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Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+

Big Audio Integrated Valve

[Stack system anyone?]
[Italian version]

Manufacturer: Canor - Slovakia
Product: Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ integrated amplifier
Price: 3490 € including VAT and EU freight/shipping (≈3090 YMMV)
UK distribution: Metropolis Music Company
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: March - April 2010

The Maker: Canor (née Edgar) and the valves

Canor have been around making valve amplifiers for 15 years, trading until recently as Edgar. They changed name on 1st December 2007 (presumably to avoid confusion with another audio maker of the same name) but kept the natty logo that resembles a cross between a tuning fork and a valve anode frame. As Edgar they introduced the TP101 in 1995, 101 having been a popular number in independent audio from the Meridian 101 pre-amp and the Logic DM101 (contemporary Linn eater) turntable to the present Canor TP101 MkII. TNT-Audio reviewed their TP 105 tube integrated amplifier in 2006.
Canor are located in Slovakia on the outskirts of Prešov, a city since 1299. Canor offer a two year warranty on their products apart from the valves inside them. This combination of warranty and company history implies more confident purchasing than from a start up company or a cottage industry in a bloke's shed. Canor's product developemnt appears evolutionary rather than revolutionary, implying they get things right first time and then refine the winning formula.

Hence, Canor's present TP101 mkII evolved from the original Edgar TP101, the mkII now retailing at 2490€; it is the integrated amplifier that laid the foundations for the 4 model push-pull class AB amplifier range that has evolved over the intervening 15 years. canor make no separate pre-power amplifier combinations and no other topologies than ultralinear push-pull configured output stages. Invented in 1937 by Alan Dower Blumlein (yes he of Bell labs, crossed microphone pairs and so much more audio excellence)...
"No it wasn't invented by Blumlein (even if he seemed to invent everything else in audio)" contradict plebs, stage left "It was invented by David Hafler and Herbert Keroes in 1951"

Both are claimed by various authors and both events were before I was born and I was witness to neither. All inventions and developments come from standing on the shoulders of giants in order to look even further, so in a true (ha ha) postmodern narrative I will accept that all of them led to the amplifier in front of me now. Equally mystifying is when is a tetrode not a tetrode? When is a fifth electrode not electrodey enough to make it a pentode? Beam tetrodes, kinkless tetrodes and their kin all seem to achieve that extra triode emulating linearity by adding another bit of conductive metal to affect the electron beam; go figure!

[6550 elements]


To be or not to be a tetrode.
That is the question, whether 'tis nobler in the glass to suffer the grids and getters of outrageous pentode
Or to take bias against a beam of electrons
And by opposing them... and the thousand natural shocks...

Sorry Will.

The choice of 6550 for the Canor TP106 VR+ has a glorious heritage in its use in high end amplifiers in the valve rennaissance from the late '80s to the present day. Indeed, one of my seminal late 70s audio moments was hearing the modern relevence of valves demonstrated in a shop by the legendary Michaelson & Austin TVA-1 (the TVA-1 was later marketed as the Mentmore TVA-1) and that used a quartet of 6550s to blow my preconceptions away. The application of the ultralinear transformer arrangement is well tried with this valve and with many others of the am I really a pentode? electrode dismorphia persuasion. The Mullard 5-20 on which so many modern amps are based (the 20 refers to the 20% winding ratio on the ultralinear tap) used it with the EL34 (the ubiquitous guitar output valve with creamy Marshall style midrange); the Williamson, and the Quad II also employed variations on this theme. The Mullard boasted a high 30dB of global feedback while remaining stable due to the ultralinear output configuration, but modern designers tend to use much less feedback, or degeneration. Ultralinear configuration can be applied to tetrodes and pentodes as the screen offers the extra connection point that enables the ultralinear winding to function.

