Sunday, March 9, 2014
The preamp is a low voltage design (probably what is referred to as "starved plate") that barely makes the tube glow. For visual appeal, there is a very pleasant blue led to light the tube. I got my Ernestolo for $300 on amazon.com. That's significantly more than I've paided for my previous T-amps. Still, it's cheap by audiophile standards, and competitive for a (presumably) Chinese manufactured tube amp. The Ernestolo sounds an order of magnitude better than the Qinpu A-3 for example, and it's only $100 more expensive. If you can live with the cramped and cluttered back panel connections, the fussy powering sequence and in the inevitable pop when you turn it on, you'll be pleased with the sound of the Ernestolo.
Friday, August 9, 2013
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
I was curious to try a TA2021 based amp, so when Indeed Hifi introduced one I quickly bought it. Indeed is run by a guy named Peter, and is well respected in the audio forums, especially for it's tube based buffers, preamplifiers and headphone amps. I've bought a couple things from Indeed before and been impressed. The first is Indeed's shielded 12V 5A power supply which I highly recommend. While most of these tripath based amps will run off 3 or 4 amps, the 5 amp power supply really seems to flatter them. The extra juice seems to give the amps just a little more oomph. Since Indeed's power supply is shielded, it should also reduce noise and distortion. I'm very pleased with mine and use it with all my T amps. I also bought the cigarette lighter power cord from Indeed which lets me run my T amps off a portable 12V battery jump starter. Many audiophiles rave that running t amps off 12V batteries greatly improves the performance of the amp, but I'll admit that I can't tell the difference, maybe due to shielding on the Indeed power supply. The cool thing about battery power in my opinion is I can quickly and easily setup a stereo outdoors "off the grid." I ran my Hlly TA2020 amp of the 12V battery jump starter at a recent block party, and it happily put out party volume music for over 4 hours.
Back to the TA2021 amp, it sounds great. It's got that smooth, focused tripath sound. The extra wattage is very noticeable. While the TA2024 amps are adequate for my 92 db Axiom M3 speakers, the TA2021 has much more headroom, and turning the analog volume knob just a quarter turn gets it's louder than I'd ever want. If your speakers are rated 90 db or less, I'd recommend this amp. You can get even more powerful T amps, but then you'll need a more specialized and possibly bulkier power supply, and you'll lose the easy 12V battery power option.
How does this TA2021 amp sound compared to the TA2020 and TA2024? That's tough for me to put into words. I'd say it's very similar, maybe even indistinguishable from the Topping TA2020, with solid punchy bass and a wonderfully focused, coherent sound. To my ear, I think there is something special about the TA2024 that gives it the most musical quality, but it is very, very subtle. Ask me on a different day, or with some different music and I might give the nod to the TA2021 or TA2020 amps. Peter recommends a 100 - 200 hour break in period for the amp because of the large BC capacitors, so it might well improve.
Indeed's TA2021 exudes quality. Externally it's very similar to the Topping TP20. It has exactly the same footprint, but it's a little shorter. In terms of volume, it's probably the smallest T amp I own. Mine has the brushed silver faceplate which is a little shinier than the Topping. Like the Topping and Sure amps, the volume knob is back lit, in the Indeed's case by a soft blue light that is just the right intensity. There is an additional red led under the front power switch which shows the status of the speaker protection circuit. The amp has a soft start to guard against against pops. After a 2 or 3 second delay the red led is lit and your ready to go. The red led is a little bright for my taste, but no where near as obnoxious as the bright leds on the Trends and Hlly amps. As for the build and appearance of the TA2021, I can say it's my favorite of all the T amps I've used.
I think Peter at Indeed Hifi has designed a real winner here. If you are interested in trying a TA2021, using a T amp with less efficient speakers, or looking to put out party volume music off a 12V battery, this amp is a no brainer at roughly $55 shipped without power supply. An easy and enthusiastic thumbs up.
Monday, October 10, 2011
The Hlly Tamp-20 has the most annoying power LED ever, a blinding green light. If you can get past that though, it's a great amp. Actually, dimming the light is straight forward. The front panel removes easily with four hex screws. Pulling the led back so it sits behind the front panel reduces the light to a tolerable level.
