T+A MP 3100 HV SACD player/streaming DAC

At the 2019 AXPONA, I took part in one of my first official meetings, as editor of Stereophile, with members of the manufacturing community: the German company T+A. They were presenting in the room of Texas dealer Lone Star Audio, which was owned by the late Jim Hench. They had a corner hallway to themselves: two rooms and, at the time when I arrived, a hallway table brimming with coffee and pastries. Fortuitous timing.

In one of those rooms I saw some of the company's less-expensive gear: I stopped in briefly—yet I spent so much time in their high-end room that I lost track of my coffee cup, setting it down somewhere while freeing up a hand to take some pictures.

It was an impressive room. Attractions included the unusual T+A Solitaire loudspeaker, with its line-source electrostatic tweeters and its array of midrange drivers, and the very architectural M 40 HV monoblock tower, with its heavy tube cages on top.

Yet I was most taken by two big, beefy, silver cases sitting on a component rack. Both were new components from the company's reference HV series. One was a CD/SACD transport, the PDT 3100 HV; the other was the Reference streaming DAC/Preamp: the SDV 3100 HV. The scale was impressive: the casework, the sheer quantity of aluminum on display, the apparent engineering.

I was also impressed to learn that the DAC/Preamp had a built-in FM tuner. I love FM tuners, even though—perhaps especially because—I can't use them. More on that later.

The 3100 series includes several other components: a standalone transport (the PDT 3100 HV), a streaming DAC sans preamp (the SD 3100 HV), an integrated amplifier (the PA 3100 HV), and the component under review, the versatile MP 3100 HV SACD player/streaming DAC ($21,000).

520ta.bac

A systems approach
T+A is not as well-known in the United States, but in Germany the company is huge. To this American, they appear to fulfill the key German stereotypes: fastidious, with an engineering focus. T+A stands for "Theorie und Anwedungen"—in English, "theory and application."

Evidence of the company's engineering focus can be found in the way their product lines are differentiated, less by quality or price point than by functional approach. There are six distinct lines, plus the Caruso: an all-in-one audio system that's a product line in itself. Series 8, for example, consists of "high-end individual modules"; the K-Series encompasses "ultra-compact equipment boasting multiple functions and outstanding sound qualities"; the Cala series is for people who "require sophisticated design, excellence of craftsmanship, simplicity of operation and compactness"; Cala customers, the website suggests, "cannot even contemplate the typical large systems assembled from separate components."

Those who can contemplate such systems, and who wish to avoid sonic compromise, are encouraged to explore the HV series—including the MP 3100 HV. "The HV-series is the true embodiment of the original meaning of the term 'high-end': innovative technologies, uncompromising construction and absolutely peak performance," claims the T+A literature.

Danger: High voltage
"HV" stands for "high voltage." It's a technical concept that arose during a period in the company's history when the focus was on tube gear—specifically, the tube-based V series, which was successful until they started to run out of tubes.

"Over the years T+A created tube products, our engineers concluded that one of the most important factors in the sonic quality we achieved from tubes was the very obvious fact that they operate on much higher power supply rails than typical of solid-state," T+A's Jim Shannon wrote to me one day, in an email I believe was sent from Kuala Lumpur. "This allows the tubes to operate in a much more linear, low distortion, narrow portion of their total transfer function—essentially the sweet spot of the transfer function, which in turn offers greater dynamics, greater harmonic purity, and greater overall musicality (footnote 1). Our design team decided to build test units using solid-state devices that were capable of operating at the much higher voltages, and learned that the same kinds of benefits could be found using solid-state devices." When they combined this idea with other concepts they'd learned improve the sound—fully balanced circuitry, dual-mono architecture, low global feedback—the HV series emerged.

The idea of operating transistors at higher voltages is most relevant to amplifiers, but it also applies to output stages in source components. In the MP 3100 HV and the other HV source components, "the fully balanced, dual mono analog output stages are all using much higher voltage power supply rails," Shannon told me.

More than any other component I've had in my system, the MP 3100 HV radiates attention to detail. Start with this: There are two IEC connectors, for two power cords, one on each end of the back panel, feeding two power supplies. One supports the analog circuitry, the other the digital circuitry. Never the twain shall meet.

What makes a good digital source?
What are the most important technical details to address in a high-end source component? I'm not a designer, but I do know the conventional wisdom. At the top of the list is the D/A conversion technology. D/A conversion can be done, and done well, in a number of different ways—with high-quality chip DACs, or novel calculations carried out on an FPGA, or a combination of the two, with filters custom-coded off-chip. But success depends on optimizing whatever approach is taken: It's all in the execution.

