Product: integrated amplifier Power TI s
Manufacturer: T-HiFi - Italy
Approx price: 350 €
Availability: direct online sales
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Reviewed: May, 2007
Two years after our review of the T-Amp many things happened. New HiFi Companies have hit the market with innovative Class D-based amplifiers, then even "traditional" manufacturers have started a slow process of conversion to digital amplification (for example Rotel and Onkyo) or, at least, have started using Class D modules in some of their products, like Bel Canto, Audio Research and many others.
All of this happened despite many self-claimed experts told us the Class D "trend" was going to be neglected by the market (some of these claimed the SACD was here to stay, though).
Enter T-HiFi. This small Italian HiFi Company, created by Ezio Aldoni, is entirely devoted to design and develop Class T-based amplifiers, both as DIY kits and finished products. Since I am - personally - tired of seeing so many DIY modules hitting the market, this Power TI s integrated amplifier is a relieve. We have already reviewed another "finished" amp from T-HiFi, namely the Micro TI, based on the Tripath TA2024 chipset. The Micro TI was just a refurbished turbocharged T-Amp inside a sleek cabinet.
Anyway, while I'm bored of DIY kits, many audiophiles are bored of seeing so many "variations on a theme". After all, the TA2024 chipset delivers 6 watts per channel, no matter what you can build around it or how much expen$ive you can make it. Any average G.I. Joe audiophile has mid-sensitivity loudspeakers so wants an amplifier with a decent power output and, possibly, more than one line level input. The answer to this quest might be the Power TI s under test: based on the TA 2022 chipset, it delivers 60+60 healthy watts on a 8 Ohm load and 90+90 watts on a 4 ohm load. It also offers an integrated power supply, a nice cabinet and two (hear hear!) line level inputs. All the package costs 350 €, much less than a luxuriously-reboxed T-Amp.
As you can gather from the pics above, the Power TI s is quite a traditional amplifier. Only, since Class T allows that, it is much smaller than a standard rack-size HiFi component, being just 24 cm wide, 30 cm deep. Its height is 9 cm while its weight doesn't exceed 4 kgs (make your own conversions, you non-metric dudes).
The amp offers two line inputs, a blue ALPS volume control, a switching in-board power supply, a detachable mains cord (with IEC socket), all of this into a nice black cabinet with 1 cm-thick aluminium fascia (with solid aluminium knobs, also).
In the rear panel there's the ON/OFF switch, gold-plated input RCAs and multistandard speakers binding posts. A circuit prevents unwanted bumps on the speakers and acts as a "soft start" to avoid noise and lower the stress to the circuits. An electric-blue led lights up when the amp is switched on while another blue led acts as "control" on the Tripath chipset.
The heart of this amp is the Tripath TA2022 chipset, installed on a tweaked Fenice 100 board. This chipset delivers 60+60 watts on 8 Ohms and 90+90 watts on 4 Ohms, at 0.1% of THD. More features and tech details can be retrieved from the official PDF datasheet on the Tripath website.
The amp appears to be nicely crafted and finished, despite being a completely hand-made product.
I've tested the simplest version of the Power TI amplifier but several options (add-ons) are available on request:
In other words, this Power TI offers all the benefits you can get from a small HiFi Company: you can customize your amplifier the way you want (perhaps you can even ask for a real leather front panel, who knows? :-))
I've tested this amplifier for several months, thanks to the infinite patience of the manufacturer. I've compared it to several amplifiers, including traditional ones (see text), plus other Class D champions: NuForce REF9SE power amps, Trends TA-10 integrated amp (review soon), T-Amp and Super T-Amp. I've used both medium and mid-high sensitivity louspeakers.
If that's the question you're asking, my answer is NO. Period. Simple and clear. But please read on.
The tonal balance of the TA2022 chipset has very few things to share with the TA2024 (T-Amp). After all, these are just two different implementations of the Class T principle. The Power TI s has a warmer and softer tonal balance. It is NOT hyper-detailed, cold or aggressive. Of course, there are many things in common, too: that ability to retrieve minuscule musical informations even from the most complex musical patterns; the ability to reproduce every single instrument (or voice) as it was playing all alone and THEN blend it homogeneously to the rest of pattern...and finally the grace applied to voices, which makes each and every word perfectly detectable, effortlessly.
It doesn't matter if the amp has the reproduce a complex mix of voices and instruments playing together, you can decide to follow just one singer (or player) and ignore the rest or enjoy the musical performance as a whole. This was (and still is) one of the best virtues of the T-Amp, indeed.
