Timbre Technology TT-1 D/A processor

As the sides of the slim-line Timbre Technology TT-1 DAC are radiused rather than flat, it's elegant compared to its typical boxy competition. While the TT-1's handsome shape stands out more than your average audiophile device, its curved sides help create a stronger, less resonant shape than the usual box, and serve as just one of the many elements contributing to a high degree of mechanical integrity and damping.

There are no fasteners showing except those on the bottom and backplate, and the hefty unit feels solid as a rock. The faceplate—finished in black or silver—and bottom are fabricated of 3/8" custom aluminum extrusions; the rest of the black package is of 1/8"-thick aluminum. The machined phase-inversion and input-selection buttons on the faceplate are custom-extruded and installed with custom springs and gold-plated switches. LEDs indicate phase, power, lock, de-emphasis, and inputs 1–4. The informative user's manual is professionally written and pleasingly "art-department" modern.

On the back panel are ventilation slots in the rounded corners sufficient to evacuate the hot air created by the large, internally mounted heatsinks. The type and number of inputs included depend on which TT-1 you purchase: The fully-loaded, balanced package lists at $3895 the ugly duckling of the High End, an EIAJ (TosLink), at input 4.

The balanced version also includes a pair of XLR outputs (Neutrik gold-plated numbers) in addition to two standard sets of single-ended, rhodium-plated Cardas RCA connectors—one set unbuffered, with a standard 1.5V output signal, the other buffered/amplified to 7V RMS for use with passive controllers or insensitive speakers. Many unbalanced audiophiles (aren't we all unbalanced?) will opt for the $3295 single-ended version, which replaces the AES/EBU input with a second coax, and deletes the balanced outputs.

The dual silver-element fuses and voltage selector—user- (or, preferably, dealer-) selectable for 120V or 240V—are nicely implemented in a small pop-out module on the rear panel, next to the on/off switch and the IEC power-cord socket. The module neatly contains a pair of replacement fuses as well. It's a good thing it's user-accessible, as the TT-1 is designed so that it cannot be opened in the field. At your workbench, maybe, but not in a field. This also ensures that Heavy-Handed Circuit Gawkers wielding the old Audiophile Crowbar will wind up with a lot of twisted, unsightly metal lying about if they don't know how to open the TT-1.

This sensitivity to dropping its drawers and exposing itself is tied in with the TT-1's damping and mechanical/electrical grounding scheme. The top of the unit is tied down to the bottom when the processor is buttoned up at the factory, thus rendering the case super-rigid. In line with this Let's-Get-Rigid manufacturing philosophy, several possible footer-mounting schemes are provided for in the heavy, machined-aluminum bottom plate. Rather than just taking the easy route—ie, tapping the holes—Timbre uses high-quality PEM inserts (called Threaded Ports!) for the base holes. There are five of these recessed "ports"; the Rabid Audio Tweaker can support the TT-1 in either a tripod arrangement, or at all four corners.

Screw-it-to-the-floor fanatics, yrs trly included, can use three or four of the black-anodized brass locking-ring cones provided on ¼" by 20 (quarter-twenty) shafts, or a trio of the larger threaded Goldmunds, which I found to offer superior performance. Three Shun Mook SuperPassive Diamond Resonators made for the sweetest sound. For the Chippendale, Louis XIV, or Nouveau Contemporaire Glass-Shelving set, a quartet of rubber "Protection Disks" is provided, along with self-stick felt pads, to avoid marring your bee-yootiful finishes. If I were a nervous antiques dealer, however, I'd stick with three or four of the alternative all-rubber industrial isolation feet also provided. Timbre offers adapters for any footer your little audiophile heart desires, from 10mm to quarter-twenty—very obliging folks.

As I hadn't received my pair of X-ray specs ordered from the last issue of Audioman Comics, the following description was gleaned from peering intently at an open-case version of the TT-1, which David Goldstein and partner/designer John Kukulka brought with them when they arrived to install the review unit in our system. The first thing I noticed was the extensive amount of proprietary damping material used on the case top and bottom, faceplate, and backplate, and dotting the military grade (proprietary materials) pcbs, the chips, and all the caps. Even the large toroidal 100VA transformer gets the damping treatment. Multiple fully regulated, filtered power supplies are separated for digital and analog sections, and separate ground planes are implemented for the supplies, the analog section, and the digital domain. De-emphasis is passive and relay-activated.

