T+A V10 integrated amplifier Page 2

The V10 sounded somewhat brash compared to, say, the Pass Labs X-160 monoblocks, which I reviewed last November, in part due to a tonal spike right where vocal sibilants reside. This wasn't a hashy or spitty sound, nor did it make the T+A amplifier sound grainy—it was just a slight but noticeable narrow-Q peak more clearly audible on sibilants than at any other time. It gave the amp a lively, percussive snap. If you like your tube amps warm and "tubey," the V10 isn't for you—though its midrange proved to be everything a tube amp should be.

When I met JA and Stirling Trayle at the local T+A dealer, Innovative Audio in New York City, to get a technical briefing from Lothar Wiemann, T+A's Director of Development, the V10 was driving the store's pair of Wilson WATT/Puppys. I immediately heard that same particular character. It remained present throughout the review period, but of course, the ear adjusts over time—especially because it was relatively innocuous, narrowband, and had the effect of adding a touch of excitement to most material without calling much attention to itself. Was I hearing a sonic characteristic of the amplifier, or of the interaction of the V10 and the WATT/Puppys?

Toward the end of the audition period, Audio Physic's imposing, powered-subwoofer-based Kronos loudspeakers arrived. I immediately hooked them up to the V10. Though I hadn't heard the Kronoses before and so had no sonic reference for them, they also sounded somewhat "crisp" in the same sibilant area that the WATTs had. I was curious to hear what the Kronoses would sound like driven by the MF kWs, which I got to experience when the V10 went back to Stereophile to be measured and photographed.

Driven by the kWs, the Kronoses exhibited a slightly more refined presence region than with the V10, along with a slightly more aggressive midrange that was not as liquid but was still well-balanced. I conclude that that distinctive sound in the sibilance region—which also affected cymbals and other percussion—was a sonic characteristic of the T+A V10, and not some interaction, impedance-driven or otherwise, of the WATT/Puppy and the V10.

The V10's overall top-end performance was fast, clean, grain-free, transparent, and not at all glassy or hard. Its high-frequency and transient performance was not at all "tube-like," which I intend as a compliment. The better tube amps I've heard don't sound warm, soft, and rolled-off on top, but neither are they as fast and "snappy" as the best solid-state amps.

Once the V10 had settled into my system and brain, I found its bottom-end performance more than satisfying with all genres of music. Timpani had enough thwack and definition to make them believable on good recordings, both tonally and physically. Well-recorded acoustic bass, such as Ray Brown's on his Soular Energy (LP, Pure Audiophile PA-002; SACD/DAD, Groovenote GRV1015-3) had both the depth of expression and richness a good tube amp can deliver, and the nimble transient performance offered by accomplished solid-state designs—with the accent on the former.

I've been playing this superb-sounding recording, especially the LP edition, quite a bit through the kWs; when I listened for the first time via the V10, I noted a bit more warmth in the midbass than I'd become accustomed to, which was not surprising. I also heard that slight crispness already mentioned. It gave Gerryck King's cymbals a bit of a kick, but not to the point where they sizzled unnaturally; nor did the upper end of Gene Harris's piano sound hard or brittle.

Though the V10's bass performance lacked the kWs' focus and tight punch, there was still plenty of drive, and enough extension to avoid rhythmic flabbiness. A bit of extension traded for texture and definition is a choice that many audiophiles are more than willing to make.

I found the V10's rendering of good symphonic recordings particularly satisfying. While overseas recently, I picked up a 1970 edition of Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra's late-1950s cycle of the Beethoven symphonies (LP, EMI SLS 788). I'd gotten the CD edition in California a few months before. The LPs have a transparency and a silkiness that elude the CDs, though the latter are good digital transfers of a series of recordings that can sound a bit congested and distant when the orchestra plays ff. The V10's rendering of the "Eroica" was richly satisfying, massed strings sounding woody and silky, with realistic bite, and not at all hard or congealed. Woodwinds and brass exhibited a rich, realistic harmonic structure without excess warmth or softness.