A quick comparison test with a similarly priced "traditional" amplifier like the good NAD C320 BEE puts all of these aspects in evidence: while instruments and singers appear almost "glued" together with the NAD (with a trace of "confusion") everything becomes clearer with the Power TI s. And if you're thinking this is an artificial "special effect"...think again. The amp that sounds less natural, in a direct head-to-head comparison, is the NAD, not the Power TI s!
This "added resolution" helps musical enjoyment and the adjective that comes immediately to mind is "natural". Of course, this difference between the two amps becomes evident only in a quick A-B comparison: listen to a song with one amp, then hook up the other one...and viceversa. Do not forget that you can detect good ---> bad transitions more easily than bad ---> good. Somehow ears get used to good sound very quickly. Going back to a lesser performance is not welcomed (even 5 minutes are enough). For this reason components upgrades must be evaluated especially via B --> A comparisons (if B is the claimed upgrade).
Applying this technique you can easily evaluate the different performance in the bass range, for example: while the NAD seems to exhibit "gummy" bass, the Power TI s delivers fast, clean, articulated and powerful bass lines. In other words the bass range of the NAD C320 BEE might sound a bit "euphonic" but even less natural and controlled.
Compared to the bass range of the T-Amp, the Power TI s wins hands down. Even if we forget the different power output, the Power TIs offers a deeper and more powerful bass range. Hence, if you didn't like the T-Amp "light" bass performance you're going to fall in love with the Power TI s.
In the high range, the differences between the NAD and the Power TI become even more evident: especially with cymbals the gap is stunning: more extended, clear and naturally "metallic" with the Power TI s, a bit wooly, harmonically-poor and confused with the NAD.
Finally, despite what you may have read about the scarce harmonic richness of Class D amplifiers, the Power TIs reproduces every instrument with all the harmonics at the right place. Though not as "natural" and precise like a NuForce power amp, it still gets the job done.
The amp is capable of very strong dynamic jumps. Definitely, when compared to the less powerful T-Amp, the difference is noticeable. High peak currents are not a problem here, even with tough speakers loads.
Speaking of differences with the T-Amp one can't help but notice this TA2022 amplifier has a very different way to offer its music. The T-Amp is crisp, fast and punchy. Not so the Power TIs. Sometimes you might feel it sounds a bit on the slow side. I'm pretty sure this attitude would be mostly welcomed by a large part of audiophiles, especially by those used to a relaxed, old-fashioned kind of sound. Switching from old-style tube amps to this Class D will be less dramatic than one might think.
Attack and decays are definitely slower and longer than with the T-Amp which, in turn, has a slight tendency to cut decays a bit too early. When all's been said and done I still prefer the crisp character of the T-Amp though I'm sure many audiophiles would prefer the dynamic performance of the Power TIs. Of course, it depends also on the rest of the system...
Speaking of pure, continuous power output something strange happens here. Have you ever driven a VTEC Honda engine? Most of the "fun" takes place when the engine starts to rev very high (that's where the VTEC system takes the lead). This is - exactly - the same feeling you get while listening to this amplifier. Especially when compared with the T-Amp you might wonder where the extra 50 watts are. It seems the "extra" power is delivered only when the volume pot is turned clockwise big time. And no, it is not a matter of input sensitivity or volume pot settings. The same chipset (TA 2022) gave exactly the same results on a completely different implementation (Aux Out powered loudspeakers).
One of the most widely recognized strong points of Class D amplifiers (T-Amp included) is their ability to create a wide and realistic 3D soundstage. This Power TI s makes no exception to this rule and exhibits a wide and deep 3D virtual image. Geometrical proportions are just right while overall precision is adequate. Hence, singers and players positions are stable and precise though the whole stage appears to be under a warm, amber-like light. It is not the luminous soundstage offered by the T-Amp, this is rather a faithful painting instead of a real high-definition photo.
The central portion of the stage, especally when there's a leading voice, appears just a bit forward. This notwithstanding, the amp doesn't seem to "impose" its character to the Music it plays. So, if the record contains good 3D informations you'll get them faithfully. You won't say "WHOA!" but everything is at the right place, where it should be. Nothing too exciting, perhaps, but still very realistic and enjoyable.
Switching to the NAD C320BEE everything becomes more "blurred": contours are less precise and positions less stable. This is clearly evident when listening to cymbals: with the Power TI s their position in the 3D space is far more precise (and it remains "stable" even among complicated musical patterns).
