T+A MP 2000 R MKII Multi-Source Player Review Page 2

T+A Engineering Group Interview

Rafe Arnott: T+A is a German-built and very established and respected brand in Europe, but might not be as well known as it should in North America – has it been difficult to get the message out here or is it more a matter of the company remaining focused on its home market?

T+A Engineering Group: “As a relative old-timer in the German market (T+A celebrated its 40th birthday last year), the presence in core European markets has been very well established. In truth, for the first 25 years of T+A, the company was growing at an average of six per cent each year in the core Euro markets. Very wise owners recognized that trying to grow faster than this might actually stress the company and suppliers in various ways that could compromise the quality – so the company did not make any serious efforts to expand beyond Europe. Over the past 15 years, the European markets have become sufficiently mature that the growth potential is not quite so strong, which gave T+A the opportunity to begin exploring how to carefully build the brand into some new markets that offer good potential.

“The task of building our brand in newer markets has been a long, steady process, but the continued solid base of business in Europe has allowed T+A to take very careful steps without rushing or compromising the core values, which are to offer the very highest quality and service possible. Honestly, we are still quite a new brand in North America (US/Canada/Mexico), but making steady progress in visibility and sales each year. We recently added a dedicated manager for our North American sales (David Schultz), and we are carefully building a dealer base and qualified service technicians to ensure the best possible presence in this market.  We have also made very serious progress in a number of other world markets, including China, Russia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Africa, New Zealand and a few new markets that are just coming on board – while continuing to be a market leader in Europe.  

“We will always prefer to build a very solid foundation and slowly gain market share, which creates organic growth that does not stress the company. We continue to build our brand in many smaller markets as well, so it would now be fair to say we are a known brand in most markets where high end audio is sold and appreciated. Step by step.”

RA: The build quality of the MP 2000 R MKII is exceptional, and the more one explores the unit’s capabilities, the more one realizes the depth of the design process that went into its build and execution. What is the usual length of product-to-market cycle for the company? I’ve heard T+A engineers spent two years alone streamlining the MKII’s separation of digital and analog sections. Is this type of perfectionism normal for the company?

T+A: “We are glad you can see and appreciate the very serious care that went into this design.  Yes, the process and time required to bring any new product to market is considerable, so your observations about our approach are correct. The goal for every T+A product is to offer a usable lifetime of 20+ years of quality service, so the product cycles are quite long, and the development effort always involves a focus upon creating modular architectures that offer the most cost-effective means of adding new features and capabilities as they become important to the marketplace.  

“As you suggested, it is not unusual for a new T+A product to take as long as two years from concept to production.  With today’s digital technology, it is very important to build serious processing speed and processing power into each product, so that the capabilities for higher resolution playback are already planned into the products at the time of introduction.  Features and capabilities that may require physical changes over time are typically built onto sub-assembly boards that can be replaced by a qualified technician in the field, when and if it becomes clear that a different set of operations or performance parameters are required. All of today’s T+A streaming audio products have the capability of web firmware updates in the field, which has allowed us to add new features and app updates.

“Contrary to what some manufacturers claim, there is no such thing as a future-proof product, but T+A will always do its very best to design products with the greatest possible attention to long usable life with future flexibility and upgradeability. We have taken many steps to ensure that we can continue to provide the best support for our products in the future.  T+A is among the only high end companies to design and implement our own streaming client architecture and our own T+A designed CD/SACD transports so that we can always provide service and support for customers for many years to come.  This is a core value for each and every T+A product.”

RA: I found the idea that the chassis materials used by the company were all from the same alloys to maintain thermal stability intriguing, can you talk about the importance of this design principle and how it can affect sonic performance?

T+A: “Thermal stability and thermal management are keys to ensuring that each circuit is operating at the temperature which offers highest resolution, lowest distortion, and greatest linearity. Beyond the use of very substantial aluminum chassis materials within and between various sections of T+A products, we also use very precise thermal sensors in key sections of the circuits, which carefully control bias settings in the power supplies for each section, so that the bias can be raised or lowered very carefully to ensure a precise operating temperature for each critical section within the component.  

“T+A also pioneered the use of very high voltage power supply rails for solid state devices, which enable each device to operate in the most linear, low distortion portion of its total transfer function. This has the effect of allowing solid state devices to operate much more like classic tube or valve devices, with the harmonic purity and dynamics that are well known features of those products. 

“Another feature of T+A devices is very wide bandwidth. While everybody agrees that the useable frequency range for audio is limited to approximately 20khz, there are important benefits to building circuits that can pass much higher frequencies without compromise. T+A designs will typically pass between 200khz and 300khz. This allows us to use gentle high frequency rolloff/filtering above those frequencies, which in turn creates virtually no phase and time compromises within the audio bandpass. Components with much more limited bandwidth may appear to offer very flat frequency response, but the filters that limit high frequencies can create quite noticeable changes in harmonic structure and timbre within the audio range. By designing with very wide bandwidth, using only discrete components (no op-amps), and minimal global feedback, we can achieve very pure harmonic accuracy that is easy to recognize and appreciate.”

