
Amp: Fi 45 Prototype, Fi X, SAC Thailand Minute, Tektron TK2A3/50S [in for review]
Integrated Amp: Audio Tropic Musical Machine [in for review]
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby (Normal) & Bailey, Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 Super Tweeter, DeVore Fidelity Super 8
Cables: PHY interconnects, Shindo interconnects, Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, JPS Labs Digital AC power cable, Audience PowerChord, ESP Essence power cord, Z-Cable Heavy Thunder V2 on the Blue Circle MR800
Stands: pARTicular Basis
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle Music Ring MR800
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under AA Capitole, Yamamoto Sound Craft PB-10 Ebony Bases under Abbys and Bailey, PS Audio Ultimate Outlets and AudioPrism Quiet Lines. Room damping provided by lots of books.
Room size: 13' w x 14' d x 9' h
Review component retail: $2500, $3,250 with remote control and Siltech wiring upgrades
SET looking for PRE for romantic candle-lit dinners...
I'm thinking of starting an online component dating service. The concept is simple. Each component fills out a personality profile - likes, dislikes, strong points, weak points; the works. Think database of pertinent partnering information, to be used by all of us hi-fi buyers to put together our systems with much less guesswork. Coupling. Love and marriage for life. After all, aren't poor mating habits the cause of so much infidelity in audio, with AudiogoN the singles bar of hi-fi?

I take eXception, too
"There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator." Maria, Metropolis (1927)
For those of you unfamiliar with eXemplar Audio, I asked John Tucker, owner/designer of eXemplar, for a little background. "As a teenager, I started playing with tube gear from my love of music. I spent 8 years working on aircraft electronics and then 15 years at the Johnson Space Center working on first the Shuttle Program and then on the Space Station Program. During that time, I developed our horn speakers with Jeff Markwart from NASA under Triode Support Systems. I also began working with the late John Camille in developing advanced current and voltage regulation methodologies. I then did a brief stint at Compaq consulting on program management after which I ran a software company in Seattle as COO. When the dot-com bust hit, I began eXemplar Audio as a full-time venture in 2001. The goal of eXemplar Audio has been to develop exceptional audio gear that presents music, not Hi-Fi. It's been driven by the desire to truly connect people with music from the beginning."

As we shall see, the theme of conjoining opposites runs through eXemplar Audio on many levels. As I fight off the temptation to ask, "What are you, a rocket scientist?", the hackneyed take on the brainier types is that they may be... well, kinda cool. As a matter of interest and opinion, I find the marriage of art and science in our audio gear the most fascinating aspect of this hobby. Voicing. As we dig into a component under review, aren't we really looking for the voice of the designer? That place where the two sides of the art and science coin meet to make music that makes us connect?

The eXemplar Audio eXception II is a hybrid line stage but not your typical tube/solid state affair. According to John Tucker, "my circuits are not hybrid designs as most people think of them. The signal path is all tube with state of the art solid state or hybrid current and voltage regulation. This allows the best characteristics of tubes while locking their operating point at near theoretical optimum. All voltage regulation is done via shunt regulation which, when implemented properly, provides much better sonics than conventional series regulation that almost everyone uses. It is more costly to implement and requires typically double the power supply current capabilities."

A line level only preamp, the eXception II takes its hybridness to heart -- and wears its heart on its sleeve if you will -- through the marriage of a heavily carved Central American rosewood front panel that adorns what is otherwise a plain Jane black sheet metal box. The variation on the yin yang design carved into the wooden faceplate reinforces the theme of conjoining opposites. And if that wasn't enough for ya, the eXemplar logo is itself a modified yin yang symbol. I asked Mr. Tucker about this repeated reference."It relates to the unconventional hybrid approach as well as the overall blending of technologies, components etc. It also relates to the presentation of music and how it ultimately touches people, hopefully in ways beyond most Hi-Fi gear. For me, this whole business started from a love of music and sharing it with people in a way that touches them emotionally and deeply. I just demo'd my system here and that's exactly the feedback I got. The individual felt that he connected with the music like never before from an audio reproduction system."

The eXception II inverts phase and uses one 6N3P (WE396A, 5670 or 2C51 optional, all direct plug ins) and two 6829 tubes (5965, 7063 or CV8431 optional direct plug ins). Filling out the harder facts from eXemplar gets us an input impedance of 100Kohm, an output impedance of 133ohm and a reported frequency response of 10Hz - 30KHz with a S/N ratio of >90db. The sample under review included the Siltech wiring upgrade and remote control. I have not heard the standard version so cannot comment on the differences.

Measuring a component standard 16½" wide by 13" deep by 4½" high and weighing a mere 10lbs, the eXception II cuts a subtly striking pose in the rack. The two gold knobs on the left front panel are for controlling hot and cold. Seriously, if you encounter 2 controls in a preamp, do you really need be told that one is a source selector and the other the volume? Okay, the leftiest knob is our 4-position source control to pick from four RCA inputs 'round back. The volume pot is non-detented and moves with silky precision. My only complaint? Gold plate just serves to remind me how dirty I am. Have you ever touched a nice shiny gold-plated knob and not left a smudge? Two carved-out round holes sit in the other side of the faceplate, one containing a blue power status LED, the other the IR window. The remote controls volume only and is a no-nonsense plastic affair from ONE for all. Around back, the eXception sports the aforementioned 4 RCA inputs and 2 RCA outputs as well as the toggle type on/off switch and IEC power inlet. The wood faceplate is also available in walnut and custom wood on request.

I did notice some noise on power-up. You hear some pop and squeal as the components settle into their operating mode. If you're the nervous noisy type, I'd suggest powering on the preamp first, waiting a few minutes, then powering up your amp. This is my standard operating procedure anyway. Once the eXception II is warmed up, it's extremely quiet. I also ran the preamp in for a few weeks. John Tucker suggests about 200 hours and I did notice a distinct opening up and relaxing after about a solid two weeks of play. On a purely visceral level and after handling the eXception II, opening it up, putting it in and out of the system, I noticed incongruousness between the faceplate and the remainder of the build. For most buyers who unpack and rack, this may never be an issue. But for those who think in terms of 3D design, all the sides and insides being equal, the eXemplar may leave you feeling lopsided. Then again, if your mantra is "put your money upfront and inside where it counts", you'll appreciate the eXception's design choices.