[6550 elements] [the beam in beam tetrode is greater than the mote in yer eye] [6550 as pentode]

"So the pentode valve has five conducting elements?" ask plebs, stage left, "But so does the Beam Tetrode 6550?"
Indeed they do, offers the old scribe in return. To recap (recapitulate, not replace capacitors): true tetrodes are uncommon and rarely found in audio; big audio 'tetrode' valves tend to have the expected 4 conventional electrodes (Anode, Cathode, Grid and Screen) plus a fifth device designed to linearise (reduce distortion) at audio frequencies, hence the confusion. In the ultralinear (and the Quad II and similar output circuits), the theory is that the feedback it applies to the output stage, via the transformer and the cathodes, reduces output impedence (for better speaker matching, so called 'damping factor') and reduces 'tetrode' or 'pentode' distortion levels to that of triode while retaining their higher output from a given power supply voltage. Both the KT66 (KT stands for 'Kinkless Tetrode', refering to its reduced tetrode kink in the curves in the same way as the third screen, or supressor, in the pentode does) and the 6550 (reducing that kink with a beam focus device) were developed from the old 6L6. The 6L6 was a rough diamond among power valves, hence its popularity in guitar amps with metal tone (crunchy rather than creamy) , as it clips harder than an EL34. So Kinkless and Beam Tetrode types are arguably pentodes because they have extra conducting metal between control grid and anode, even if permanently connected to the cathode. Only religious devotees of particular audio faiths care about any of the arcane technicalities because to TNT readers the sound is what matters and whether that sound is good enough to convey what we humans call music.

[open all hours]

The Integrated Amplifier: Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+

The high spec integrated amplifier genre dropped off the manufacturers' radars from the late 70s to the millenium in the US where the receiver held sway. In the UK, and much of Europe, Quad and their ilk established the supremacy of the separate pre-power arrangement. This was reinforced by newcomers Naim (NAC12/NAP160 if memory serves me) and the others of the new generation showed how much more life was available from separate pre-power combos. The US high end went straight from receivers to separate pre-power arrangements recalling the splendours of Marantz and Dynaco in the newcomers' tube (Audio Research) and silicon (Krell) offerings. Part of the allure is to separate the high-gain/low-noise demands of the phono section from the high current demands of the power output stage. American and European Manufacturers merely offered an integrated amplifier as entry level into the brand, hoping to lead consumers along their own upgrade path. The Japanese specialists like Accuphase continued to combine pre and power in high quality integrated packages. The audio world changed because many systems now need only line level inputs (150-500mV), rendering the 5mV sensitivty RIAA equalised input superfluous and analogue enthusiasts became better served by a specialist device offering moving coil microvolt sensitivity.

So when the big hitters of the pre-power market began a trickle of integrated amplifiers designed as desirable products in their own right, the advantage is perfect matching (theoretically) between pre and power amplifiers and no interface variable caused by eccentric interconnects. Notable among the newcomers, the Audio Research CA-50 at 4k (UK) in 2008 when it was superceded made no attempt at budget or entry level values but aspired to be pukka high end in a single box. The Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106VR+ weighs in at an identical 26kg to the Audio Research CA-50 so you get the same pound-for-pound perceived material value and they share the ultralinear 6550 beam tetrode output topology. The Canor is over 50mm narrower allowing more air circulation on typical shelves. This is more significant than usual being a totally enclosed class AB valve amplifier biased class A to 20W. Like the CA-50 the TP106VR+ neglects balanced inputs to save costs. Here the TP106 VR+ 6550 output valves differ from its TP106 (at 500€ less) stablemate which offer the 6L6 valves familiar to owners of vintage guitar amps. The final iteration of Doug Dunlop's Exultant power amps changed to 6550s and I recall the dramatic improvement. Hence, for this reviewer, the ultralinear 6550 output stage sets up high expectations.

So the Canor TP106 VR+ refines its own tried and tested variation of an established amplifier topology that should hold no nasty surprises to the multimeter or oscilloscope of its design team. This latter includes Chief engineer Zdenek Brezovjak (also co-owner of Canor) and former JJ Electronic amplifiers chief designer Ladislav Liscak; the design was drawn by Lubomir Mojzes. Such a pedigree team raises a priori expectations from these products.

The 6550 output pairs are driven by a pair of 12AT7, known to us Europeans as ECC81, which is the tube less often travelled than the ECC88, and Audio Research chose their then ubiqitous 6922 (a version of the ECC88) for the CA-50. It ain't what you use, it's the way you use 'em and Canor have been refining their circuit over the 14 year evolution from TP101, through TP105 and TP106 to the model we have before us, the Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+.

Fit and finish of the VR and VR+ look mint. The steel casework is sprayed an unusual textured sparkly finish on a charcoal grey base. The central front panel horizontal section is black plastic with a circular central section housing the large volume knob that is illuminated when the TP106 VR+ is switched on. This volume knob, when used manually, feels lightweight and the motor poles can be felt which marrs the ultra high-end experience expected by the finish. I doubt whether users will use this very often as the remote volume is usually handier. The variable resistor, or 'pot' (potentiometer) is the ubiquitous Blue Alps; the next transparency upgrade would be a switched resistor latter attenuator, or optical equivalent which would add over 100€ at retail price. The inputs are all line level and all 400mV sensitivity for 40W output, standard across the Canor range regardless of maximum power.