RA: The DAC circuit architecture used in the 2000 MKII is unique (as are the separate DSD/PCM paths) and listening to the implementation T+A chose, along with the four filters to choose from I was struck at how ‘right’ all types of music sounded through the unit. I never got the sense that the design favoured one type of music over another. This type of linearity to waveform response in digital playback is difficult to maintain across disparate musical structures in my experience without sacrificing some degree of diversity in the timbral or tonal colourations. Were the four PCM1795 D/A chipsets used in “double-differential quadruple-converter” format chosen specifically because of this ability?

T+A: “T+A has been working very closely with the engineers at Burr Brown (now Texas Instruments) for more than 25 years, and has been able to gain critically important knowledge about how to optimize the performance of several generations of D/A chipsets, while “turning off” specific functions that T+A designs perform in our high speed oversampling and filtering processors. This allows us to get the most linear and harmonically correct performance possible from the D/A chipsets. Dual-Quadruple design essentially uses eight discrete digital converters in a two-stage sequential, fully-balanced configuration allowing six db greater noise reduction over the typical use of four converters for balanced operation, which is far more common for most digital companies. 

“There are frankly many very good D/A chips available in the market today, but we have found that working very closely with the designers of these chips has given us ways to get far more from these particular designs than we could with other chips where we would have no further knowledge beyond a spec sheet, and no close working relationship with the chip designers. This has always served T+A very well for our PCM decoding. The same is true for all of our discrete component suppliers. By working very closely with the designers of various components in T+A products, and in many cases helping to create custom designs that are built exactly to our needs, we can develop a knowledge base that allows greater performance than would be possible if we did not have these long term, mutually beneficial relationships with each component manufacturer. This approach is something that is clearly beneficial in terms of musical performance and long term reliability, but very difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, we believe this kind of very long-term mutual partnership with component manufacturers is critical for true high end performance.

“An example: We use no magnetic materials of any type in our components. Screws, bolts, binding posts, and even leads for resistors and capacitors are customized for T+A to ensure that there is no magnetic fields that could change or compromise the circuit designs. In many cases, this adds considerable cost to the designs, but we have learned over many years that 100 per cent non-magnetic designs simply sound better. 

“DSD is another thing entirely. Any serious digital designer will acknowledge that it is possible to optimize a particular decoding topology for either PCM or DSD – but not both. As DSD became more important to the customers we serve, our design team felt that the only way to properly address DSD would be to create a decoding architecture specifically optimized for the very best DSD performance. This was a very serious and long term project, but our design team created a fully optimized, true one-bit DSD architecture that is capable of up to DSD512 in the MP2000 MkII, and we have further developed an even higher resolution DSD architecture in our reference SD3100HV and SDV3100HV products, capable of up to DSD1024 with perfect resolution and linearity. Only by creating completely separate, fully optimized architectures for DSD and PCM can we achieve the very best performance from each digital format.

“Our PCM decoding architectures continue to be refined and optimized with extreme resolution and capability up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM resolution in the MP2000 MkII, and up to 32-bit/786kHz in our newest reference SD3100HV and SDV3100HV. T+A was one of the pioneers of very high speed oversampling technology, and our digital-filtering designs have been recognized for more than 25 years as truly phase and time coherent, without the pre and post echos that have always plagued standard digital FIR filters. With fully optimized PCM and DSD decoding capabilities, fully discrete and true balanced dual-mono circuit designs, combined with access to the latest and most respected streaming audio sources, as well as Roon-Ready capability, we have created digital products that will play back all of the most important digital sources at a high level of refinement for the discriminating music lover.”

RA: Versatility in one-box designs seems to be gaining more and more traction in an already crowded digital-music hub marketplace. The fact that the MP 2000 R MKII covers so much digital ground (with the exception of MQA) gives it a big leg-up on competition, especially considering the quality of the parts used, the chassis build and the file resolutions supported. Does T+A have any plans to combine the 2000 R with an amplifier section for a ‘super integrated’ type of product?

T+A: “While T+A does build all-in-one digital and amplification products in our more entry level E series and K series, the higher level R and HV series have offered two (or greater) component solutions that we feel help to more fully separate and isolate digital noise from the very sensitive analog audio circuits, particularly if those analog devices include phono stages. We have two separate levels of features and performance in the R series (MP2000R MKII/PA2000R combination – and the MP2500R/PA2500R, adding higher power and SACD playback capability). In our HV series we also have separate digital hub products which can be matched to a variety of amplifier products, enabling each customer to put together the combination of digital hub and amplification components that most effectively meets his or her needs.” 

“We sincerely thank Rafe Arnott for giving us his time and attention, and we hope that he has been enjoying the music – That’s what it is all about.”

All the best,

T+A design team (13 engineers strong), led by Siggi Amft (Founder and Managing Director) and Lothar Wiemann (Director of Engineering and Product Development).