Test Methodology and ConclusionP
ictured above in a custom flame finish, Lovecraft Designs
(aka Cain & Cain) Abby
mated quite well with the Model "55"
and the Amp One
from GLOW Audio
also under review at this time. The Abbys are highly effcicient (94dB), designed around a single Fostex FE166E
driver and for smaller rooms the Fostex FF 165 k
we were supplied with the latter. Given this is a single driver or crossover-less design (eliminating additional devices from the signal path) the frequency range between 45Hz ~ 20kHz is a respectable figure. Abbys cost around $1500. For those wanting more bass in their floor standing speaker, I spent some time researching Decware
. This is a well established High End manufacturer who offers a full line of tube amplifiers/cd-players
as well as loudspeakers
and what must be the least expensive silver Litz interconnects
with silver connectors (around a Bees Wax core) $159m and 10AWG silver plated copper power cord
$159 1 1/2m. I wrote Decware requesting their Decware MG944
floor standing Transmission Line (MTM) loudspeaker, frequency rated between 22kHz ~ 28Hz, 94dB efficient and at a cost of $849 one of the best values I've ever stumbled across. I wrote Decware requesting a pair, and they explained these are speakers they basically sell at cost as an introductory product. This is to your advantage, its unlikely I'll see a pair for review and of course Audiophile products are rarely left with Reviewers.
How We Test:
|CPU ||Intel Quad-Core Q6600 Kentsfield (SLACR) Socket-775|
|Mainboard ||Gigabyte X48T-DQ6 (BIOS F5)|
|Memory ||Patriot Viper DDR3-1600 2x1GB (CL7-7-7-20)|
|Graphics ||BFG 8800 Ultra OC Edition (630/1100) PCIe|
|Power Supply ||PCPower&Cooling TurboCool 1200W |
|Cooling ||D-Tek Fuzion S-775 cpu cooler, Danger Den Black Ice Xtreme III triple radiator, 3x12cm Sunon fans (98CFM), LAING D5-38 Vario (setting #5) 1/2ID Tygon|
|Audio ||Decco 50W hybrid integrated amp (USB-DAC Phillips TDA1541) |
Tecon Model 55 single ended integrated amp (USB-DAC Burr Brown PCM2707)
GLOW AMP-1 valve integrated amp (USB-DAC C Media-102S)
Cain & Cain Abby single driver loudspeaker
Era Design 4 stallite loudspeakers
Zu Audio Julian speaker cable
Unity Audio Basic Link speakers cable
Unity Audio Solid Link speakers cable
Oyaide Tunami Nigo speaker cable
Unity Audio Basic power cable
Oyaide Tunami power cable
|Operating System ||Windows XP SP3|
Testing is one of the more controversial subjects in the Audio industry. While the majority of mid-fi or mainstream products are rarely given a thorough listening test with detailed performance descriptions, this is due largely in part on the music industry. Since the advent of Digital sound music itself has become homogenized beginning in Recording Studio's themselves. While not uniquely American for the most part loud Bass, extended highs and mangled midrange has been the hallmark of American Pop. This coincides well with cheap speaker drivers, solid state amplifiers and a desire for volume rather then content. The majority or average consumer will or has never heard a live performance beyond their High School band and the brain is shaped by its environment. I won't get into psycho-acoustics or psychology except to say our personal mosaic are shaped by our environment. A younger more aware generation have a world of music at their fingertips and this is where amps like the Model 55
Why would anyone go out and spend $389 on an integrated amp? You could spend more on a video card, however; investing in the Tecon would literally change how you hear music. The video card might give you a couple extra FPS, but its not really going to have the impact a SET amp with on-board DAC might. Since the advent of the PC and even disregarding this cultural catalyst, most people have little to no exposure to live musical events during their life, especially their early years. No one is interested nor seems to have time for live music events and who can blame them given the fact many bands actually try to emulate the POP noise we're accosted by daily. Very few reading this have ever heard a sound system reproduce true three dimensional sound, midrange that replicates a singer's voice as if you were in the same room. Or hear spatial dimensionality breathing life into a 'live" recording. Beyond that a monochromatic artificially re-produced redundancy of Popular Music, we may have forgotten Music is actually the poetry of mathematics. You know you've "gotten" the Artist's message when you find yourself literally moved. Although ostracized by critics, one of my favorite (although terribly mixed) rock and roll classic's is Led Zeppelin's First Album
. To hear a bad but still better than anything we have today, unique British Studio sound I recommend this early blues album.