There is a mains on-off switch on the rear panel, implying that Canor anticipate that it will be left in standby mode when not in use. This is how the TP106 VR+ was used throughout the review and used this way comes on song in a remarkable 10 minutes or so after switch on. A single button on the remote control will activate simultaneously every item in a Canor syastem, and extra buttons allow each to be activated or deactivated separately. Once activated, the Canor TP106 VR+ undertakes a controlled warm up sequence. Progress is indicated by different frequencies of flashing of the power indicator LED on the front panel; Canor have opted for traditional red and yellow LEDs. When activated the Canor TP106VR+ selects the same input as was in use at the last power down. I did not try switching on and off with the rear mains isolation switch as the amplifier is clearly designed to be operated in the manner described. The layout is otherwise straightforward and predictable for an amplifier with single-ended inputs (i.e. not balanced connection XLR sockets) and reasonable quality safety shrouded binding posts.

Canor note that there was no chance at this price range to specify Teflon printed circuit boards so they attempt to get close to therm by milling critical points of the PCBs, and thus improve dielectric performance approaching Teflon, indeed outperforming Teflon in some parameters. Apparently this milling has a similar effect on sound quality to superior coupling capacitors. Speaking of which, Canor replace their usual foil and polypropylene capacitors in the "+" version of the TP106 VR with superior MCap - ZN (zinc-foil) Mundorf capacitors. Having compared otherwise identical dielctric caps in another test I can vouch for the foil materials sounding different against all theory and logic.

The Canor is keenly priced for Europeans, but the balance of virtues and price may vary considerably in other world markets, especially during the present currency fluctuations. You, dear reader will have to weigh it up for yourself depending on where you live. The newer lighter hybrid (FET input stage) Audio Research VSi60 (MSRP $3995 +$300 cover in US home market) is not such a direct competitor as its predecessor and the CJ CAV50 is a decade past it too.
There are very few contemporary competitors for the Canor TP106 VR+; the Chinese Cayin A-100T (100wpc from ultralinear KT88 must be lower bias than the Canor for that power - hence unlikely to be as graceful) or the Separo P88i (at an extraordinary 535 or just over 600€) weighing in at an identical 26kg but clearly not aimed at the same market. Slovakia's proximity to Italy and Germany's strong integrated amp market bodes well for their potential market penetration, as does Slovakia's own fast growing economy despite global recession.

I unloaded the beast from its box and struggled manfully to insert it into the Something Solid XR4 rack, currently unsurpassed chez wheeler for everything except turntables. Being valved the Canor TP106VR+ may benefit from Yamamoto or ERaudio tuning devices and may get such treatment in a follow up review.

Canor TP106 VR+ manufacturer's Specification
Model TP106 TP106 VR+

dimension & units
Class AB Power 40W/channel 55W/channel

Class A Power 10W/ch 20W/ch

sensitivity 400mV for 40W at 1kHz 400mV for 40W at 1kHz
frequency response 20-20,000Hz&plusm;0.1dB 20-20,000Hz&plusm;0.1dB

input impedence 60kΩ 60kΩ
harmonic distortion 0.1% at 1kHz at 5W 0.1% at 1kHz at 5W
S/N ratio 93dB 93dB
valve complement four 12At7 (ECC81), four 6L6GC, two 5AR4 four 12At7 (ECC81), four 6550, two 5AR4
mains 230V at 50-60Hz 230V at 50-60Hz
dimensions 435X170X390mm 435X170X390mm
mass 26kg 26kg

The standard Canor TP106VR is also an ultralinear push-pull class AB amplifier, but with high-power 6L6GC valves producing 40W per channel while the adition of the + sign to the designation denotes that the Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ utilises that quartet of 6550 beam tetrodes to make 55W per channel. Bias changes mean that class A operation is maintained to 20Watts for the VR+ 6550 quartet, while the standard TP106 VR's 6L6 output stage runs out at 10W Class A operation. Noise, sensitivity and signal to noise (S/N) ratio remain similar as does measured distortion at 5W at 1kHz, which is a pretty meaningless measurement. The cathode feedback involved in the output transfomer configuration can reduce midband steady state distortion to negligable levels (depending on how applied) but may also lead to transient intermodulation distortion (so called ricochet effect) as harmonic distortion is reduced by increasing feedback; the original Quad IIs were accused of this by the subjectivist press of the late 70s. However, ultralinear connection to cathode feedback enables stable working well into class AB, allowing much higher powers to be developed from tetrodes driving smaller iron (output transformers) than would be practical by other means. The extra taps to the output transformer primary create degeneration (the original and correct term for negative feedback) that reduces those non-linearities visible on the characteristic curves that distinguish them from the more linear behaviour of triodes.

