Craig Uthus: Eddie Current 3/17/2016

Discussion in 'Eddie Current' started by velvetx, Apr 4, 2016.

  1. velvetx

    velvetx Gear Master West/Vendor Spotlight Moderator

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    Throughout life we are always looking for an escape. Somewhere to go to where the world around us closes and we are able to focus on a single point. For most of us that place is audio. Whether listening to speakers, headphones, or earbuds we expect audio to take us out of reality and allow us to focus on ourselves. The song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells personifies this feeling with the lyrics “just look to your soul, and open your mind.” This song just simplifies everything and brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. When I start drilling down what types of things enhance that song I first think to my headphones and then it follows to my amplifier. There are a lot of amplifier makers out there but one company in my mind always exceeds my expectations every time I plug my Sennheiser HD650s into their tube amps. That company is Eddie Current and the person behind the scenes is none other than the white wizard Craig Uthus.

    The Beatles Invasion of ‘63 is what got Craig started into audio when he was in the 7th grade. This led Craig to ask his dad to help him build a mono so he could listen to The Beatles LPs. Craig would later find that the amp his dad had built him was actually a 2A3 monoblock, which used a Fischer output transformer. The monoblock powered Craig’s first speaker, which was a single 12in electrovoice, and from that point forth he would continue his focus into audio. 7th grade would soon turn into 8th grade and this is where Craig built his first amp; the Lafayette kit amp (stereo amp w/ 6PQ5 outputs about 7.5 watts per channel). When high school came around, solid-state transistor amps were released, which Craig felt is when the music went away. During high school and then college Craig studied to be music major where he really started to feel something just wasn't right. It conflicted him so much that right about the time he was about to graduate from the university he got into a fist fight with his conducting teacher and was kicked out. After this happened it was then that Craig started thinking back about all the amps he had built in the 60s and 70s prior to his transition to solid state. This is the moment Craig would start his career as a maker of high end, hand built, tube amps.

    Craig’s love for classical music that he primarily listens to came from the fact that when he was younger he was in a band and played in the orchestra (specifically trombone). Unfortunately for most of us who are older know what happened to the kids who played in the band and Craig had to hide his Beethoven 9th Symphony records from his friends as they would make fun of him. Instead he would always have out his Beatles and Rolling Stones albums in plain sight to fit in. From the 7th grade till about his junior year of high school all radio was played over AM in low fidelity. Then during his junior year in high school KOL-FM in Seattle came on the scene as almost a pirate radio station that had good fidelity music. This is where music turned around and artists such as Cat Stevens eventually became known and recognized to Craig.

    For those who know Craig you will come to find he is very much a tinkerer. You don’t really see Craig promoting his brand, showing up to meets, or being active in any audio communities. It’s a different ballgame for Craig as he builds things he loves. He doesn’t think about what people are buying or what the market is like. It’s fun for him especially when he finds people who enjoy listening to his amps. Craig’s process starts before even the schematic is drawn up. First he thinks about how the amp will sound and is about 90% sure before the schematic is even drawn. Then Craig will build it on his test bench (to confirm his thoughts), and then will build a chassis to put the amp in. This is usually his prototype unit and then he will do a short production run of around 10 units, and finally if all is well he will give all the parts to his tech who will do the artistic assembly. Like Schiit Audio, Craig looks to produce the best sound at an affordable price. I know what you are thinking. What about the Studio? The Studio is Craig's statement piece and personally for me the best tube amp I have ever heard. When I compare products around that price range it’s the Studio that has set the bar for me. However, if you look at Craig’s current product line you will find that there are amps at a price for everyone. Black Widow is currently at $1,289, Zana Deux S at $2,389, Balancing Act at $3,989, Studio Jr $4,289, and finally the Studio at $7,000. I feel his prices are very fair because of the fact that all of the audio circuits or anything related to sound are hand wired. His PSUs he admits are all done on circuit boards but this helps to reduce the cost. Craig is always refining the sound and phasing amps out and building new ones to add to the Eddie Current line. There is no secret with product releases and he just doesn’t know if something will be a hit but what he does know is that each amp will contain his signature sound. You will find in more recent models including in the Studio that the inside of his amps are very clean and organized. You can thank his new tech that he brought on board to build his amps for that. You see Craig loves building amps but even he admits that his prototype builds are usually sloppy and don’t have the beauty on the inside of the amps that actually go out to his customers. Craig makes amps geared towards audio art (meant to be listened to) and not audio jewelry (dust collector) thus the simple industrial look of every amp he builds. The other reason he doesn’t build more audio jewelry type amps is because imperfections from perfect wood or metal are usually thrown away and as a result those mistakes are added to the cost of the amp. Ultimately putting the cost of failures onto the customer.

