Preamplifier + Stereo Amplifier... the TeddyPre PR1 + TeddyAmp ST60
When I reviewed TeddyDAC (that in fact I'd bought first and reviewed later) in August 2012 I already knew that Teddy was working on new product—an amplifier. We agreed the test already then but it has been postponed a few times since simply because Teddy Pardo seemed to be a perfectionist who had to have a perfect product before actually releasing it. When the product was finally ready Teddy still wanted to wait for something he might call a final version. It took more time than we initially anticipated as when the first date came Teddy was already working on some improvement to the power amp but I finally got a review sample of both, PR1 preamplifier and ST60 stereo power amplifier. Right after I received my samples Teddy send me information about two new products—integrated amplifiers. It's obvious that a company that for a long time was known for its power supplies now seriously expands their activity. Many people around the globe use with success Teddy's PSs for Naim devices, but also for M2Tech, Antelope, and even for inexpensive units like rDac, or Logitech products. Moving from terrific power supplies to complete audio devices seemed to be a logical step forward. Teddy confirmed that—his expertise and experience with power supplies was crucial for him when he designed a D/A converter and then also power amplifier and preamplifier. As he said—each of these devices sport an advanced power supply but and audio circuit is as simple as possible. Many designers in audio industry will admit that proper power supply is essential for a high performance of audio devices but only some of them pay enough attention to this element when they actually design their products. Obviously no matter how good, how advanced power supply is it is not enough to offer high quality sound, but it is surely a key element that has be taken into consideration already during designing. If you don't do it that somebody like Teddy Pardo can make a business of offering high quality external power supplies for your devices. Better, "cleaner" power results in a better, cleaner sound—no doubts about that. But still some might have their doubts of more general nature—making external power supplies for audio products of other manufacturer doesn't make you automatically a great audio designer. Well, that's also true, but it also doesn't mean you can't design great audio products, does it? Some time ago a gave it a try, listened to TeddyDAC and enjoyed its performance so much that I bought it for my system (and later reviewed it for you). It's been quite some time since than, I listened to several D/A converters during that period with various price tags (most of them were more expensive than TeddyDAC) and I still kept it in my system. It doesn't mean it's the best DAC I know, but to get the same level of enjoyment and musicality combined with more up-to-date features and even better sound would mean spending a hell more lot of money and I don't really see the point, I don't feel the urge to do that. It's a damn good device and it sounds exactly how I like it. Sure I might use some additional features—I don't mind limitations of USB input (it accepts signal only up to 24/48 and obviously no DSD) as I use a fantastic BADA Alpha USB converter but a AES/EBU input would be very welcome to use full potential of Berkeley. But apart from that I'm fully satisfied considering also that I didn't have to pay 5+ kUSD but much, much less. TeddyDAC offers smooth, rich sound, detailed and yet not so analytical as many of its competitors (which in my eyes is their disadvantage), with great spacing, imaging – it plays music, plain and simple (unlike others that play sound). That's exactly what I need—a relaxing, enjoyable sound that I could listen for hours without headache that is offered to me by many much more expensive, much more famous D/A converters that might sound perfect, but not natural. And when there is no natural sound you might get overwhelmed at the beginning by how detailed, how clean it sounds but after a while you get tired and you wonder why. Anyway—TeddyDAC surely is a very musical device that allows hour and hours of enjoying the music so I like it and appreciate it very much and that's why it stayed and I don't really plan to sell it in the near future. It's design might not be revolutionary nor most advanced. It's a solid design based on solid engineering including Teddy Pardo's specialty—an advanced power supply. Since Teddy's knowledge and experience worked for D/A converter why not for amplification? Have a look at the picture of PR1—you'll notice at once an idea behind it—an external power supply. Separating PS from the "fragile" circuits that deal with quite small signals from sources and thus are susceptible to noise and distortions is always a good idea. A power amplifier uses a bigger (although still quite small for an amp) casing which is required mostly for an advanced power supply. So just by looking at both devices from outside you can figure out that power supply is their designer's specialty. And while I've been enjoying TeddyDAC for some time I still couldn't help but wonder whether power supply expert was able to build high quality power amp and preamplifier. Let me try to answer this question for you.