[tuning fork or tube?][wiggly bottom]

Left graphs: triode connection - right graphs: ultralinear connection

The Canor TP 106 VR and TP106VR+ promise "entirely new mechanical and electronic topology yielding further significant improvement in sound" building on the strengths of the steel/wood chassis EL34 equipped Canor TP105VR by mounting it in a massive welded metal structure with thick printed circuit board using double-thick copper. The case is 'galvanically' divided into sections, isolating the audio circuits from the power supply, the output transformers, input selection management (accomplished by relays very close to the input sockets), soft-start management, remote volume control and additionally the transformer core is vacuum-impregnated to reduce mechanical vibration. The shift from wood to metals brings styling and ergonomics sharply into 21st century high-end, but some readers will recall my first article for TNT-Audio, Box Clever, argued that wood and copper chassis can be superior to steel and aluminium. Only the hand carved SET devotees seem to have embraced copper and hardwood chasses, the rest of the high end world remains happy with solid structures of aluminium and steel and the Canor TP106VR+ is no exception. Canor say: "Hereby I would like to proudly inform you our significantly improved amplifier TP106 VR+ and compact disc player CD2 VR+...we refined the new TP106 VR+ amplifier with 6550 power tubes, instead of 6L6, and superior coupling capacitors which resulted in better overall performance and also higher output power (55W at 4Ohms). We believe that these measures draw the sound and technical level of our products forward in front of the competition."

Given that an amplifier is little more than a modulated power supply, it is encouraging to note that B+ (anode or plate supply depending on your local use of English) is recified by 5AR4 diodes (one per channel - this is as dual mono as practical) which do not suffer the rf overshoot of high current silicon diodes and are considered a necessity by devout tube-heads. The audio circuit uses only polypropylene capacitors. At the other end of the circuit, the output transformers, have bifilar windings which are lined up in sections to maximise power bandwidth. Remember dear reader, the glass (valves) is only there to drive the iron (transformers); never underestimate the iron.

CE marked, lead free and RHOS2002 compliant this amplifier arrived well packed, intact and ready to install on a shelf. The doomsday predictions of CE marked equipment being unable to take fat speaker cables proved wrong as did the idea that lead solder is essential for sound quality (some of us switched to copper/tin/silver mixtures years ago) so RHOS2002 approval is no handicap. Canor claim to burn-in and test every valve using their own Audio Precision analogue test devices, the BT-1 Burn-in Tube and the TTM-1 Tube Tester and Measurer. This allows them to check every valve sufficiently to ensure 95% reliability rates by identifying hidden defects that emerge during continued use. As a valve user of many years these sound like splendid measures as the typical hit rate with valves can be as low as 60%. Canor sadly report that they felt forced to develop these test proceedures due to continually decreasing valve quality, despite the increases in worldwide production in recent years.

[alu'n'rubber remote]
[tuning fork or tube?]

INSTALLATION

Thus, the Canor TP106VR+ arrived with the valves already installed. This is very unusual and supports the claim that everything is assembled and tested before leaving the factory. An initial listen offered typical strident course unsettled qualities, so was followed by a cd running on repeat 24 hours a day and several on-off cycles that did suggest that the amplifier settled in and improved noticeably over the first week, despite the promise of being already burned in.

The remote control is a gem. I wish all remotes were this secure to hold with a rubbery finish on the underside (reminiscent of unlubricated condom texture) reduces the likelihood of dropping the thing on the floor. Chunky curved aluminium on the top and the minimum number of buttons to control both cd player and amplifier.