    Eddie Current amp buyers tend to hold onto their amps and many people are so hardcore that they save up for about a year to buy one. Many of his customers still have their amps that are far out of warranty. Craig will always build his amps in the USA and amps such as the Balancing Act that takes about 3 days to finish. Craig could potentially make a less expensive two tube amp which he has been thinking about but it would be on circuit boards and as a result could be made in 20 minutes. According to Uthus, depending on the success of the Black Widow the Copperhead will either hit late this year or early next year and will replace the Black Widow (will make either one or the other). Craig also does have an all tube phono preamp that is being worked on that he could potentially release in the $600 price range but would be MM only (thinking about it). He feels that people either want the best or the cheapest for phono stages but he is hoping to change that with his new offering.

    The Studio Jr announcement so soon after the Studio was a marketing mistake but was made because of the fact that the tribute interstage transformers wouldn’t be made anymore. Studio Jr doesn’t use an interstage transformer but is an amp which will sit in between the Balancing Act and the Studio (again creating something for everyone at a price point). Craig has agreed to build the Studio M but because the transformers are so big the portholes and tubes inside will go away but will have two tubes on top (similar look as the Studio and the transformers will fit in the case). After Tribute Studios are built for everyone Studio M production will begin. According to Craig if you haven’t heard both amps side by side they are very similar and if you A/B the two amps that is the only way you could be able to hear the difference.

    Craig is definitely a small business as he started with only a tech and his wife to do the books. With the addition of Marv Chen, Craig feels like adding Marv has created some strain to his business. However, after sitting down and talking with him about what Marv does he is appreciative. Marv sees a lot of demand for Eddie Current products, but given the complexities of building great sounding products, Eddie Current isn’t able to keep up. Craig is totally committed and is doing his best trying to keep up with how Marv envisions what Eddie Current should be doing. Marv’s vision wasn’t in Craig’s plans but as you can tell from most of what I have said in this article you can tell that Marv is much more business savvy and sales driven. Craig described Eddie Current prior to Marv as being a bit sloppy and not really knowing what they are doing. He is used to being a laid back tinkerer who brings out a new amp every once in a while. Craig I would say thinks more in the present while Marv thinks about the future and sustainability. As a result Marv is currently handling the sales of the Studio as well as the current run of Black Widows. There are Black Widows still available so make sure to get on the list.

    Craig feels the future of audio is digital but there will always be those hardcore people looking for the best sounding two channel audio, high end vinyl, and tube amps (but will always be a small market). According to Craig it’s sad that getting good quality two channel audio is really expensive and the hobby itself only seems to be trending upward.

    The future of Eddie Current will most likely reside with Marv. Retirement will happen when Craig stops having fun. Most likely Craig will be around for consulting but Marv will be the one running the company. As long as there is always someone there to make amps, someone there to market, and someone there to buy; Eddie Current will always be around.

    Thank you Craig for allowing me to interview you. I feel that you are an unsung hero in the audio world and will continue to warm the hearts of people who buy your amps.

    -Nicholas
     
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  2. bobmysterious

    bobmysterious Facebook Friend

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    Well done!
     
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  3. shaizada

    shaizada Friend

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    Lovely read! Thank you for posting that. Craig's soul comes through his products....there is serendipity when electronics and designer merge to form pure artistry.
     