Teddy Pardo: A few simple words...
My goal when I design a HiFi product is to provide a pure music listening experience that evokes the deepest emotions and brings the listener closer than ever to the music. At the same time, I believe that such high end products don’t have to be outrageously priced.
It all started as a hobby that turned into a successful and growing company. I needed a power supply for my Naim system and while attempting to clone the original power supply I realized that I can do better. I published my designs on various DIY forums and the power supply design named SuperTeddyReg quickly became very popular.
I then realized that these power supplies will improve almost any audio equipment. Furthermore, I realized that given such a high quality power supply, a different approach can be used in amplifier design which can significantly improve sound quality.
The PR1 is designed around the concept that the audio circuits should be minimalistic with minimal feedback, and with the shortest possible signal path, while the circuit complexity is moved to the power supply.
Although the PR1 is a solid state pre amplifier, its design is based on concept taken from valve amplifiers and its sound characteristics resemble those of high end valve amplifiers, but without the inconvenience of heat and wear.
The ST60 is a high-end 60W stereo power amplifier. Thanks to its unique design and regulated power supply, it has drive capabilities which are much higher than its size or its 60W power suggests and has an exceptional sound quality.
All our products are built using the best available components: selected low noise JFET transistors, low noise Tantalum and PPS capacitors, and WBT NextGen connectors. All components are mounted on a six layer immersion gold FR4 PCB with a real star ground topology.
Recordings used during test (a selection):
• Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones, Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981, Eagle Rock Entertainment, B0085KGHI6, CD/FLAC.
• The Ray Brown Trio, Summer Wind, Concord Jazz, CCD-4426, CD/FLAC.
• Renaud Garcia-Fons, Oriental Bass, Enja, B000005CD8, CD/FLAC.
• Isao Suzuki, Blow Up, Three Blind Mice, B000682FAE, CD/FLAC.
• AC/DC, Live, EPIC 510773 2, CD/FLAC.
• Arne Domnerus, Jazz at the Pawnshop, FIM XRCD 012-013, CD/FLAC.
• Midnight Blue, Inner City Blues, Wildchild 09352, CD/FLAC.
• Dire Straits, Alchemy, Vertigo, 818 243-2, CD/FLAC.
• Eva Cassidy, Eva by heart, Blix Street 410047, CD/FLAC.
• Luis Armstrong & Duke Ellington, The Complete Session, Deluxe Edition, Roulette Jazz 7243 5 24547 2 2 (i 3), CD/FLAC.
• John Lee Hooker, The Best of Friends, pointblank, 7243 8 46424 26 VPBCD49, CD/FLAC.
• Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM/Universal Music Japan, UCCE-9011, CD/FLAC.
• Paco Pena, Arte y passion, Nimbus Records NI 5602/3, CD/FLAC.
• Nathan Riki Thomson, Under Ubi's Tree, Naim, naimcd 114, CD/FLAC.
• Stuart McCallum, Distilled Live, Naim, naimcd 185, CD/FLAC.
• Leszek Możdżer, Kaczmarek by Możdżer, Universal, 273 643-7
To be honest an external design of Pardo's creations is not meant to blow your mind up. They look nice, solid, well finished but you can easily tell that the guy behind them is an engineer and not a fancy designer—it's about function, not about form. It looks like the efforts were focused on the sound and not looks—that's totally fine with me. Not that I always agree with engineering approach to audio but I won't ever argue about the fact that sound comes first, functionality second, and the form/looks just third. I don't know about you but I really have no use of fancy looking, poorly sounding audio devices. There are many companies who no matter how big actually the whole internal circuit of a device is, still use a full size casings. These companies often read comments/jokes about them selling, or charging extra an "audiophile air" filling (almost) empty casings of their products. This is not the case. Preamplifier sits in two separate casings both of the same size as TeddyDAC—so quite small ones. Yup, again that's a clever way to save cost without decreasing sound quality—few devices in the same casing means lower production cost. I praised the same thing when reviewing Modwright or Schiit Audio products, I praise it now, too. Preamplifier sports also a remote control—very simple, small universal one made by... Philips—another way to save some costs—for a simple device as this one where all you need to be able to change is volume and inputs you really don't need to develop your own remote. The amplifier uses double size (in volume) casing, that still won't impress anybody with its size—for an amp it is still small, with the largest dimension being depth.