Surprisingly, it sounds different than my other TA2020 amp, the Topping TA-20. It's not as loud or powerful, but it's very clear. I have trouble with audiophile vocabulary, but the sound is crisp and clear, maybe a little less boomy than the Topping TA-20. Construction is top notch, and it's a very attractive piece of equipment. Mine has a different appearance than most of the Tamp-20s I've seen on the internet. The logo is shiny silver, and looks good against the matte silver of the faceplate. Most of the ones I've seen have a black logo. The only other gripe I've got is the rear mounted power switch, a small annoyance. I have no trouble recommending the Hlly, especially as they are sometimes sold without a power supply for around $50, significantly cheaper than the Topping.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
I had the Topping TP20 hooked up when the Sure amp arrived, and at the time I was convinced the Sure sounded better. I pulled the Topping out of retirement today, and now I'm not so sure. The first thing that is noticeable with the Topping compared to the Sure is the increased power. While I routinely crank the Sure past the 50% mark when I want to get some real volume, the TP20 has plenty of output and puts out more volume than I'd ever want with my system well before the half way mark. It's also much stronger in the bass, maybe a bit too much for my taste.
The Topping TP20 looks more expensive, and it is. It's got a front mounted volume control and a pleasing blue ring around the volume control to indicate it's on. The Topping is hard to fault. My recollection is that the Topping has more output and sounds better than my Hlly Tamp-20, which is another TA2020 model. I'll have to pull out the Hlly and do some A/B comparisons. At this point though, I'd have to say the Topping TP20 is an easy thumbs up, and it is my current favorite TA2020 based amp, and it's giving the Sure a run for the money as my all time favorite T-amp.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
The Sure TA2024 is my current favorite T-amp. It's cheap and commonly available on ebay for around $50. It sounds fantastic. It's well built, attractive and it has a couple improvements over my previous favorite, the Trends TA-10.1. Unlike the Trends, it has a front mounted power switch, a small, but to me important, detail. I hated the Trends' obnoxious blue power led and the Sure has a softer glowing ring around the volume knob. That's not to say everything is as I'd like it. Sure added an odd feature. When the amp is off, the orange ring around the volume knob slowly pulses. The Sure manual calls this "breathing" and comments that it will help you find the amp in the dark. Whatever.
There are several variations of the Sure TA2024. I have the AA-AB32157 model which has the Tripath TA2024C chip and uses a digital volume knob. It is definitely different than the volume controls I'm use to. It takes a little over 3 turns, 1080 degrees, to go from completely off to full on. It is an indexed volume control with roughly 25 detents, or clicks in 360 degrees. Based on this, I'm guessing the volume control is Sure model AA-AB11117 which has 83 total positions. When the amp is off, spinning the volume knob has no effect, the amp always starts with the same volume level it was set at when it was turned off. I would probably prefer a normal analog volume control, but honestly the digital one is fine. It has a good feel and even though it's indexed, there are plenty of settings and I can always find the volume I want.
There are at least 5 different variations on this model. The earlier ones have the normal analog volume knobs, and there is one variant with a headphone jack. Here's my understanding of the different models:
AA-AB32151: Front headphone jack, Digital volume knob with 12v 3a Sure power supply
AA-AB32152: Analog volume knob and 12V 3A Sure power supply, no headphone jack
AA-AB32156: Analog volume knob and no power supply, no headphone jack
AA-AB340: Seems to be identical to AA-AB32156
AA-AB32157: Digital volume knob with 12V 3A Sure power supply, no headphone jack
AA-AB32159: Digital volume knob with no power supply, no headphone jack
I'd sold the Trends TA-10.1 long before I got my Sure, but the Sure sounds like what I remembered of the Trends with an exceptionally musical presentation. I'm not good with audiophile terminology so I don't know quite how to express it. It's obvious that at least some parts like the speaker binding posts are made with cheaper materials than the Trends, but somehow the Sure seems more finished and less of a DIY project than the Trends. Still, if I look closely at the Sure from the right angle, I can see that the case isn't perfectly straight. That's quibbling though. This is a world class amp and an easy thumbs up.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
I bought the Aune to replace my previous dac, a Muse DAC with 4 parallel Phillips TDA1543 chips. I don't really understand the theory behind parallel non-oversampling DACs, but the Muse did sound very good. The Aune sounded better though with better bass response. It was also much more attractive and well built. The headphone amplifier was a nice bonus, but I rarely used it. The power supply ran hot, and eventually the plastic of the power supply cracked from the heat and fell apart. Still, I'd have no trouble recommending the Aune. I sold mine as I found the built in dac of the Pure i-20 sounded just as good.