Product: Teac AI 101 DA - DAC, streamer and integrated amp
Manufacturer: Teac - Japan
Approx. price: 250-300€
Test sample supplied by: Exhibo
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu - TNT Italy
Published: November, 2017
In these last years many all-purpose digital HiFi components have crowded the HiFi market, hence it is quite easy to find an integrated amplifier that also includes a DAC and a streamer.
The Italian Teac distributor, Exhibo, suggested to me to test this small integrated amplifier that offers a reasonable power output (±20 watts per channel), a 24/192 DAC and even the possibility to connect to Bluetooth devices. I was eager to put this baby on test! Usually, one can find such devices on Ebay or Aliexpress from almost unknown and even obscure Chinese brands, so I was curious to see how a famous brand like Teac designed a multipurpose device like this.
This small AI-101 DA is a perfect Swiss Army knife for digital audio. Teac define it as a “bible-size” unit because of its dimensions (182 x 53 x 191 mm) while its weight is slight above 1 kg (2 lbs). Despite its minuscule size it does a lot of different things. First of all, it is a capable Class D integrated amplifier, claimed to deliver 26 + 26 watt @ 4 ohms, 1kHz, THD 10%, JEITA. More realistically, it puts out 20+20 watts per channel on a standard 4 Ohm load at reasonably low distortion levels and slightly less than that on an 8 Ohm load. Moreover, it works as a DAC with one USB and two Toslink (optical) inputs, and it's capable of dealing with 24bit/192 kHz files, even with upsampling. The D/A chipset is a classical BurrBrown PCM1796.
Also, it offers a good quality headphones output and a line-level analog input (for phono preamps, for example). And if that's not enough, it can deal with any external source via Bluetooth (smartphones, tablets, PCs etc.). Just associate the two devices and your HiFi system will be ready to play your kids' music files in a snap. Amazingly simple.
There's an auto-sense power on circuit that switches on the amp when a signal arrives at its inputs. This can be extremely useful when connected to a TV, for example. Just switch on the TV, the HiFi system will follow automatically.
This amplifier also offers a line-level output for an external active subwoofer, a handy remote and even an intelligent loudness function based on DSP technology. All these things are well packed together inside a nicely finished aluminium cabinet, where even the knobs are made out of aluminium! The speaker binding posts are of good quality, like those one can find on more “audiophile-oriented” devices.
Finally (!!!) this amazing Swiss Army knife is supplied with the TEAC HR Audio Player, a dedicated software for playing music files under Windows or Mac. Do we really need ask for more?
A close look at the inside reveals a crowded mainboard, with many SMD components. The power amplification module is claimed to be a Class D circuit but I haven't been able to detect which type. To unveil the “secret” a complete dismantling of the unit was necessary so I preferred not to destroy it just to satisfy my curiosity :-)
This Teac AI 101DA is small but extremely effective! It does a lot of things and everything at a high quality level, considering its price, the rich features and the nice finish. Its tonal balance is slightly on the bright side, with a open and lively sound in the high range frequencies. At a first glance it attracts the listener with bright cymbals and voices, all improved by an amazing presence effect. On choirs the performance is less convincing, because of some trace of confusion and compression. Harmonic richness could be bettered, also.
This amplifier seems to be more at home with acoustic music while high impact rock isn't exactly its regular cup of tea. Indeed, some extra impact and energy is needed, from time to time. The bass range is well extended and reasonably powerful, though you shouldn't expect to feel the body of a more powerful amplifier. When compared with the Dayton DTA-100, which costs much less and that's just an integrated amplifier with no extra features, the Teac amp seems to lack clarity, the sound appears a bit confused, it doesn't flow effortlessly.
Its sound is a bit more shouty while the DTA100 is more laid-back, but you shouldn't forget the Dayton is more powerful and posseses a completely different (read: darker) tonal balance. For rock tracks, the Dayton is certainly a more capable performer, the sound appears bigger and certainly more full-bodied. Moreover, it offers better dynamics and a deeper bass range.
The Teac under test is capable of creating a reasonably realistic 3D image, given its price tag. The virtual image extends quite well in the horizontal plane and it's good even along the vertical axis. The depth of the image seems a bit limited, while the focus and the stability of the image is very good.
Its power sections seems able to drive even tough loads, despite its limited output. Do not think it is a kind of T-Amp, because the Teac sounds way louder. The sound quality of the headphone output and of the internal DAC follow the general character of the amplifier section.
Manufacturing & finish.
This amplifier is well designed and crafted, it makes use of good materials and the level of finish is rather high, considering the price tag. I have no serious complaints to make. Of course, being a lightweight component, the use of heavy power cables and interconnects might be a problem, as their heavy weight (and stiffness) might flip it upside down :-)
The “intelligent” loudness feature is interesting and certainly useful for many users, but I've preferred to leave it permanently switched off. A must-have, though, for quiet listening sessions at night.
Finally, I've noticed a slight amount of hiss when the volume control was set to its maximum. Any amplifier does that, but this Teac is a litlle bite noisier than usual. During listening, this hiss disappears.
Tendentially sparkly and open in the high range, this amplifier prefers ancillaries that don't sound in the same way, otherwise one might experience an excess of brightness. When playing complex and highly dynamic tracks the sound seems to suffer from dynamic compression. Generally, if compared to similarly priced (pure) amplifiers its performance is a bit worse, but this is perfectly natural if one thinks the Teac is a complex all-in-one device.
This Teac AI 101DA is a very versatile component and a capable all-around performer, a small device that can be the heart of a small and fully integrated HiFi system, capable of dealing with analog and digital sources of any kind. Its price tag reflects this “universal” attitude, the overall quality of its construction and the fact it is designed and built by a legendary HiFi brand. A really nice toy!
A heartfelt thanks to the Italian Teac distributor, Exhibo, for supplying this test sample and for their neverending patience!
Copyright © 2017 Lucio Cadeddu - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com