It seems that ST60 uses the same casing as more powerful MB100. An important thing for those who value aesthetics—ST60 probably wouldn't win any beauty contest but it presents itself with elegant simplicity that should be sufficient for most potential users. Oh... there is one more thing about both devices—green, not too bright LEDs. I have no idea why so many designers use nowadays all those colorful, eye-hurting lights in their designs, not to mention those who use different colors, or shades of LED in their different products even within the same line. I hate those eye-hurting sons of the... I haven't met even one person so far who would have claimed he liked such bright lights—so who the manufacturers use them for? I have no slightest idea. Most people use some sort of tapes or whatever placed over those bright LED, which doesn't help devices' beauty, but surely serves user's eyes. Fortunately the green, eye-friendly LEDs are another proof of Teddy being a very reasonable man. You can clearly see whether particular LED is on or not, but it doesn't blind you. A small thing but made me very happy even before I started to listen. I won't dare to write how many times had I used tape on very, very expensive products I'd reviewed... I won't dare because most likely many distributors and manufacturers wouldn't send me anything anymore. But I do that each time my eyes hurt, which is often...
Time to get to the point. I was wondering what should be the first thing to mention in this review regarding performance of this amplification. That it was amazingly musical? That it offered a midrange that very few solid-state amplifiers (especially anywhere near this price tag) could compete with? That not so big power still allowed it to control, in an impressive fashion, any speakers I hooked to it? Well, all that is true, but on the second day of listening I realized one more thing—it was one of very few systems that I enjoyed all that time listening to it on very low volume levels. OK, I don't mean whisper level, but surely much lower than what I usually preferred. Not for a second had I felt a need to pump the volume up. Both Ardento Alter 1 (that replaced in my system for some time the amazing Alter 2 after the test) and Amphion Argon 7L worked very well with Teddy's pre and amp set (with TeddyDAC too, of course). A significant price difference (Alter 1 costs around 44 kPLN, and Amphion around 20 kPLN, in Poland) seemed not to matter at all. In both cases I could hear everything I needed to already at a very low level, with volume knob almost at the very beginning of a scale. Sure, both speakers are not a difficult load, but they surely require some current to show their true faces. When it came to AC/DC concert than yes, I did pump the volume up, as you can't listen to AC/DC quietly, I mean you can, but what's the point?!
But for most time I kept it very quiet and was happy about it. Additional bonus of such a great performance at low volume level is ability to keep listening even late at night without disturbing anybody. I used this opportunity a lot as this allowed me to apply one of the golden rules of audio—your audio system sounds at its best when city around you goes to sleep. It simple gets quiet, there is no background noise, or if the is it's still much lower than during the day—you get used to it, you think you don't hear it anymore but in fact it influences your perception and not in a good way. There is another advantage of quiet listening—it forces you to stay focused on what you hear not to lose anything, I would even risk a theory that our perception riches higher level which leads to a deeper, more profound experience while listening to wonderful music. At least that's how it works in my case. And that's so much richer, fuller experience, offering so much more than listening during the day with volume up (OK, with some exceptions—as I said before, there is no point to listen to AC/DC in a quiet mode). If you haven't tried that before—do it the next time you have a chance to, assuming that your system is up to the task. I can't promise you'll love it like I do (although will be surprised if you don't), but at least you'll learn something new about your system and maybe also about yourself. I can't help myself... a digression than. Every year people coming to the Audio Show complain about most presentations and one common reason in unreasonable, and in some cases even crazy volume level. For whatever reason guy doing presentations appear to think that if you leave the room temporarily deaf and with not so temporary headache you'll remember the presentation. Yeah, and most likely you'll promise yourself never to attend this one again. I can understand that if the guys next room use large subwoofers you might not really have a choice. But a little reason and courtesy from everybody would allow them all to offer us much better presentations. I hope I'll see that some day. There is a Polish manufacturer who, as long as I remember, always tried to play at low sound levels advertising their amplifiers as capable of delivering complete performance even in such situation. And it wasn't just an advertisement—their amps really could do it. This company is SoundArt. I think that if Teddy Pardo participated in our Audio Show he could do the same. OK, end of digression.