Tecon's Model 55 metamorphoses one extreme to another, taking the USB fed digital signal from your PC and transforming it into something entirely listenable. It extracts music's hidden soul. In so far as industry testing and designing there we are divided among the "Audio Engineer" seeking Objectivity and the Empiricist seeking a a satisfying Subjective experience. Essentially we have a Metaphysical argument in music. They balance on the fence of Epiphenomenalism
with the Engineer or processed sound having the Powers that be behind it. Each party is adamant not realizing we depended on one another. As Robert Riesch quotes and critiques a speaker (named Jim) at a recent Audio Engineer Society conference in his article for Stereophile magazine Scientists vs Audiophiles
. The article takes pace at an Audio Engineer Society gathering in which the main speakers "jim" is an avid (or rabid) fan of scientific approach, Robert Riesch makes the following retort: "According to Jim (our engineer), as sure as F=MA, there are no genuine golden-ear audiophiles. But for that belief to be grounded in science, he'd have to show that different metals and geometries in connectors (for example) cannot—on pain of logical inconsistency, or mathematical fallacy—create even slight differences further down the signal chain that might be audible to some individuals. Whatever equations Jim might use to prove his case, they'd have to include variables for currents, impedance's, etc., as well as variables representing ear drums, auditory canals, and nerves in all their variations within the human population. What Jim would need, in other words, is unified science—a consistent set of formulas reaching from electronics to psycho acoustics to demographics. But none exists...
Those who so feverishly insist that science tells us everything about audio treat science as a finished product, a universal gadget that solves any problem, settles any dispute. If that's so, just what do real scientists do all day? They don't sit around picking lint off their lab coats. Any good scientist will tell you that there's much more in the world that we do not understand than we do understand."
Two rhetorical questions follow: if "listening" is a poor way to measure audio hardware performance due to that nagging subjectivity and its pesky variables, how is it High End Audio companies survive? Thousands of tube, hybrid, or solid state amplifiers costing as much as an Economy car are found in sound systems from San Francisco to Liverpool. These people weren't abducted by Audio Research Aliens they simply have a penchant for AR hybrid sound. So why wouldn't everyone want this quality "live recorded" sound streaming into their homes? The biggest factor has always been cost, however; manufacturers such as Tecon have changed all that. The Model 55
costing just $389 was unheard ten years ago and while speaker mating might seem difficult there are many affordable models from $300 ~ $1500 which is miraculous to some of us whom know how difficult it is to design a musical speaker under $1,000. And the best thing is, you can remain a devoted PC-Enthusiast, since several of the amplifiers I'm testing are equipped with quality on-board DACs accepting your USB among other connects. The amount of music files now available online are huge as is Streaming Audio.
Instead of describing several how this amplifier plays several songs from my collection you will probably never hear, I'll describe the Model 55 as the closest I've come to hearing live music without leaving my home. As George Reisch stated in his Stereophile article Sonic Qualia & Scientific Testing: Listening is active, not passive. With time and experience, we learn to hear more of what a component does.
The Tecon Model 55
is the greatest value I found in over 20-years of Audiophile experience. Once the correct speakers are found it does everything right. The range of this little amp is amazing, from top to bottom it remains in control and this is not limited to putting all its finesse in the midrange hoping you'll ignore any short comings at both ends.
There is full bodied pleasure in the 55, its ability to image and pinpoint each performer from thin air draws you into the experience. It is a bit unfair I had the Abby's as they are the quintessential match, they do however; cost just over $1k and at that price they compete with the likes of the $10k Teresonic Ingenious
Bottom line: there are speakers for much less which will do fine with the Model 55. This is the best integrated SET amp I've ever heard. Once you consider the internal USB DAC your PC has evolved into a true High End multimedia system. PRO