T+A MP 3100 HV SACD player/streaming DAC Page 2

Absent a Windows 10 source, the best I could achieve with DSD data was DSD128 via DoP. The MP 3100 HV is Roon Tested, which means that Roon keeps a device on-hand and tests it to ensure it is utilized as well as possible. In my tests, Roon down-converted higher-rate DSD data to DSD128 and then delivered it to the T+A over DoP. (Say that five times fast.) When DSD data came in via the Ethernet jack, Roon converted it to PCM (footnote 2).

For those seeking the best possible high-rez performance, especially via an Ethernet connection, T+A offers a high-performance Network Audio Adapter (NAA)—but only on its HV-series DAC-preamp and standalone DAC. But to make that work, the system constraints are even greater: To get all the performance the NAA is capable of, you need a dedicated gigabit network—independent of your regular home network—and, as a source, a computer powerful enough to run HQ Player and run it well.

On the PCM side, the MP 3100 HV uses four Burr-Brown PCM1795 converter chips—four DACs per channel in a double-differential configuration, in what T+A calls its "quadruple converter" configuration, which averages out nonlinearities to minimize conversion error.

Why Burr-Brown? "Early in the process, our engineers became very close to the design team at Burr-Brown (now part of Texas Instruments)," Shannon wrote in an email—this one, I think, from Hong Kong. "This relationship was very fruitful, as it allowed T+A engineers to use the most critical functions of the Burr Brown devices while bypassing those functions that we knew could be more effectively performed in our high-speed oversampling filter designs. This partnership has allowed us to continue using each new generation of Burr Brown devices with optimum linearity and resolution, while combined with our own continuously improved techniques for very high-speed oversampling and 32-bit digital decoding depth in our most recent digital products."

The MP 3100 HV can accept PCM inputs up to 384kHz and 32 bits via USB. It's limited to 24/192 when receiving data by Ethernet and most of the other digital inputs. The max sample rate via the optical connections is 96kHz—pretty typical for high-end DACs, in my experience. The transport plays CDs and SACDs, two-channel only of course.

What about vibrations and signal conditioning? On the signal-conditioning side, start with the dual power supplies. "The digital and analog power supplies are completely separate, each housed in its own physically isolated compartment on each side of the MP 3100," Shannon wrote. "Those supplies have no point of contact at any point in the design, with very serious galvanic isolation between the fully separate digital and analog sides of the circuit boards. By further isolating the power using separate paths to the AC source, we have eliminated any potential for the digital power supply to influence or generate noise in the analog components of the device. As in all T+A products, both digital and analog power supplies are further regulated very carefully at each point of connection to the active circuits, with multiple-bypass regulation to ensure the purest possible power is delivered to each internal circuit."


That still leaves the possibility that noise from the world's many noise sources—especially computers and wireless networks—could pollute the pristine power inside the box either via the data connections or radiatively. T+A considers each possible point and mechanism of entry. "The entry points are many," Shannon said. "We must isolate the AES/EBU, S/PDIF, USB, and Ethernet inputs from any and all noise they may be carrying along with the digital audio signal. For each of the above electrical inputs, T+A has designed individual galvanic isolation systems for each input that allow no noise from the source component from passing into the digital receiver section. The galvanic isolation is designed with no limits to bandwidth or other factors that might change the content, phase, or timing of incoming signals, while completely preventing computer or grounds-borne noise from entering the product." Airborne noise sources "are very carefully isolated by the serious attention to RF shielding in T+A components. This means that source-borne noise and airborne noise are virtually eliminated from contaminating the digital audio signals entering T+A gear."

The MP 3100 HV's packaging—the way the case is built—impacts both electrical and mechanical isolation. "The entire chassis is similarly designed for isolation from the environment. . . . Each part of the design is encased in its own sub-chassis of very substantial machined aluminum. This provides physical isolation from the other internal components as well as very serious shielding from external RF or other airborne sources of potential noise and interference. The massive weight of the complete design means that small vibrations from the environment are filtered from entry into the chassis, meaning they have minimal effect on the internal components, and the feet are designed to further isolate the entire chassis from the world outside."

For transport vibrations, the MP 3100 HV has "a very complete system of isolation for the [transport] mechanism we designed, beginning with a very stable three-point support system within the chassis that isolates the mechanism from the other critical components within the MP 3100," Shannon wrote from somewhere in Asia. "This is important in two ways—isolating the mechanism from external vibration allows the spinning discs to be read with greater precision, lowering the need for error correction. Less error correction means greater accuracy of the decoding process."

I'm skeptical that error-correction enters in, except perhaps in damaged discs or in very hostile environments, but I do believe that noise can cause timing issues—call it jitter.

"In similar fashion, isolating the spinning disc and laser assembly keeps vibrations in the disc playback components from causing vibrations in the critical DAC circuits," Shannon wrote. "Noise and vibration from any spinning disc can vibrate circuits that are responsible for decoding the signal, make the D/A conversion process less accurate, so the benefits from very serious disc isolation allow both more accurate disc playback and more accurate D/A conversion."

What do you expect from a high-end source component? To me it seems reasonable to expect a device that dots all the i's and crosses all the t's, on the assumption that every imperfection can disturb the sound. Leave as little as possible to chance.

You also want analog circuitry that's powerful and sturdy—which takes us back to T+A's "HV" technology, its output stages operating at higher-than-usual voltages. It seems to me that this, too, would minimize the influence of noise.

One more thing you might want from a high-end source component: for it to work with all your music sources. And of course you want it to sound superb.

In use
The sophistication of the MP 3100 HV's design is apparent as soon as you start trying to use it. It's versatile but not difficult to use.

The front panel features two prominent knobs, labeled "Source" and "Select," and eight touch-sensitive buttons. Apart from a display, the only front-panel feature (except for a nearly invisible transport drawer) is an easy-to-access USB type-A connector, which makes it easy to play tunes from a flash drive: a nice feature at an audio show, or when your audiophile buddies bring flash drives full of tunes for a listening session. (Just make sure the drives are formatted in a supported format. The list covers most of the important formats, but it does not include exFAT, which is quite common, or any of the Mac-specific formats.)

Plug in both power cords, touch the first touch-sensitive button on the left—it's the only one visible before you turn the power on—and you're off. The MP 3100 HV begins its startup sequence, which takes between a couple of seconds and a few seconds.

Turning the "Source" knob in either direction reveals the many input possibilities: Roon, Internet Radio, Podcasts, Disc, FM Radio, DAB Radio, USB DAC, Bluetooth, Optical-In 1 and 2, Coaxial-In, AES/EBU-In, UPnP/ DLNA, Deezer, Qobuz, Tidal, and USB Media. There's also Wi-Fi (aka "WLAN") and two BNC connections, but these were disabled by default in the review sample. (It's easy to re-enable them.)

Footnote 2: Roon will send native DSD over Ethernet if the device allows it. By the way, none of this is problematic, but potential buyers should be aware.
T+A elektroakustik GmbH & Co.
T+A North America
(207) 251-8129

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 :-) .......

Ortofan's picture

... aside from being able to play SA-CD discs, what can this device do that a Marantz ND8006, for example, cannot?

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.


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.





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' :-) .........