At a press lunch the other day, someone at the table said that imaging exists only on recordings—that it doesn't exist when you're attending a concert in a hall. I've heard that argument before, and I don't agree. Just last night I heard Lorin Maazel conduct a powerful, focused, dramatic rendition of Holst's The Planets, and from the center of Avery Fisher Hall's Row 25 I could easily hear where soloists sat, both when I could see them (as when the concertmaster took a solo) and when I couldn't (as when brass players in the back were featured). Spatial cues, caused in part by timbral changes due to reflections, allowed me to hear depth within the orchestral picture. I hear and "see" those same things at home. My monthly visit to Avery Fisher is always a sonic wakeup call.

The V10's presentation of individual images in space was solid, three-dimensional, and convincing. While its overall soundstaging was reasonably expansive, it wasn't up to the performance of my reference Musical Fidelity kWs, which cost more than four times as much and deliver twenty times as much power. No big surprise. Nor should it surprise that the 80Wpc V10 couldn't deliver dynamics and punch on the same scale as the big kWs, though the T+A's dynamics were well-scaled and hardly what I'd call "meek." Because of the V10's impressively low subjective noise floor, its resolution of microdynamics and low-level detail were outstanding. For an all-tube integrated amp—for any integrated amp—the V10 was a remarkably silent partner in the musical chain.

Different products under review bring out different mixes of music, and I found myself pulling out some reference recordings I haven't played in a long while. The V10 did a great job with small ensembles in large spaces, as I found when I played Classic Records' 45rpm boxed set of the Weavers' Reunion at Carnegie Hall—1963. The Weavers' well-focused voices had a rich, creamy foundation with plenty of body and a smooth transition to the vocal cords and throat, creating a believable picture of the musicians arrayed across the stage. Guitars had satisfying wood and silky/crisp string texture. Back-of-stage reflections were somewhat restricted, and the sense of Carnegie Hall's acoustic was compacted, but the overall rendering was still effective on a more intimate scale.

On that recording and many others, the V10's characteristic "etch" that I'd noted before was difficult to pick out. Yet when I auditioned the new edition of Ian and Sylvia's Four Strong Winds (LP, Vanguard/Cisco VSD-2149)—a brighter-sounding, more closely miked studio recording than the Weavers set—I could hear that "etch" more easily. But that doesn't mean it was something to be concerned about.

Overall, the T+A V10 combined the midband liquidity of a good tube amp with the low noise, low distortion, and extension at the frequency extremes of a good solid-state model—a neat trick. My musical month with the V10 was not as bombastic as I'm used to, but it was just as pleasurable, and certainly sweeter.

Conclusion
Unbeatable eye candy, compact, quiet, and sonically well-balanced, T+A's V10 integrated amp is smartly designed and well-executed. It was straightforward and easy to use, and is the kind of tube-based product that the non-tube-oriented audiophile or "lifestyle" customer should not hesitate to consider. The V10 offers a superb balance of positive qualities, including the rich, liquid midband of a good tube amp and satisfying extension at the frequency extremes. Yes, you'll get more extension and iron-fisted control on bottom from a solid-state design, but not a good tube amp's textural nuances.

A power output of 80Wpc is barely enough for the kind of listening I do, but should suffice for many listeners and with many speakers. The V10 is no wimpy-sounding amp. I once wrote that reviewing a tube amp is like pulling your pants down in public: You listen, you like, you write—and then you find that the amp doesn't come close to meeting its published specifications. The V10's specs, particularly in terms of bandwidth, signal/noise ratio, and distortion, are amazingly good. I hope the review sample measures up to them.

I see the V10 as a great product for space-challenged apartment dwellers (who can't play their systems loud anyway; that headphone jack is a nice convenience), as the centerpiece of a second system, or even as a great way for a neophyte to get into tube-based audio systems without worrying about the care and feeding of tubes. As to whether or not it's worth spending $8000 for an 80Wpc integrated amplifier, only you and your pocketbook have the answer.

Getting back to that guitar-driven Shins album, which is not exactly an audiophile classic: The V10 delivered it smartly, with good drive in the bass, crisp attack on the drums, and plenty of ring to the guitars. In other words, the V10 reproduced all genres of music credibly. I had a great time listening to the T+A and luxuriating in the images produced by the amplifier—and by its name!

Company Info
T+A
US distributor: Quartet Marketing Group
303 Crickett Court
Petaluma, CA 94954
(707) 762-0914
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