Nothing to say here, this amplifier is a pure "plug & play" device: just hook it up to the mains, connect a source and a pair of speakers and you're done. No external PSU's to connect, no adaptors, strange connectors, no tweaks. Nothing. If you have had some previous experience with the T-Amp you'll probably feel much better with this Power TI s. Power on and play. Easy like Sunday morning :-)
As with other Tripath chips, the sounds gets a little better after some break-in but don't imagine anything too serious: you can listen to it after the very first minute after power on. I've noticed that things get slightly better after 30 minutes, though.
Considering it is a high-efficiency amplifier it runs cool, doesn't make any buzzing noise, doesn't amplify interferences. Just keep in mind that using FM tuners might be impossible, as the high switching frequency of the amplifier interferes with the FM band. If you can, place the FM tuner and its antenna far away from the amp.
As said, power output is sufficient to drive even low sensitivity loudspeakers. There's no need to use high sensitivity stuff as it happened with the T-Amp.
Manufacturing & finish.
This amplifier is nicely built and crafted. The writings on the front fascia aren't exactly my favourite since they are almost impossible to read. Perhaps this strange "invisible" effect has been a designer's choice, who knows. Also, I don't like black cabinets with silver anodized aluminium front panels. I find the match ugly as hell. A total-black look (or total silver) is much nicer, in my opinion. Anyway, the full black option is also available (add +20 €).
Aesthetics aside, I would have preferred more line inputs (at least 4!) and a not-optional remote control. I'm pretty sure these design choices had to be taken in order to keep costs down, considering this is an entirely Made in Italy component...
Even the writings in the rear panel are a bit ugly and too DIY-esque. Inputs 1 and 2 and right/left channels are not clearly defined. The speakers binding posts are of the gold-plated variety but appear definitely "cheap".
The amp was almost a prototype so no official box or manual were available. For the same reason you might have read IMPUT instead of INPUT :-)
Finally, two remarks on the name which has been given to this model. "Power TIs" sounds like "POWERTY" to me and certainly - considering the strict relation audiophiles have with status-symbols - it is not a name I would use on a HiFi component :-)
Secondly, I wouldn't use the word "power" on an integrated amplifier, just to avoid confusion. And guess what? There's a power amplifier version which is called "Power TF"...
Sound. The amplifier performance and character is deeply influenced by the presence of the TA2022 chipset. Certainly, it is NOT a TA2024 with more watts. It is a completely different beast. The TA2024 is faster, crisper and more precise, while the TA2022 is warmer and more relaxed.
One can easily guess the technology is the same since transparency and the ability to retrieve musical details remain the same. Voices and choirs, for example, remain "precise" even if the musical program involves many instruments playing together at the same time (something many budget traditional amps fail to reproduce correctly).
Personally, on my wish list, I've put some extra crispness and vitality, a better performance in the P.R.a.T department, even if this might imply a lesser performance with bad recordings. Actually, this Power TIs is very "forgiving", if you know what I mean.
Value for money. First of all it should be kept in mind this is a completely "Made in Italy" component: it is already surprising the list price has been kept as low as 350 €! Obviously, a similar amplifier - built in China - would cost only a fraction of this price. The traditional amplifier I've compared to it, the popular NAD C320BEE, has more or less the same power output but offers 7 inputs, a remote, preamp-amp loop, tone controls and even a headphones output. Conversely, the quality of the finish is lower (it looks way "cheap"!) and its list price, here in Italy, is (was) higher, at 490 €. For the very same money you can add the remote and the wood front panel to the Power TIs.
Summarizing, the two amps are hard to compare: more esotic and cool-looking the Power TIS, "cheaper" but equipped with more features the NAD C320BEE. Soundwise, the Power TIs beats the NAD hands down, in my opinion. This leaves enough room for your own decision, balancing all the pro's and cons.
My main aim here was to underline how this new technology can successfully be used instead of a more traditional one, increasing overall performance and lowering costs (and power consumption!). It should also be mentioned these are just the first "attempts". In my opinion, this is just ANOTHER sign'o the times.
If a T-Amp with "balls" (read: watts) scores high on your personal wish list perhaps this is not the answer you were hoping for. Many things are still in common, but the overall tonal balance and dynamic performance are quite different. This, perhaps, means you might find this Power TIs a more user-friendly amplifier, especially when partnered with aggressive loudspeakers.
With the very same money you can buy a more traditional amplifier, with more bells and whistles, but with a sound that doesn't even come close to this. Up to you to decide but before spending some cash on a traditional budget amp include one of these "new amps" in your audition list. You may end up deciding you don't need all those extra features.
© Copyright 2007 Lucio Cadeddu - www.tnt-audio.com