Ignoring the supplied IEC kettle lead the Canor TP106VR+ is hooked up with some home made 19x0.15mm silver plated high purity copper ptfe insulated mains lead with rhodium plated plug contacts. It sits upon the lowest shelf of the Something Solid XR4 rack and is connected to the Hammer Dynamics derived crossover and 96dB/W transmission lines/ B&C Drivers tweeter via 2X4M Sonic Link (now Black Rhodium) S900 (57x0.45mm silver plated high purity copper) wire for the lowest possible resistance. The Canor TP106VR+ claims to be suitable for 4-8Ω loudspeakers and does not offer a choice of output transformer secondary configurations to match speaker impedence. I hope this implies an acceptance that loudspakers do not have linear resitive load characteristics, rather than niaivity; it is my experience that the flatter frequency response and better control afforded by the 4Ω tap rather than the 8Ω connection far outweighs the loss of a few dB of maximum headroom at full tilt. Perhaps Canor agree and deliver their amplifiers set up to deal with real world loads of complex Z plummeting to 3Ω just above bass resonance in the most energy hungry octave of the audible spectrum. The transmission line loading I have chosen for the Hammer Dynamics drivers is expressly to minimise the bass resonance Q of the impedence curve so will offer little challenge to valve amplifiers that sail close to the wind.

The most important consideration in installation is adequate airflow; and not stacking with other equipment (despite the illustration plonked on the CD player). I can imagine the CD player becoming very hot (and it already heats the CDs inside even when standing alone), plus that would be completely inadequate vibration isolation in products of this calibre. With the Canor TP106 VR+ mounted on a 'Dissipating Shelf' shelf 7cm below the shelf above, the underside of that upper shelf becomes uncomfortably warm to the touch, but not hot enough to prompt me to dig out my thermocouple. While good internal isolation practice is advertised by Canor, it still makes a significant difference to mount it on a good isolation shelf to minimise the effects of external structure borne vibration; the fitted feet are not very compliant and will provide little isolation in themselves. Valve amplifiers are generally more sensitive to their support than solid state amplifiers, and integrated amlifiers more so than separate pre and power amplifiers on separate shelves.

[permanently on]

SOUND QUALITY

The Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106VR+ is sounding really good now, after a week of activity, confirmed by my usually sceptical sons who volunteered that "It's sounding really good now" without being asked. There, that's a sample of 3 pairs of ears, making six altogether. Not only is the sound good, the sound is also big. BIG in every way. Big in a sense I last heard from a similar output stage. Big like the expansive soundstage presented by Doug Dunlop's Exultant monoblock power amplifiers (or even his Big Bertha prtototype) through his Dalquists or my Underground Audio Deccas.

First up to establish the accuracy of the output transformer matching is the recently reviewed Zzebra: Panic cd on the matching Canor CD2VR+ to be reviewed soon. This Zzebra disc has become my cd equivalent of the vinyl Little Feat: The Last record Album as a test of equipment's capacity to maintain midrange and treble integrity in the face of overwhelming bass odds.

Toots & The Maytals' Bam Bam is a good early test for both the TP106 VR+ and the CD2 VR+ with strong melodic bass driven rhythm that is ideal for establishing the quality of interface between the output valves via the output transformers, and the speakers. If output impedence is high the frequency response would be affected and PRaT would collapse. Indeed, PRaT is as good as it gets with anything short of a flat earth amplifier. It is fleet of foot and well timed, an unexpected pleasure with the ultralinear output stage.

Leoš Janácek's On an Overgrown Path performed by Ivan Klánský, who I've heard play this live in a small room at the Djanogly Arts Centre at Nottingham University, sounded slightly more percussive than through the modified Assemblage SET300B, the composer Janácek and the player Klánský hail from from the neighbouring Czech republic, conjoined with Slovakia until 1993, so it seems neighbourly to play his work through the Canor system. The Canor TP106 VR+ excels at portraying dynamic expression in piano playing, the pitch body and timbre of the instrument (definitely Steinway with the attack portrayued by the Canor). The soundstage accurately places the sound as though the pianist is at the left and the grand piano extends to the right speaker, its single furthest leg sharing that position.

The excellent timing and accurate phase render cymbals in the correct place in relation to the rest of the drum kit. Stick noise is finely etched and timed spot on. The finely etched quality is always present and suggests distortion spectrum favouring orders to seventh and little beyond. Single Ended designs' euphonic quality often comes from their dominant 2nd harmonic (basically a phoney boost an octave up from the signal) swamping the higher order distortions. The Canor TP106 VR+ operates in push-pull class A up to 20Watts per channel. Given that the first Watt is most important most of the time, 20 covers all but the highest peaks in a well matched system. Perhaps the distortion cancelling properties of the push-pull circuit reduces the second harmonic content in relation to some of the slightly higher orders, leading to this avoidance of excessive valve lush. 20W will cover approximately 13dB above the loudspeaker reference sensitivity and the remainder of those 55 Watts (in class B) over 4dB more headroom. In this the Canor treads that fine line between the benefits of valves and the different advantages of transistors; much of the linearity and musicality of glass but the load tolerance and explicit presentation of sand.