The digital chipset used is the Crystal CS8412 input chip and their 4328 18-bit, 64x-oversampling Delta-Sigma DAC. Kukulka claims that the Crystal chips are implemented in a different fashion in his design, with special attention paid to the "support, care, and feeding" of the DAC. Internal wiring is all silver-conductor Teflon, with audiophile-grade silver-alloy solder used to secure the chips. The chips can't be upgraded in the field like this, but Timbre doesn't want the chips to "walk" out of their sockets (as chips have a tendency to do) and wander far from home—so soldered they are! Parts are located for minimal signal paths, and all metal-film resistors and caps were selected for sound rather than for specs alone.

John Kukulka may be a Technical Type, obviously born with an RISC chipset in his mouth, and David Goldstein a hand-waving, Type-A Personality Timbre Front-Man, but both John and Dave seem to be, first and foremost, audiophiles who care deeply about good sound. When I questioned them about their backgrounds, Dave informed me that he'd been in the electronics business for years, and John let drop that he'd been involved with the design of the inertial guidance computer for the Saturn 4 booster rocket! Oh. That old thing. He casually told me that he'd learned some interesting things with his work in PCM Telemetry deep-space shots, which added "resonance" to his claim that his DAC was a simple, straightforward design.

Yeah, John, but what are your real qualifications?

First, let me point out that the TT-1 needs a few days to loosen up before it'll deliver good sound, and almost a week before it's in full voice. If you buy one, be patient. Rocketman John K. told me that you don't need to actually pass signal through the DAC to break it in—you only need to establish lock with a transport.

The first thing that grabbed my attention when I began serious auditioning with the Forsell transport was the way in which the TT-1 threw a truly world-class soundstage. Images were set well back behind the speakers, and stage width was mind-boggling, but always believable. I'm not speaking about the false depth that I've heard some processors deliver—a sort of fat slice of flat sonic Wonderbread set back against the rear wall. Rather, the Timbre threw a wonderfully layered front-to-back image which, depending on the material, was at times shaped like a "U" (especially on classical material), while at other times it changed its shape depending on the recording's venue.

I'm really a sucker for tight, wide imaging that's set well back, and I'm willing to spend hours setting up for it. The TT-1's ability to make the big, imposing Avalon speakers disappear was uncanny. For example, on "The Hall of Mirrors," from Kraftwerk's The Model (Cleopatra CLEO57612), it sounds as if something or someone (an unbalanced audiophile?) is being smacked quite hard, the TT-1 setting this whacking sound way back behind the speakers. "The Robots" also came across in Killer Audiophile 3-D.

But this set-back imaging wasn't restricted to one or two CDs. If the information was encoded on the disc, the imaging was there to delight, depending mostly on which transport was used for its final relative distance from the listener.

On CD after CD, and with all types of material, the Timbre proved its almost casual ability to throw an astonishingly huge, layered, and well-populated soundstage. "Round Midnight," on Clifford Jordan's Live at Ethell's (Mapleshade MHS 512629A), recorded by Pierre Sprey and mastered in AAD by Bob Katz, is a fabulous take on the Monk classic. The soundstaging is truly amazing, open, effortless, and of grand proportions. The shimmery cymbals are perfect, Cliff's tenor sax is delightfully rich, the bass is super-focused and tight out to the left, and the piano sounds effortless and powerful. You can pick up the sound of Clifford's "afterspit," so to speak, as he sensuously blows his sax (sit too close and you'll need a towel). This CD is beautifully recorded, very "present" and alive, and the occasional hoot and catcall of encouragement from the audience comes through the mix transparently. Yeah, baby!

A billowing soundstage can be nothing more than an artificially produced artifact if the images within are blurry, ill-defined, or amorphous. But in this, too, the TT-1 is a knockout. We've been listening to the Holly Cole Trio's Don't Smoke in Bed (produced by David Was, Manhattan CDP 7 81198 2), and I know her voice and the sound of this CD like I know the back of my...remote.