After the conversion technology, there's a crucial second tier of priorities. At the top of that list, I'd place what I'll call signal-conditioning: ensuring that the electrical signal remains undisturbed by distortion and noise, whether arising from inside the box or from outside. After that in my priority list comes vibration isolation: isolating the transport from the environment and the environment from the transport, but also protecting circuitry from airborne and structure-borne vibrations. Why do vibrations matter? Because they can induce noise in the electrical signal.

Inasmuch as conversion technology is concerned, the MP 3100 HV maintains totally independent paths for pulse-code modulation (PCM) and pulse-width modulation (PWM, or DSD) data. The DSD side utilizes true, pure single-bit bitstream conversion. Via the USB input, the T+A is capable of converting up to DSD512 natively, no PCM encoding (ie, DoP) required. But to get that to work—to get native DSD data into the box—you'll need to use the USB connection and a data source that can run a Windows 10 driver—at a minimum, a Windows-based computer running Roon Bridge and that driver. It doesn't need to be powerful.


Footnote 1: At one point, Shannon described this operating region as "low-distortion, harmonically rich"—a fascinating juxtaposition of technical and subjective concepts.
COMPANY INFO
T+A elektroakustik GmbH & Co.
T+A North America
(207) 251-8129
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
barrows's picture

With DACs like this T+A unit, which have a totally separate, discrete, conversion scheme for DSD playback, it would be desirable to see a set of measurements for DSD playback. Many audiophiles are using these types of DACs with playback software which allows all file formats to be oversampled to DSD 256 or 512 for playback, because many find that this approach to D/A conversion offers improved sonics over PCM conversion, especially with sophisticated computer based oversampling to DSD allowed by playback software like Roon, and HQPlayer.
I would suggest, that at this point in the development of discrete DSD DACs, not doing and publishing measurements for DSD playback is only telling half of the story, indeed it is not telling much of the story at all for those users whose intent is to only send the DAC DSD data. Please, please consider doing measurements for DSD playback in the future.

MhtLion's picture

I agree 100%.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

In the measurements section, Bezier IIR filter impulse response, Fig.3, looks like short minimum phase filter ...... However JA1's description of this filter sounds like a hybrid type of filter ....... JI preferred this same type of filter when reviewing the T+A DAC8 ...... JA2 also preferred this same short minimum phase filter :-) .......

dial's picture

It reads CD-text, fine, but not HDCD, looks a lot like an Esoteric Teac that you avoid testing at all costs... Only 21 000$, fine. A bargain.
Well now you are ready to listen to Clearaudio, Atoll, YBA, 3D LAB and all gear from continental Europe.

Ortofan's picture

... aside from being able to play SA-CD discs, what can this device do that a Marantz ND8006, for example, cannot?
https://www.us.marantz.com/en-US/shop/hificomponents/nd8006

Bogolu Haranath's picture

It has a choice of 4 different digital reconstruction filters ...... A better comparison would be the new $5,500, Mark Levinson 5101 ....... That ML SACD/CD player/DAC probably also has a choice of 7 different digital reconstruction filters, like the ML 5805 integrated amp/DAC, reviewed by Stereophile :-) ......

Guileshill's picture

Earlier comment withdrawn. Confusion over the product enumeration.

doxycc's picture

There is considerable value in all-in-one units - shelf space, fewer cables (and lower cost), sonic point of view of manufacturer. There are similar downsides - lack of upgradeability depending on architecture (modular upgrades might be available but for how long after introduction of unit). Residual value of brand especially on the digital side (audiogon can give you a sense of the 50-80% discount on 3 year old digital even among the most well known brand). Some non-US brands have stable distribution and dealer networks others change frequently. At this price, good to have a checklist and determine risk/reward as s consideration separate from the sonic qualities.

Long-time listener's picture

With all this incredible engineering, at $21,000 it still can't provide the 21-bit resolution available from the $2000 NAD M51 or the most recent Benchmark DAC. Why not?

dcolak's picture

It costs 800 USD and offers true 21bit resolution.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/topping-d90-b...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Topping D90 is a DAC ....... Yes, its measurements are excellent ......But, it has no SACD/CD player ..... Also, it has no wi-fi access :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ...... It would be nice to see a Stereophile review of Topping D90 DAC :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stereophile has a $400 Class-A listed DAC ....... So, Stereophile can also review another under $1k, probably another Class-A list-able DAC :-) ........

MhtLion's picture

Would the SACD/CD player worths 26.25 times the price? One thing for sure, the sound quality gap between High End DAC vs Budget DAC had shrunken a quite lot. My personal guess is that whoever replaces their $20k DAC with this $800 DAC won't miss too much.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I'm not justifying the price of this T+A player ....... I was mentioning that, it is not exactly apples to apples comparison between the D90 DAC and this T+A player ....... One could buy a $1,200 Denon CD/SACD player for example ....... The $400 Pro-Ject, Stereophile Class-A rated, DAC/Pre-amp/Headphone amp which I mentioned, is even less expensive than the Topping D90 :-) ......