Spinning the remaster of Hendrix's Electric Ladyland the sound is huge. The last time I heard soundstage this huge from this album was on vinyl through another 6550 ultralinear prototype monoblock, an output stage like the Canor TP106 VR+. The excitement of this great studio album is completely preserved, the clarity of the studio processing and the nature of the unprocessed instruments are explicit, foregrounded even. This is an amplifier for dissecting tracks and identifying who is doing what, and what curious effects have been applied to any instrument. The Canor TP106 VR+ achieves this while preserving the musical flow and architecture of the music. Few amplifiers can pull off this trick.

Herbie Hancock's Headhunters also creates a massive sound stage through the TP106 VR+ fed by the matching Canor CD2 VR+. On this recording the soundstage does not extend much beyond the speakers as indeed it would not unless some artificial out-of-phase information has been recorded as it is a multitracked album. However those instruments...
I was so enjoying the album I forgot to keep writing and laid my macbook aside and just grooved. Any equipment that allows music to do this fulfills the first law of audio; the whole purpose of having all this ridiculous technology in the house to whisk us away into the music.

The huge soundstage and dramatic portrayal of macro-dynamics (BIG dynamic swings quickly accomplished) are reminiscent of monoblock power amplifiers rather than a one-box integrated amplifier. Canor note that they tried to come closer to divided amplifier parameters all in one box. The two 5AR4 diodes (valve with two electrodes) and stonking 2000uF/630V filter capacitors help here, but Canor state that they engineered the mechanical design of the entire amplifier to this end, using massive welded construction to prevent chassis resonances, the use of shielding sheet metal between the channels and low level sections, shielded input tubes and additional shielding of the input board and of blue Alps potentiometer. The only common part seems to be the "large toroidal power transformer filled in special mass dissipating heat from its surface, and is located in the iron shielding cover to improve the signal to noise ratio". Indeed even the toroid gets double shielding copper foil between the primary and secondary windings, so that interference cannot penetrate through the supply circuits. They also describe effective 'VF filters' added to transformer primary windings (presumably an RF filter similar to a tuning Zobel network) particularly for the transformers that supply control circuits and analog circuits. Canor claim that this has completely eliminated their mutual influence and the monoblock style presentation would support this.

[tubes'n'caps]

Visual analogies and motoring analogies are the bane of the audio writer's life (when we're not plundering the floral syntax of the wine writer) but as a species whose dominant sense is sight, we are doomed to revert to it sometimes. If I ever write for a canine high end audio website I would, of course, have to revert to olfactory analogies, so just be thankful I'm not comparing one amplifier with lamb shank bones rather than another to tripe sticks.
"The old fool is really losing the plot today," observe plebs, stage left "He's comparing amplifiers to dried sheep's intestines already"

Your old scribe is merely pointing out the difficulty with working analogies having some meaning to a reader who has never experienced the audio products being compared. For example, I suggest that it impossible to compare this Ultralinear push-pull amplifier with a single ended triode in absolute terms, nor with a class AB bipolar transistor amplifier. To use a photographic analogy, an area of familiar to me, might be meaningless to most readers. Skip the rest of this paragraph if it holds no nugget of insight. Comparing power amplifier topologies with each other and contemplating the differences between different photographic techniques one might imagine:

