McCormack Line Drive TLC-1 preamplifier Page 2
The last, in fact, occupy the lion's share of the active pcb real estate. The rectified ±30V output of the pcb-mounted transformer feeds ±2000µF of reservoir capacitance, which is used to feed three sets of voltage regulators as well as the output muting relays. Two three-pin regulator chips provide a first stage of regulation, with then separate stages providing two sets of regulated ±17.3V rails—one pair to the FET buffers, the other to the tape output op-amp buffer.
The TLC-1 has no on/off switch—it's powered-up as long as it's plugged into the wall. McCormack burns-in each unit at the factory; nevertheless, they suggest that you'll need to power the unit for about 100 hours before it will sound its best. Mod Squad Soft Shoes damping feet are fitted as standard.
Such is the way of a reviewer's life that it was fully a year after I received the TLC-1 that I did any listening with it. I kept meaning to, but other projects kept getting in the way, and the last thing you want to do when carrying out critical listening is change more than one variable at a time. When I did finally set the McCormack up and take it for a test drive using its buffered outputs, I could have kicked myself. This unit is hot. "TLC" stands for Transparent Line Control, and transparent was indeed the first word to come to mind as I sat there, entranced by the music. A wealth of detail was presented, without any forwardness or exaggeration; in addition, there wasn't any of the treble grain that squirms its way, unbidden, into the sound of most inexpensive solid-state electronics.
While I could hear what was wrong with poor recordings, they were still enjoyable. Superb recordings, like Peter McGrath's new recording of Mahler's Symphony 1 (with the Florida Philharmonic conducted by James Judd, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907118), swept me away. And the halo of female voices at the rear of the soundstage in my Gerontius recording on Test CD 2 could almost be individually resolved!
The TLC-1's passive outputs are the ultimate I have heard in preamplifier non-sound (footnote 4). Nevertheless, while they preserved the best sense of ambient space on a recording, the overall presentation was too laid-back. The vivid, live atmosphere of the Brotherhood of Breath concert captured by Tony Faulkner for Vital Music (In Memoriam, VF002), for example, was easily perceived. Percussion transients—timbales and cowbell—could be heard to light up the club acoustic like a photographic strobe, yet the drive given by the four-in-the-bar kickdrum on track 2—the late Chris McGregor's "Sangena"—was subdued.
Switching to the buffered outputs brought back some of that drive, but it was still lacking when compared to the YBA 2, with its mondo power supply. Modern rock can be extreme in the demands it makes on the power supply. Take a track which is spending a lot of time in my consciousness at the moment: Stanley Clarke's "I'm Home Africa." The complicated bass-guitar riff, with a lot of nuance evident in the way the note leading edges are handled, is both cut at a high level and overlaid with a tight bass-drum that kicks the signal level all the way up to 0dBFS—four times a bar! There may be a lot of regulation in the TLC-1's support circuitry, but I can't help but wonder what the effect of adding the TLC-1's external power supply option would be.
Nevertheless, putting aside this question of sufficient low-frequency authority, I had a hard time getting a handle on the sound of the buffered McCormack. To a large extent, each CD or record I played tended to confound the opinion I had just formed from the previous one. This, I guess, is the ultimate definition of transparency: the component is the complete sonic chameleon, taking on only the colorations and characteristics of the signal it's processing. The raison d'être of high-fidelity sound reproduction is to allow the walls of the listening room to dissolve, and with them your own concerns, so that the music releases your soul. The equipment should act merely as the neutral pathway to emotional release—with the TLC-1, this is what I found happening, over and over.
I can't leave this review there; reviewers must compare—yeah, that's the ticket, compare and contrast.
Footnote 4: As with any passive control unit, this will be critically dependent on the ability of the source component to drive complicated loads. All of my comments about the TLC-1's passive mode specifically refer to its use with the Mark Levinson No.30, which should be beyond reproach in this area.