Anyway that's not so common feature—not many amplifiers I had a chance to review could do the same—I mean offer complete performance at low volume levels. In most cases I have to listen during the day, and then in the evening, if possible (if it's a source or a device with headphone output) switch to headphones—usually it's not a choice but a must (to avoid being evicted :) ). Having a system offering such a great performance even on low levels is somehow risky—you might spend many night hours listening and then function during a day as a zombie—I know from my own experience.
After a week of listening I came to conclusion that there was nothing about PR1 and ST60 combination I could really complain about—I found no clear weaknesses. No, it's not the best system I'd ever listened to, as some things could be presented in an even better way. But I couldn't point out anything that this set did in a wrong, or insufficient way. There is quite linear frequency response, punchy, deep very well defined, energetic bass (obviously that depends partially on speakers you hook up, but that's what you get as long as you make a reasonable choice), amazingly (especially as for an inexpensive solid-state amp) smooth, colorful and palpable midrange and sparking, open, detailed treble. All that came together very nicely, no obvious colorations, no emphasis on any part of the range. As for the bass, that was one of the biggest surprises considering the price/size/power of ST60, even if the most "difficult" load I could throw at Pardo were Amphion Argon 7L. These were not particularly difficult but still needed some current to spread their wings. ST60 ruled them with "iron fist"—bass went deep with authority, there was speed, timing, rhythm, and I'd say perfect control over whole low range. So it seemed, that what Teddy claimed about not being worried about "only" 60W output power, was true. Especially if you consider the fact that this description goes for listening on all volume levels—normal ones, but also very low ones, and quite high ones that I also tried. You should probably not expect a "tectonic", wall-shaking bass, but you should be impressed as I was when listening for example to Isao Suzuki's "Aquamarine". I use this piece often during tests, especially since I'd heard it in a system with Hansen Audio speakers that gave me a real liver massage. Pardo system couldn't do the massage part, but a double bass still sounded powerful, with authority, with beautiful timbre, lots of "wood" in the sound—from my perspective very convincing performance. That's another thing about this system—I enjoyed listening to acoustic music a lot (doesn't happen too often while I review solid-state devices). It was about very good imaging, spacing, about wonderful decay that made all instruments with sound board sound very realistic. It was also very open presentation, with lots of air—I mean there was air between instruments, and it was air that was vibrating carrying the sound to me. Well, it didn't feel so real, so palpable like with Kondo Souga, but for once the Japanese masterpiece costs almost 50 times more, and secondly it is about music after all. This is a reasonable priced set that offers you more than just pleasant listening, it offers you feeling the music, enjoying its essence, feeling true emotions. In other words it offers you music and not just sound. Even a perfect sound doesn't have to make you feel emotions—sometimes designers driven in their search for perfect sound seem to forget that it is about music and not sound. What I expect/ need/demand from an audio system is that while listening to Eva Cassidy it will make me think about how fragile man's life is, that when having (virtual) Marek Dyjak in my room I will feel the trauma of his life so obviously present in his voice, that when Louis Armstrong sings "What a wonderful world" it will make me smile no matter what mood I'm in. That's what audio system must give me and that's what I got from Pardo set. And acoustic music is absolutely not the only strength of this set. As it's able to control bass very well, offers great pace&rhythm, pours a lot of energy in the lower end it plays music like blues, or rock in a very involving, enjoyable fashion. For the first time in a a long time I decided to spin Dire Strait's concert "Alchemy". This recording would probably make it to the top 10 best recorded rock concerts but if offers decent sound quality, and hell lot of fun. Pardo's amplification beautifully conveyed very energetic, rhythmic bass guitar, or characteristic sound of Mark Knopfler's guitar and voice. He's one of my favorite guitarist and since "Alchemy" was a concert it gave him opportunity to show off a bit—his version of "Sultains of swing" on this record is really hard to forget. Dynamics, rhythm are very important for nice presentation of a rock concert but Pardo has another ability that makes live recordings even more realistic. It's the ability to convey the ambiance of a concert, reactions of an audience—you can almost feel how much fun they're having and you can’t help it but enjoy it for yourself. The ability to convey ambiance was useful not only when Dire Straits played in a great hall, or AC/DC on a stadium, but also when it came to small clubs, like the ones "Jazz at the Pawnshop", or "Live At The Checkerboard Lounge" were recorded in. The latter benefited also from a good selectivity of PR1 and ST60, that allowed the system to nicely present each instrument even though they were crowding on small stages. Listening to it (without watching, as the package includes also a DVD) you can a he shy the great Mick Jagger was at the beginning (being called on the stage by the man he admired—Muddy Waters), and how quickly he forgets about all that and starts to clearly enjoy himself and simply sing the blues. Witnessing that you can't help yourself, you have to start having as much fun as these guy do. I don't know about you but that's what all that audiophile hobby is about for me—listening to wonderful music and having so much fan as only possible. Teddy Pardo's set, very reasonable priced, is able to offer just that. I'm truly impressed!