The point I'm labouring rather tediously is that these are all equally valid expressions of purpose, but with such different characters they are not directly comparable. Presentation style is different even when content is the same. Each will foreground slightly different qualities in a recording, even though all theory would state that such differences out to be impossible. Feedback mechanisms (of which the ultralinear cathode connection is but one) are often accused of blurring timing on the grounds that music is a series of transients so any error correction derived from the asymetrical musical output must be repreented as an inverted but attenuated transient, delayed by whatever phase shifts are present in the circuit (by dc blocking capacitors, by wiring inductance, by parasitic capacitance etc), emerging as Transient Intermodulation Distortion (TID). So explain to me why my experience of ultralinear amplifiers (and variations on the theme like the Quad II) tend to have massive soundstage. The Quad II was much criticised for its global feedback (and it was the amplifier in which Transient Intermodulation Distortion was first identified) but as soon as you increase the value of the Quad's feedback resistor (R11 much more than the stock 470Ω) the soundstage gets bigger among other benefits. However, the Quad II then becomes less stable and less able to drive reactive loads, and one of Peter Walker's key advertising slogans was "unconditionally stable into any load" (quoted from memory so do not get pedantic); the frequency response begins to resemble the load (speaker impedence) and although gain also increases, maximum output remains the same. But the Quad II is a 1950's designed amplifier and the Canor is a 21º century amplifier designed to different paradigms.

In the 21st century Canor's design team has applied minimal feedback except for that inherent in the ultralinear stage and what I estimate to be about 6-9dB globally, and when experimenting with my own projects I found 6dB to have inaudible 'feedback drawbacks' while improving linearity and load tolerance. He's also opted for one of the two all time favourite small signal triodes in the ECC83 (12AX7 in some countries)
"ackshully there's four ECC83 in there," observe plebs, stage left "Two per channel, input and phase splitter and drivers!"

True! A popular medium mu high gain double triode. It offers for tube rolling possibilities (trying different brands), the quality of this beast justifying some high grade NOS classics. However, such experiments are militated against by Canor's rigorous valve test proceedure and selected modern supplies, even if they do acknowledge their test proceedures were dictated by falling valve quality and sample consistency in the 21st century.

Extended listening does reveal the compromises made to get this really big expansive sound. The really small nuances can get lost. I cannot tell whether the cancellation of distortion facilitated by the ultralinear arrangement also causes very low level information to be lost, but repeated listening to familiar material confirms this. The effect is slight and only in comparison with information retrieval benchmarks like Naim and certain highly tuned Single Ended Triodes designs. No comparable sand or SET amp gets anywhere near the grand presentation and sweeping dynamics of the Canor TP106 VR+. The Canor TP106 VR+ does the big stuff really well and it takes a long time to notice the tiny omissions that this costs.

Spinning the Ozric Tentacles' track Become The Other reminds us of the strengths of the Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ reminds us why good audio is so important; it features georgeous earthy bass guitar tones. I've heard these tones at festivals and in the tiny back room of The Flowerpot pub (great Derby live music pub). The Canor TP106 VR+ reproduces these tones beautifully, the shape of the notes, the string noise, the pitch and fingering all explicitely laid in the centre of the soundstage as though emanating from something like an 8x12 cab a metre behind the speaker plane. There is a tangible sense of 'being there' that this amplifier manages to present, however delusional.

"The old scribe usually has some suggestions for improvements to everything he reviews," identify plebs, stage left, "What is his 'reviewer knows better than designer' arrogance going to come up with this week?"
Given my preference for active or multi-amped loudspeaker systems, a properly buffered pre-out or slave output would be handy. Then a Canor Power Amplifier106 VR+ to do the bass duties, perhaps with pluggable low-pass crossover modules where the pre-amp section used to be. There could be a TP106 VR+F variation of the review model with internally high-pass before the power stage to enable a fully active 2-way system without a separate crossover box and all the extra wiring that entails. Just a thought. Hmmm...

Conclusion

The high end integrated amplifier remains an unusual product, such is the conservatism of audiophiles. The Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ demonstrates the viability of the format. No superfluous pre-power interconnects (avoiding at least 16 solder joints, several different metals and that metre of pixie dust coated solid unobtanium wire) and total design control over the power amplifier input load as designed to be driven by the pre-amplifier are obvious benefits. Canor's design team have attended to the very different power supply requirements of the different signal level sections. The only disadvantage is that the phono section has to be in a separate box, but even with separate pre-amplifiers this is now becoming common practice. Canor are in the process of upgrading their existing RIAA phono stage to match the VR+ and TNT-audio want to hear whether this matches the quality of the 106VR+, an early review sample is promised.

To justify big bucks for an integrated amplifier of modest power output demands some property of greatness, some excellence in at least one quality. The great quality possessed by the Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ is its ability to create the 'you are there' delusion as well as any amplification I have encountered before. The spectacular scale of the soundstage (not some phoney pin point imagery illusion) might be greatness enough, but the stability of the soundstage builds on this quality equally impressively. I have spent many hours facing the right side (the curved side) of grand pianos lid down or lid up and the piano realism of this amplifier is uncanny with the right source material. Furthermore, the pitch of every note is clearly defined, evenhandedly across the spectrum; there's no false emphasis to trick the listener into I've never heard that with any other brand moments. In this respect it is a truly great design and manufacturing achievement that the Canor TP106VR+ is as convincing as a pair of monoblocks.