MhtLion's picture

Agreed 100%. I once tried to purchase T+A DSD 8 DAC. At that time, the only U.S. distributor I could find was an unknown name to me, and they tried to charge a full retail price + shipping + sales tax even though I did not live in the same state. So, I found a European retailer who had a small sale plus VAT saving to sell out of the Eurozone. The final price including shipping was at least 40% less than the U.S. price. But, at the last minute, they realized that they have a contractual agreement not to sell to the U.S. The salesperson said other none Euro countries were fine, but U.S. He also said he sold other brands to U.S. hence sorry for the confusion.

Math is funny. $60/$100 is 40% discount. But, $100/$60 is 66% premium. A 66% premium to buy the exact same product over other markets was a bit too much for me.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

T+A DAC8 was reviewed by Stereophile ....... Stereophile Class-A+, listed ....... That DAC8 has similar DAC and similar 4 digital reconstruction filters as this T+A player ....... DAC8 costs less than $5k :-) ........

barrows's picture

I had the D-90 here for a few weeks, and would suggest, respectfully, that your comments are wrong. While the D-90 is a very, very good DAC, For The Money, it cannot compete with a player such this T+A with its much more developed output stage (I have heard the DAC version of the T+A).
I still would recommend trying the D-90, in your system, to anyone looking for a DAC under around $4K. Especially with DSD 256 playback in "DAC mode".

JRT's picture

JA1's measurements show that the device under review has varied output depending on input selected, and that output well exceeds the 4.0_Vrms output of the Topping D-90. If the devices under comparison are not very closely matched in output level, the device with higher output level is usually at an perceptual advantage in the comparison.

barrows's picture

JRT, if your comment is aimed at me, I am well aware of the need for precise level matched comparisons, especially when compared components close in performance (which many DACs are). I typically level match by measuring output voltage with pink noise signal. I work in audio product development, and have been "professional" in this industry for some 20 years now.
The D-90 is excellent for the money, but DACs with more robust output stages and power supplies of my experience do outperform it.

dcolak's picture

D90 is far above Benchmark DAC3 so I would REALLY love to see your measurements.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Which measurements of D90 are 'far above' Benchmark DAC3? ....... Just curious :-) .......

MhtLion's picture

The fact we are mentioning $700 DAC and $21,000 DAC in the same sentence indicates the market is going through a big change.

There were two groups of engineers. Some were born rich and some had great careers elsewhere. Some had wealthy wives. They liked the music and equipment. So, they worked hard: 2-4 hours a day to bring a product or two every couple years or so. It was hard work, but never that hard. After all, only a few had an engineering background. Many hired the engineers or better yet outsourced 97.56% of everything they ever produced. The very idea, concept, and principle of their innovation were ALL OUTSOURCED. They sold a few, but the extravaganza prices kept their lives comfortable. Perhaps they did not care for money. It was LOVE that drove them hard at audio venues and showrooms, where they spent the majority of the time.

The others were mostly with an engineering background. Some liked the music, some rarely listened to anything at all. They were after the hard profit. For their lack of love, they made up by working their a*s out, 10-15 hours a day to produce $800 DAC with great specs and OK sound. After all, most customers judge the audio equipment with their eyes anyway - by the aesthetic and specs. Their work ethics or the lack of it were mostly copying others without ever paying. Some discerned audiophiles scoffed, calling those cheap knockoffs.

But, an unexpected, rather a comical trend starts to emerge. After years and years of hard work, while the other was hard drinking. First, $3,000 DAC starts to sound as good as $10,000 DAC. Then, $300 DAC starts to sound as good as $3,000 DAC. Finally, $700 DAC sounds not too bad right next to $20,000 DAC.

Ortofan's picture

... TEAC to be "cheap knockoffs"?

The UD-301 and UD-501 cost no more than $600.

https://store.acousticsounds.com/d/100294/Teac-UD301_PCM__DSD_USB_DAC-DA_Converter_or_Processor

https://store.acousticsounds.com/d/88975/Teac-UD-501_PCM__DSD_USB_DAC-DA_Converter_or_Processor

http://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/05/initial-impressions-teac-ud-501-usb-dac.html

https://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/05/measurements-teac-ud-501-pcm-performance.html

Allen Fant's picture

An excellent review- JA2
The musical selections, albeit short, are on point.

Anton's picture

But where did the MQA go?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

MQA sems to be DOA :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Or ..... MQA went into the 'Dead man's Chest' :-) .........

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