I heard Cole live at the 1993 Summer CES in Chicago, and this sexy singer and her trio are simply riveting. The CD (Danger! Reversed polarity!) is replete with rich, powerful bass work, superb, sexy vocals, and innovative piano work—all hard-to-reproduce elements of the musical spectrum, but they came across engagingly and vividly through the Forsell/TT-1 combo.

On "I Can See Clearly Now" the opening plucked bass will tell you all you need to know about your system's bass-reproduction abilities, and highlight any weaknesses. Through the Timbre the bass line was tight, powerful, deep, well-defined, and had excellent pitch definition. The attack of the bass strings when plucked was fast and alive. The decay characteristics of the bass, especially when bowed, and all the instruments and vocals, seemed natural and correct, creating that special sense of bloom this processor manifests. Cole is rendered in Glorious Living Audiophile Color, tightly focused between the speakers, set well back, and properly separated from the sound of the bass and the piano, which came across way out on the right side of the stage—as well rendered as I've ever heard piano on CD. The piano on "Get Out of Town" had frightening presence and "location."

Trio Jeepy, a 1989 Branford Marsalis release on Columbia (CK 44199), was another recording that really showed off the Timbre's best qualities. This terrific CD, rich in tonality and spatial cues, provides a wealth of musical information. "The Nearness of You," that old Hoagy Carmichael warhorse, begins with subtle bass bowing that came across growly and visceral as Branford's horn noodled along, sounding warm, rich, and shockingly "present."

The next Audiophile Magic Moment came at 1:48, when the brushed cymbals and snare enter; the cymbal, always difficult to reproduce, sounded amazingly real and shimmery, and faded to black in near-perfect decay. The drum-kit image, noticeably forward on the right, enhanced the TT-1's U-shaped 3-D staging effect. Then, at 3:11, a tremendous blat from far center rear (now, get your mind out of the gutter)—Branford with his back to the mike and giving us what for!

The spatial cues were perfectly rendered, adding to the heightened sense of realism that the Timbre delivers. Soon after, at 3:42, Branford begins to travel to the listener's right; it's child's play to track his horn moving around. He's on the move again at 6:10, and gives us his back once more at 6:44, blowing a fab riff directed at the rear of the stage—unmistakable positioning. Throughout it all, the soundstage was incredibly realistic and wide, spacious, and airy, and the brushed snare and cymbals continued to give me goosebumps. Bass was ever tight, extended, and defined, creating a foundation upon which the trio melded into a cohesive group. By the way, producer Delfeayo Marsalis's liner notes indicate that this recording was "recorded and mixed without usage of individual microphone equalization or processing (maybe occasional reverb)"—a knockout. This is one CD you'll want to utilize to maximize best sound. Mine is treated with an RF-11 Harmonix Tuning Sheet, a green band of AudioPrism CD Stop Light, and is finished off with Italy's Audio Olive Oil: A.R.T. Q-151 CD Coating Oil.

I decided to throw something dynamic and busy at the Timbre to see if its well-crafted presentation would fall apart when things got stressed. Among other material, I used Stravinsky's Petrushka/The Soldier's Tale (Clarity Gold Zeonex CCD-1003—and yes, Clarity's gold and Zeonex do make a significant difference) for a bit of the old Wall-of-Sound Audio Workout. The instruments on this recording—by Eric Kujawsky and the Redwood Symphony—are superbly rendered, with a breathtaking sense of depth and image placement, delivering a palpable sense of real instruments playing in an actual acoustic space, with fully fleshed-out tonal colors on both "The Royal March" and "The Triumphal March of the Devil." My notes read, "Clean, open, powerful, engaging, super-spatial, violins with not a hint of astringency, timpani visceral, trumpets powerful and clean, blatty horns, harmonically rich and so deep." And for something completely different—my collection of Art of Noise CDs cranked to the max sounded fantastic, as did my Dead Can Dance discs. No question about it, the TT-1 kept it cool under fire.

Timbre Technology
Company no longer in existence (2019)

mmole's picture

I read it while sitting in my ribbon chair.

dg33's picture

I had written to ask how to pop out the rear small panel to get to the fuses but finally got it. The slot for a small screwdriver is below and to the side of the panel.