The other great quality of the Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ is it's capacity to reproduce accurate instrumental timbre. Valve amplifiers are often accused of gilding the lily in this respect by introducing euphonic colourations at best or frequency response innacuracies due to high output impedence at worst. Despite the Canor TP106VR+ eschewing the usual optional output transformer impedence matching secondary coil taps, the frequency response is maintained with reactive loads. The sharply etched quality noted elsewhere in this review metamorphosises into a percussive piano quality, more Steinway than Bechstein.

How much of the Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ performance is available from lesser models in the Canor range is unknown to this author, if the output transformers are similar one might expect some similarities. If the power supplies are shared one might expect even more of the basic character to be similar but with less of the TP106 VR+ high end gloss. The 6550 output valves are unique to this model in the Canor range and this reviewer's experience is that these are the finest tetrode/pentode output valve of choice. UK readers and visitors can hera for themselves as Canor plan to attend the London International Music Show 2010 (the show is at London Excel over October 8-9-10). UK distribution is handled by Metropolis Music Company, who have years of experience with Canor products. Prices remain stable in the Eurozone, contact Canor to locate a dealer or distributor. Canor claim their standard delivery time is two weeks for in stock items once payment has cleared.

It is pleasing to find companies here in Europe taking the risk in the audio high end, avoiding intertia by constantly improving, refining and evoloving niche products. Equally pleasing is my last minute discovery of the consistent Europe-wide pricing; firstly this makes the Canor TP106 VR+ exceptionally good value, but secondly it addresses a problem we at TNT-audio have discussed in these pages before, that of dramatic price variability between markets with no correlation to real transport costs or local taxes; the only corrrelation is to local greed. Hence the Canor TP106 VR+ looks especially good value in neighbouring Italy, whose healthy integrated amplifier market and competitor's inflated prices leave the market wide open for this product.

"The old scribe's just on a nostalgia trip," accuse plebs, stage left "The Canor TP106 VR+ is his equivalent of Proust's Madeleines, À la recherches du amps perdu"
The Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+ does remind me of the best qualities of other ultralinear tetrode/pentode designs, but the Canor TP106VR+ succeeds in delivering this performance in a truly 21st package with all modern conveniences. Other models in the Canor range exude artisan qualities with wooden chassis but the TP106 VR+ is firmly aimed at the modern interior (and also available in black) , with only its size and heat output hinting at the glassware inside. The Remote control functions all work perfectly and the illuminated phallic volume knob hints at this amplifier's potency.

The Canor Precision Tube Amplifier TP106 VR+: It is big and it is clever.

[eyes front]

Music enjoyed while writing this review

Zzebra: Zzebra/Panic Angel Air Records
White Lightening: ...As Midnight Approaches/Paradise...At A Price Angel Air Records
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland 1997 Eddie Kramer remaster, LP I know better than most
Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune
Janácek: On an Overgrown Path Supraphon SU3287-2 111, Ivan Klánský who I've heard perfom this live in a small room, hailing from neighbouring Czech republic
Toots & The Maytals: Reggae Greats Compilation with surface damage highlights reading errors and error correction
Life: Cocoon
Eric Bell: Lonely Nights in London
Darrell Bath: Love and Hurt
Herbie Hancock: Headhunters Bob Belden 20bit remaster

Carl Cox: FACT 2
Me'shell Ndegé Ocello: Plantation Lullabies Great bass playing singer songwriter
Nightmares on Wax: Still Smokin'
Future Sound of london: Expander
Ozric Tentacles: Become The Other bought at one of their gigs
Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon, a cliche among aged audiophiles, but the MFSL cd sorts maximises info available off the silver gold disc
Greatful Dead: Birth of the Dead, splendid HDCD that demonstrates difference between HDCD vs 16/44 CD read at 24/96
This long list perhaps suggesting just how happy this reviewer is for
the Canor TP106 VR+ to stay in the system

"Over 8500 words on a review?" further accuse plebs, stage left "The old fool's really droning on like an old bore these days."

Copyright © 2010 Mark Wheeler - mark@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com

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