Listening to high-end systems priced at dozen if not hundreds of thousands of dollars usually is a unique experience. If you forget the price you should enjoy (usually) an amazing sound quality. But to be honest I prefer my audio discoveries at reasonable price levels. If I find something that offers true musical experience and at the same time is affordable for many potential buyers—that gives me much more satisfaction. That's what Teddy Pardo's audio devices have to offer—small in size, but with great heart for music they deliver a wonderful, personal experience allowing for close, intimate contact with beautiful, soul touching music. If you love music, not audio equipment, if you don't have to impress your friends with huge, shining devices with some well known logo on the front than Teddy's amplification, and maybe also DAC, might be what you're looking for. You won't have to spend much and still will be able to fully enjoy your favorite music. To be perfectly clear—that's a high quality sound objectively speaking, and a great price/value offer. It will be more convincing to people who value music above the sound.
The PR1 preamplifier is a two-box device with a separate casing for a power supply. Both metal casings make up of for elements—upper and lower half, thick front panel, and a back panel that sports all connectors. Dimensions of those casings are the same as the one of previously reviewed TeddyDAC. Front of power supply sports only a small, green LED indicating that the device is on. The on/off button sits on the back next to EIC power inlet. As far as I can tell (I had some trouble to get inside) there is quite a large toroidal transformer inside. Preamplifier's front sports two knobs—one for volume control, other for input selection, and two greed LED—"on" and "mute". Back panel includes a multi-pin power inlet (to be connected with external power supply) and 6 pairs of WBT Next Gen RCA connectors. One is and output for power amp (second is optional), one is HT by-pass, and four are classic linear inputs. Ale this time I had a problem to get inside, so I can relay on Teddy's words, who assured me that preamplifier's design is absolutely minimalistic—shortest possible signal path, real star ground topology, solid, six-layer immersion gold FR4 PCB, with high quality elements like: low noise Tantalum and PPS capacitors mounted on it. Preamplifier is equipped with a simple, universal remote control that allows you to control volume, use "mute" function and change inputs.
The solid-state stereo power amplifier ST60 is capable of delivering 60W per channel. It uses a casing more or less double in volume comparing to the one preamplifier or DAC use. The additional space is obviously required for quite large transformer. There is nothing to complain about fit and finish, but you won't find any fancy details that would be meant only for your eyes. A thick, metal front sports a single greed "on" LED, sides of the device are in fact two large radiators, and the back panel houses a EIC socket, on/off switch, a pair of speakers ports, and RCA input. According to Teddy Pardo a key to a high quality sound lays in power supply—so the ST60 uses his famous SupperTeddyReg. ST60 also sports best available components: selected low noise JFET transistors, low noise Tantalum and PPS capacitors, precise (0,01%) resistors, and WBT NextGen connectors. All elements are mounted on on a six layer immersion gold FR4 PCB with a real star ground topology.
Technical specification (according to manufacturer):
Price (in Israel): 1.749 USD + 1.399 USD