Hammond 125E/125ESE comparison*

As you can see, the 125ESE is much larger than the older universal 125E and weighs twice as much. Wire leads emerging from the core wrapping instead of the solder terminals. The bad part: not as many choices in primary impedances. The secondary taps are spaced evenly apart and only offer 2500 and 5000 ohms for the 2A3 builder. It might be nice to have something in between, say 3K or 4K to play with. 


I had to try them out as soon as I got home. I bolted them on the side of a little 2A3 amp that has been hacked up more times than I care to mention. It's currently running a 6N1P single stage driver, cap coupled to the cathode biased Sovtek 2A3s. Very simple! This amp started life as an SE EL34 driven by a pair of 12AX7s. This version sounds so much better!

I put switch in the top panel to toggle the B+ to the 2 different transformers. The mess alongside the amp is a computer power supply for the IR remote control Foreplay project I've been working on.

OK...now for the differences that my wife and I heard between the 2 Hammonds:

Much better bass-weight is better, extension is better, and it seems tighter. The kick drum on the live version of "Hotel California" doesn't hang on quite like it used to. You can hear the gate they used (it might be a sample...who knows?). The upright bass in Diana Krall's "All for You" is much better defined. You can hear the sound taper off before the next note. There is a better separation of the the bass instruments from the rest of the sounds. At first we thought there might just be more bass, but I think it's because these new transformers go deeper and present the lower registers with less congestion. I was in the kitchen when Eric Clapton's unplugged disc came up in the CD changer (separate Sonic Frontiers DAC) and the bass guitar was probably better than I ever remember hearing from my Snells with any of my various tube amps. You get a sense of the string as it vibrates over the pickups. On track 13, I was never really able to feel the kick drum behind the bass in the first few measures of the 1st verse. It's very subtle and I now I can hear/feel it...just barely.

Mids are smoother and more defined. My wife says these are warmer sounding than the original 125Es. There is a better sense of space between instruments that helps in the location in the soundstage. Diana's vocals are further forward in the mix-like they moved her and the mic forward a few feet. You can hear more of the room refections around the piano, even standing next to one of the speakers. On the upper mids, I hear some hardness, but I wonder if it's because of the Solen coupling caps in the amp (or the el-cheapo power supply parts) or the fact that these 125ESE's are brand spankin new. You can still smell the varnish!

Highs are more extended. This is what I was hoping for. The older version seems rolled off and these new ones just have more air. Texture is my thing and these are a huge improvement in that area. I'm almost scared to play "Blues for Pablo" by Miles Davis. (Those of you who have heard this track,#2, from his "Blue Miles" disc understand what I'm talking about. For those that don't, buy this disc and put on track 2 and turn the volume up above background level and sit back and enjoy....surprise! It made my wife jump.) The percussion and horns on Buster Poindexter are very well defined in texture, if not a bit zippy. Sibilance is less pronounced, though still there on many discs. This may be because the older 125Es smeared the top end and squashed it down a little. I think these OPTs are a bit forward sounding, but then I love the sound of the B&W CDM series speakers, so you be the judge on this issue. I'm hoping this is because of the caps in this amp. I'll have to try some PIOs. 

Overall-The 125ESEs are a huge improvement over the predecessor in this amp. The old transformers will be delegated to another project and this amp is now worthy of a better chassis.


Well, that's my try at reviewing. Take it for what it's worth. I also tried a pair of Tung Sol bi-plate 2A3s and these were a little less zippy in the high end, but didn't have the solid bass of the Sovteks. My wife prefers the Sovteks. The amp is an inexpensive project piece and I would like to try these trannies in my monoblock amps with some 45 tubes. That ought to sound nice!


* I've never owned a proper pair of SE output transformers, but have heard a few really nice sounding SE amps in direct comparison with my own feeble attempts. These things are only $70/pair so why not give them a spin in your next budget project. 


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