Timbre Technology TT-1 D/A processor Robert Harley and Steven Stone Listen

Robert Harley takes a listen

I auditioned the Timbre through the same playback system described in my review of the Exposure XVII preamplifier elsewhere in this issue. I listened to the Timbre on its own and in direct comparisons with the Sonic Frontiers SFD-2, in both balanced and single-ended modes. The following observations were made by listening to both processors' balanced outputs.

From the outset, I was impressed by the Timbre. Although the TT-1 sounded very different from the SFD-2, it had some appealing qualities. The most salient of the Timbre's strengths was its absolutely stunning image focus. Instrumental and vocal images were pinpoint spots within the soundstage, with razor-sharp outlines. The Timbre's soundstage was the antithesis of diffuse, vague, bloated, or confused. Consequently, I could easily hear exactly where each instrument was in the soundstage.

Moreover, the Timbre superbly resolved individual instruments and voices from the whole. Background vocals were a collection of separate voices, not an undifferentiated continuum. By comparison, the SFD-2 was more diffuse and had a less analytical spatial presentation.

In its ability to resolve depth, however, the SFD-2 was clearly a notch or two better. The Timbre's soundstage was less holographic, and reverberation didn't decay as deeply into the hall as it did with the SFD-2. In addition, the SFD-2 revealed more air and bloom around instrumental outlines. This was true despite the Timbre's more distant perspective. Where the SFD-2 was up-front and incisive, the Timbre was more ethereal and gentle. Similarly, the Timbre's mids sounded more muted and dark in contrast to the SFD-2's greater "sheen" and sparkle.

The lower treble had a trace of grain, but it wasn't musically objectionable; the treble's laid-back character mitigated the slight lack of tidiness.

On a tonal basis, the Timbre was a little closed-in through the top octave and lacked ultimate bass extension. The bottom end tended to be woolly rather than taut and precise. Kickdrum didn't have the center-of-the-earth solidity exemplified by the SFD-2, and bass guitar lacked clear pitch articulation by comparison. Further, the SFD-2 had a much wider dynamic expression, particularly in the low end. The Timbre's bass was, however, excellent for a processor using the Crystal CS4328 DAC, a device not noted for its tight or extended bass reproduction.

A consequence of the Timbre's softish bass (compared to the extraordinary SFD-2's) was a lessening of the music's rhythmic expression. I felt a slowing of the rhythm and a less upbeat quality by comparison. The music had less pace and rhythmic coherence through the Timbre. Full-scale orchestral music lacked the weight, authority, and power heard from the SFD-2.

Overall, I thought the Timbre sounded excellent—it's a worthy contender in the price range. Further, the Timbre is beautifully built and visually appealing. The Timbre is not, however, in the same league musically as the Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 in balanced mode.—Robert Harley

Steven Stone wrote about the TT-1 in May 1994 (Vol.18 No.5):

How did the Enlightened Audio Design DSP-7000 Series 3 stack up against other D/A processors? Unlike Robert Harley, I don't have a dozen DACs on hand at any given time, so I gathered up the Timbre Technology TT-1 and Audio Research DAC3. Both are quite respectable and a bit more expensive than the $2450 ($2845 with balanced option) DSP-7000 Series 3. The TT-1 is $3895 with balanced outputs; the DAC3 is $3995, with balanced outputs standard. Since neither of these units has an HDCD chip, I'll confine my comparisons to non-HDCD discs.

First up was the TT-1, which was reviewed by Jonathan Scull and Robert Harley in April '94 (Vol.17 No.4). RH was impressed by the TT-1's "stunning image focus" and superior ability to resolve individual instruments and voices from the whole. He did find that, compared to the Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 Mk.I (without the HDCD chip), the TT-1 had "a trace of grain" in the lower treble, was more muted and dark in the midrange, and was a little closed-in on the top octave.

I was surprised from the beginning by how harmonically similar the EAD and Timbre units were. Both units had a very neutral harmonic balance. The TT-1 did have a slightly larger soundstage—not that the images were any bigger, but the spaces around the instruments seemed slightly larger. This was especially noticeable on the Calamus Splendor of al-Andalus: Arab-Andalusian Music of the 12th to 15th Centuries. Depth was also slightly better on the TT-1, with more of a feeling of three-dimensionality and more air between instruments.

In terms of dynamic contrast and low-level detail, both the TT-1 and the Series 3 sounded identical. The main differences between the two units were in soundstage and image palpability, and these differences were subtle enough that only after several hours of critical listening was I able to begin consistently recognizing them. Ultimately, I preferred the TT-1, but not by much. With a less spatially precise system, these small differences would almost certainly be ameliorated.

As for the trace of grain in the lower treble and the closed-in top end that RH noticed with the TT-1, I didn't hear them. That doesn't mean they don't exist. One very often notices a characteristic such as grain or lack of top-end air only in comparison to a sonically superior unit. I offer you the analogy of the world-class rower, who thinks his shell is really moving along the ol' river: a motorboat whipping past him makes him realize he's really not going very fast at all.

Certain high-end gurus claim that you can tell if a component is true to the "absolute sound" of live music by regularly attending concerts (as JGH and I most certainly do) and by locking on to the "proper" sound of a violin, bass fiddle, or orchestra. Hogwash. Whose violin, which bass fiddle, what concert hall? Every instrument—even electric ones—has a unique sonic signature. JA's Fender Precision Bass sounds different from other P-Basses I've heard (and played). Even DAT recorders, which I have used to record concerts I've attended, don't reveal the ultimate fidelity of a D/A when there's nothing to compare it to. Listening to more than one D/A in extended tandem listening sessions allows the true fidelity of each component to emerge from the darkness. Comparison is the scalpel of discernment—you can quote me on that.—Steven Stone

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.