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  4. bazelio

    bazelio Friend

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    Great stuff.
     
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  5. TMoney

    TMoney Shits on SBAF over at Head-Case to be cool

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    Great write-up, Nick!
     
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  6. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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    What a cool guy, I'm glad to hear new products are in the works. I'm definitely anxious for a tube phono, and maybe a little amp to beat up my Crabon.
    It's also refreshing to know Craig can balance out the ass that is Marv. ^~^
     
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  7. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    I feel ashamed for thinking Eddie Current products were overpriced when I first heard of it many years ago. After becoming an owner, however, I've come to realize how fairly they are priced compared to countless mediocre amps out there that are actually overpriced. I thank Craig for creating the work of art that is the Zana Deux (which is perhaps his longest enduring, signature amp) and Marv for his input on it which lead to the improved Super version. I've owned both pre-Super and Super versions of Zana Deux and was left impressed in both instances. What impressed me the most was the Black Widow, of course, not only because how close it comes to ZDS's performance at a fraction of the price but how it has become the best SS amp I've listened to at such an affordable price.
     
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  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Very cool, thanks. Two things I'd like to see:

    A) Enough money in my pocket to afford a Black Widow before they're gone.

    B) Another tube amp to occupy the price point the Super 7 held, which was just an insane value for what you got at the price.
     
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  9. Koth Ganesh

    Koth Ganesh Friend

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    Put me down as another devout EC user - the BW1 and the ZDS. I need to save up for the Studio Jr. or as Marv said once "there will be better amps; we just have not built them yet".
     
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  10. Drifterxny

    Drifterxny Friend

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    makes me want to starve for the rest of the year and sign up for a studio
     
  11. aufmerksam

    aufmerksam Friend

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    Hooray Trombones!
     
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  12. MisterRogers

    MisterRogers Ethernet Nervosa

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    Ditto. Though I'm constantly rotating through gear (that damn itch!), I honestly can't envision the day without my Studio at home, and my S7 at work.
     
  13. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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  14. SoupRKnowva

    SoupRKnowva Official SBAF South Korean Ambassador - Friend

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    Very nice article man, loved this inside look at the company all in one spot. I'm not sure too much of this is new info for to rough readers but having it all out together and be from Craig's perspective is very cool.

    I would love to see that two tube circuit board amp, something close to the super 7s price point that is easy for yalls to build but doesn't required 7 tubes :p maybe this will happen since Marv hates tube rolling too
     
  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The Super 7 didn't sell well. I thought it was a great amp for the price - it worked great with orthos too (nice tight bass). Jude owes the $1000-$2000 market.
     
  16. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Really? That's too bad. I've gone back to your Changstar review of it several times for info (and Head-Fi), and the one thing you and everyone mentioned was how damn good it was for the price. I would have expected more interest in amps at that price range given how much I see amps like the TIII discussed around here. Ah, well, we are just one site after all, not necessarily representative of the entire market.
     
  17. Greed

    Greed Friend

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    Having 7 tubes might be one reason especially with there rising cost of 6SN7 variants. There is always 7N7 stuff but most people don't know about those.
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yeah, but why bother with the S7 when there are so many fancy solid-state options for $1799 and up!

    We are thinking about a 6080 / 6AS7 based transformer coupled amp to take another shot at that price range.
     
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  19. iDesign

    iDesign Almost "Made"

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    An Eddie Current amplifier in that price range would be compelling now. I think the Super 7 was ahead of its time.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2016
  20. TwoEars

    TwoEars Friend

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    @purrin

    No plans for a fully balanced design of some kind? Fully balanced is all the rage with all the schiit DAC's being fully balanced and what not. A fully balanced design selling at $1895 with the eddie logo could have some real market potential. Of course it has to sound good too. Maybe a fully balanced black widow with some tubes thrown in for good measure. How about calling it "The Tarantula". Just giving you ideas. Evil, evil ideas.
     

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