To ward off potentially kinky thoughts from louche readers, let’s get this out of the way right now: T +A Audio stands for “Theory and Application in Electroacoustics,” shortened to “T+A.”
Founded in German Westfalia in 1978, T +A manufactures a complete line of audio gear. As Michael Manousselis of Dynaudio USA (the company’s North American importer) emphasized in an e-mail, “Each and every T+A product is developed and designed in-house, with all engineering and manufacturing conducted at the company’s state-of-the-art factory in Germany—including both loudspeakers and electronics.”
T+A also boasts serious design innovations: “It was the first manufacturer to offer high-end components incorporating RS-232 control, the first to offer CD players with re-clocking and selectable filters, and a trailblazer in the field of fully digital loudspeakers. More recently, T+A pioneered highend streaming network/client audiophile sources.” These bold claims will no doubt raise the eyebrows of certain other manufacturers, and I have no way to prove or disprove them. Regardless, T+A is clearly at the forefront of leading-edge audio design (or among those who are).
First introduced in 1999, the R Series preamp and power amp under review here represent the third-generation of T+A’s longest-lived product range, and incorporate what T+A calls “Ultra-Wide Bandwidth” circuit designs. T+A believes, as do I, that the preamp is the core of the amplification system. Not, of course, that power amps are unimportant, but that the basic sound of an electronics package starts at the preamp. Improvements to the P 1260 R ($4000)— which I received as a seven-input linestage, but which can also be outfitted with optional mm or mc cards—are said to derive from the latest generations of operational amplifiers (op-amps). To give them an optimal working environment, T+A places its op-amps “on their own double-sided circuit board with power plane, voltage de-coupling, and constant-current bypass.” The company calls this technique OAD (Op-Amp Decoupling). Other internal component-part upgrades include Vishay metal-film resistors and Wima FKP, silver-electrode mica, and Elna Cerafine capacitors.
With the A 1560 R power amp ($6000) T+A designs its broad-bandwidth circuit to deliver both high speed and high power. Rated at 170Wpc into 8 ohms, and 280Wpc into 4 ohms, a pair of 1560s can be operated as bridged mono amplifiers delivering a walloping 500W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. By any measure that’s a lot of juice. But T+A’s design team is equally focused on “neutrality, high output power, and performance independent of load,” with a newfound attention to peak-power and optimal dynamic performance regardless of the speaker system used. The firm likes to note how these properties, combined with meticulously matched output stages, make their units suitable for bi- and multi-amp applications. Similar opamp decoupling and parts selection are employed herein, as are toroidal transformers, with the use of non-magnetic boards and contact points to eliminate potential distortions caused by ferromagnetic non-linear effects.
T+A’s industrial design is deliberately simple, functional, and notably compact compared to most high-end gear. Although some T+A designs have pizzazz, there is nothing at all sexy-looking about the items reviewed here—except, perhaps, for the narrow peek-a-boo windows that allow a glimpse at the precision internal construction. The brushed-aluminum P 1260 R preamp offers an array of push-button controls with corresponding green LEDs, a volume control, and, somewhat unusually, small rotary pots for separate left/right-channel bass and treble tone control, and for balance. In another throwback feature, the A 1560 R power amplifier allows for two sets of speaker hookups, switchable from the front panel, which also offers a spring-operated flap to access the headphone jack, buttons for choosing between mono or stereo operation, and, again rather unusually (and somewhat NAD-like), “slow” and “normal” speaker protection against clipping.
If one were to judge audio components based on their looks, one might assume at first glance that the T+A gear is cool, perhaps even clinical-sounding. And though the sound is precise, it isn’t cool, but remarkably elegant and refined. Leading me to conclude that T+A views its gear as serious tools with which to enjoy music.
There is a notable consistency of sound here, no matter the volume level. Indeed, finding the sweet spot in volume is critical with this T+A combo. For example, while playing Analogue Productions’ terrific 45rpm-cut of Monk’s Music, I kept goosing the volume pot in an effort to get the music to swing a tad more. Until I found the right loudness zone, all the right pieces were in place—a nice soundstage, creamy brass, Monk’s funky piano, nimble bass, and snappy drums—but the tune lacked drama and drive. Which is another way of saying that the T+A components don’t need to be played loudly to sound good, but that the right level can really make them sing. Granted, my speakers are Maggie 1.7s, which like a certain amount of electronic prodding, but that doesn’t change the fact that, in my experience, the T+A units are more sensitive to the Goldilocks effect than most. And by the way, this is the case whether you’re playing something like the Monk LP, or a classical piano work, or rock.